At this time of year, it’s great to reflect back on the achievements and aspirations of the previous year. Even more so for me this year, as this is the final week before I complete my masters degree. In presenting my work for its final assessment, it is encumbent on me to look back over the entire duration of this course which for me was three years part-time study. Part-time, my foot!! Whilst I only attended university one day a week, this has been three years of concentrated study and development which has been challenging in many ways – not least getting back into debating and being intensely questioned as to my motives and reasons behind every decision – and also incredibly empowering.
I started off by thinking I knew what I wanted to do and how I would go about it, but soon had my certainties blown up into little pieces. I had never learnt about art history or philosophical approaches to art. I didn’t have the knowledge of the art world that my fellow students had – after all, why would I? They all had an undergrad grounding in art whilst I had been a professional musician for so many years, then a weaver who learns as she goes. I had no art training at school or in higher education, and had never really been interested in studying art or art history at any point in my life up til then. So what a learning curve!! It has been fascinating and illuminating. I now find myself really appreciating cubism in a way I would never have dreamed of before, but it now makes sense to me! And reading philosophers as diverse as Plato, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, even Derrida (!) to mention just a few of the philosophers and philosophies studied, has given me insights into my own thinking and has shown me how to challenge my beliefs about everything.
So what about the weaving? Well, that too has changed immeasurably since the beginning of the course. I still have been investigating geology through weave, but my emphasis changed from small scale to large scale, and looking at processes of erosion as well as those of plate tectonics and mountain building. My approach is no longer as literal as it once was. Ambiguity has become much more attractive, with viewers bringing their own interpretations into play as opposed to me telling them what they are looking at! The work’s development has also closely tied in with my teaching and study group commitments. In having specific areas to weave samples for sample exchanges, I had to bring a discipline to bear to incorporate work I was developing for that with the work that was developing in the masters process. Far from being restrictive, this has been liberating.
I’ve talked before about the freedom that having to follow rules can bring. This has certainly been the case during this process. At every stage I had to make assessments, evaluations and decisions about what to continue forward. I’ve always been a breadth person rather than an in-depth person, but that was challenged at every turn during the course. And in having to make choices about what to focus on, I found myself becoming freer and more experimental in my approach, challenging the ways in which I work, daring to dream bigger than the loom, pushing myself to do things I would have discounted as being too demanding or way-out before. And as I became more focused on the subject of my weaving, the freedom of experimenting within parameters brought new insights, new realisations and new techniques to the fore.
In a university course these days, you have to underpin your artistic practice with a view of the world – your philosophy – drawn from your own life experiences, and philosophy found through culture. Mostly people look at western culture, but I found that I have a certain affinity with some eastern approaches. I also discovered the phenomenological work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty – who looks at the body and mind in conjunction being the site of our experience of our world, as opposed to our consciousness alone. This resonated with me, especially as I came to realise how little conscious awareness we have of our tactile sense. Over a period of time, my focus became less one of weaving expertise and more one of physical engagement with textiles, especially experiencing textile art work through our hands which is usually now forbidden. This led to a sudden realisation that we also are not allowed to engage physically with natural forms such as stalactites any more as the chemicals in our skin can adversely affect the development of these formations. So gradually, my focus emerged.
Looking back over my journal for the three years, I have had so many great ideas that I can take forward and develop that I don’t think I will ever run out of things to try even in a very focused field of geology through weave, and one thing several viewers of my work have imprinted on me is that it can be translated into a number of different things depending on the experience of the viewer. This I find really exciting and which will also lead me to develop the work in further ways…..
So whilst this time is a period of reflection, it is also a period of resolutions – to keep my mind open to possibilities which may seem fantastical, but that’s no reason not to try; to be open to what negative comments can teach me in a positive way; to keep on learning and growing with the same spirit of excitement and wonder that the last 3 years have given me; and to share what I learn and love with others as much as possible because we all learn and teach each other and you never know where the next ‘aha’ moment will emerge!