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?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day 1 - meeting Carla

Another sunny and hot day. Walked from hotel to Piata Unirii to catch a tram to meet designer Carla Szabo. Here's some stencil graffiti I spotted on my way.

Walked around the massive square, flanked on one side by an enormous shopping complex. Eventually found the 32 tram. Missed stop and ended up at almost the opposite end of the road. Carla very very kindly offered to collect me, otherwise I may have been walking up and down the road forever. Little sense of direction!

Carla, is a designer currently making her own jewellery pieces, but has a background in graphic, interior and advertising design. She was selected in 2007 for the British Council's International Design Entrepreneur which is how I got to hear about her, and she is also looking to develop international collaborations.

Carla and her partner Alec gave me an amazing welcome, with a great lunch of bean soup, bread, hummus and cheese. I found them both incredibly warm, friendly,interesting, funny, open and generous people. They made me feel instantly relaxed and at home. It was a perfect start to my first meeting of the trip. It meant a huge amount that Carla had been so generous to spare the time to meet with me. We sat and chatted about each other's work and the sampler project. It was really interesting listening to Carla talk about her aspirations and some of the difficulties she faced trying to make it as a designer in Romania. I really loved Carla's work, interesting concepts and use of materials, and particularly her sense of humour and irony. I had such a great time chatting that I forgot to take any photos. I'll do a proper post on Carla's work but here's a link to her website in the meantime.

Carla has a fantastic studio space and shop within an amazing building, near a flower market, which has recently been renovated as a cultural and creative centre. There was a photography competition taking place and a drum workshop for street kids downstairs, and an international food market, so the place was buzzing with activity.There was a really positive energy about the place. As I sat there and walked around, I kept thinking what a great space it could be for the sampler workshop and event.

Carla very kindly arranged for me to meet with musician, producer and dj Christian Stefanescu aka electric brother

Again we had a great chat about the sampler project and musicians and artists who have made links between contemporary and traditional romanian music such as the Shukar Collective and the electronic sound and visual festival Rokolectiv

The main reason behind my trip is to meet people, listen, learn and reflect and to explore what the connection is between music and textiles in Romania, and to see whether people are interested in collaborating and if so in what way. In a way that makes sense to them. What is it that they are interested in exploring and developing, are there commonalities, or are there shared problems and can we explore these further through collaborating.

I had a great day and left reflecting and feeling inspired. Thank you Carla, Alec and Christian for such a warm welcome.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Arriving in bucharest exhausted after 12 hours of travelling but glad to finally be here. Events and thoughts on my arrival and sites that flashed by on my journey into town.

arrive Henri Coanda International Airport, baggage carousel broken, fixed, rush for bags, chaos, pounced upon by eager taxi drivers, 783 bus into centre, baking heat, blue skies, telephone and electricity cables, flat landscape, red tiled roofs, old man with a bunch of flowers waiting for bus, nike outlet store, adidas outlet store, volvo, renault, dacia, ferari,empty iron advertising structures like the angel of the north, woods, industry, orchard, red poppies, ikea, shopping city, cars, more cars, traffic grinds to a halt, queues, slow, temperature rising, dehydrated, yellow, red, blue, church, the woman sat opposite makes the sign of the cross, park, families walking, high rise blocks, young women selling flowers by the side of the road, first obvious signs of poverty, faded grandeur, destruction, re-construction, construction, stray dog in the road, arrive Piata Victoriei, disembark, confused, disorientated, friendly women helps with directions to hotel, busy, end of day workers, dragging suitcase, pack of dogs, lost, no street sign, kids on bikes, beautiful but wrecked buildings, arrive, friendly greeting, bed, crash.

Friday, 15 May 2009


Well I'm off to romania in about 3 hours for a week long research trip for the sampler project. I should be asleep! I don't know about you but I can never sleep when I need to wake up to catch a flight in the very early hours in the morning. hence writing this post at 1am. I'll probably fall asleep at 2.30am just when I need to wake up! Early cheap flights. hmmm.

Anyway I'm rambling now, but during my visit I'll try to post stuff about the people I meet, places I visit and the interesting and challenging things I come across in the worlds of romanian embroidery, music, culture, politics and ..well life.

Here's a great link about traditional romanian dance, music and costume to get things going. Eliznik

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sampling Sheffield

A belated and huge thank you to the Embroiderers' Guild for inviting us to Sheffield to speak at their annual conference. Presentating to a packed auditorium of over 100 passionate embroiderers, was nerve-racking but I have to say it was very well received and there was interesting discussion during and afterwards, about collaboration, the blues and british trad jazz, slow verses fast, hand and digital - which is the one thing I was most hoping for. It was a fun, enlightening, moving and inspiring day. Yusra, Jason, Jackie and I all loved it.

As part of the day we held a workshop exploring the connection between stitched samplers and sound - the aim being to create a sound piece using text, voice, pattern and sampling inspired by embroidered samplers. Here is the resulting sound piece created live as we went along. All the sounds you hear - the voices, baselines, drum beats etc are created from either a drawn pattern entered into Reaktor, or from the voices of the embroiderers - poems, noises and words - then sampled, looped, distorted, reversed etc in Ableton Live.

A collective and improvised piece: 90 minutes, 30 embroiderers, pens, paper, imagination, reflection, humour and open minds. Let us know what you think.

And of course a huge thank you to all the participants - Claire, Nicola, Antonia, Jenny, Jacqueline, Kate, Annette, Barbara, Marie, Eveleen, Fiona, Margaret, Heather, Liz, Jo, Maureen, Muriel, Dora and Sarah. Apologies to all of those whose name I haven't got..please let me know. Your CDs are in the post!