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White gloves at the ready!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that quilt shows must have invigilators of some sort. You see them at shows all around the world.

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White glove ladies (and quiltmaker) at Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild, Australia (via)

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Quilt angel at Houston show, Texas (via)

 

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White glove helper at Road to California quilt show (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Call them white glove ladies, or quilt angels, stewards or quilt guardians – they are there to keep an eye on the quilts, to keep them safe. They can make sure no-one simply walks off with one (it has happened! remember this?) and that visitors obey the Do Not Touch The Quilts signs.

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At Glendale, CA, quilt show (via)

 

These helpers also get to share their love of quilting in conversations with interested visitors. (They don’t even need to be an expert on the techniques as there are usually samples or statements that can be looked at and read for the details, to which visitors can be referred.) They might need (in smaller shows) to keep a tally of visitors, or take money for items being sold. When things are quiet, they have a chance to chat with other helpers and get to know them better.

That last consideration is important in a large regional or even national group, in which members don’t meet face to face very often. My own experience is of Contemporary Quilt in the UK – we communicate with each other through a yahoo group, and see other members mainly at Festival of Quilts each year. It makes a difference to be able to put a face to the name.

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Men in tuxedos did the white-gloving at San Diego Quilt Show’s “It’s a Zoo Out There” Preview Night (via)

 

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Kilted white glove helper at the International Quilt Festival of Ireland (via)

 

With all these positive aspects, and no training needed (you just need to smile, be pleasant, use common sense) – why are people so reluctant to volunteer to help out in this way?

Some, of course, live too far from the show, or have health issues or conflicting responsibilities that make this impossible. For shows in big national venues, the hassle of travelling to get there and the costs involved, and then the time that needs to be set aside, can deter volunteers.

Some are shy or afraid of the public; others don’t feel they know enough to be able to answer questions.

Some – usually the same people time after time – will help out at the drop of a hat and travel for one or two hours to do so.

What about the rest … are they lost causes? Is this reluctance to volunteer for a simple task a part of a general lethargy and apathy?  When stewarding slots need filling, how can these people be “incentivized”?

One incentive for doing several hours of minding the quilts is to get a day pass to the (large) show, which allows several hours of looking around at other displays and traders.

Collectible “quilt angel” pins are a tangible reward. For example, the“Roadie” bar is earned by volunteering four hours or more at the Road To California quilt show. Each year “Roadies” receive a year bar to add to their special pin. At Houston, the “quilt angels” earn an Angel pin for a three-hour shift, and if they serve two shifts, they earn priority registration for the next show.

The "Roadie" pin (via)

The “Roadie” pin (via)

A rather compelling incentive is pressure from others in the group – the sense that every member makes a contribution, not just of their membership fee but of something else, which can be helping run the organization or doing one of the behind-the-scenes jobs – or contributing by looking after the quilts at shows near them.

 

 

Found in the International Honor Quilt boxes — Ana Lupas (by Kathleen Loomis)

I wrote last week about my new volunteer gig, helping to catalog the “International Honor Quilt” collection of panels  that were made to accompany Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party installation.  My favorite piece in the first 200 panels I’ve catalogued is this one, by Ana Lupas:

Yes, at first glance it looks pretty awful, a mess of raggedy interfacing and loose thread ends.  But as you look more closely, you notice the intricate machine-stitched gridwork in the center:

Why did this piece call out to me so loudly?  I love grids, and I love dense machine stitching, and I love old-fashioned typewriters like the one used to type Lupas’ name and address on the interfacing.  But what I really admire is the supreme confidence of an artist who can put such humble materials together — the edges are secured with staples! — and make them stand up straight and proud.

The panel stood out from the others — not pretty, not earnest, not awkward or amateurish, despite its seemingly haphazard construction.  It’s the only one I’ve seen so far that strikes me as art rather than as decoration.

I had never heard of Ana Lupas, but some research reveals her to be 75 years old, still living in Cluj, Romania, where she was born.  She started her art career as a tapestry weaver and was exhibited in all the major shows, including several times at the the Lodz Triennial, where she won Gold and Silver medals in 1979.

She expanded her work to installations and happenings, especially outdoors where she was among the earliest Land Art practitioners and strongly influenced many of her fellow artists in Eastern Europe.  She would enlist people from villages to construct wreaths, towers and other forms from straw, then leave them outside for years to weather and disintegrate.  Predating Christo’s Running Fence, she had 100 women help her cover an entire hill with clotheslines of wet linens.

Ana Lupas, Humid Installation, 1970

I was unable to find more information about Lupas and her recent work, even by painfully reading Google translations of art criticism from the Hungarian. I found an artist statement that somebody else had translated into English, but it left most of its meaning behind.  She talks about art having “to contribute, to shape, and to give new dimensions to the social existential universe,” whatever that means.  She has no website, and I could find no images of her early tapestry work, predating the internet.

I’m afraid she will remain a mystery to me; her work calls out to me across the years but leaves me hungry for more.

I’m also posting this to my personal blog, artwithaneedle.blogspot.com

International Honor Quilt project (by Kathleen Loomis)

You have probably heard of Judy Chicago’s magnum opus, The Dinner Party, made in 1975-6, first exhibited in 1979 and now on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  Widely regarded as one of the high points in feminist art, it is a huge three-sided table with 39 place settings, each one commemorating a famous woman in history with an individualized plate and placemat.  An additional 999 women were memorialized on floormats on which the table rested.

The exhibit toured the world for nine years, drawing huge crowds, and many of the women who saw it were moved to wish that their own favorite women could be included in the show.  At some point Chicago invited submissions from anybody who wanted to make a panel.  Hundreds of panels came in, and on later stops in the tour they were displayed as part of the Dinner Party installation.

The panels covered famous and not-famous women; many people honored their mothers, grandmothers, next-door neighbors and teachers.  Others chose women’s organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women or La Leche League.  Some depicted fictional, mythological or Biblical characters, groups such as farm women or pioneers, or universal themes such as menstruation.

There were only two rules: each panel should be an equilateral triangle, 24 inches on a side, and around the edges of the triangle should be written the name of the honoree and her city and country. Beyond that, the format, materials and techniques were up to the makers.

After the world tour, both The Dinner Party itself and the more than 600 volunteer-made panels went into storage.  Last year, Chicago’s foundation donated the panels to the University of Louisville, and the school is now grappling with the task of properly documenting them. In a moment of some kind of mental aberration, I decided that I needed to be involved with this project, so I’m spending several hours a week with the panels and a spreadsheet, helping the curators with the technical details of textile techniques and materials.

The database is supposed to include information on the panel, the woman or group honored in the panel, the maker of the panel and biographical information about her, the maker’s statement (about why she chose the honoree, how she made the panel, or whatever else she wanted to say), technical information on the panel’s condition, measurements, materials and techniques, and a detailed description of the panel. Materials, techniques and description are my responsibility, while the other fields are being checked and corrected by others on the project staff.

In my three fields, we’re finding that some panels have no information at all, while others have been incorrectly described. For instance,18 of the first 54 we went through had no information on materials, techniques and description!  That’s a lot of blank spaces in the data base. But even the ones that have been filled in by past cataloguers need to be carefully checked for accuracy.  The previous cataloguers sometimes confuse hand and machine stitching and use catchall terms such as “hand sewn” instead of distinguishing between hand piecing, hand applique and hand embroidery. One of the cataloguers seemed enamored of the term “partial machine construction,” which means nothing to me.  “Top stitching” is frequently used as a descriptor, except sometimes it means machine applique, other times it means quilting, still other times it means embroidery.

the cataloguer thought this beautiful padded satin stitch was machine embroidered

The previous cataloguers also didn’t pay much attention to how the edges of the panels were finished — traditional quilt binding, facing, knife-edge finish, fabric from the front or back of the panel folded over the edge and stitched down on the other side, or whatever.  In many cases there was no description at all of the edge, and in others it wasn’t accurate. So I inspect each panel, compare it to what the cataloguer wrote, poke and prod the work to determine what techniques were used, occasionally feel the goods with my ungloved hand to identify the material, and write my own notes.  Then at home I type it all into the database; it usually takes me a bit longer to type up the notes than it did to inspect the panels.

The curators had acquired several pairs of those baggy, limp white cotton gloves to protect the quilts, but I said we needed Machingers to make it easier to work.  I have a long, strong embroidery needle that I use to poke at the work and lift an edge or pull a seam open to see how it was stitched, a ruler to measure the borders and a magnifying loupe to get a better look at the stitches if necessary.

I had to gingerly poke at this one to determine that the tiny orange stitches are made with a punch needle, not french knots

I’m writing more about my adventures in cataloguing on my own blog, Art With A Needle, if you’re intrigued with this project.  Next week I’ll write about an artist I discovered in the pile of panels.

The art of fiber / the fiber of art (by Olga Norris)

Sheila Hicks
Shiela Hicks with her work Pillar of Enquiry/Supple Column (from this review)

With some regret I will not be able to visit the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present, on at the ICA, Boston now until January 4, then at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus from January – April 5 2015, followed by the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa May 8 – August 2nd. However, I have the next best thing: the excellent catalogue with its informative and thought-provoking essays.

I became generally interested in soft sculpture such as the work of Meret Oppenheim and Claes Oldenburg before developing a particular fascination with fibre art in the late 70s through the Royal College of Art Gaudy Ladies exhibitions which included weaver Marta Rogoyska, and Natalie Gibson (whose print designs can be seen here). Then I also became attracted to the work of Tadek Beutlich who worked with weaving off the loom.
Tadek BeutlichThis opened a window for me, and I started looking more and more for examples of sculptural textiles – which led me to a treasury of delights: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olga de Amaral, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Anne Wilson among so many others. Interesting that I arrived at Eva Hesse and Rosemarie Trockel directly through my interest in sculpture rather than through fibre art.

The catalogue provides clear photographs of the work in situ as well as close-ups, and the essays are also illuminating. The gulf between the burgeoning fibre art movement and what might be called mainstream art critics’ view of art is pointed out in the first essay of the catalogue: The Materialists by Jenelle Porter.
Despite the gains of the feminist art movement, which included a groundbreaking loosening of confining categories and mediums that has continued to have an impact on artists to this day, fiber’s association with women’s work undermined the abstract, material experimentation of fiber artists – man of whom were women, though not necessarily self-identified feminists. … By using traditionally domestic crafts … On the positive side they acquired a ready made alternative art history, and gained a language of form that summoned up vast realms of women’s experience. On the negative side they found themselves confronted by the questionable notion that craft was inherently female, and by the negative aspects of that gendering.

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Magdalena Abakanowicz: Yellow Abakan (from this review of the exhibition)

In Glenn Adamson’s essay Soft Power he draws the distinction in bold terms by comparing the gravity-enhanced fibre works with distinct periods in history of the unpopularity of the flaccid penis in sculpture. The distinct lack of critical acclaim for the droopy draped natural forms of soft sculpture compares with the critical successes of upright thrusting forms of hard sculpture. This superficial sounding view is in fact an informative well thought-out argument which has certainly presented a different perspective to the feminist debate.
T’ai Smith’s essay Tapestries in Space: An Alternative History of Site-Specificity discusses how many of the glorious fibre sculptures were commissioned for specific buildings and now many have been destroyed or about to be destroyed because they were not looked after or were no longer needed. Barbara Shawcroft’s Legs joyously decorating the spaces of the Embarcadero Station on the Bay Area Rapid Transport network has been neglected, and is now to be returned to the artist – which at least is better than destruction. (Article about Legs here)
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Barbara Shawcroft: White Form

Robert Rohm’s Rope Piece has been dismantled and lost, but the exhibition curator Jenelle Porter and a team from the ICA reconstructed the work and it is now part of the show.

Art made of fibre does suffer over time. Maintenance and conservation are headaches for collectors and institutions. Some fibre art once bought is wrapped up and put straight into the cupboard. This has happened with Lenore Tawney and MOMA. the latter pleading lack of appropriate space. At least, that might have been so in past decades, but now with the ubiquity of installations, the maintenance nightmares of sharks in formaldehyde, the vast sizes of iconic museum architecture, perhaps this timely revival of these wondrous constructions will have some positive effect -?

photo-614x460Elise Giauque: Pure Spatial Element (from this review of the exhibition)

But in reading this excellent catalogue/book as well as having been given the opportunity to think again about those historic pieces, and to mull once more aspects of feminism in art, I also ask myself, is it really over-simplifying the case by so much to say that generally, work made in materials which need less maintenance and conservation are in the long run more highly regarded (i.e. worth more) by the art world (critics, curators, collectors)?

Suffering for art (by Margaret Cooter)

It is a truth generally acknowledged that artists must suffer for their art. Also, it is widely believed, in the art community at least, that good art has its basis in the artist’s unique personal experience – and, especially among artists and critics, that a viewer is needed to “complete” the work, in that they will bring their own experience to their perception of the work.

 “An exhibition of multimedia pieces created by two artist sharing a professional knowledge of medical environments. This exhibition brings together a series of process driven interrogations into the deconstructive and reconstructive nature of disease.”

“An exhibition of multimedia pieces created by two artist sharing a professional knowledge of medical environments. This exhibition brings together a series of process driven interrogations into the deconstructive and reconstructive nature of disease.”

In “Black & Blue”, an exhibition at the Freespace Gallery in Kentish Town Health Centre, London , two artists have taken the notion of “suffering for their art” to great lengths. For Chris Day, it is voluntary; for Penny Clayden, it is inescapable.

Chris and Penny are familiar with suffering and pain through their work – Chris is a respiratory therapist, treating cardiac patients, and Penny is a nurse, now training other nurses how to look after their backs, for she has long had chronic back pain herself.  They are both nearing the end of their art MA at Farnham, brought together by their medical background and their search for how to integrate their creativity and these concerns with pain, suffering, healing, harmony, natural rhythms.

As well as their working lives in health care, they share textile-related backgrounds and families in which people were always making things, by sewing or otherwise. Chris’s family included tailors and pattern testers; her father and grandfather stitched tapestries. Penny’s forebears worked in couture and costume making; she was given a sewing machine at the age of 4 and was making clothes for people, that they wore, by the age of 8.

With this emphasis on clothes and cloth, stitched creativity, it’s no wonder that they are both undertaking a textiles MA. For Penny, sewing and art have been an adjunct to her working life; some years ago Chris took time out from work for a textiles degree. At the MA level, each student’s experience starts from the project they propose on applying to the course – they have already narrowed down the possibilities to something relevant and absorbing for them. During the course, tutors and mentors help them focus even further, as well as broadening their wider view. It is here that individual experience becomes so important, not just for finding a process of making the art but also in determining the content of the artworks.

Night Waves (2013) Chris Day. Acrylic ink, sea water.

Night Waves (2013) Chris Day. Acrylic ink, sea water.

Chris’s focus is on the interaction of man and nature over time, and the work she shows originates in her relationship with the sea. She has used ink and seawater to produce a series of drawings, often through wetting the drawn lines by taking  the paper into the breaking waves. She works at the seashore throughout the year, and has also drawn while immersed up to the neck, unable to see the drawing on her board through watching for the next wave so that she can jump to stay above it.

 Intervention 1 (2013) Chris Day. Linen, pre-rusted wire, sea water.

Intervention 1 (2013) Chris Day. Linen, pre-rusted wire, sea water.

Her stitched work doesn’t imitate surgical sutures – surgical procedures are presented in a more abstract form, for instance in “Intervention 1” by the incorporation of  wire into a linen cloth that sat in evaporating sea water for more than a year, rusting the metal and precipitating salt crystals as it dried.

Chris also makes felt pieces, using her hands intuitively through long practice with this process, just as she uses her hands intuitively in her work, the intuition developed through years of experience.

 Redacted Revealed (detail) (2014) Penny Clayden. Silk organza.

Redacted Revealed (detail) (2014) Penny Clayden. Silk organza.

Everyone who suffers pain sees it differently, say Penny – her own pain is black – and it was this interest in perception of pain that led to her MA project, which was initially to discover other people’s perceptions of pain. She found, though, that she didn’t understand her own perceptions, so has narrowed her focus to her personal experience. One of the resulting works, Redacted Revealed, is a series of prints on freely hanging silk organza, a fabric that had been used inside plaster casts to prevent rubbing from damaging the patient’s skin. The fabric is stained with myrobalans, which as well as being used in tanning leather in India are made from trees that have healing qualities. Hung around a large space, the series of prints represent a day in the life of Penny’s pain, which changes over time and throughout the day. The shapes on the cloth bear some resemblance to structures found on x-rays; some cloths are double, and move across each other in the air currents as people walk past.

Fragmentation series (2014) Penny Clayden. Porcelain, cloth, thread, loofah

Fragmentation series (2014) Penny Clayden. Porcelain, cloth, thread, loofah

Other fabrics used in the medical setting include calico and gauze, bandages and garments, and Penny has dipped these into black porcelain slip. The fabrics are burnt away during firing in the kiln, leaving the hard, but fragile, porcelain; even when the pain goes away, Penny says, she can feel very fragile.

 Fragmentation series (2014) Penny Clayden. Porcelain, bone china, loofah

Fragmentation series (2014) Penny Clayden. Porcelain, bone china, loofah

Penny is aware that these fragile works are likely to disintegrate through handling, so for the life of the exhibition she has put them in drawers and in jars sourced from office and kitchen suppliers. The jars resemble those used for anatomical specimens, with no need for the formaldehyde preservative. The tallest jar holding pieces of her Fragmentation series contains porcelain-dipped pieces of loofah– the soft, spongy shapes, made rigid, resembling vertebrae in various stages of decomposition.

These visual ways of explaining pain were well received by patients who happened to be in the health centre while the show was being hung. One said that this reminded her that people outside the health setting were caring for her in a different way; another, who had been looking very dejected, seemed revived by the activity around him.

The arts in healthcare settings are acknowledged as contributing to patients’ welfare and recovery, and enriching the lives of staff and visitors. A literature is building up on the active use of art in hospitals and health centres, not just traditional pictures as something to look at while waiting, but as part of signage and for orientation within the building; as a focus for conversations between visitors and patients; making the building interesting for children; introducing the healing benefits of nature; and involving patients in creating art themselves. Funding for such art is usually from private and charitable sources.

In both art galleries and health centres, space is becoming more fluid – used for different purposes by different groups of people – for example, to meet for coffee rather than look at the art, or to see the art rather than attend a medical appointment. The gallery at Kentish Town Health Centre is not separate from the treatment areas. It shows art that can be comforting, or can present a challenge to the viewer. When the art is based in an experience that patients can relate to, even a difficult experience like pain, it is their own experience, their perception and recognition of that commonality in the art work, that makes the work complete.

 

Black & Blue is showing at Free Space Gallery, First floor, 2 Bartholomew Road, London NW5 2BX, until 16 January;  see freespacegallery.org.


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