Material Witness will focus on extreme textile process. Images will be posted here showing the history of my work, new work, developing projects and inspiration.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wrapping Things Up

I have bumped into some amazing work on craigslist vancouver in the Artists section.There is a wonderful site NeoImages.net and an artist called Abigail Doan whose work takes my breath from my body. She plays with the most simple materials and forms and creates work that is thoughtful, organic and inspiring. Now here is an artist capable of knitting with crooked sticks.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Student Revolutions

Yesterday I had a studio visit from more than twenty students from the Capilano College Textile Arts Program. They were a wonderful group of young women who gave me the opportunity to show off my working space. The visit also gave me the opportunity to dig out from under my mess and rearrange a few things.

They had great questions about everyday life as a textile artist. I had to think about how I do things to be able to describe how I work.

How do I ventilate the space when I burn and do some of the more extreme process?

Well I open the huge windows in the studio and use a fan to blow out the bad air while creating a cross breeze by opening my other window. No it isn't as good as a super sucker ceiling fan. But I really want one.

How did I find space?

I think the best way is word of mouth. Ask everyone at galleries, openings, shops and guilds. Ask about unlikely spaces and don't get discouraged about being placed on a waiting list. I ended up waiting for two whole weeks before I landed my 500 square foot studio. I found my wonderful studio mate the same way.

How do I convert the space from workshop to gallery?

I have huge shelves that are converted to walls during showings. They are covered with plywood or MDF that is painted white and screwed in place to make great display walls. I throw my stuff behind walls created by bookshelves that are backed in the same stuff. Everything moves and is convertable. Trunks turn into benches. Books can be moved off the shelves and turn into display shelves. It works great and hides my many sins.

What benefits are there when working with other artists in a large shared studio space?

Lots of benefits including information and equipment sharing, stimulation and collaboration and meeting everyone's contacts.
We have someone who cleans the biffy and makes sure the place is mostly decent included in the cost. There is also larger equipment like ladders and dollys available and someone always has a skill that you don't.
I am in a space with lots of compatable people which means that there are nice people to tea and lunch with. Oh and lets not forget being invited to lots of shows and parties.

Do people share space or sublet?

Yep lots of artists travel and need to cover rent while away. Sometimes they get broke and need someone around for awhile to help cover costs.

There were lots of questions that I don't have enough room to cover here.

Jay Rudolph, my studio mate did a great presentation about her studio experience. She also showed people some of her new lace and weavings.
There is a new Ikat scarf I will trade my pop bottles for.

We had Tea and Bickies served by Jay Rudolph herself. Anthea, the teacher and my dear friend, gifted us with a beautiful amarylis and Melisa gave me a long yardage of hard edged black PVC. I got to see the student created clothing that nearly everyone was wearing and now have enough stimulation for a year.

I love Cap College students!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Stanley Park

Stanley Park Windstorms 2007

I had heard the park was devastated, that it looked like a clearcut, but I hadn't seen it before today.
The winds tore in day after day and ripped it apart. Huge trees tipped over ripping out roots. Root balls more than 20 feet high. Sreange that the blackberry bushes were still standing with green leaves unruffled. There is a mat of branches and twigs that covers the huge forest. It looks like a sloppy weaving.

It will take a hundred years to repair.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Burning Things

God...I love my job! I just mask up and start the fires.
I love torching polyester. I love poking holes in Tyvek with sharp,burning objects. I love scorching the edges of paper. The end results are satisfying most of the time and there is a new surface to play with that is unpredictable.

I have so many tools to break down and do destruction to fabrics. There is the great heavy heatpresses but my current favourite tool is the tiny point for the new pyrography tool. It can be used for precision burning.

Today I poked tiny holes in Tyvek and smeared it with puff medium and hit it with short blasts of the heatgun. The resulting surface is very complicated and will serve as a top for other layers of fabric.
I buy a softer Tyvek at the Flag Shop and am able to sew and embroider it through the melted surfaces. I can stuggle away with the thicker building tyvek but it is really hard on my machine. Leather needles are required to accomplish anything.

I think I need an angled surface because my arm gets sore after an hour of heat blasting or sewing. I am learning to do a little at a time rather than pump out work at the same pace I did before my masectomy.

The images of these samples will have to be published when I get my camera back.

Maggie Grey has a great post She is an English embroiderer and she does lovely things to Tyvek. Check out www.workshopsontheweb.com

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yayoi Kusama

I was reintroduced to Yayoi Kusama's work by the Montreal textile artist Kydd Campbell.Yayoi's work had occupied my textile fantasies in the early seventies and gave a visual language for what danced around inside my own head. Her work exemplifies obsessive practice. Forms are repeated somewhere between the moon and infinity. The forms are phallic and cellular. They are soft and sewn and represent the most ominous comfort.She creates entire rooms of objects and presents them with mirrored walls to capture infinity.

“The forms and details in Kusama's work refer to a sense of overwhelming meaning: in most of her works in different media the common theme of a world veiw from a female perspective. The Infinity Net paintings can be seen as referring to weaving patterns: the objects used in most of her environments are household objects such as furniture , food, and utensils. The obsessive image of sexuality, so strongly manifested in many of Kusama's works, is from a female perspective, often involving the artist's own physical participation. It is significant that the artist and her own body are part of the total work, either in photographic documentation or in the events in which the body becomes an integral part.” from Yayoi Kusama Phaidon Books.

I wondered what happened to Yayoi and discovered such an incredible and prolific history to her work. I also discovered that she was very upfront about the fact that she has spent the last 20 years or so living in a mental hospital and being treated for an obsessive neurosis. I saw a picture of Yayoi recently and she has changed. In the picture she was wearing a black feather boa. Her own dark eyes were wide and almost frightened and peered out from a wild feather collar. She is still beautiful and she reminded me of a captured bird.

See Yayoi's work at her official website www. yayoi-kusama.jp

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Linda Findlay acrylic on board "H.I.V."

I have been working with images that are biological for a few years and am aware that there is now a real explosion of that kind of imagery.

Today I attended a show by the painter Linda Findlay called Soluable at Jacana Gallery. I was confronted by imagery of disease that was painted in the most joyful and luminescent colours . Small globular viruses suspended in radiant blues, yellows oranges and reds. All compelling and pretty until concious thought remembered the potential horror being viewed. “Smallpox”, “Ebola” and ” Hep C “ all reminded me of candy wrappers or hip marketing posters. The contrast was alarming and startling. See www.jacanagallery.com

I use cellular imagery and images of bodily destruction and injury. Sometimes I use images of cells, other animals and plants. Some of my pieces include the series” blood, water, salt , rot” and “Flesh”. I am attracted to the visceral and have also worked with animal gut to make a series of samplers.

Vivian Zuba's show The Strange Beauty Project ” is featuring her textiles and photographs next month at the Blackberry Gallery at the Port Moody Arts Center. Her work draws heavily on the same kind of subject matter and considers the beauty of scar tissue, disease and injury similar to my own. Check out www.zuba-art.com.

Why has illness and disease become a metaphor in so many creations lately?

I just read Susan Sontag's essay “Illness as Metaphor “ and I realize that this issue has been considered for a long time in poetry and story telling. More recently it has moved into the art world and into textiles. None so extreme as Gunther von Hagen in the Body Worlds exhibition.

It is clear that we have the luxury to consider these methaphors now because of the very science that is exploring the cures. The images we see are available to anyone because of the equipment used to help cure the diseases. We can look at every part of our body from views unthinkable a few years ago. There is now an ability to view into our very cells and DNA. It threatens to become cliche to talk about the body without considering how it is understood.
If we choose to use disease as a methaphor for horror, for deeper meaning, for transition and other ideas let us also consider that we are mortal and each image represents suffering.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Building shroud across from World Trade Center Hole Photo Peter Tupper

The country I live in has decided to become involved in war. In the past we have been known for peace keeping activities but now our role is changing. We have a conservative government now with a Prime Minister who seems to identify strongly with the more extreme right wing influences of the Americans.

Last night I watched a documentary about the war photographer James Nachtwey and recognized from his incredibly damning photographs another important aspect textiles play in this world. There were bodies identified by the clothing they were wearing, cloth and scarves to cover the noses of those dealing with the fumes of death and weapons, Many people who were shown in the photographs could be identified in a tribal way by their costumes. Textiles defined role and nationality. People returned home to war ravaged communities and homes that were littered with the remains of war, broken belongings and shredded textile objects. Witnessing these photographs of many wars reminded me of the common thread of suffering we feel when war exists.

Last year I stood over the hole that had been the World Trade Center long after 9-11. It was unbearable and I couldn't look directly at it. I looked across the street and there was a building shrouded in a cloth that extended from the ground to the roof. It was black and stitched with large stitches to hold it from flapping away in the constant breeze. It was ominous and comforting at the same time. It was far easier to look at the cloth shroud than at the huge hole in the ground.

James Nachtwey can look at anything and communicate its power.
See his web page at www.jamesnachtwey.com

Monday, February 5, 2007

Inside Out

Clarina Bezzola in performance Inside Out

Is it only interesting to look at surfaces as a surface designer? The surface is only one aspect of our being as well as those objects we make. The inside can offer more possibilities. Objects and surfaces can be hidden to be revealed when it is time. Surfaces and embellishments can remain hidden for the artist's memory only.

I have been making little pods with insides and outsides. I have sketched and sampled work that has many sides and dimensions to display and hide.

A few artists are working with this concept and ideas that are similar. One in particular comes to mind because of the expansive nature of her curiosities. Clarina Bezzola blows me away with her puppet like beings that are filled with guts and offal. She makes huge "costumes" and uses many aspects of performance in her work. She sings and dances and reveals what is "inside". she makes hundreds of components with each work she does and compulsively communicates what I long to see and hear. Her website is well worth checking out www.clarinabezzola.com

Friday, February 2, 2007

Body Worlds

A few weeks ago I saw the Science World Art Exhibition "Body Worlds". It is a collection of human and mammal bodies that have been plastinated to preserve their form.I have always been attracted to the visceral and anything of the body for inspiration in my work but I was overwhelmed.

I entered a darkened chamber with many other people and was confronted by the bones and bodies immediately. Most of the bodies had a serious injury or disease. Some of the bodies were posed in action positions like skate boarding. One plastinate had his muscles pulled out like the wings of an angel or strange bird. Tiny fetuses which had not survived were preserved in bottles. All displayed for my education or amusement. All allowing me to view the texture of their tissues, bones and some of their personal histories.

We all trudged through the exibit slowly grasping what was before us. Little children with roller skates on their runners interrrupted the rhythm of the lines. Mothers called to offspring and babies and small children cried with impatience. The temperature of the room was hot and sticky from the rain dampened apparrel worn by most. And the bodies held their gruesome posts. The living each peered into glass cases to be confronted by the beauty and ugliness of our mechanics and mortality. It was easier for me to look at the lamb and chicken plastinates that had blood vessels preserved. No skin or bones only matts of blood vessels in the remaining shape of the animals.

I had to sit down when I was confronted by a disembodied breast that was full of cancer similar to what had been my own. I wondered if it was floating out there or in a glass case or bottle for the inspiration of others. Who lost this breast? Did she also lose her life? Where did mine go?
I got up and tried to find my husband. I ended up standing beside a plastinated man whose skin had been removed like a pair of old pantyhose. There he was in all his human glory, holding his skin like a disrobed exhibitionist. I stared him down and chuckled about life.I am here and he is not and we will both end up as a pile of bones and flesh no matter how well preserved.

I take inspiration from this exhibition and have considered the colours and form for exploration. I will make new body parts from my own materials. I will display them in bottles and glass cases like I did in my Material Witness show at Wall Gallery in 2001. But they won't come close to the perfection we all are.

The information about Body Worlds 3 is available at www. bodyworlds.com. It is now showing in Dallas.

Sea Shells and Starfish

Jay Rudolph, Granny's Cupboard, Buckspoint Lace
I went to see my studio partner Jay Rudolph's show last night at the CABC Craft House Gallery.
Jay is a weaver who does beautiful tapestry and 3D structures. The works were 7 small scale pieces that included magical little seashell structures , a pear and a series of tapestries studying starfish.

The yarns she used had been hanging on the walls of our studio for the last couple of months.
Her loom had been loaded with the seashells. On the loom they had looked like an interesting but unidentifiable knot. Clearly, between my visits to our workplace, they had evolved into magical structures.

Jay had also remembered to present a design journal at the show which included photographs, writings and drawings to illustrate the process for her work. They were as much fun to look at as the weavings and reminded the viewers to consider the time and commitment it takes to textile art.

I proceeded to the Guild meeting after the show and watched a presentation about lace making.
The presenter talked about people who teach in Vancouver and Jay Rudolph was one of them.
I don't remember her telling me she made lace.

The best part of having studio partners is osmosis. I know some of her skills will rub off on me and that I will influence her work in some way. I have had other studio partners and that always happens.

You can see Jay Rudolphs lace at www.pearshapeddesigns.com.