String theory

Melissa takes a line for a walk.

01 String

Last week I had 10 different types of string lined up for a piece I’m working on. It doesn’t need 10 types of string, but I didn’t feel that the finished work I was trying create resonated with any one of them. I had already discounted some satiny cord, the usual pearl-silk that you can get at most jewellery suppliers as well as the nylon thread that is often used on beaded (especially when used in combination with jade beads) bookmarks and key chains. They weren’t quite old or rustic enough.

In case you’re not Rain Man and don’t want to count them – there’s 19 different colours of cords, threads and strings up in that image, of eleven different types. There’s embroidery thread, two types of kitchen string and two more of what appears to be jute string (one is for sure), a couple of leather ones, several cottons in varying colours, some linen and my usual weapon of choice, a length of stainless steel cable.

Despite my misgivings, I loaded myself with strings and cords from my different stashes around the house, and headed to the basement. Being unsure of which to use by this point in the process is a bit unusual, because usually when I’m visualising something and the material for the body of the work has been decided, I can see the finished object in my head, including vague ideas about adjoining materiality. If not, and I actually have to go find the last ingredients, when I find a part that I think will complete the work – say when I’m looking at thread in a shop – I can then see it working in my minds eye. In this case I hadn’t reached that point, but I figured that playing with the different types and colours against the actual object that I was working on would solve the problem for me. It wasn’t like I didn’t have plenty of options available.

Then as I sat with all the cords, strings and threads and the saw pierced parts of an ex-object I’m working with, I remembered that I had in an even more secret stash in the bottom drawer of my bench, that I had dived past earlier in the week in a hasty search for some neighbouring steel chain.

The centre bottom four threads in that photo are waxed linen – the ones in red, blue, green are joined by the burgundy one that runs along the bottom and finishes to the right. They’re little samples given to me by Lauren, who I stayed with in Pittsburgh earlier this year. After Lauren had kindly given me 4 little samples I had packed them into my bag of steel cable, a stash of my usual threading material, which I had taken over to Pittsburgh for use in the workshop I gave there. Upon returning home and having unloaded my bag of tools and materials, I had forgotten about the thread entirely. So rather than in my filing cabinet with all my other threads in the studio, they were stored with my steel cable, next to my steel chain, in that bottom drawer. And when I sat in my chair with all the other strings and threads I had bought and found around the office, kitchen and studio, I realised that what I was really needing was in the bottom of that drawer.

When Lauren showed me the thread back in March I thought it was nice, but I didn’t really have a place for it in my practice, especially given that my introduction to the material was somewhat alien to how I now plan to use it. Lauren uses it for the precise art of miniature basket making, in which she often uses a 1c coin – a penny – as the base of the basket. Her use of it shut down my thoughts of what I might do with it, and dictated how I thought the material would work best.

Since I reopened my package and played with the thread in a completely new context, it has been occupying so much of my brain space it’s been insane. Once I ordered it I was counting down the days til the delivery, obsessively checking the arrival time as if it were a mask running late for my Halloween costume (late delivery is one of many shipping misfortunes I encountered this week, along with deliveries landing at the wrong address entirely – it’s been a bad week with UPS here at the Embassy.) I was so grateful to Lauren that she insisted I take an image of her sample card, which I clearly remember thinking at the time was overkill for my level of interest. But now I know first-hand that she is absolutely right, the samples on the card do not match the images of the thread on the website.

Royalwood Waxed Irish Linen Sample Card pre 2013

This whole process has made me wonder at the nature of creativity. Was I waiting, rather impatiently, for my brain to re-make the connection to the linen thread? If that’s true, then I was never going to be completely happy with anything but the waxed linen. Or if not, if in fact if I had never seen that such a thing existed, would I still be foundering in the studio trying to find a replacement, perhaps braiding different fibres or even waxing my own thread (I’ve done that before in small sections; in fact one of the embroidery threads above has a 2cm section where I recently tried it,) or scouring more shops or the internet for yet another alternative. Lucky for me though, I had come across the perfect filament, and it was patiently waiting for me, snuggled up right next to a big stash of my old favourite, the stainless cable.

The scene with Laura has also haunted me this past weekend. How I had outwardly showed interest, but internally had already moved on from thinking that the thread could useful for me. How wrong was I. And how lucky was I to have had the opportunity to listen up regardless, to be given the chance to realise the import of her words much later.

It reminds me of the movie Wayne’s World (before you interject with “Objection, your honour. Irrelevant!” hear me out…) where Wayne and Garth meet up with Mr Big’s security – as played by Chris Farley. The scene closes with Wayne practically breaking character to placate the audience for the clumsiness of the exposition just witnessed. But thanks to a 30 second encounter with a single ‘fellow enthusiast’, the characters and the audience now know something that is of supreme significance for the progress of the story.

Perhaps it’s the same notion. Once I had ownership of such information, after a seemingly chance encounter with Lauren and her spools of waxed thread (a material with very specific properties – never before have I wanted a cord that would grip and kink so readily,) like Wayne and Garth, it was just a matter of time before I had reason to use it.

Somewhat coincidentally (as if I wasn’t already wondering about the nature of intuition versus perception…) I read this article “How Our Minds Mislead Us: The Marvels and Flaws of Our Intuition” by Maria Popova today, discussing a recently released book called Thinking, edited John Brockman. I totally believe that perception – knowledge that I already had – led me to re-finding the thread when I finally sat down to make with my gathered fibres. But where does the creative intuition – that I simultaneously knew that this thread was the ideal that had haunted me – fit in?

Orchestra, some thinking music, please.

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