It feels as though it’s getting harder to imagine every day, but if you’re keen for a refresher on what’s at stake if we can’t find a way to work together, the IMAGINE show is a great start. And it’s not all doom and gloom, there’s a dark sense of humour driving several of these works. If you’re in the area please head to the newly relocated Society of Arts and Crafts at 100 Pier 4 Boulevarde, Suite 100, in Boston from 6-9pm on Thursday the 23rd of February for the opening.
This is the second stop for this exhibition, which is running for quite a time, so you have until June to see a sobering collection of metal art made from decommissioned weapons seized by the Pittsburgh Police Department. If you can’t get along, there is a pretty amazing catalogue in the works which I’m sure will be available in Boston, and I’ll post the details of where you can source it from elsewhere very soon.
I have to share this: Zadie Smith’s latest piece for The Guardian, What Beyoncé taught me. I’d like to explain my thoughts on it, but it would be a disservice to do more than quote:
The connection between writing and dancing has been much on my mind recently: it’s a channel I want to keep open. It feels a little neglected – compared to, say, the relationship between music and prose – maybe because there is something counter-intuitive about it. But for me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do.
I’ve been thinking about writing quite a bit lately, as I struggle to make my writing and my work parallel one another for a few different fora. I’ve had occasion to write both proposals for new work as well as explanatory texts for pieces (and in some cases, both, in remarkably quick succession) and it’s been interesting to look back over ‘projections’ versus ‘justifications/explanations’. In more than one piece I worried that I talked a good game, but that the work wasn’t going to live up to the rhetoric. That remained in the back of my mind over separate making processes, and probably changed the outcomes in some way that I’m not yet able to put my finger on.
Meeting my own written expectations wasn’t something that I had worried about before; first of all because I didn’t think the writing was ever veering out of it’s lane by aiming for a poetic display that I would rather the work be in charge of, and secondly because I didn’t think I had a good enough handle on writing about my work in anything but as a kind of documentation.
But the works in my most recent exhibition changed many of my ways of working, including what was written and where the work needed the writing to support it. I don’t subscribe to the idea that an accompanying text is only necessary when the work fails to do all the talking, and thanks to Ben Lignel for reminding us that the British Museum (I think it was… I can’t find the article on AJF) was using words as an interpretive tool to help democratise access to the collection (ie, make it accessible to the burgeoning middle class) back in the 1800’s.
I do and don’t want to explain my work. I want it to do well in the world and so I am prepared to give it context, but I also think, like many others, that it exists because I can’t communicate what it does in any other fashion. To me, making is a form of communication outside written and spoken language, that has its own set of symbols (alphabet) and that makes connections that are not impeded by having to find the word or the flow of words to explain itself, and that it might even navigate inside of us without engaging with the conscious (and word-forming) part of the mind. But now I have recognised that being quite a language-y person, my penchant for writing and talking (my hobbies include calligraphy, for heavens sake) could have the potential to get in the way.
I’m not sure it will, (though perhaps it already has, what a mortifying thought!) and I don’t doubt that it has happened before, but I would hate for my words to set the scene for objects that don’t/can’t deliver. On the flip side, I’m starting to realise why so many artists don’t want to talk about their work.
You have my empathy, if not my allegiance.
Drew F Cameron (no relation, really, there’s a few more Camerons here than there were back home, I even met one on the phone last week…) is an ex US service-person, and he makes paper all over the US, with, among others, other ex-military personnel, out of their old uniforms. He kindly gifted me with some of the offcuts of his toil last year, and I used them to make art about war and its effects on the body – the body politic specifically – as in us, and all of humanity.
Suffice to say, his cause has my heart, and his need for a van (since his last one was recently stolen) has rallied the rest of my body to the cause. If you can help out, please do. I can vouch for the work that he does, and I hope to be able to meet him one day and tell him as much. And maybe even make some paper.
In answer to a reader question; yes, the material that makes the work My House – Tanya Lippe’s Lunch Box is all from Tanya’s old lunch box, barring the stainless steel rivets, c-shaped connections, chain (handmade and otherwise) and cable that joins the altered parts together.
In fact there’s actually a few parts missing. The plastic handle and chrome fittings are not part of the design, and there is a series of five small pins (about 27 x 4mm each) that are not part of the installation. One of these I have kept (not a habit of mine, but these were particularly meaningful to me, in a piece that became surprisingly personal over the course of the design and making), and four were given to Micki before the piece was installed.
What you can’t see in this image is the hinge pin that was removed, the handle tethers, and an internal feature meant to hold a thermos flask in place in the top section of the box (it was roughly the shape of the stylized ‘V’ on the front.) All this was wire, in approximately 1.5 – 2mm diameter steel, which was cut up, drilled into, enameled and re-joined to make the chain that holds the big ‘snowflake’ section in the centre.
If you’ve already seen this on Instagram my apologies, but the lovely co-director of Bilk, Mio Kuhnen, let the world know over the weekend that two of my pieces from the recent Body Politic exhibition in Canberra were just acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. This takes their Melissa Cameron tally up to 3!
I was in a bit of shock to have such a long and considered gallery visit with Dr Robert Bell (curator of decorative arts at the NGA) while I was in Canberra, on the day before the official opening of the show. He was very inquisitive, and if you’re read any of the text surrounding these works, you’ll have seen that there are a lot of stories to tell, so I was honoured to impart my narrative of these and the other works. He even asked my opinion – what I thought of the pieces he was deliberating and why – and I had to tell him that it took me a long time to come to terms with the Tank piece especially, as I found it brutal and dark when I first finished it.
Finishing that work as one of the earliest in the series – the Cannon and Tank were conceived at the same time – made continuing and then creating even more complex pieces an easier pill to swallow. I look back now and see that they were really just a prelude to the Gun piece, which, while only completed in late 2013 early 2014, was really begun with the horrific events in Sandy Hook in December of 2012. I see now that I put those details away for a while, and decided to start in more neutral territory – a Civil War era cannon and an M1 Abrams tank as fitted out for use by the Australian Army, as a sort of way to first test and then brace myself before moving deeper into this series.
I had a terrible grief-ridden winter this year as I finished up this series, and while the Drone probably didn’t help, I can’t say it hurt either. I now conflate the two in my memory. The Drone and last winter were inevitable, and surviving each of them needed the other as a crutch, in a sort of incongruous symbiosis.
But before all that, when I just had a Tank and a Cannon in my arsenal, I wasn’t sure if I would continue. The duo could have easily remained an outlier, an experiment that was discontinued before it had really begun. So it’s also them I have to thank for begetting the rest of the Escalation series, including the Drone that got me through.
Goodbye good friends, I hope to see you again some time 😉
Over at Pratt in Seattle I’m going to be involved with a group-led workshop: It’s All Material: 4 Artists Teach Their Specialties (scroll down for details) starting on the 8th of September. How unusual, I hear you muse, of what could I possibly be talking, you wonder aloud to your e-reading device, whose response is inaudible..?
Well friends, there are going to be 4 artists who take two weeks each to give an intro to their area of jewellery and metalsmithing specialty. My two weeks will be working with enamel, and how you can add that to the arsenal of jewellery-making techniques. The other artists involved are Pratt regulars: Anne Randall, Julia Harrison and Sharrey Dore.
Should be a fun one!
The focus for this course is a slight shift from the other workshops I’ve taught to date, as I have finally figured out a way to teach what it is that I do without having to get AutoCad and a lasercutter involved for a 2 day class.
In my own studio I enamel fiddly little things, some of which I painstakingly draw, drill and cut out myself, and some of which I painstakingly draw and then find someone/thing else to do the drilling and cutting grunt work. In either case, it involves a lot of cutting before enamelling commences, after which I’m left with tiny fiddly parts to enamel, that I later piece together into jewellery.
I could say that this is not really how I learned, rather that it was by trial and error I developed a method to suit my work, (which in some cases I did), but if you dig really deep on this blog, you’ll see that’s just not true. In fact my formative enamelling experience was working in Elizabeth Turrell’s studio at the University of the West of England (images below for a recap), where I spent a month dipping in enamel the things I found on the street on my walk to school in the morning. I then figured out a rather ad-hoc way to fire them, and to be un-flatteringly honest, I’ve not improved any part of my system much since then!
Since the U.S. has such an amazing array of steel bits and bobs lining practically any street edge, I decided it’s time to repeat the earlier England experiment in a workshop. The deluge of scrap metal that I find kinda shameful in a city full of metalsmiths like Seattle, will then go from environmental problem to beautiful, wearable jewels once we get our hands, and Danaca’s range of steel-ready enamels, onto them!
(And while we’re at it we will doubtless find a better solution to making them wearable than my own ‘hang it on a silk cord’ improvisation of 5 years ago, too.)
So if you want the tips and tricks on how I make my art, and more especially if you’d like to turn some trash into wearable treasure of your own, please come and join us. Oh, and on your way to the studio, you’ll inevitably find some steel washers and nails and other rusty odds and ends strewn across the tarmac. Why don’t you bring that along?
A couple of great projects I’ve seen online that I thought I’d share.
Thanks to the perfectly titled Fuck Yeah, Book Arts! site, I’ve been meditating on the beautiful beaded works orchestrated by Nadia Myre:
Nadia Myre, Indian Act
Indian Act speaks of the realities of colonization – the effects of contact, and its often-broken and untranslated contracts. The piece consists of all 56 pages of the Federal Government’s Indian Act mounted on stroud cloth and sewn over with red and white glass beads. Each word is replaced with white beads sewn into the document; the red beads replace the negative space.
Between 1999 and 2002, Nadia Myre enlisted over 230 friends, colleagues and strangers to help her bead over the Indian Act. With the help of Rhonda Meier, they organized workshops and presentations at Concordia University, and hosted weekly beading bees at Oboro Gallery, where it was presented as part of the exhibition, Cont[r]act, in 2002.
The piece itself is strikingly beautiful, a perfect realisation of her concept.
Oring has been banding groups of volunteer typists to write postcards to politicians. She started the project with postcards to the President (of the USA, that is) and has recently moved on to the current presidential candidates, using volunteers to take dictation the same manner that she did with her first outing, dressed as a 1960’s stenographer:
In 2006, Sheryl dressed as a 1960s secretary, set up a portable public office complete with a manual typewriter in public areas across the country, and typed birthday cards to then President Bush as dictated by passers-by.
She has gone on to take in commentary of the Obama administration, and is about to start taking down community thoughts on the current
lunacy presidential nomination battle.
and the effect?
I’ll never forget this guy in Chicago, at one of the last shows. He came down to where I was taking photographs and said, “I just want you to know that I am a better American because I participated in your project.”
The empowerment experienced by participants has of course been likened to therapy, which I think is a really interesting outcome of the process. Why does the act of airing your thoughts to someone who is an impartial observer give one a feeling of closure, more than, say, talking it out to a like-minded friend or relative? I also think of this project in relation to the public displays of jewellery creation and/or gifting that I have seen. I think the strength of this piece is its sustained and clearly impactful interaction, which is fostered using a rather generic and easily replicable format.
Been reading about a project to create a drone-proof city on Polis, which started as, “[A] semi-ironic architectural response to drone warfare.” As a though experiment it’s really interesting, but as a cityscape – my feeling is that it can’t help but feel oppressive. On the flip side, you can have a beautiful and open city but if the state is oppressive/aggressive then the citizenry are still going to notice, and if it’s not your state that is the aggressor, perhaps it’s the only option. I’ve been studying drone warfare for a while now. Those of you on Instagram have seen the work in progress of my drone piece, which will be heading to Canberra in March. Be prepared..!
The other reading I have noted to share is courtesy of that old standard, Kit and Caboodle. I know, been a while, huh? Cate, the coordinator over there popped this on her blog; it’s about a new ‘mining’ (reclaiming) technique for gold, using acetic acid. Yup, vinegar. Awesome!
Come to Pratt in Seattle for a weekend of enamelling with me! We’re running the ‘Liquid Enamel for Steel and Copper‘ (at this stage you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the link for the full details) weekend workshop again on the 9th and 10th of April in the very well appointed Pratt facility on Capitol Hill.
What is there to say about this workshop? Well, there’s a bunch of cool techniques that don’t fly with using regular powdered enamels that are great options to convey meaning and beauty with liquid enamel; the kinds of tricks that you can see used in cake decorating, clay manipulation as well as glass painting are all up for grabs with this water-based medium. And then there’s my trick of creating a pair of earrings for everyone in the class to enamel from a single tin-can lid… How do you do that, I hear you ask? Bring along a pair of ear-wires and find out!
No prior enamel experience necessary! Bookings through the link above 😉
See yas there!