25 August 2012

Sleeveless in Seattle

It's nearing assessment time for the current module on the MA, and I have been looking at ways to bring my current research to a (borrowing a phrase from Helen Carnac) resting place.  Jewellery needs to connect with the human body in order to fulfil its function.  Without this connection, it is nothing more than an assemblage. Or in my case, a found object assemblage - static, or worse, stagnant.  

Being placed directly on the body, or clothing that is worn however, brings the possibility of all sorts of accidental collisions. Something worn on the wrist, has the potential to momentarily connect with a neck piece as the body goes through the unrehearsed choreography of everyday movement.  It is at these points of synthesis that the excitement happens.

Blouse Bangle - silk organza, print, stitch © Vanda Campbell 2012 
Blouse Bracelet - silk organza, found object, elastic, ceramic, aluminium © Vanda Campbell 2012 
Blouse Necklace - copper, Plastidip, cotton © Vanda Campbell 2012 
Blouse Brooch - found mirror, paper, stitch  © Vanda Campbell 2012 
Studio work - Collision © Vanda Campbell 2012 
Studio work - Collision © Vanda Campbell 2012 

21 August 2012

Crash, Bang, Wallop

Saturday morning, and my regular rummage through the local charity book shop led to a chance find of a collection of old cinema promotional photographs and postcards.  I've been aware that a connection with the body is essential to my practice, but it's not always practical to be both maker and model. Working with the anonymity of photographs might be an alternative solution.  

I anticipated that the photographs would act as mute, static models for my found object jewellery, but more significantly, I have realised they are found objects in their own right.  It is proving much more exciting to use them to create more collisions and connections.  

Studio work - found photograph, found ceramic, Plastidip
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - found photograph, found object
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - found photograph, found plastic, fabric
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - found photograph, found plastic
© Vanda Campbell 2012

17 August 2012

Souvenirs from St Ives

On a visit to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro last week, I was disappointed by the lack of anything textile-based in the collection.  I suspect this is due to a number of factors, not least the inherent mortality of textiles.  I wonder, too, if the often lowly, domestic status of a large number of items made from textiles is deemed unworthy to be included in many museums.  Museums all to often seem to pride themselves on their collections of valuable status items once owned by the rich and important.  It would be nice however, to also have an insight into the lives, tools and possessions of the 'lower' echelons of society.    The inevitable exit through the giftshop, and displays of tacky souvenirs, provided plenty of food for thought.

British seaside towns are great places for souvenir spotting. Perfectly serviceable objects, such as plates or spoons are rendered functionless, by the addition of copious quantities of frilly edges, sentimental phrases, and even googley eyes. A camping holiday in a British seaside town also, inevitably, involves rain.  Tent-bound, with only a crochet hook for a studio, I set about making my own found object souvenirs.  

Everyday, thrown-away items, with the addition of textiles, and elevated to 'souvenir' status.  

Studio work - Souvenir 1, Found plastic, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - Souvenir 2, Found plastic, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - Souvenir 3, Found leather, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - Souvenir 1, Found wood, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2012

13 August 2012

On the edge, part ii

Continuing with the theme of edges, I discovered these edge-on views of Shezad Dawood's textile works at the Newlyn Art Gallery, Cornwall.  

I love how I was rewarded with an expected mark or colour when I ventured around the side, away from the front.  I think this may be something I return to.  I am excited by the possibilities of exploring edges of differing materials, colours, marks etc., and how they relate to the main structure of a piece.  At what point does the edge lose its 'edge' status and take over I wonder?

Inverse Pyramid, acrylic on vintage textiles
Shezad Dawood 2010
The Sun Grows Cold, acrylic on vintage textiles
Shezad Dawood 2010
Cosmic Egg, acrylic on vintage textiles
Shezad Dawood 2010

10 August 2012

On the edge

I find edges intriguing.  They can be frames, forgotten spaces, points of collision between materials, or an opportunity for a bit of frivolity.  For me, edges are where the exciting stuff happens.  

I overhead an artist once talking about the importance of the ends of a (drawn) line ... something along the lines of 'if you pay attention to the ends of a line, the middle will look after itself'.

Do you think the same can be true of edges?

Vintage textile
Vintage textile
Spoon Enough,  Aluminium, found chandalier glass, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2010

Too spoon to mention,  Aluminium, found bobbin, crochet  © Vanda Campbell 2010

7 August 2012

All form, no function

Our culture packed stay in Cornwall continues with a visit to Barbara Hepworth's house and studio.  I think this is my third visit in as many years, but unlike some of the other gems in the mecca for artists that is St Ives, I am in no hurry to return.  The house is charming, and reminds me of both Kettles Yard in Cambridge and Hoglands, Henry Moore's home in Perry Green, but it is lacking soul.  It is hard to imagine it as it once must have been, bustling with life and creativity, as the sculptures, studios and tools are all gently being overwhelmed by cobwebs and dust.  I am sure the guardians of the estate would proclaim otherwise, but the whole place feels gently stale, and dead.  Even in the gardens, which I remembered favourably, her sculptures only succeeded in underwhelming me.

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, St Ives, Cornwall
I've thought about this long and hard, and am hesitant to admit my true feelings as her work is so well revered, but admit it I must.  I find myself increasingly drawn to the world of Applied as opposed to Fine Art, and think that, for me, the allusion to function, specifically function by, or connection to, the human body is essential.  A few days previously I visited the Newlyn Art Gallery to see Shezad Dawood's solo exhibition, Piercing Brightness.  The visitors book  wasn't all complimentary (the main complaint being painting on found textiles did not equal Art!), but I was instantly attracted to the combination of painting on vintage, quilted textiles.  The potential of a function (as a quilt, or cover) allowed me to connect with the work on a personal level.  And that, for me, is a vital ingredient.

Rock of Ages, acrylic on vintage textiles
Shezad Dawood 2010
Rock of Ages (detail), acrylic on vintage textiles
Shezad Dawood 2010

5 August 2012

The wrong sort of random

Team Campbell are off on their summer holidays to sunny St Ives.  Our Bell Tent has never looked so fabulous, bedecked as it is with bunting, polka dots, and a veritable booty of solar powered lanterns.  Whilst setting up a string of 'random' coloured lights to frame the zipway (like a doorway, but in a tent), I realised I was spending an awfully long time to get the colour combination just right ... any offers of help were rebuked with a cry of "No!, that's the wrong sort of random".  

Can there be such a thing?

I've written before of my quest to add an awkwardness or 'dirtiness' to my practice, and maybe surrendering to true randomness could be a start.  

3 August 2012

Medalling with medals

The Olympics are here (in case you hadn't noticed), and there is much talk about medals.  David Watkins was responsible for designing the 2012 medals, and although I admire his previous work, I am perplexed by the monstrously large medals being held aloft by winning athletes. Large enough to fling into the sky at a clay pigeon shoot, their apparent weight just doesn't seem to match their size.  

Medals, London 2012 Olympics
So, this led me to think about the nature of medals.  Is their primary function as personal recognition of achievement, or a public display of supremacy and strength?  I am instantly attracted to the collision of textiles and metal in traditional medals, and welcome the excuse for a bit of showy colour in an otherwise sombre dresscode, but think I would prefer something a bit more subtle ... a whispering medal, if there could be such a thing.

Studio work - Medal 1, found textile, found metal, plastidip  © Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - Medal 2, found textile, found mirror  © Vanda Campbell 2012
Studio work - Medal 3, found textile, found glass  © Vanda Campbell 2012

31 July 2012

Questioning the clichés

It is so easy to talk in stereotypes and respond to questions with clichés, that a concerted effort is needed to overpower their allure.  Without an awareness, trite and banal responses can be regurgitated at many an opportunity.  It may fool some, which if I'm honest is sometimes appealing, but there is little satisfaction to be found in tricking an ardent fan while a respected peer looks on with a wry smile.

Some examples I'm guilty of …

"layers of narrative" - this is often banded about by makers in an attempt to gloss over the contextualization of their work.  There are many narratives embedded in a work, but to use the term 'layers' implies they are separate and chronological, which is rarely the case.  The narrative of a work may be a tangled mess of ideas and threads, overlapping, connecting and colliding with each other to create many new potential narratives.
"applied art" - this implies art which is 'applied' to a form.  I don't apply my art to anything.  Where does that leave me?
"found objects" - in my case I attribute this term to anything bought, received, donated, used … I don't need to find it at all!

Enough is enough.  As a maker I pledge to try to take nothing for granted, and to ask the questions others are too silenced to ask.  I have found sanctuary in the work of David Gates - a maker who constantly asks questions - of form, function, materials and language.  

Dressing-Stand, 2011 © David Gates
Isn't this piece wonderful?  Made as a contemporary response to the now neglected the dressing table, it's a great example of not taking anything for granted.  Furniture doesn't need four legs.  Drawers don't need to hang from underneath the table surface.  The different woods are allowed to revel in their distinctive colours and qualities, rather than being secreted under a layer of Dulux's finest ... simply yummy.  

29 July 2012

What I need is a shed

There's something enticing about a well used shed - whether collapsing in the corner of a humble allotment, or sited in the grounds of a grand stately home.  It is often the evidence of that rare thing - a place of empassioned work - beautiful because of its functionality.

I suspect that studio spaces are nothing more than sheds that require a 'commute'.  They provide refuge for thinking, creating, making, remaking and most importantly, a safe place to make mistakes.  For me, the space to collate, curate and evaluate my finds is essential.  The summer holidays are here, and I am confined to barracks for six weeks.  It is proving difficult to mark a physical and emotional space in which to work.  What I need is a shed.

William Shannon, Kiln House, 2012
Tracey Emin, Knowing My Enemy, 2002
Grandpa's Hut, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968

26 July 2012

Collecting, Connecting and Curating

A significant part of my practice is the collecting of objects, and the subsequent ordering and reordering of them in the studio.  Connections are celebrated, disconnections are rejoiced.  What at the time seems an intuitive response to something lying in the street, later takes on significance and authority as the latest found object treasure joins the hoard laid out on the studio table.  Unexpected connections and random collisions provide essential links between objects and collections that have been previously organised.  

There has always been an ambiguity to the objects I use, which I now realise is essential for this stage of my practice.  It is at this point of synthesis, that the relevance and potential authority of the work is identified.  There is nothing more exciting than placing a broken piece of this with a fragmented shard of that to elicit an 'oooh' (ideally said in a high pitched tone, while taking a breath).  

Oooh, found ceramic, plastidip, found metal  © Vanda Campbell 2012

9 July 2012

Jerwood go again

I took the plunge earlier in the year, and registered to enter the Jerwood Drawing Prize for 2012.  Skip forward to the ending ... and, "unfortunately", "on this occasion", "but thank you".  I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but that isn't to say I have any regrets.  An exciting couple of weekends were spent driving to and from Wimbledon School of Art for the drop off and pick up ... on drop off day, the air was full of excited anticipation as queues of artists lined the walls unwrapping the work ... on pick up day it felt distinctly like the morning after a great party.  

Taking a sneak peak at the work being wrapped and unwrapped around me, I could see I was in good company - there were some really exciting drawings ... far more than the amount available for selection (around 70 selected from 3000 entries).  In order to be selected, drawings would need to be outstanding, not just very good, and if I'm honest, my three entries weren't outstanding ... this year.

So here they are ...

Discovered, found object, creases
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Uncovered, found object, paper, gouache, thread
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Recovered, paper, polyfilla, found object, household paint, graphite
© Vanda Campbell 2012
I have been pondering the mental process of applying for opportunities, and trying to find strategies for dealing with the disappointment of rejection.  The emotional investment leads to an inevitability of being temporarily thrown off course, but this is no different to the process actors or dancers go through when attending auditions.  Or a sports person entering a race.  The objective is always to 'win', but on the way we can achieve many personal bests.  I will try again next year, but from a starting point a bit further along. 

25 June 2012

Less is more

Saturday was spent in good ol' London Town, with a list of exhibitions to see, places to visit, photographs to take.  And what contrasts I found.  

First stop was the Hayward Gallery to see "Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 - 2012".  I was on to a winner really, seeing as how nearly everything (if indeed there was a 'thing', which was not always the case ... the clue is in the title) was worked in variations of white.  A collection of works with profoundly different impacts - quiet; contemplative; awkward; repulsive; beautiful; engaging. The highlight for me was Lai Chih-Sheng's "Life Size Drawing, 2012". Easily missed, the brevity of his marks, drawn in pencil and chalk, carry more weight than if a six foot wide roller, inked up in black, had been scrawled across the gallery wall.

Lai Chih-Sheng installing his work Life-Size Drawing, 2012  “Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957-2012” at the Hayward Gallery, LondonCourtesy the artist and Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Contrast this with the nightmare (is that too strong a reaction?) that was the Royal Academy Summer Show.  

Installation view of Gallery III, Summer Exhibition 2012
Installation view of Gallery III, Summer Exhibition 2012 @ Royal Academy of Arts
Can you believe I'd never been before?!  I'd assumed it was only one step up from entering a Blue Peter competition, but I've been watching the Culture Show 'behind the scenes at the Summer Show' for the past few years, and had been fooled into thinking it couldn't be as bad as I had previously thought.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Vast rooms, painted garish colours, filled with paintings (and it was nearly all paintings) in a cacophony of styles, sizes and colours.  I know that fans and traditionalists will argue that that's the point, but I just didn't get it.  Half an hour later and I was desperate to get out.   

For me, less is definitely more.  

10 June 2012

A pocket full of ...

I can't help but associate brooch pins as sharp, destructive weapons waging war on fine fabrics such as silk, organdie, or finely woven linen.  The hole left by the traditional brooch pin leaves a permanent scar on the cloth, needing to be covered on subsequent wearings by ... you've guessed it, another brooch, another pin.  If taken to extremes, the holes could consume the cloth, until all that remained was the vacuous scar.

A reluctance to use sharpened metal pins to fasten jewellery to clothing has led me to explore alternatives.  One alternative I have been looking at, is 'wearing' jewellery inside a pocket.  Each pocket has been constructed around the jewellery piece so the jewellery stays trapped in the pocket, unable to be worn.  The organdie fabric reveals a glimpse of what lies within, allowing the hidden to become visible.

Pocket Necklace, Organdie, Copper, Plastidip, Thread 
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Pocket Brooch, Organdie, Found Object, Aluminium, Crochet
© Vanda Campbell 2012
Pairing, Organdie, Found Object, Copper, Enamel
© Vanda Campbell 2012

6 January 2012

Domestic Diss'

Studying for an MA should be demanding academically, and empowering professionally.  We are now at the end of our first semester, but still have no studio space to work freely in.  A new room has been provided, but this wasn't available until we had been studying for a few weeks, and then came with implicit instructions that nothing could be attached to the walls!  What utter nonsense.  It would appear the demands of the accountants, administrators and estate management team supersede the needs of the students.  A solution was eventually proposed, involving building mdf stud partition walls that could be 'pinned' to, but no labour has been allocated to build it.  Students are rallying round, but progress is slow, and is likely to slow down even more as the pressures of academic deadlines and assessments approach.  We need a space to work in.

The impact of this on my practice has been significant. There are many practical disadvantages to working from home (lack of space, interruptions, distractions), but more importantly, I believe, are the professional implications. Work produced in a domestic environment, tends to be conservative, and domestic, in scale and ambition.  Would we be expected to conduct our scientific research from home if we were studying for an MSc I wonder?

Come on University of Hertfordshire.  Show your students that you believe in them, and value their practice.  Build the studio, paint it white, rejoice in the creativity that will ensue.