Thursday 18 February 2021

Memory and Remembering : Recollections II

 In addition  to the  City Lit Art and Ideas  course , since  November I’ve been participating in a monthly   textile  course  with artist Alice Fox ‘ PlaceMaking Winter’  where  we’re exploring means  of recording our local natural  environment .   The different focus  and emphasis   ( on  ways of  retrieving the past  and being in the present ) have complimented each other ,  but both   share  a lot of reading  which I’ve enjoyed immensely.  Books  have always been important  to me , to the extent  that  when asked  about hobbies  during a management course, I didn’t think to  include reading as its more than that , its integral to who I am.  For various reasons  it seems I  haven’t  been giving  myself  permission/ time  to  read !

One  of these  books  is ‘ Landmarks’  by Robert MacFarlene  and  lot of  what  resonated  with me  were  the ways of looking and experiencing what’s around you, particularly  the childs -eye  view ‘ rapt by the miniature and close at hand’ . ‘wonder is now, more than ever, an essential survival skill’.  

 When the  group   shared memories ,  I realised mine aren’t  generally about people  but about places, plants  and insects, colours, experiences .  My first memory  is of picking daisies   and placing them in  a pink eggcup ( I would have been less than 3  as it was on the lawn in our first house ) .  

 At the end of the  final session of  the  course we  watched some clips  from  ‘Afterlife’ by Hirokazu Koreeda .  I think the memory  I  would   choose to take  into the Afterlife  is of  Prawle Point   in summer 2013.  I was  sitting sketching  the wonderful coastal  scenery  surrounded by rare plants , dazzled by  hundreds  of  six-spot burnet moths  flying around. It’s significant  that it combines  both my  art and scientific  sides.  I was lucky  that   I was   allowed to  study  art at  ‘ A’ level as  well as  biology and chemistry  ( it took some creative  time- tabling !),  continuing to draw and paint   alongside   my career as a botanist/scientist . What both disciplines  share is a way of looking and thus my way of remembering 

I’ve travelled widely for both work and pleasure  and have always  taken lots of photos. There are  crates  of slides   and packets  of photos  in the garage unlooked at it 15 years. Like ' Funes the Magnificant ' I feel that if I started sorting through them there would be no time to experience the present ! I don’t  feel the need  to  consult them   however as I  have  ready access to my sketchbooks. 

Quick drawings  and  notes made at the time  summon up  memories  of places,  time,  and people I was with far more than photos as  when you're drawing  you’re already editing to record what’s significant . I’m  really missing  going to art galleries and exhibitions , seeing  how  other artists  interpret  and edit what they’ve seen and experienced, what they regard as important.

In this  example   from  Xmas day 2002  at Thien Mu Pagoda Vietnam, dragonflies  were hovering,  there was background  hum  of Buddhist chanting. A monk admired my drawing and gave me a pear. 


In  2003  I  printed  copies of some of the photos taken and drawings I made in Vietnam  onto fabric .  It was early days in experimenting and they weren't very  successful and they were consigned to the scrap box. 

However , through the process of  layering and stitching , not only have I been remembering my trip there but  it's beginning  to result in  pieces that are intriguing in their own right. This may  be the start of a series  but what would you call them  ?  Layers of Memory?  Stitching to Remember?  


Memory and Remembering : Recollections I


The final  session of City Lit   Art and Ideas Time and Memory   was devoted to  sharing  our understanding, reflections  and creative work made in response  to the  ideas explored on the course. What I  chose to  make  to share with the  group was a textile piece   inspired by  the themes  covered  in session  2 and  4  on  involuntary  and mediated memories 

Remembering involves all the senses.  My  ‘Madeline Moment’ was to do  with the feel of fabrics and threads.  I have kept a lot of my  mums  stash which includes scraps from childhood  dresses.   What I collect  are  old  quilts, the layers worn through and colours faded,  the ‘hand of the maker’ evident ,the  cloth itself with memory  and re-use them to make them my own.  

In 2001  I bought my   first home computer  with  inkjet printer  to  manipulate photos  or  drawings  using Photoshop  and print them on fabric.  Over the years  I’ve  used these in   my   textile work    but  still  have about 200  or so  printed pieces  of cloth!!  These include 40 or so  printed sheets of silk organza including  photos of Krac de Chevalier in Syria  and  Tiryns  in Greece. I’d printed the same image both on cotton and  silk organza. Slightly offset they give a 3d  effect, more of a shift  and it starts to  be unsettling , reminding me of the work of  Idris Khan.

A  few years ago ,  for  the Contemporary Quilt suitcase  collection   with the theme ‘ Childhood  Memories’ I combined  scanned photos printed on fabrics  with a monoprint that reminded me of Bamburgh  where we used to go on holiday. The black and white photos  of my childhood in the 60's and 70's are mostly black and white  but  In fact it was very colourful  time! So I used vintage charity shop fabric as backing and  using machine quilting , stitched from the back with flourescent threads following the wild patterns.Perhaps  because it was  for public viewing  it now it seems rather decorative  and literal  and my preference now is for a more abstracted approach.

 For my response  to this course I wanted  to make something  more personal .  I  layered  printed photos on fabric of  me and Ian   with those  from  significant holidays  overlaid with a print of Cyclopean walls from Myceanea on silk organza. Memories are buried but I know they’re contained within.    

While I  use  my sewing machines  for piecing fabric together and some machine quilting  for quick results , my preference has always been for the slowness of hand stitching: the rhythm, ,the mindfulness, the connection to cloth. The stitch you get with machine is uniform  ,unbroken, solid , the same on top and back. With  hand sewing, the natural variation  in size of stitch, the thread used  and the way the fabric is held and manipulated results  in the front  ‘intentional side’ often  being  different to the  back, the ‘unconscious side’.   Stitching by hand  through layers results in an  integration that you don't get by any other means.  Its difficult to describe ( though you can feel it)   and  photos  don't do it justice  but   that's what happened here, with  hidden marks/memories  revealing themselves.  I  took the photo  when it was partially stitched so  the difference  the stitching makes  is more evident . 

The  feedback from the group ( with artists from a  range  of disciplines, non textile related)  was very positive , preferring  this to the earlier work,  representing hidden layers  of memory both physically  and metaphorically.   I had to laugh when  some  said the textures  reminded  them of doors....


Monday 15 February 2021

Art and Ideas: Time and Memory


                                                                     ' Childhood Garden' 
For the last   5 weeks I've  been  participating  in City Lit  online course  ' Art and Ideas : Time and Memory '. I did  a course  in the same series  in 2019 (   in a real classroom !)   on  the subject ' Space and Place'   and  found it thought-provoking and inspiring - I've been re reading some of the  articles recently.   
In lockdown ,  without the stimulation  of   travelling , visiting galleries  and new experiences, like many people  I've been remembering  the past,  recalling people  and places  I hadn't thought of in years so  it was a topic I was keen to explore  further.   The structure of the course  works well   using Zoom,  each week we  have  a series of readings  on a particular  aspect  which we discuss in small groups    and then shared screens  highlight work  of  contemporary  artists . 

For our  last  session   this week, we will be sharing personal  work  produced in response  to the course ( subject of another blog post)  and in thinking about that , I've  reviewed   the themes and ideas that most resonated  with me.   

Week 1 ‘ Art and Oblivion’   In the first session we introduced ourselves  and looked at types of memory : semantic, personal, involuntary, procedural, cultural, collective, shared.

The  readings  were : Jorge Luis Borges ‘Funes the Magnificant’   )A young man  who could reconstruct every moment lived or dreamt , spending so much time minutely reliving  the past , looking backwards,no time to observe or be in the present ) and Marc Auge ‘ How we forget to remember’  

Artists  included 

Rachel Whiteread  ‘ House’  

Cornelia Parker  Mnemic Traces  ( memories found in objects  that hold evidence of  what the object  has lived through )  ‘ subconscious of a monument 2005’ Room for Margins  1999 .   Some of this work  I was lucky enough to see at  the Whitworth gallery in 2015

  'If we remembered everything   could we make sense of anything?'

Week 2 'Haunted - involuntary  memory '

We  looked at the ways in which memories are triggered, what is it that causes the ghosts of our past to suddenly appear?   Readings  were  from   Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’( ‘The way by Swanns’   translators intro  and extract) and   we shared  our  ‘ Madeline Moments’! 

My memory to do with feel of  fabrics and threads.  I still  have scraps from childhood  dresses   and wear a  fabric mask made from fabric from one of my mum’s  dresses. She’s still protecting me.

 Artists  looked at included Tracey Emin ‘ Why I never became a Dancer ‘  ( an approach to ‘ recovered’ memory in visual arts ) and Mike Kelley ( composite architectural models of all  his school/ colleges constructed from memory

 Our homework -  to map spatial memory, quick floor plan of  childhood home/ school  or familiar building from childhood  

                                                               '  Childhood Home'

 We  moved into a  new build   in 1964 ( when I was 3) . From 1979 when I went to university  only visited for short periods until 1995 when Dad died and the house was sold. Revisiting in  2010   with Ian  who was seeing it for the first time, they’d made substantial improvements , my old bedroom knocked through  to make new bathroom etc it  looked so different. The owner  still remembered  my mum on her Pashley   tricycle  with ‘ wide load'  ‘ sign on basket  from more than 20  years earlier. 

Week 3 'Collective  Memory'  

This session explored collective and cultural memory  with  discussion of readings :Introduction and essay by Maurice Halbwachs from The Collective Memory Reader and David Rieff, In Praise of Forgetting.

Artists/ Artworks  included : Cornelia Parker  'Magna Carta ( an embroidery)  2015', 'War Room  2015' 

Thomas Demand ' Room 1994'  

 Ai Weiwei  Dropping a 'Han Dynasty Urn  1995'    ‘ Straight’ 2005- 2012  ( both of which I saw at RA  exhibition.   

 Jeremy Deller ‘ We’re Here because We’re Here’ 

Looked particularly at work of Anselm  Kiefer  ( unforgettable work seen at RA  and White Cube which triggered memories of my own) 

 Week 4 'Mediated memory'  focused on photography as a medium of memory storage, and exchange – as well as questioning the reliability of our memory when shared with others or filtered through other Readings were : Susan  Sontag on Photography; extracts from Mediated Memories in the Digital Age by Van Dijck -  ( Pictures of Life, Living Pictures )  and a wonderful extract  from Esther Kinsky's ' River'   ( I ordered and am now reading the whole book !)  A lot of the discussions  were about authenticity. 

 Artists  included  Gerhard Richter and Christian Boltanski:  sharing’ autographic’ memories.  I particularly  liked  work of  Idris Khan , every page  of   Roland Barthes 'Camera Lucida ' superimposed , illegible.  

  Our homework  was  sharing a photo '  Seeing/seeing yourself through the eyes of others'   .  I  chose  and sent photos before  reading the texts !  ‘ The Day of Bees'   July 17 2020.    I also had  ideas around ‘ memory  storage' : crates of  slides and packets of photos in garage , not  looked at in 15 years  ! Many people  are spending lockdown sorting through old photos: like ‘ Funes the Magnificent’  I feel that if I started doing that  there wouldn’t be any  time for experiencing  the present. 

                                                                     ' Day  of  Bees' 

'Memory Storage' 

Week 5 ‘ Momento Mori’  ( remember you must die )

Readings: Chapter 10 of Gulliver's Travels; describing a race of immortals ( Struldbrugs ) living among the mortal.  Lucretius 'On the Nature of Things'; an extract from 'An Introduction to Heidegger' ( Dasien's awareness of mortality)

Art works  were mainly video/film :    Mark Wallinger ‘ Threshold to the Kingdom’   2000

 Bill Viola ‘ Ocean  without a shore’  2008 

Kris Vervaeke   Ad infinatum

Hirokazu Koreeda ‘After Life’1998  

The subject  was challenging and might seem morbid  (especially in the times we're living in ) but  ultimately life affirming, in accepting mortality,  to make the most of life  as you don’t know when  you will die.  

Lucretius : "Life is granted to none for freehold, to all  on lease"