Monday, 7 December 2009

Contemporary Utopia Management

Well today, after the religious holidays, I had my first meeting with Esra and Ece from CUMA, Contemporary Utopia Management, a not for profit arts organisation that in their words "aims to activate urban and rural communities by creating contemporary art projects and acting as a mentor for arts organisations and initiatives".

I really liked their ethos and their approach, and some of the projects they had done, particularly those working with rural communities.  They were planning a flash mob event on Saturday, apparently the first in Turkey, and an idea I really like..the Istanbul Complaints Choir.  Given the issues around freedom of speech, this seems like a very brave initiative.  So I've registered my mobile number and wait to hear where to meet.

They were both really friendly and incredibly helpful, providing me with a whole list of potential people to contact.  Just what I was hoping for.  As with Bucharest you just need to meet some people on the ground who are open and well connected, and know what's happening and a whole world starts to open up.  I couldn't have asked for a more welcoming and perfect start.

Thank you Esra and Ece for a great welcome and such generosity:))

You can find out more about CUMA at

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The pomegranate

If there's one fruit that sums up istanbul, it seems to be the pomegranate. Street vendors on every corner surrounded by mounds of pomegranates and oranges selling freshly squeezed juice for 1 or 2 lr.

The pomegranate has of course featured heavily in the arts and crafts (including textile designs) of parts of south east europe and south west asia, the fruit originating from Iran, and has significance to all the main religions. Here I have to do more research.

I'm not aware of it in either english or romanian design or folklore, but please correct me if I'm wrong. I still remember, when I was about ten years old, the day my dad returned from a business trip to Turkey (he worked in the coffee trade) with a pomegranate. It was the most exotic and alien fruit we had all seen up to that point in our lives. The whole family stood around it wondering what to do with it and how to eat it!!

I wonder whether the fruit is still an icon used by contemporary turkish designers. And whether the vendors are just for tourists or frequented by locals too.

More pondering of the pomegranate to do. Wikipedia as always is a good place to start.

Friday, 4 December 2009


Well made it out of bed, and out to get some food.
If Bucharest was the city of the dogs, then Istanbul is the city of the cats..everywhere you turn. Domestic, wild or semi-domestic? I shared my meal with three black kittens, who quickly decided that the people next to me had better food on offer than my vegetable kebab. No loyalty cats, not like dogs.

Strolled back to hotel, up onto the roof terrace. Amazing night time views of the Sea of Marmara, the cargo ships doted across the port, all pointing in the same direction awaiting their call to action. And the Blue Mosque at night shining bright like a golden beacon. The seagulls swooping around the minarets appear like flakes of gold that have broken free from the dome dancing with the pleasure of their new found freedom.

I forget the cold, my flu and am lost in the moment.

The Flu!

Well, I think I tempted fate by saying that this travelling lark was great, as I awoke on my first morning with a banging headache and a temperature. Great I've got flu, so I have spent all day in bed. Not exactly the start to my trip I had imagined.

rest, water, rest , water, rest, water, water, rest.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

futbol futbol

Well I've arrived in Istanbul, for the next leg of the research project to meet with potential collaborators from Turkey. This is my second time in Istanbul. Last time I came for a holiday with one of my best friends - the two of us raised christian and muslim respectively exploring the city together brought different perspectives to the journey. That time was for the tourist trail of museums, mosques,bazaars, hamans, clubs, bars, restaurants, etc.

This time I'm alone and the plan is to meet artists, musicians, dj's, curators working and living in the city. To explore, to meet, to listen, to discuss and to learn with an open mind and open heart.

I arrive at the hotel and on presenting my passport, I'm immediately questioned as to which football team I support - Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham??? The two staff (who I soon find out are both Fenerbahce supporters) and I then spend the next ten minutes shouting out random footballing names at each other..Liverpool, Steven Gerrard, Alan Hansen, Bekistas, Benayoun, Galatasarey and then out of nowhere comes Nottingham Forest and to round it off Brian Clough! - priceless. That wasn't me by the way. Football is such a great leveller.

Isn't travel wonderful.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


"I come through the paths
path: the first ABC of my life
A: alienation, B: being together
M: meeting, Z: beyond all boundaries

I grasp an island of loneliness and come"

from ABZ by Leyla Sahin

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Photos from opening of OSE

As promised here's a link to Ele's photographs from the opening event of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition.


On a personal note it's great to see people already getting involved in the cut and paste, pixel drawings and stitching on the armchairs. Can't wait to see the results.

Well done Ele, all the participating artists and projects, and a big thank you to all the crew at MOCFA in San Francisco for putting it all together.

much love

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sounds of Umea and London

Here's a short film of a selection of pixel drawings created by the sampler-culture clash collective in London and visitors to the OSE exhibition in Umea, Sweden back in June. We've transfered the images into Reaktor to create the sounds you hear during the film.

Friday, 2 October 2009

OSE hits San Francisco

The Open Source Embroidery exhibition, curated by Ele Carpenter and featuring elements of sampler-cultureclash, opened last night at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. Sadly I couldn't be there to show my support, but I was there in spirit.I'll post some photos, or links to photos / videos once they're available. The exhibition runs until 24 January 2010.

Alongside the work we exhibited in Umea, we've contributed a new short film of ten pixel drawings, created by visitors to the Bildmuseet in Umea, which we've put into Reaktor to create sounds.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sampler at Shipley Lates

HI everyone
Quick reminder that I will be giving a performance at Shipley Lates at Shipley Museum and Art Gallery in Gateshead tomorrow evening - Friday 25 Sept. I hope some of you good folk in the north east will be able to make it along.
Me. Nervous? Yes!

for more info visit:


Thursday, 17 September 2009

On the clothesline. Romanian Dowry

Quick post to let you know about an exhibition taking place over the next couple of weeks at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square in London until 25 September.

"On the clothesline", features a selection of textile artefacts from the amazing Museum of the Romanian Peasant, a collaborator on the sampler project. It explores the twice yearly ritual of cleaning the precious dowry textiles.

To quote directly from the website:

"Romanians keep their treasures indoors. Having a treasure room, the good room, the ruda room, filled with hand-made textile, clothes, carpets, items that are always displayed yet never used, is a must for any well-off Romanian peasant. This is the dowry of the woman and preserving it is a matter of pride and hard-work. Twice a year these treasures are taken outdoors to be cleaned and freshened up. They are washed at the river or at the water whirlpool, they are hung on the clothesline, ironed, treated for moths and arranged again on display in the good room. All these procedures can last as long as a week; as they say, it takes hard work to have a good room.
The good room, the ruda room in Northern Romania, is in itself an exhibition. An exhibition of the best and most beautiful items the family possesses. The exhibiting technique, if one can speak of it, is crowding. All the more crowded the good room is, all the more beautiful it is considered: carpets, pillows, tablecloths, linen, towels, icons, decorated plates, the more, the better!

This exhibition borrows from the village a form of display that the peasant does not consider as such. Hanging the precious family dowry on the clothesline is not a form of exhibiting it; it is only a necessary annual ritual. Still, the foreigner, the ethnographer, is fascinated by the display of textile on the clothesline. There (s)he can see and feel the fine details, the thread, the coloured models, the hand-made linen. It is only once a year that the treasures of the good room can be thus observed. For the rest of the year, they are hidden, one on top of the other, in the crowded museum that is the good room.

This is your chance to admire them from a close distance. Don't be afraid to touch them if you feel the need to, but bear in mind their beauty is also their fragility and old age. "
(Romanian Peasant Museum)

I hope to make it along in the next few days, and will let you know what I think, and if you're in London please go along to support the project and let me know what you think too. x

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Pixel Piano Players

Well, I finally received the four music boxes I ordered, so we can use them in future workshops and performances. Today I got around to trying them out.
I took one the pixel drawing samples from one of the collaborative drawings we created. This sample was chosen by Gill, one of the embroiderers working on the project.

I then cut the sample into three strips and joined them together and made a hole in each of the black drawn squares with a hole-punch. Here's a short film of the result as the piece is played through the music box. The music box is in the key of C and plays both the bass and the treble clef. I like the parts where the pattern is stepped and plays single notes either rising up or down the scale and then suddenly plays a whole chord as the pattern changes.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Cut 'n' paste Umea

As part of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition, we invited visitors to create their own versions of two samplers from the Vasterbottens Museum's collection.
The two samplers are Sommad ar, 1820 and Miriam 1964. We're trying to find out more about their origins.

We put out colour copies of the two samplers and visitors used cut 'n' paste techniques with scissors and glue (very high tech!) sampling sections of the originals to create their own pieces.

Here are some of the beautiful results. It's amazing to see how images can be transformed using such simple techniques combined with the person's creativity and imagination. I'd love to hear from any of the creators and find out what they were thinking whilst they made them.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Thinking Turkey

Well I'm up in Edinburgh at the moment, surrounded by the full cacophony of the festival, to meet with British Council staff and potential collaborators from Turkey in preparation for my visit there in October.

I was doing further research on the web about turkish embroidery on the train journey here, and came across the great short article written by Beth Gardner. She talks about the hidden messages in embroidered pieces made by Turkish women.

"Young women used embroidery to speak of things that they did not dare to put into words. They used colors and motifs in their scarves, waistbands, coverlets and carpets to express feelings of love, yearning and desire. A yellow scarf sent to a maiden’s beloved meant she was in love and missed him. If she embroidered her scarf with cypresses, she was thinking of death from longing. "

Read the full article here on the Embroiderers' Guild of America's website.

Lots of good things happening with sampler at the moment:

The project is featured in the British Council's latest Art, Architecture and Design newsletter.

We've just received some great photos of the pixel drawings and cut 'n' paste activities made by visitors at the Open Source Embroidery exhibition in Umea, which I'll post when I get back. And, we're planning for next stage of the exhibition when it tours to the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco in October.

And, if you're in the north east of england, on 25 Sept 6pm-10pm, I'll be performing solo!!! and talking about sampler-cultureclash at the Stitched Up event at The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, as part of Shipley Lates.

The collaboration with the V&A is moving on nicely. The plan is to feature the sampler project on the V&A's website as part of a new section about its collection of embroidered samplers.

So watch this space for future updates on all of these.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Noise Workshop 2

Here is an unedited audio piece of all the sounds made from the noise objects we created throughout the day using embroidery "stuff". The sounds at the start are made by feeding samples of the black and white pixel drawings and just open weave fabric through a music box / piano player machine. The sound is quiet so best appreciated with headphones.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Basement Series 1

If you are in London town tomorrow night Wed 5 August I highly recommend the following evening of noise, static and sound performances and sculptures.
Berit Greinke will be performing at the first of a new Basement Series organised by Ryan Jordan. I hope to join her on stage to hold things.
7pm start at the Foundry, Great Eastern Street. nearest tube Old Street.
Full line up includes

Rob Munro
John Wall
Loel Cahen
Chris Weaver
JOhn Macedo www.myspace.comqueenofswordssound/
Sam May
Dan Tombs

Hope to see you there

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Noise tool workshop

Firstly a huge thank you to Berit and Andere for an inspiring and fun workshop. I'm just in the process of editing the video recording we made. We also took a whole load of sound recordings of each noise tool we created. So watch out for those in future postings.

In the meantime here's a short video clip of one of the sampled pixel drawings played through a player piano machine. We took a sample from one of the samples, from one of the collective black on white grid pixel drawings we created back in December 08, and used a whole punch on each of the black squares to create a hole and then fed it through the player. Not an original idea by any means, but we thought it would be interesting to see what the resulting sound would be. And I like the fact that it comes from a random sample of a random sample taken from an improvised drawing created collectively by 8 people.

Apologies for the quality of the recording, and the background noise. We'll get some good quality recordings done, but it gives you an idea of the sound coming directly from a black and white drawing as the machine plays it.

It's going to be interesting to see how we weave these in to our performances and in future recorded compositions.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Noise Tool Workshop

Quick post on a few fronts.

I'm looking forward to Monday as Berit Greinke and Andere Monjo, both of whom have recently graduated from the MA Textile Futures course at Central St.Martins, are running their Noise Tool Workshop with the sampler-cultureclash embroiderers. I can't wait to see what they come up with at the end of the day.

You can see Berit's wonderful textile sound machine at this link SHhH

And on another front, check out Earth, Wind and Pyre, presented by Candi Staton which discusses the event "Disco Sucks" led by Chicago rock dj Steve Dahl where there was mass burning of disco records in the White Sox's baseball stadium. It's been likened to a Nazi book burning event for its anti gay and anti black and anti-urban stance.
BBC Radio 2, Sat 11 July 10pm.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

More photos

Hi, ele has posted photos from the opening on this link OSE

and there's a review of the project at


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Photos from Open Source Embroidery

As promised here's the first batch of photos from our trip and the opening event of Open Source Embroidery at the Bildmuseet in Umea.

Monday, 15 June 2009


Just back from Umea. We had a fantastic time. A huge thank you to Ele, Katerina and everyone at the Bildmuseet for their hospitality and generosity, and a particular thank you to Jason and Yusra for surviving the epic journey to get there and for making the trip so special.

Loads of photos to go through and post, so I'll do that over the next couple of days. In the meantime here's a link to a snippet of some of our performance at the opening event. Thanks to Stephanie Hendrick from Humlab for shooting and posting this.
Opening Performance

Big love to everyone I met over the weekend and all the artists involved in open source embroidery. It's a very special exhibition that explores a significant moment in current creative practice.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sweden here we come

Well we're off to Umea, in the north east of Sweden tomorrow to perform at the opening of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition on Saturday. The exhibition is curated by Ele Carpenter and is on at the Bildmuseet.

It's going to be a mamouth adventure to get there..plane, train, bus, but we're all very excited about the journey, performing, showcasing a selection of the work we've created to date, meeting people including some of the other exhibitors and experiencing the other work in the show.

I'll keep you posted about how it all goes.


Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Day 5 - Searchin' for vinyl

Everytime i visit a new city I always try to track down any record shops, which still sell vinyl (new and second hand) which of course is getting harder in these days of the digital download. Sadly I searched and searched and couldn't seem to find any. There were a couple of cd shops, but no vinyl. Several people I've spoken to said they weren't any vinyl specialist shops, but flea markets were the best places for second hand vinyl. Sadly I'm not here long enough to visit the weekend time.

As in most countries under communist rule, there was a state owned or "directed" record label. Like Melodiya records Melodiya in the former USSR, Romania had Electrecord

Apparently the quality of the recordings is not great, but I'm interested in tracking some down and finding out more about what got recorded and by whom. And which artists, if any, from outside of Romania or other communist countries were published.

With friends in Lithuania we've been digging out their, and their families, old record collections and discussing their favourite records from the Melodiya label and why they liked that particular album so much. Also the significance of underground parties where friends would gather to listen to illegal imported records, particularly jazz, blues and rock.

Having had the freedom to listen to whatever type of music I've wanted to without fear of arrest from the powers that be, it's incredibly hard to imagine a situation where you don't have that freedom and what that form of control and oppression must have been like in reality.

Both Electrecords, and indeed Melodiya, are still functioning labels, although I'm not sure what their significance is anymore in contemporary russia and romania. Who still listens to their new output?

On a more contemporary note though check out Hades records, Romania's leading label for hip hop.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Day 4 - The Museum of the Romanian Peasant

One of the main reasons for my trip was to visit the Muzeul Taranului Roman - the Museum of the Romanian Peasant and to meet Dr Vintila Mihailescu the Museum's Director. The Museum was created by artist Horia Bernea to celebrate the different Romanian rural civilisations.

The term peasant is so often used as a term of abuse and put down in England, even when joking with friends. "You peasant" - backward, uneducated, no social graces, no money and not modern. So it's interesting to visit a place where the rural village working population appears to be viewed in a very different light.

I had a fantastic meeting with Dr Mihailescu, who is also an eminent anthropologist. He was incredibly positive about the project and helping to make it happen. So, it's on!!! We "just" have to make it happen now.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Museum looking at its collections. Such a wonderfully inspiring place, with a rich collection of textiles, costumes, painted eggs, religious icons, buildings (a church, watermill and a house), workshops, crosses, pottery, tiles and chairs.

It's a museum and not a romanian village but even so I could spend days and weeks here studying the collection. I'm hoping to see some of the collection in storage on my next visit and spend some time with one of the museum's curators. Sadly, it wasn't possible this time, but everything one step at a time. The amount of textiles is in fact somewhat overwhelming, so I need to give more time to thinking which aspects I would like to research further.

I kept thinking how much Romanian villages, even the most remote must have changed drastically, particularly since the collectivisation and industrialisation of communism between 1940's and 1989. Again more to explore in another visit.

I took endless photographs, sat and drew objects and patterns. There was limited information in English, although I picked up a book about the museum in the shop. I've really got to start learning Romanian.

Here's one favourite piece explaining the stitching on a blouse, from the first room in the museum which focuses on the significance of the cross. Not a great photo sorry.

"There is a deep resemblance between the tree of life - a symbol common to many European and Asian cultures - and the cross. Both are bridges linking the sky and the earth."

"The crosses are sewn on the front of this blouse, at breast level. Such blouses seem to have been worn by breast-feeding women. The beliefs and practices related to the newly born placed great stock on ensuring of milk and rest. It was believed that evil people and foul spirits sought to steal the baby's milk and sleep, that is why the mothers needed to know how to protect themselves."

You really must visit this museum.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Day 3 - Who let the dogs out?

The image is another stencil graffiti I spotted on the walk home last night. Copied or inspired by the grid patterns on recent Pepsi cans, but I also liked its connection to embroidery charts and in terms of sampler to the pattern drawings we did in one of our workshops. See previous post Patterns from Dec 08.

Sleepless night. The local dogs spent all night barking - at what? I didn't find out. Maybe at each other? You know that theory where one dog barks and suddenly there's a chain reaction until all the dogs around the world have had a go.

There are three main sounds of bucharest so far.
1) traffic
2) car horns
3) dogs barking

Had a brief introductory meeting with Gabriela Vasilescu from the British Council. It's always good to finally meet people after all that time e-mailing. Gabriela was very supportive. It's interesting seeing how different people respond to the project and how they start to make connections and offer different suggestions.

Spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and reading some of the book Romania by Lucian Boia - a personal interpretation of the history of Romania, which includes a tour of Bucharest. The book was first published in 2001, so some of it is already dated. But it's an educational and thought provoking read so far.

Sampler-cultureclash is essentially about people, the past, the moment, traditions, place, customs, language, connections, the contemporary, and the yet to be created. Considering these whilst being in another country and city, about which I know very little...well my head is spinning.

I thought this was an interesting point to reflect upon and to examine further from the first chapter in the book where he's discussing the many theories about the origins of the Romanian race and how they have been used and adapted for political reasons - whether for regionalism, nationalism, communism or europeanism.

" A people does not remain fixed over time. It is a fluid synthesis and in any case a cultural, not a biological one. Ancestral inheritance is continually dilluted, and contemporary connections are more important than origins. Ancestors end up counting less for themselves and more for the ways in which we use them to mark our identity. It is certain that the Romanians of today resemble the British (different as they are) more than they do the Dacians and the Romans. In fact they do not resemble the latter at all: they lived 2,000 years ago, and had quite a different mentality and way of life then we do. Marc Bloch's remark quoting an Arab proverb is very apt: "People resemble their times more than they resemble their fathers.""

Monday, 18 May 2009

Day 2 - Sunday in the City

Slept in. Missed breakfast. 30 degrees plus. Red nose. Bought sun cream. No meetings today so I decided to visit the Village Museum - an open air museum with an impressive and important collection of houses brought from across the regions of romania, which also includes an important collection of interior textiles and costumes. More on that in a moment.

A leisurely stroll through Kisselef park, past the huge and grand foreign embassies and the Triumphal Arch, based on Paris' namesake and onto Herastrau Park. Sunday in the city, like all great cities i've visited - families, children playing, sitting in the dappled shade, talking, meeting friends, drinking, parading, skateboarders, romantic couples, rollerblades, bikes, boating on the lake and basking in the sun. It seems like half of Bucharest is here today, which isn't surprising given the combination of the weather and the fact that bucharest, as a result of Ceaucescu's brutal regime and grandiose and bizarre ideas about architecture, now appears to be a city of flat dwellers with little private outside space. I love city parks - crucial common open spaces for people to breathe, relax, exercise and to meet and escape the stresses of urban life.

Onto the Village Museum. It was packed with families, but at the same time there was a really relaxed atmosphere. As someone who lives in a wooden house I love open air museums full of other wooden houses!! I always marvel at the simplicity yet sophistication of many of these structures, and although I am always drawn towards decoration, i love the aesthetics of function in wooden rural houses. True, they have been removed from their original context which always leads you to a romantic view of rural life - which of course it wasn't / isn't. I wonder whether by some twist of fate (or our own doing) that future generations will be forced to return to a simple life - one with no electricity, no instant heating or hot water, no flat screen tv's the size of rooms, no computers nor mobile phones?

I couldn't take any photos inside any of the houses. So instead, I sat and made drawings of many of the patterns in the embroideries. Most of the houses were simply decorated, white walls, some painted, and covered in textiles - lace curtains, woven blankets, embroidered pieces hung over treasured possessions, such as religious icons and plates) or hanging from ceilings. Many had a looms inside. I loved this piece on one of the information signs.
"On long winter evenings the village girls organised sittings in the work room, when spinning of wool and hemp were alternating with songs and tales, ending in dances with lads who would arrive towards the end of the spinning session." Music, textiles, word, song and dance together. I wonder whether those types of gatherings still go on in parts of Romania. I'd love to learn more about the types of songs and tales that were (are) told and whether these informed the weaving or vica versa?

Perhaps we are creating contemporary and urban versions of such social gatherings through the sampler project?