23 February, 2009
I susbscribe to VAV Magasinet.
This is a recent subscription and during my perusal of the latest VAV magazine, I realised how narrow my awareness of the weaving world actually is. I thought that I was relatively up on weaving traditions internationally, but then I realised that that was purely based on the English speaking world! Boy, was I embarrassed at myself!
I live in the UK, part of Europe, and yet somehow not part of Europe. I identified much more with the US, at a far greater remove geographically, than with our neighbours across the North Sea. I travel hundreds of miles to attend Convergence and Complex Weavers Seminars, and yet don’t often think to cross the English Channel to Europe or the North Sea to Scandinavia to attend weaving conferences there, and yet the weaving scene in Scandinavia is really healthy! Probably even more so than in the UK and the US!!
I also subscribe to Textile Forum by ETN, the European Textile Network. That focuses mostly on things happening in Germany, and reports on events in the wider European world. Somehow, I wasn’t crediting what was happening in Europe with the same importance as things happening in the UK and the US.
Why is that? Am I a weaving snob? Golly, I hope not, and yet I begin to think perhaps I am, albeit unconsciously. Or am I English-centric, only wanting to go to things where the language is one I know well? Why do I not think of going to European shows? Why do I believe that there is a huge void between the world of enthusiasts, and the world of commercial weavers? Is there anything out there filling that void?
Looking at VAV, I realised that in Scandinavia at least, there most certainly is and has been for centuries.
I went to Lyon in 2005 as part of the European funded Leonardo da Vinci Craft Skills Exchange programme. I went to meet contemporary jacquard weavers, but couldn’t find many people actively engaged in weaving for their living other than in a commercial factory/large company setting. The two I met, Ludovic De La Calle at Soierie Saint-Georges and Monette Maitre-Pierre, experienced the same problems that I and so many others do.
I also met up with a wonderful group of people called Trame de Soi, and have been back to see another exhibition of theirs last year. So I do know that there are groups and individuals in France. It’s a fairly similar story to the UK – most people are enthusiasts with just a few ‘professional’ textile artists. Support is even less in France than it is in the UK; in comparison we are extremely fortunate in the level of business and financial support that is available in the UK. We have a history of self-employment that just doesn’t exist in France in the arts community.
One thing I have realised from writing this article is that my pre-conceptions just have to go. Heavens only knows how they got there in the first place, but the weaving world is too small for there to be such constraints in my mind!! So I will be grateful to know and expand my knowledge of what’s going on in Europe, and to make connections with more weav
15 February, 2009
I love words. They have the power to harm or to heal, to empower or to reduce, to inspire or to deflate.
I try to write a journal most days and I do that in the mornings, before the day’s tasks and “must dos” get in the way. It’s a stream of consciousness thing – quite often it can be the events of the previous day – or thoughts I’ve had whilst out walking Charlie (my dog) in the fields. This morning I exchanged casual comments with a couple of people whilst walking along the pavement. The first was a chatty, friendly ‘your dog is just gorgeous’ comment, guaranteed to make me smile and feel great! The second was with a neighbour. It was just comparing the weather of today, beautiful, sunny but cold, with yesterday’s freezing, windy rain and yet, a chance comment of my neighbour’s, saying he was far too sensible to get caught in yesterday’s weather (unlike me)had me chuntering away to myself as Charlie and I continued our walk. Somehow I had felt that comment as a reflection on my intelligence and I thought of all the clever responses I could have made which would have left him suitably chastened (or not!) when I suddenly pulled myself up short.
Why was I feeling so defensive? What was I doing, allowing a probably innocent if perhaps thoughtless comment churn up my stomach and bring me down when I should be enjoying the beauty of the day around me? It was quite an effort to move my thoughts away from the negative reaction I was experiencing and direct them into appreciative appraisal of the sun and shadows on the fields, the beauty of the remaining leaves gently fluttering down to earth, the easy elegance of Charlie running across the fields. But once I had focussed my attention on positive things that were happening right now, I felt so much better and my thoughts then turned to a sudden inspiration for another book idea.
When I got home I started thinking about how quickly I had allowed myself to be brought down and that it took a focussed determined effort to pick myself back up again and turn my thoughts to positive things, and I realised how much we are affected by seemingly random or thoughtless comments. As a teacher, it is something I’m always aware of when chatting to students. As a student, I know how vulnerable and defensive I feel when trying something outside my comfort zone, and in that frame of mind how easily one can go from being excited to being depressed and feeling worthless and useless.
It also made me reflect on how easily close relationships can change from happy and open to defensive, usually by a simple misunderstanding and how it is so true that to ensure good communication we need to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. So, for today at least, I am going to try to listen first of all, then think before I speak…..
11 February, 2009
One of my students was talking about the artistic temperament at lunch today. It started a discussion about differences in how we all perceive the world. I remembered some of my experiences with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and going on tour, and how some musicians couldn’t even get themselves organised to get a passport, let alone working out luggage restrictions, and how some artists throughout history have been dreadful at looking after themselves, dependent on others and also pretty dire to live with generally.
Others however, and I include weavers as a generic group within this (forgive my huge generalisation), are practical people, with the artistic bit of themselves tempered with social facility (hopefully), and logical thinking, able to deal with the essentials and minutia of day-to-day living whilst having knowledge about the parameters of their craft, and also having the ability to imagine something into being.
Being part musician and part weaver, even though the weaving is now my full time occupation, I still find myself think in musical ways, and we discussed what it was that made art different from music. I started by thinking that weavers have to know the limitations of their equipment, and that takes knowledge and study and experience. Then we can begin to break the boundaries of what’s technically possible, and make adaptations, of approach an old problem in new ways.
Weavers think visually, then add to that the logic of the loom, the knowledge of its set-up – the warp, weft, interlacements – and weave structures, and then there is a whole different spectrum of colour – how it mixes in different setts, proportions, tonal qualities – and then there’s the finished item – scarf, cushion, garment, curtain, art-piece. So much knowledge, so much craft, but with the art an essential part of making it original.
Musicians think aurally, hearing mixtures of sounds, blends of notes, timbres from different instruments. There is also an inherent knowledge required for someone thinking of composing for instruments – you have to know their technical range, the quality of their sound, how different instruments sound together – and of course, a knowledge of harmony and the ability to hear what a tune sounds like – whether you pick it out on a piano or other instrument, or sing it to yourself. Again, so much knowledge, so much craft, but with the art an essential part of making it original.
Both fields have their own languages – the weaving draft bears a lot of similarity to the music stave – notes for music, markings on the draft for weaving. Both have an underlying sense of logic or the outcome doesn’t work. Both have the ability to transcend obvious choices and combinations and come up with results that take your breath away.
I will never be a ‘ditsy artist’ because I have too much common sense – I’m too grounded in reality although I can easily find myself away with the fairies in dreams and aspirations. I wonder whether that’s what qualifies me to be a good weaver, but will it ever make me a genius? Or do you need to be somewhere else mentally to be a genius? Thankfully, if you take Bach, he was eminently practical, with tight deadlines to meet and a very large family to support, and most musicians would agree that he was a genius, so maybe there’s hope for us weavers there!!
It was an interesting lunchtime discussion. ….
9 February, 2009
Views change in different conditions.
What an ambiguous statement. Do I mean views as in opinions? Or views as in vistas?
Actually this morning I mean vistas. I was walking Charlie along a familiar route, but the weather was very misty and very cold – snow topped with a heavy frost on the ground. The visibility was about 200 yards and I realised what a difference it made to how I normally view the scenery (yes, I did mean that!). What was normally prosaic and mundane became somehow magical. The track down to the farm that is normally just a track down to the farm became a track shrouded in mystery (mistery???) with a destination unknown and unknowable unless you followed its path. It was enticing and I felt tempted to walk along it. The trees, which I normally see within a landscape that stretches way beyond them, became the limit of my vision. They were now the boundary of my visible world. Crossing the road became a task of judgement – of trying to listen more and rely less on my eyes.
I realised that there are positives in this narrowing of vision – this closing in of our world – as well as negatives. The negatives were all too obvious. What was normally a comparatively safe thing to do ie crossing the road, became problematical and more risky. There was a shorter period of being able to adapt or amend or alter your actions because visibility was reduced significantly. Therefore you had to be ‘on your toes’ and aware of things in a much more immediate way, employing other senses rather than the eyes.
On the other hand, my attention was drawn much more particularly to objects closer at hand than perhaps I would normally focus on. The trees against the mist were so beautiful – their skeletal forms etched starkly but yet with wisps of mist blurring the outlines in places. The frost on the snow was clear, and crisp and also very beautiful. The ice on the puddles was a feature on its own, not getting lost in the myriad of other things to take my attention. The few birds that flew into and out of my vision became much more prominent because other birds could not be seen. Their sudden appearance and disappearance was far more unsettling because it was unannounced and unexpected because of my limited vision.
I realised when I got home and involved in my weaving samples that a similar affect happens to us when we are caught up in the clutches of a particular train of thought or study. We lose the bigger vision and focus on the details of what we are doing. That is both positive and negative, and the important thing to remember is that, sooner or later, we need to think bigger again and regain our overview in order to put our thoughts into perspective.
Hmmm. And all because it was misty this morning!
8 February, 2009
I love that word! It holds a whole world of surprise, fun, exploration! I’ve been weaving some more samples today (what a surprise!), and I got all excited again about the possible choices I had to weigh up. As soon as you start something, something else pops up that is useful or inspirational or just downright exciting!
I was in south Wales earlier this week, spending a few days with my Dad on the River Taff estuary at Laugharne (pronounced Larn), just above the boathouse that Dylan Thomas lived in during his latter years. The view over the estuary, especially when the tide was out, and the distant glimpse of Camarthen Bay and far in the distance, the Gower Peninsula, was wonderful. I could see exactly what inspired the wonderful cascade of words that fell from Dylan’s pen and mouth. It was very tranquil and timeless, made even more so by the covering of snow that gripped the UK this last week.
Whilst relaxing in the lodge, I started getting a few ideas and got itchy fingers, wanting to get to a loom straight away, but not being able to. Usually I go and write things down right away, but this time I didn’t, and now, back home, I couldn’t remember what I wanted to write. Instead, whilst weaving today, I suddenly had an idea of how I can use my baby jacquards to create larger pieces. Then, with an almost audible ‘kerching’, I remembered my thoughts – based on a scarf I wove off the day before I went to Wales to finish off my last warp of samples. The scarf turned out much better than I expected. The serendipitous bit is that it looks like the surface of the estuary when the tide was out.
I’ve been looking for ways to represent the earth’s surface in my weaving for a few years now, and I’m doing a series of explorations to discover ways to do it. I’m getting quite a range of samples, and I’m learning so much along the way, but it’s the sudden surprise results when I was doing something other than being scientific and logical in my approach that’s got me more excited. Those ‘aha’ moments are ones to cherish.
1 February, 2009
One of the books I am reading at the moment is called 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit. It’s full of different exercises you can try to see deeper than the surface of things.
The second exercise in the book – Empty a Word of Its Meaning – is one that resonates with me in weaving as well. You know the kind of thing – keep repeating a commonplace word and it loses its meaning, or as Roger-Pol Droit puts it, “it detaches itself and hardens.” He continues, “You find yourself repeating a series of strange sounds. A series of absurd and meaningless noises, that denote nothing, indicate nothing… “. This happens to me especially during a boring meeting when someone is going on about a specific topic, and they keep repeating the same word. It just becomes farcical because the word becomes disassociated with what they are talking about.
It’s a weird feeling when that happens – you feel slightly disassociated from reality and everything gets a bit surreal – but it’s kind of nice.
This zoning out of surface reality happens to me sometimes when I’m weaving. If I’m doing repetitious work that needs focus but not total concentration, such as weaving a predictable pattern that I’ve woven lots of times before (as I often do in weaving samples), I can find my mind going a little somnolent. This is an interesting place to be in. You are aware, but not totally focussed on anything external. Your mind is in a kind of free-fall, your body feels a bit in limbo.
It can also be a creative place to be. When we are caught up with words relating to everyday life, we are pinned down in our reality, fixed to the earth with concrete meanings. When we find ourselves in mental free-fall, we have the chance and opportunity to be incredibly creative, with the sub-conscious providing new associations. It’s kind of like having a brain partitioned like a computer hard-drive. One part does all the obvious surface stuff, the other is for another experience. When I zone-out of surface reality, my mind pops into the partitioned section where words don’t exist and normal sensations take on a different quality.
Have you ever wondered how it would feel to be an astronaut floating in non-gravity? The lack of reference as to what’s up and what’s down, no gravity to root things to where they should be in our normal experience? I think that’s kind of what must happen mentally when we zone out.
As children, I think we are much more aware of this side of our personalities. Imagination takes kids to all sorts of fantastical but relevant places. Perhaps it’s something that we need to cultivate more actively as adults – to regain that slightly disturbing but ultimately exciting and freeing sensation . As Roger-Pol Droit observes, “Just a few seconds are enough to tear that fine film within which we make sense of things, smug with the power of giving things names.”
Whilst not everyone reading this blog will be a weaver, or like to weave repetitious samples, we can all play the repeating word game, and find that incredible space where reality is suspended……