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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

How will my art tie into ethical and eco fashion and print design for me?

I want to reconcile my ongoing art project A Film We're All Writing with my current and future plans to develop my studio practice into an eco-fashion line.
The setting for A Film We're All Writing is a landscape that reflects the character's emotions. I try to put the landscape across in a way that it can be read as an emotion, through colour, text or imagery. I feel this provides a lot of aesthetic and tactile scope when designing garments. The thought of dark clouds setting in or hot desert winds sweeping red dust across the horizon fill the mind with not only colours but with certain ideas for practical clothing. Swathes of fabric or a deep cotton hood could protect against the wind and the sun, and re-fashioned army surplus items could provide shelter from rains. The following passage I wrote to introduce one of my characters into The Swaglands and It gave me so many ideas for textiles and clothing: "Lone Cowgirl rides up a desert rain storm arriving in the night at a campfire site. She sleeps in the damp sand with her horse breaking the elements next to her, the fresh air cooled by the storm in the dark. She wakes to a wild desert sun baking the earth's floor dry"
In my observations and research from here in the UK I have noticed and learned various coping mechanisms people adopt in difficult situations such as displacement, environmental degradation and food shortage etc. Such coping mechanisms include humour and irony. The characters in A Film We're All Writing display some of these behaviours, particularly SidAlf with his installation/motel/joke The Parodize Motel.
I am going away in a month or so to research ethical and environmental fashion and textiles as well as sustainable local business models. Alongside my plans to turn my studio practice of eco-friendly art, printmaking and garment making into an actual eco-fashion line, I plan to write and keep a blog of my observations and research experiences to act as learning tool for those interested in or new to sustainable fashion and culture.
As I continue to design and make textiles and garments I will always keep the characters I have invented in mind, sometimes portraying their individual situations and thoughts. The Swaglands, being the fictional land that A Film We're All Writing takes place in, will always be the fictional land in which my clothing will evolve from. The Swaglands, is, in essence my studio!
I'm hoping to delve further into some of my characters as I visit their true homelands, such a the Australian outback and the garment factories of South East Asia. A sense of place is something we all crave and feel very strongly when we experience it, so it is therefore a great way to learn but also a useful tool with which to enhance peoples' perceptions of certain communities and habitats and the troubles they face due to climate change and Globalisation. Perhaps the strong sense of place I felt in New Jersey is why I began to subconsciously write A Film We're All Writing when I was there. I was listening to music right in the places that it was written, and walked down the streets referenced in those songs, so I felt this kind of puzzle coming together. I also read about approaches to songwriting and one of the things that Brian Fallon (one of the musicians I went to see) said was that when he writes lyrics and music he has these glimmers of imagined stories and scenarios (often inspired by real people or events, or himself) and the trick is to find the clues as to WHY that imagined scenario or character is the way they are. The human psyche and its environment are ever entwined.
Now because I trained in graphic design i've been moulded into this analytical observer who break down everything I see and tries to find meaning or specific context in every element of a created product (be it a poster, a film, a song, a painting, a novel). So Brian's approach to songwriting appeals - it's kind of the reverse: it's searching for those clues and gathering those elements to tell a story.
So to me, that clue-finding process is very beneficial as a communicative device - not always necessarily in terms of factual information, but in terms of enticing someone to understand a specific atmosphere, emotion or scenario.
As I absorbed New Jersey I felt like I was in some imagined film and I was finally meeting the people and seeing the places i'd imagined - I'd worked out why everything was the way it was culturally, environmentally and socially. And then I realised I had a clear picture because I have all these clues from the songs.
So... in a reverse fashion, if someone can see a film, they can search for the clues and dismantle the elements of the film's scenario and context, to arrive at the reasons why things have happened a certain way.
For example, I can present a character in a situation, with certain behavioural habits and hints of that person's history... and with the right images and text the viewer can search into what they see and uncover the character's past and what has happened to them. So If I make a character who is a victim of climate change... a viewer can have a fun time deciphering the character and work out why and howthey became a victim. Making climate change fun, seductive and filmic. That is why I want to keep the characters, locations and scenarios of A Film We're All Writing always running through the stories and designs of my eco-fashion and eco-textiles designs. The Buffalo Carcass (one of the characters) is already a print I use a lot on my fabrics. 
You may wonder why I even bother to ensure these narratives and characters run through my garment designs, couldn't I just make some upcycled clothes any old how or some plain organic cotton garments? Well no, because although I am on a mission to become truly sustainable, I also just love the atmospheres of the sub-cultures that compliment a sustainable attitude that rocks the fast-fashion boat (see my post on why punk rock is sustainable) and these atmospheres, as well as the sense of place I have spoken about, add so much to the message of sustainability and adaptability, and the mission of revolution (in fashion or elsewhere). The slow fashion movement is punk as hell, and I see in myself a market for more expressive eco-fashion. The emo and the punk-rocker inside me want skeletons print, provocative yet thoughtful statements and bright colours in my clothing. I don't want to wear long sleeved plain hemp shirts in beige and olive colours. Eco-fashion in my mind needs to be just a bid more rad and way more youthful. 
So to summarise, these are the reasons A Film We're All Writing will always influence my garment designs:
1. To punk up eco-fashion so we don't all have to wear beige.
2. To give a sub-text to the whole fashion project, the characters, scenarios and locations offering other entry points and collaboration opportunities such as art and installation material.
3. To contextualise real life environmental and subsequent social issues within a 'fictional' set of characters and scenarios so as to better communicate to a younger, creative audience.
4. To provide that sense of place that can bring about innovative designs in terms of adaptability and resourcefulness as well as aesthetic style. 
The third and fourth points are ones I will research first-hand and in great details over the next six months as I travel around visiting the various locations that inspired A Film We're All Writing.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Why punk-rock is the most environmentally sustainable subculture....

I love punk rock and I idolise punk rockers all day long. I'm a punk rock fantasist.
Punk rock is activist by its most basic nature. Punk rock is a bad-ass global machine made of localised cogs that step out on their own and shout about important things and support the voicing of issues we all encounter throughout life. Punk rockers wanna challenge the status quo and make changes in the world and society. They disrupt supply chains of information, subverting mass media and taking responsibility for forming their own opinions based on lived and observed experience.
Now there are a few misguided punks who riot and disrupt peaceful society for the sake of being noticed, but we shall ignore those ones - that's unsustainable punk.
Also, i'll give serious credit where it's due to folk, blues, rock'n'roll, rap and basically all other music scenes that were born, directly or by evolution, out of the Mississippi mud back in the slavery days.

These music and culture scenes are all badass and activist, but punk-rock has a very definitive visual style which I would like to applaud for being environmentally sustainable for various reasons, but before I do so I must share one or doubts about this too, as I recently discovered a few bits of information which pointed out that punk-rock style and conservation of the planet do not often go hand in hand.

I was going to introduce you to some of my punk rock fashion icons... but maybe I'll mention just one or two because we'd be here forever if I told you about all of them.

Patti Smith (Punk-poet extraordinaire: the Godmother of punk, but she's got serious rock blood too).
Brian Fallon (former punk-rocker, current mellowed out rocker).

These two behemoths of style, attitude and vision just look good all the damn time. Serious style.
Jeans, T-shirts and poetry.

Both Patti and Fallon are almost always in jeans.

Jeans are staples. Good wardrobe staples have longevity (made well and forever look awesome) and thus override throwaway fashion trends and instead enhance the slow fashion movement that environmental sustainability demands.
Any fashion sense that is based on staples, or includes only stapes, is already more eco-friendly simply because if you're going to buy a staple you'll want a really good quality one that lasts forever, and that in itself is a sustainable habit.
Punks are good at that, especially the ones who like to wear their jeans and t-shirt into a well-loved former shell of a garment embellished proudly with rips and patches that lay testament to a solid lifetime of punking and rocking.

Jeans are culturally so punk rock it hurts, but the cotton denim industry has dabbled in some rather less than punk rock behaviour, environmentally speaking. Here's the story.
I will start with Brian Fallon because he's got a newer record to promote ('Painkillers' is his first solo record which came out earlier this year and it's a winner. Just buy it, ok thanks) and because he does reference denim far far more than Patti!
All denim I really ought to stress, is punk rock, not just the jeans. The jean jackets, the dresses, even these reclaimed denim sunglasses!

Fallon's main band, The Gaslight Anthem (on hiatus) have a discography jam-packed with references to folk, pop, punk, rock and blues culture. They pay homage to The Clash, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Springsteen, Charles Dickens, Tom Petty, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Marvin Gaye, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Casablanca and many more... some so subliminal I probably haven't worked them out yet. Fallon's new solo album also includes references to The Beatles (dissing them a little which I like because I think The Beatles are overrated)  and Marianne Faithful.
But some of the most memorable references which have gained cult status among Fallon and Gaslight fans are to (directly or indirectly) the post WWII youth culture of rebellion, freedom and independence that is represented by denim, tattoos and white t-shirts and of course punk-rock itself!
I'll include a few of Fallon's songs that reference punk-rock style starting with these two:

Steve McQueen - by Brian Fallon

I believe Jesus brought us together  - by The Horrible Crowes. This one references the faded denim look which is particularly environmentally damaging when forced in the production process... note below where I mention sandblasting.

Denim has a very interesting history.
It started off life as work-wear textile at the end of the 1800s, accelerating into youth culture in the 1950s, entering pop culture while gathering some incredibly harmful production trends along the way (such as sandblasting - that achieves that faded effect - which is carried out in a province in China by shooting sand at high speed from a jet gun at the denim, causing fatal respiratory problems for the workers operating the sandblasters), and out the other side into niche raw denim production favoured by Hackney hipsters - who probably don't even know the environmental benefits of their choice to hardly ever wash their denim!
Denim is American but over time production shifted abroad in order to cater to demand. The last American denim factory moved from Texas to Costa Rica in 1992, the final nail in the coffin of the American garment industry.
Denim is hardcore and serious and rebellious and bold. It's durable too. The marketing of denim, whether by intention or by natural style and taste evolution, is quite possibly the most successful and long-lasting marketing campaign ever. We're all in love with denim and what it means and we'll never get over it!
So - being a fan of the music, culture, work ethic and attitude of The Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon and punk rock means I am also a big fan of denim.
But it needs to be sustainable denim produced ethically.

When considering a sustainable and ethical clothing purchase you need to consider three steps of a garment's life:

1. Production
This includes the farming of the crop for the fibres - is it ecologically sustainable?
Were fertilisers or pesticides used?
Is the crop GMO or not?
How much irrigation is needed for the crop?
Is it a synthetic fabric and therefore made of oil derivatives (toxic in production, the washing of the garment and the eventual decomposition of the garment).
Additionally is the crop being grown and harvested by workers who are being treated well - paid appropriately, operating in safe conditions, and enjoying a life of freedom?

In regards to denim, consider the under-publicised environmental and health issues within the cotton production industry.

2. Processing
This is the turning of the crop into fibres and then textiles, and then garments.
Is a lot of energy and water needed for this?
Are a lot of emissions produced?
Is dye with chemicals being used and thus creating toxic waste in water used during the dyeing process, as well as plastering the garment with a layer of chemical colour which will release toxins?
Is the garment printed?
Again - who is carrying out this process? Are they being paid and treated well? Is their place of work safe?

3. Life of garment
Once it belongs to you a garment still can have environmental implications.
How often are you washing it? Synthetic textiles release microfibres into the waterways each time they are washed, which are essentially plastic particles which pollute the oceans and waterways and make up 85% of shoreline waste deposits. These release toxins, some carginogenic, into the water. They do the same in soil when taken to landfill.

So here are some sustainable denim brands for you!

So denim production can be harmful but we now have options.
It is also so endlessly appeals in laden with such attitude and culture that when we buy a pair of jeans we will mean it - they never go out of fashion and that's sustainable!

Upcycling, mending and patching.

You can also buy second-hand denim or upcycle your denim... Upcycling is another punk-rock style feature....
.... Punk-rockers are famous for the DIY element of their style. Admittedly Brian Fallon and Patti Smith don't display this habit so much but it's an important thing to have a DIY attitude towards your clothes:
Mend, patch, upcycle and adjust your clothes. They will last longer and keep you interested longer.
I did find this picture of Patti though with a groovy looking satchel which appears to made of hemp (a more sustainable fibre) and shows how some savvy punks could make their own bags from discarded coffee sacks and old leather.

White T-shirts.

Admired by rebels for years from the days of James Dean onwards, white t-shirts are immortalised as the uniform for individuals out chasing their aspirations and making things happen in the song Blue Jeans and White T-shirts by The Gaslight Anthem.

White t-shirts, however simple in inoffensive a garment the may seem, are not. Every plain white t-shirt uses 700 gallons of water in its production.
In addition, cotton is not naturally white but needs to be bleached, leaving behind it a wake of toxic chemical run-off in water systems and soil.

So what are the alternatives?

This company, The White T-shirt, are committed to ethical and environmental t-shirt production and transparency, which means you as the customer knows the truth about who and what made your t-shirt.

Or... Just buy second-hand guys - we have to keep all synthetic garments out of landfill so that they do not release harmful and carcinogenic toxins such as alimony as they break down. Plastic will NEVER break down fully but still releases toxins in heat.


Ok it looks cool I know and it is punk-rock, and there's no point saying it's bad for your health because who doesn't know that!
But every time you drop one cigarette filter it will release 1,200 toxic microfibres into the air and ground, and of course directly into you when you smoke it.

But if smoking is your chosen poison then there's hope for your environmental credentials yet... you can separate your cigarette waste into bio-degradable and non-biodegradable waste, so the ash and paper can be composted and the filter can be recycled and turned into plastic powder and pellets and to made into new things. A New Jersey company called TerraCycle are doing this and this reducing the need for virgin plastics.


Big fan! Love them! Nothing wrong with them. If I wasn't a human i'd be a tattoo on someone, it'd be rad - although you ought to know nowadays tattoo technology uses an animal product in the ink which sets the pigment into the skin more securely which prevents it from seeping and blurring. The after-care products and the transfer papers used in commercial tattooing also often contain animal products.

Vegan tattoos are available however, so if you're an animal enthusiast as well as punk-rock saint then choose vegan tattoos.

Fifth Dimension Tattoos - A London studio offering entirely vegan tattoos.

A more in-depth article on the use of animal products in tattooing.


Yes leather can be useful by-product from meat production, but large-scale meat farming is SUCH an environmentally damaging process anyway and so we should not be encouraging it.
Generally i'm not in favour of any leather, unless it's buying second-hand leather from a charity of vintage shop.

This is a more in-depth study of the ethics of leather.
Fish Leather is a by-product which would otherwise be discarded that is growing in popularity for fashion designers.

Emotional longevity of garments.
I read once that Fallon has some hat he loves because the chick who made the hat included a little embroidered Tom Waits lyric into the hat band. That hat surely aint never going in the bin - there's a way to eliminate throwaway fashion - have garments that you are emotionally attached to and mean something special to you and you alone.
In Patti's latest book M Train she also speak of a coat which she was gifted by a friend and so desperately loved but lost one day. It's wonderful thought to know that people can form such unbreakable attachments to clothing and that not only does this offer some comfort and encouragement to them when they are around that item of clothing, but their life-long relationship with that garments will make sure they never need to buy another one of those items.


So... although there are some obstacles to overcome with punk-rock style and/or uniform, the brazen attitude of independence that is punk-rock can be found as part of the environmental and social strategy of conscious fashion producers as they move away from unsustainable resources, methods and materials in their garments.
Punk rock has staying power, in its attitude and visual style. It celebrates those basics we all need and love to wear; denim jeans & plain t-shirts, and getting hold of sustainable basics will set you up for life. There's no bette investments for both your own ethical wardrobe and personal style, and for the promotion of slow and lasting fashion in service of the conservation of the planet.
Tattoos last forever so you better get a kind one.
Leather is gnarly so buy it with serious care.
Punk rock = caring.

And one more thing - punk-rock has always scrabbled together whatever resources and ideas were available to it and made it into something raw, uncontrived and fresh - which is how sustainable fashion methodology should work.
People make changes. That's punk and that's the future.
This attitude is professed in both Patti's song 'People have The Power'...

And Gaslight's song 'Ida Called you Woody, Joe', which directly references The Clash and various the music cultures, such as blues and punk, that adapt and make a lasting effect with their creativity: 'a ramshackle voice over an attack of a blues beat'. Sound.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

'Call Me By My Name' at Migration Museum Project

You know what I mean by a BBC headline newsreader voice; of stoic steady British composure laced with a hint of carefully curated empathy suggested by a low tone and the fading out of that kind of Whitehall-drumbeat (that is slightly reminiscent of the start of the Eastenders theme) that soundtracks the opening sequence of the evening news. Well that is the voice that portrays the basic facts of the European migrant crisis to us through our screens as we sit safely at home. It’s a voice that is tactically devoid of expressive sympathy and realism. It’s an umbrella voice, and most of us can far better recall that voice than we can the stories it tells.
Mainstream media in Britain is wonderfully successful at aligning all human experience and suffering into one tight slice of information, creating a homogenised portrayal of hugely complex and diverse issues. This is what has happened with ‘the migrant crisis’; it is the crisis we seem to hear about, not the migrants, and with to much emphasis on the ‘problems’ it creates for Brits.
The crisis is an all-encompassing happening with implications for Europeans, Brits, Eritreans, Sudanese, Kurds, Afghanis, Syrians, Libyan and many more. But who are those people? The crisis is conveyed to us by that voice; that voice that is respectful of sorrow but somehow psychologically eliminates all those people who are really suffering and morphs the problem into one for those of us native to British shores. It is our problem in that we need to address it and prompt solutions, but it is not a problem for us in that we are not the ones suffering the direct and immediate basic human suffering in this situation. Lost in all this mess of worry and desperate composure are the real and personal stories of every individual who is sitting knee deep in the mud of Calais, or staring at their burned tent, with a whole history of their own lives, families, loves, ambitions and passions behind them.
At what point did we forget that the ‘BBC voice’ and the mainstream press cannot begin to tell these stories?

The Migration Museum Project in Shoreditch is offering an alternative; it’s exhibit 'Call Me By My Name' is offering a voice for the individuals at the centre of ‘the migrant crisis’, told in their own words. Sometimes they are voices of despair, hopelessness, trauma and extreme unsurmountable loss of loved ones, home and identity (as a citizen, a family member, a professional, and even as a human being). Sometimes though they are voices of determination and grace and sometimes even of hope.

It is true that there are so many grassroots press projects in Britain that aim to portray the truth of the migrant crisis, but rarely do they focus on the individual. A lack of this focus does not allow for the authority of feeling and expression that everyone deserves.
I also worry that we are using migrant culture as feature of our own cultural capital; the photos, the writing, the tweets. If we don’t give every person a voice then why should we take what we consider their experience to be, qualified by our own projections upon the situation, and voice it ourselves through our screens and on our gallery walls and in our exhibitions of photojournalistic prestige? It’s all exposure, but who composed the picture?
We are scared of our ‘culture’ being tampered with by new arrivals, but why then do we unquestioningly appropriate other cultures with our entertainment, our news and our lifestyle choices.
In the Migration Museum we are introduced to a Sudanese artist called Alpha who was living in The Jungle in Calais. I’ll leave the story to him, but one of his paintings is called ‘My art can go to Britain but I cannot’.

‘My art can go to Britain but I cannot’ - Alpha

While his painting – the inanimate canvas covered in paint - has been eagerly packaged up and transported to Shoreditch for display and to tell a story, Alpha – the human being with feelings and life – has to stay in the cold and rain and wait out his uncertain present in anticipation of his uncertain future wondering if he’ll be accepted anywhere again, or even left to be for a moment. His painting’s present is very certain, it’s future will be considered well I’m sure.
I’m not at all saying that his painting on display is distasteful – it’s a fantastic artistic vehicle for Alpha to tell his story in his own words and his own tone. However, and I’m sure the Migration Museum know this because the exhibition is very sensitively managed and completely focused on the autonomy of voice, it is an ironic example to behold: we let the culture of ‘other’ demographics and groups in, but only when it enhances or suits our culture.

As long as the expansion of the developed world has been spreading and growing and capitalising on foreign cultures and resources, there have been voices telling stories. More often than not though they are unqualified voices telling stories that are not theirs to tell. Hundreds of individuals, cultures and demographics have been misrepresented, and often from an unsympathetic and objectifying angle, causing alienation, marginalisation, stereotyping and xenophobia. Of course this has caused an ‘us and them’ mentality on both sides, further widening the void and deepening the mistrust and defensiveness. Cooperation has been far from attainable. As long as we, as a nation of individuals used to having freedom of speech and being able to pass judgment without fear of rebuke or death, keep speaking out of turn, then individual stories will be lost and empathy will vapourise further. Even the most empathetic telling of someone else’s story is not the right story, even if it’s a true story. Every person should be able to tell their experience in their own words, or indeed in their own pictures, or their own silence.

Today is the last day of the Migration Museum project. It's open until 8pm tonight. Please go!

It's also Refugee Week this week and there are events and social media campaigns going on to take part in and learn from, and to welcome refugees.
Here are a couple of these: 

the 'Simple Acts' campaign by Counterpoint Arts, asking you to imagine your own kind act of welcome to a refugee.

And here are a few hashtags to use:

Another piece by Alpha using spare tarpaulin as his canvas. Interesting that so many London art students use tarpaulin, and I have never managed to decipher why (other than it looks quite nice!), and this is the most loaded and qualified use of it i've seen.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

'A Film We're All Writing' coming soon to a Peckham venue near you...

'What we learned from Harriet Tubman and PJ Harvey', screenprint and monoprint on paper, 2016

'Molly emerges from the smog (China is smouldering)', 3 layer screenprint and monoprint, 2016

'"Did you wanna ride without a word in between?" He can understand she needs a minute to breathe and to sew up the seams, after all this defeat', monoprint and painting, 2016. SidAlf greets Lone Cowgirl on the Swaglands frontier as the duststorm subsides and the future lies bare and ahead.

'Blood & Sand', digital print on fabric, 2016

Come and see all these pieces, and 35 more! Tomorrow at my show opening at The Peckham Pelican from 7-11pm. Get yourself down to sweet South London and bask in the warm hazy glow of Peckham Thursday evening. Beers, cocktails, pizza and coffee galore for your personal enjoyment. If you're lucky I will dress as a skeleton.


This exhibition presents scenarios, characters and themes from a visual eco-‘epic’ about environmental degradation, how it came about and continues to be enabled by an ongoing domino effect that started with Colonialism.

SHOW DATES: June 1st - 26th
OPENING NIGHT: June 2nd (7-11pm) 
SLAM FRIDAYS: June 24th (7-11pm)

The story is set in a conceptual land called ‘The Swaglands’ which is, for reasons including the artist's own misguided idealism, very much based on the Australian Outback. This fictional but reality-inspired location makes use of some irony I am about to relate to you: The ‘red heart’ of Australia
includes a geographical area called Utopia – a concept we all learn about in literature at school, and definitely at art school. However nobody seems to know there is a real place called Utopia, where social and environmental conditions for Aboriginals are horrific. It is ironic then, that in education – particularly in the areas of creative problem solving and
awareness-raising that are art and literature – we are not even made aware of the plight that befalls indigeneity across the developed world (and undeveloped) when it is sitting right under our lucky noses and underpinning our most valued cultural and entertainment concepts.

Pop and cult cultural aesthetics and references are employed to
communicate what are essentially pop and cult culture (mainstream and of mass implication and appeal) issues of environmentalism and decolonialization. We all are implicated, in cause and effect.

Specific dynamics within the 'cultiness' or the 'popiness' of such cultural scenes or poducts have been identified. These dynamics themselves are also referenced as they provide a template for cooperative living.

And here are some more studio photos of me getting things ready...

Some of my SWAG garments, and a lovely conceptual piece I made - the best things about ambiguous haughty contemporary art trends is I feel I can get away with using all the crap from my studio bin. I really do have the prettiest trash.


My digital fabric prints mmmmmmm

Some moodboard/sketchbook bits

Friday, 13 May 2016

Mona Hatoum and her magic ways

Generally an incredibly emotion orientated mind – emotionally engaged in my approach to all aspects of life and emotionally literate in regards to other people (although not always presenting empathy!)
Suddenly a huge and unbalancing new inability to feel emotion for a day or two and desperate to feel things again, sandwiched between intensely over-emotional hours and days.
Overthinking when trying to rationalise emotions.
Racing thoughts.
Desperate now to turn off all thinking and own emotions and just experience somebody else’s mind in an immediate and obvious and simple way. 

This was me last week, and it was very disconcerting.
The reason I just divulged my mental state will hopefully become clear soon.
I arrived at the Tate Modern last Friday evening upset and totally overwhelmed and subsequently (and also due to job issues) having an identity crisis. This was different to my usual anxiety issues. New stuff was going on in my head.
I waited outside the exhibitions for a bit unable to consider the possibility of putting my mind to rest and calming down. I felt like there were a million little birds attacking my head from the inside. Then I just decided to go for it and went into the Mona Hatoum exhibition.

Greeting me was a large slate grey textural cube. Immediately and absolutely I felt calmed and curious. For once I wasn’t trying to intellectualise the artwork or analyse it politically. The formal presence of the sculpture (Socle du Monde) miraculously disengaged my cerebral consciousness and exhilarated my physical body. I could feel my skin reacting to the way the sculpture looked and loomed in the white room. Instant relief at being able to experience something of reality without using the interpretive powers of my psyche.
It felt miraculous as I say, but I then went to read the quote that was printed on the wall across from the sculpture. I didn’t write it down but it was short quote from the artist stating that her sculptures are intended to engage the audience with their form, and from that then perhaps incite an emotional connection and perception of it. So she had planned exactly what I had felt!
Through a phenomenological effect Mona Hatoum had provoked mental engagement, and in my case also disengagement from my own mind and into pushed it/me a wider context of experience. Specifically I mean that the physical and textural existence of the sculpture, which the cube shape covered in thick swirling patterns of iron filings, had provoked a reaction in my mind and body.

I am a huge believer in art as therapy (I am currently studying an art therapy course) but I have always considered it to be so on a probing and emotional level, while somebody makes art themselves as an exploration and expression of their own sense of self. I had never considered, or rather I had never believed, that the experiencing of another person’s artwork could be so therapeutic and on such a visceral level.

I want to explain my reactions to Mona Hatoum’s work, without particular intellectual scrutiny and deliberately without reference to her own intended message and subject matter of the artworks.

            Light Sentence is a sculptural installation using light to animate the connotations of a rectangular collection of wire cages. A single bulb hangs low to the floor within a space in the middle of the cages, and moves slight, throwing a shifting, dancing light across the walls, floor and ceiling and also onto the viewers.  The sense of becoming aware of your own body when in this installation has a simple grounding effect on your existence as just a person in a world of other people, and somehow this has an ability to quieten whatever preoccupations and worries someone may be having. I was very quickly learning how useful it is to be connected to the sensations your own skin and your own occupation of the space picks up and interprets; temperatures, textures, sizes, light and dark etc. All of these are grounding for the mind when connected with. I suppose I already knew this passively, from experiences such as enjoying getting soaked in the rain, or swimming underwater, or covered in freezing mud in sports at school. I hadn’t however considered it to be beneficial to emotional calming.

Light Sentence - Mona Hatoum

In one room towards the end of the exhibition was a metal sculpture titled Quarters, comprising several five-tiered bare bunk bed frames. Again this was a very calming vision on first impact; bare bed frames without evidence of specific inhabitation offered a universal symbol of some sort. There was no personality and that was a fresh feeling, not a cold one. The multiplicity of the bed image felt to me to be representative of the diverse dynamics within both inter-human relationships and within a single human’s relationship with themself. The bed is commonly a site or a symbol of personal desire or feeling (negative or positive) and to see this repeated without decoration seemed to imply the commonness of confusion, complexity and multi-layered character of human self-image and relationships.
The beds were arranged in a cross shape around a central point. This spatial presence displayed, to me, the outward acting yet deeply internalised structure of a personal attack mode we might take when it comes to the way we see ourselves and our relationships. By this I mean that we are often defensive for self-preservation purposes but simultaneously trying so hard to be open, accommodating and present with ourselves and with those closest to us. The occupation of the room by that bed structure felt at once defensive and open. The non-linear arrangement seemed to exemplify the non-linear state of human relationships and personal progression; our relationships go back and forth between good and not so good. This is very much like learning to live with a mental or emotional health problem; we view our malady as something that will either get better and remain so, or get worse and remain so. At least this is what we hope. But this linear progression through mental health struggles is entirely unrealistic and for many there will be troughs and peaks throughout our lives, but once we accept this and put in place a structure, or mechanisms to cope with this, then we will hopefully become more resilient.
Going back to inter-human relationships, the idea that there were multiple beds to choose from, and specifically single beds, suggested that there were many places in which to choose to sleep on any given night. This seemed to qualify the need for both closeness in romantic relationships and also in friendships, but also the craving for independence. It seemed to say that that polarity is at times actually ok. Two people might even choose to sleep in different beds at different levels rather than next to one another in neighbouring bunks, illustrating that although two people are involved in a relationship or friendship, they may be at different points at different times, requiring different things from the relationship and from themselves. Throughout this non-linear entity though, there is always an underlying feeling of support needed, something that the bed sculpture provided both physically and with the emotional space it occupied.
            Another installation seen in the next room, Impenetrable, enforced this resolution I had come to concerning human relationships and personal pathways. The piece offered innumerable avenues for the eye to travel down as I moved around the sculpture of hanging wire lines. This spoke specifically I think to personal decision-making and progression.

            So having felt at loss with a lot of current artwork, especially that which I have seen in London over the past three years or so, which I interpret as being very self-indulgent for the artist and the self-referential art world itself, I was pleasantly re-invigorated.  My personal approach to art making is political and activist so I naturally lean towards other artists with a clear message that resonates in the context of everyday scenarios. My areas of activism interest include environmentalism, human rights – specifically indigenous rights as linked to environmentalism as a legacy of Colonialism, and mental health awareness. I had not ever until last Friday considered that a huge contemporary artist could be activist alongside being fit for consumption by the art-world itself. Thank you Mona Hatoum for helping me out there and for affirming that art can be useful on any level in any setting. I realise that I experienced her artwork at a time when I really needed it, but who’s to say that isn’t happening daily, across the world, for many people who need a little respite.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

I believe my troubles and your troubles shook hands

Ok, best few weeks in studio - endless endless aesthetic party time - been getting super messy and in the zone and going into the studio with my headphones on and forgetting where I am for hours on end and forgetting to eat even, and getting all wired on coffee cos I can't bear to tear myself away from the paints, inks, glitter, paper and fabric for more then a second. So much fun!

I've been trying really hard to summarise my social and environmental agenda recently, without going into excessive detail - because i'd never sleep if i tried to embark on that path! I find twitter is good for this because of the word limit, and if I had a smart phone i'd use instagram for the same reason.
But anyway here is my twitter: and some recent tweets that may provoke research or thought:

I'm soon releasing a new imaginary album called 'From my denim coffin': a white girl attempt to understand the & its cultural history
Songs also explore cultural / environmental / human rights impacts of denim culture & rock'n'roll too, & associated


new msg from Bruce: i know he's got sway by being The Boss but shows pop culture (& withdrawal of) spreads messages


character in my doom/ awareness/ exhib: Molly from Linfen. go 2 for more info on Linfen


my film about the risk of idealism & cultural blindness in relation to environment & society...


I've also been getting really into my creative self without trying to simmer down my instincts for worry of political correctness or ability to communicate very important social and environmental issues in great detail. I realised that was making me feel constantly a bit crap and like I was underperforming and not making any headway because I was getting so bogged down in how to perfectly express and communicate my position on certain issues such as complexities between racism and climate poverty.
So now i'm looking at different ways, or perhaps additional ways, to unpack social and environmental truths which can run alongside my visual art practice. So i'm all for making my art super aesthetic, but full of references which can be explored in little or great detail, and which can still provoke ideas and thoughts on issues, but which can be taken lightly so as not to scare too many people off. Slowly slowly catchy monkey is my new motto - don't push my own opinions too hard to patronize people through my artwork, but get them enjoying it on surface level, and provide an option to explore further if they want to. My visual practice will be an entry point to other things - writing, podcasts, zine/s, clothing and maybe some music playlists, which will frame certain issues and explore them more fully for any viewer who wishes to do that.
I also like the idea of maybe one day someone buying a piece of my art cos they like it visually, and maybe not knowing as they hang it on their wall that it is full of references and pointers to a certain issues or moment in cultural history. Then maybe one day they will get one of those references and look into the subject!

photo i took from a few years ago - but i love it! lush colours and composition and blocking i think,

This whole plan for myself to enjoy the aesthetic and emotional side of my art more sort of came from all the music i've been listening to recently while I work which I will cover now, because it's so important to my vibe:
These are just a few videos to intro y'all to some of my favourite albums by the artists:

I just love Matthew Ryan, I think he's the only musician i've been a tireless fan of, considering I first heard him in 2005 or 2006, and have always been amazed by him. Here he is guesting on Drunken Lullabies podcast in which he is just so eternally inspiring, this episode is a very recent one from March this year. He comes in mainly at around 46 mins. There's a lot of beer chat in this episode, so skip to Matthew's bit, and listen to the rest, there's some good chat as well about Paul Westerberg (from The Replacements) and more of my fave musicians.
Matthew Ryan has done tours where he's played at people's houses - I also think that is so cool and has powerful potential for curating and putting on socially engaged gig series with no compromises on sponsorship, mixed messages or transport of equipment.

p.s It is not lost on me that these are all white men from the land of punk and rock, but I can't help my taste - I'm not into politically excavating my taste, I just like what I like and that's that. It helps that they wear some brilliant denim.
Also I realise I say y'all too much.

And last weekend I saw Jared Hart, and Brian Fallon and the Crowes live in Camden and I just nearly passed out it was so brilliant. I seriously wonder why people even need or want to take drugs when they go out, when they could just go see some amazing live music, i've been on a high ever since.
Also I met a Canadian guy in the crowd and we became gig buddies for the night and it's just so cool that music, and especially live music, can make people drop their guard and be so friendly and open and instantly you can get into really intense and fanatical conversation because you're both into the same music. So cool! Pop music = social glue. I'm the new Emile Durkheim, but instead of being a theologian i'm a pop-culture-oligian!?
And one artist whose show I saw recently in Bath at the Museum of East Asian Art who really has an incredible atmospheric vibe and technical excellence in her work is Wu-Lan Chiann. She is a Taiwanese printmaker and ink painter who is just amazing, please look her up. Her use of shadow, light and time of day is so amazing.
Oh, and the 6th episode of Season 5 of 'Girls' which came on TV recently was just so filmic and brilliant and that had strong vibes for me.
I've been doing heaps of reading about Cult TV again and now realising i'm not going to fight my TV admiration - I barely watch much TV but when I do I love it. I think TV, when used properly, is super powerful for engagement and activism.

Anyway, I wanna show y'all everything i've been making in the studio but saving it for surprises at my show in June at The Peckham Pelican.
Also a super cool magazine that looks at art, culture and climate change asked to print one of my projects in their new issue and interviewed me about it, and about what I think culture and art can do for climate change. Watch this space...

And here is a little round up of other things that have been interesting me the last two weeks:

Theaster Gates: An artist form Chicago. His approach to art and not waiting around for people to pay you attention and listen, but to just create your own opportunities and platform for saying and doing what you want to. When I worked for Mexican artist Pedro Reyes on his project 'Sanatorium' at the Whitechapel Gallery, Theaster Gates was exhibiting next to us in the same room but I never got to meet him :(

Absolutely brilliant article which talks about the portrayal of indigenous poverty and living situations by the media, and mistrust of journalists. Links to an amazing journalism story the Washington Post that tries to address these issues.

A bittersweet story of the piano angel man of Edmonton.

And this is an article, which I fear may be directed at people like me, as i'm not of ethnic minority, living in poverty, or a member any other marginalised demographic. Unless you count being a girl or having red hair. Which I don't personally find to be affecting my enjoyment of life, apart from the odd ridiculous comment on the street. The only slight marginal demographic I have ever sat in that has had a big and lasting effect on my enjoyment of life is that i've suffered/suffer with a mental health issue, which I have experienced to a very disruptive but not necessarily very dangerous point.
But as i've said before, please don't eliminate me from spreading some good word just because I'm white/living in a house I pay for myself/employed/British/went to a good school/from a good home etc. I can at least provide an access point for people as fortunate as myself onto issues affecting less fortunate people and communities, because I have direct social contacts with people like me.
But yes - I know I don't know the half of how crap life is for so many people, and yes I know I can't speak for people and situations I have no experience of.

I am actually planning a little interactive piece for my show in June which will lightly touch on the idea that too many of us shy away from upsetting or demanding or tricky situations that might threaten to topple our own smooth (or not!) lives and minds. It will also frame me as someone who cares about stuff but maybe doesn't have the scope of experience to be capable of naturally feeling enough urgency to actively and tirelessly push for a realistic solution. Warning: It will be a bit self-deprecating and I realise that may come across as trying to warrant pity or encouragement from others in a crumby/trendy art show that I paid for with money from my easy jobs (I'm a cleaner, nanny and art technician). But so be it - haters gonna hate.
The piece will be sort of inspired by selfies ;)
So cliche huh. Love a good pop culture cliche for getting the crowds assembled!