Exercise 4.1 – Placing your work

Throughout the course of my research into yarn bombing and having visited a variety of different exhibitions and art festivals over the past couple of years I have some understanding how the placement of a piece of work can really make a huge difference into how it is perceived or understood by the spectator.

The course material explains how the placement can be just as important as the materials from which it is made and hence asks me to select a piece of work that I feel has the potential to be displayed in a range of locations and on a scale that makes it easy to transport and fix in diverse locations.  I have been split between two pieces of work which were additional samples after my tutor feedback for assignment 3 – one a circular crocheted piece approximately 6 inches in diameter and developed from the Beauty from Decay theme and the second a twist-able strip crocheted using different yarns from the more romantic theme.  I felt both of these samples were small enough to be easily transported but maybe had the potential for further work with regards to textures, size or being able to be a part of something different. I decided to go forward in these exercises with both samples to see which one I eventually preferred and in truth as I type am still a little undecided with the resulting photographs!

The first question but second stage takes the work from concept to practical response and the idea was to place the sample in a place I thought would be the perfect site …. both of the samples were developed or ‘grown’ from the overall theme of my garden and hence I decided to see how they would look but in the end only 1 of the resulting 4 favoured photographs was taken within my own garden with the others being in my neighbours!

The first photograph is taken of the darker sample within a tub of pelargonium and lobelia flowers – the sample does not seem to jar but neither does it quite fit in.  The colours are similar and hence blend a little but the grey and green plastic of the outer edge makes me feel this is not the correct placing although on the other hand I like the the contrasts between the soft flowers and the man-made structure of the sample.

The second photograph is not quite as clear but the sample feels that it blends considerable more with the surrounding miniature petunias.  The grey of the tarmac in the background is also reflected in the grey edge of the sample with the plastic further being reflected by the edging stones.

This is the sample my heart wants to move forward with – I feel the Beauty from Decay theme has more potential in terms of the contrasts which I am so drawn to … the beauty with the decay, the soft yarns with the plastic, the colour against the neutral tones and so forth but and this is a big ‘but’ I also feel that I want it to contrast and work with or against the sample from the romantic theme.  I like the contrasting textures and strong linear qualities and this is certainly my favoured location with the photographs I took but interestingly a fellow student felt that this sample’s perfect location maybe on top of a coffin …. not quite as morbid as it sounds because my late Uncle was a funeral director and the business is now run by his grandson with the only downside being they live too far away for me to borrow a coffin!  What I am fighting against personally is that I think the fellow student is correct and as the theme is Beauty from Decay the coffin location would be almost perfect – I feel that a ‘carpet’ of interlinking motifs would create the effect of a coffin cover reminiscent of a carpet of flowers but also paying tribute or being reflective of the coffin quilts of North American which were common in the 19th century.

The other suggestion from a student arises from my own feeling about this sample – seeing it amongst the flowers somehow gives the impression of a sea creature or coral so wonder if I could develop the sample further by adding a crocheted sea urchin style base using the same yarns.  The sample has delightful flexibility as it moves as you hold it and the edges have evolved into natural frills – this was a deliberate intention as one of my favourite blooms in my garden this year have been the double petunias with their multiple layers of petals and wonderfully frilly edges.   I also thinking  of the crocheted coral reef that has been mentioned earlier in this course and bearing in mind I am a Plymouth girl so this emerging sea creative theme is  also reflective of my own childhood.   The colours feel right to go down this new route but the location is not working at this point …. if I went forward with the sea urchin style base I there is an area within my garden near my pond with blue slate reminiscent of a beach/rock pool.  I am also wondering about using small LED lights within the piece so that the lighting comes from within not just the natural lighting of the day that I have used so far.  By changing the background, adding the base and adding lighting to the original sample I feel this could improve what seems to be a sample that feels that it is a mere foundation brick into a more complex and refined piece of work.

The second sample is one that I felt had more potential from the beginning but in a cheesier way … by this I mean the romantic theme is almost too obvious and too ‘safe’ – these are the colours not just seen in my garden but also are the colours of my sewing room and in fact the colours of a crocheted shawl I have just completed too!  I took two photographs which I felt were the perfect location and either one works considerable better than the images of the previous sample.  The first photograph is of the sample  very carefully placed behind a perfect clematis bloom in a neighbouring garden – the colours are almost identical and the frilly edge of the sample softly contrasts against the more defined edges of the petals.  I find a second contrast between the yarn and the hard edges of the stone also particularly appealing.  The image is almost too perfect – the bloom itself is exquisitely coloured and formed and I have taken further photographs for potential sketchbook work.

The second photograph is the only one taken in my own garden – I have placed the sample on top of my white hydrangea where it blended absolutely perfectly against the soft ivory petals with the green paper yarn perfectly echoing the greens of the leaves in the background and also some of the tones seen within the flowers.

I feel that this image and this location could be improved with the simple addition of some iridescent beads or sequins which catch the light and sparkle or/and if the photograph was taken at night so that the colours, textures and lines of the sample and hydrangea can be seen without the distraction of the background.

Again I put this image in a Facebook group to my fellow students and the immediate reaction was that this sample was reminiscent of weddings which I was really happy with due to the romantic theme being so obvious.  One suggestion has been to place the sample on a cream and white patchwork cushion or for the sample to be part of a hair slide or headband … all 3 ideas would work well with my inclination to consider the white cushion although I feel that the addition of a pale iridescent voile and soft lilac fabrics would echo and enhance the colours within the yarns.  The cushion idea also adds a further element to the sample but I do question a previous idea too in that I wonder about creating a larger container from my yarn collection (in particular the plastic bags) with a view to attaching the sample so instead of being a piece of work within a floral location it becomes part of a larger piece …. I still like the idea of adding iridescent beads/sequins to add a sparkle of light and perhaps the voile could be used in making the tub/container?

So decision time – which sample to I go forward with and refine?  I can’t help wanting to try my idea of developing the first sample into a sea urchin or similar …. is the pull of the sea to strong for me to resist as I look back to happy childhood times? somewhere safe I have a small sea urchin shell picked up from a beach in Greece.  One of our original ideas for our garden was to create a beach style theme despite the fact we are geographically in the centre of England …. the plastic bags and string I use could be a further reflection of the plastic waste that is now a huge problem on the beaches around the world so again this idea is reflective of Beauty from Decay although with a potentially more ecological and environmental message.  Interestingly I am finding the idea of this sample going forward as some kind of sea urchin or shell developing from what ultimately is a very basic sample is also now beginning to turn this theme into one of introspective self-portraiture – the emergence out of a neglected but revitalising garden of a shell or sea urchin is reflective of the emergence of the rediscovery of who I am.

Jennifer McCurdy.
Gilded Butterfly Flame.
Porcelain wheel thrown; atlered carved fired to cone 10

I am a fan of the work of Jennifer McCurdy whose work is with ceramics – many of her pieces have a shell or coral theme and it is these shapes that really appeal as the structures twist and turn organically and fluidly … there is light and shade within simple ivory and gold structures with no need for embellishment.  I cannot help be influenced by the work of this artist who is inspired by the nature that surrounds her where she lives in Martha’s Vineyard, an island which is atone with nature to such a depth it is part of the inhabitants lives in ways that many of us in urban cities cannot begin to imagine but try to somehow recreate in our own small gardens.  I have written a separate blog on Ms McCurdy’s work and this can be found at:   https://janemurdockmytextilesjourney.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/artist-research-jennifer-mccurdy/

Despite the influence of Ms McCurdy’s work I am also inspired directly by the crocheted coral reef created by Christine and Margaret Wertheim which I wrote about in Part 3, (https://janemurdockmytextilesjourney.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/constructing-textiles-and-the-crochet-coral-reef/), and also my own colour palette reflected in my original sample.

So what did I want to say with my original sample?  This is a piece that started off as an experimental sample in terms of the Beauty from Decay theme – I was trying to discover how the yarns worked together and playing with the textures and forms they created using a simple combination of single and double crochet which resulted in wavy edges and a flexible almost amoeba or jellyfish like floral/sea creature ….. there did not seem to be a definitive message in the sample but rather one that is a basic foundation stone to build on and develop.

Choi+Shine Architects. 2017 iLight Marine Bay, Singapore. Crocheted sea urchins.

Further inspiration for the sea urchin theme was taken from the work of Choi+Shine Architects and their installation of crocheted sea urchins at the 2017 iLight Marina Bay Festival.  My full blog can be seen at:  https://janemurdockmytextilesjourney.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/research-crocheted-sea-urchins/.    I am particularly entranced by the white rope which has been used to construct the sea urchins which has been used to reflect the light during the day and is highlighted by lights at night and also the crocheted lace which was inspired by needlepoint lace.  However I did not feel the white theme fitted my theme and so wanted to adapt the idea to reflect my original colours of purple, green, ochre and black to try and portray the impression of decay.

Having considered the sea urchin appeal I attempted to crochet a base for this sample using a mixture of green wool, a black plastic bin bag, garden string, plastic string and an acrylic yarn – no pattern but rather an experimental journey which resulted not in a sea urchin but rather a twisted large shell.  I crocheted the base first and then worked out in 6 sections before crocheting the edges together with the same green yarn of the base.  Having done this I added a crocheted ring in a pale yarn onto the base of the shell and crocheted the original sample to this before adding a second frilly petal style layer …. reminiscent of the aforesaid petunias but also thinking of the different layers of a sea anemone.  The initial idea had been to crochet the edges together to create the sea urchin with the original sample somehow stitched on top but it was only by pushing the resulting shape onto one side that the twisted shell emerged and the obvious solution of how to attach the original base sample.  I finally added a purple additional layer to the original sample edge which further emphasized the wavy edge but also enhanced the colours within.  I wanted to keep the theme of Beauty from Decay so this anemone like top is intentionally seen against the black plastic and ochre and olive green sides of the ‘shell’ …. I realised that the effect was that the  shell appeals to be decaying or  covered in sea slime or seaweed.

Initially I was not certain about how this new piece had worked until I placed it on the blue slate near my small pond …. the sea shell and anemone now feels apparent.  One further addition was the stuffing of the shell with bubble wrap to create a better form.

So what do I think I have achieved?  I have taken a sample that I did not feel happy with and used it as the aforementioned foundation stone from which to build and create a new piece – what appeared to be the less exciting or less safe of my two favoured samples has proven to be the one that I feel has further possibilities for exploration in a series of shell-like shapes which can grow organically and naturally within the environment.

The final part of this exercise asks me to take a risk and place the work in 3 different unorthodox locations – ones I would not expect to see this piece of work and certainly it was never intended to be seen.

The first chosen setting was a shopping trolley – the grid-like texture reminds me of the grids that some environmental companies are using to grow new corals but it is also a direct and almost industrial-like contrast to the shapes, colours and yarns used.  I like the hard grey lines combined with some of the textures and diagonal lines of the background which fight against the shell and anemone.  The pros of this placement involve those contrasts but those lines also seem to blend and want to be apart of the piece – I do not feel the shell is emphasized as much as I would have expected and to an extent it almost seems to blend as the lines of the trolley.  If I was to develop this piece within the confines of the trolley I feel I would want to add crocheted or woven braids reaching out and twisting or weaving themselves around the metal grid so that the shell becomes even more a part of the structure – the two pieces could effectively blend and become a part of each other in the same way that old sunken ships become natural coral reefs or homes to a multitude of sea creatures.

The second placement was the top of some hand railings with the hard car park tarmac in the background.  The light caused the colours of the shell to become darker particularly as I photographed it from a slightly different angle.  I really love the new shape that seems to emerge in this image – the new actual shell structure is less emphasized whilst the original sample with its new additional crocheted layers is more at the centre of the image.  The shell almost seems to be trying to work its way along the railings but there is also a slight feeling that this could be a bouquet in place in memory of someone who has died – I guess this last impression is going back to the original suggestion by a fellow student that the original sample’s perfect location could be on top of a coffin and this is further enhanced by the plastic bag strips have created their own bow due to a slight breeze wafting across as I took the photograph.  This is the one image did not suggest further work at the point of photographing however I do like the strong urban and man-made background which strongly contrasts and fights against the softer yarns and structure of the sample.  Looking again at this photograph the feeling of decay can be seen due to the softer duller light – there is not the feeling of  vibrancy and life emerging from the shell that was my intention to create but rather a feeling of life draining away or sucked dry by the dull landscape which surrounds it which could be further emphasized by other small shell like structures being made in either distressed fabric or crocheted in grey or black plastic bags.

Both of these first two images  suggest finding a more industrial environment which could emphasize the contrasts between the shell and the hard lines of concrete or metal but also to add in the decay of rust which all its varying tones which would in turn emphasize the olive greens and ochres apparent in my chosen yarns.  If I chose not to add a series of new shells a further change to the sample could be the distressing of the shell either by cutting or adding hessian strips or dull coloured yarns interwoven into the crochet stitches or by using acrylic paint to create the impression of moss, seaweed or the detritus of the shoreline.

The final location was almost irresistible …. the booze aisle of my local shop with the brightly coloured labels. Strangely this is my favoured location …. the colours of the anemone become the colours and forms of the flowers that inspired the development of the original sample and echo almost perfectly the labels of the ciders on either side.  The colours of the shell structure are also echoed in the bottle labels but at the same time there are contrast between the soft yarns and hard linear edges of the bottles, the shelves and the cans below.  I want to add streamers of yarn and plastic strips coming off this sample in this location – I have two parts of me fighting each other with this image … the part that is almost teetotal fighting against the happy memories of enjoying these particular ciders in the past so somehow if I was to work further with this particular location I would want to reflect or to give the impression of those two aspects.

At this point I still find myself feeling unsure about whether to go forward with the ideas of the decay in the urban environment  so decided to take a fourth photo but this time taking the course suggestions of placing the piece in the branches of a tree.  This image should not work in the fact it feels that that I am adding a man-made created art work to a natural old tree but the crocheted plastic section of the shell reflects the bark almost perfectly and with the addition of the soft olive green and the way the light has caught the ochre yarn the shell appears to sit almost naturally in this environment.  The shell now seems diminished and almost fungal like in appearance – I am thinking now to the fungus I have seen growing out of decaying trees in woods at National Trust properties.  Although I really like the thought of going forward with the urban or industrial environment idea I now want to add further lines of crochet in the ochre or maybe brown yarns – maybe add a secondary ‘anemone’ style structure so that it appears that the fungus continues to grow or to add the ochre and olive yarn on one side to give that appearance of the fungus reaching out and penetrating the tree further.  Simple braids could be added to the structure so that it twists around the tree in the same way the roots and spores of fungus infiltrate and become part of whatever the host is.

I find myself wanting to go forward and explore either the concepts of the shells or the shell/fungus like structures in the urban or natural environment much further and more in depth – there is an appeal to use my own environment finally to its full advantage and instead of fighting against it embrace it so that it plays a direct part in going forward with this work.

POSTSCRIPT:

This exploration of placing the work has given me several ideas from the small ‘foundation’ brick sample … 1. the shell placed in the urban or industrial environment – the potential for distressing the piece further to emphasize the decay with the main anemone section left blooming 2. the development of the piece as a fungus in a woodland environment – spores and tendrils can be added to entwine and infiltrate a structure as it seeks to spread and grow 3.  the shell structure as a piece that embraces celebration – it becomes the bouquet of flowers of celebration in its paper wrapping with streamers of yarn and fabric coming off.

However there is a fourth option – looking at the shell structure with the anemone style flower at the top it reminds me of a cornucopia (a goats horn) that overflows with fruit, vegetables or flowers particularly at harvest time …. the colours and textures are almost perfect for this idea.  If developed as a cornucopia it would allow for fabric manipulated flowers/vegetables even in an abstract form to be added or additional embroidery, fabric, yarn to be added to the ‘goats horn’ to signify the abundance and emphasize the textural qualities of the yarn and crochet.  The colours of my theme of Beauty from Decay tie in with an autumnal style theme but the idea of the cornucopia is almost one of Beauty before Decay as the summer harvest is celebrated before the winter sets in and the food is stored for the long dark months ahead …. the winter full of decay or dormancy of so many plants and trees and also the decay caused by damp, wet or snowy weather.

On reflection this morning, the day after, I had written the first part of the blog, I completely understand how the context in which a piece of work is place can alter how the viewer perceives it and how it can be developed into something new.  Although my heart wanted to move forward with the Beauty from Decay sample due to the potential for development I was still really drawn to the more romantic theme – the soft colours, yarns and fabrics that could be used really appeal to the romantic girl within me because it would give the opportunity to really explore something I can sometimes keep hidden.  However my love of decaying flowers, fungus or woodland has been a theme I have wanted to explore for sometime …. this is something I am not certain is going to go away and I am wondering if this could be a long term theme of my work.  I am drawn to art history and love old antiques but not those that are restored to within an inch of their lives but the ones that have a story to tell …. in my own home I have pieces that my Dad made 40 years ago and yes they are slightly battered and worn and yes I could restore them but the restoration would take away their story and that is how I feel about decaying buildings, fungus in old trees, the old trees themselves or the simple decaying blooms as they start to dry out.  Decay has a story to tell, a narrative that is just their to be read if only we take the time but then again so does romance …. the love and romance of soft fabrics and yarns is still pulling me in!

 

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