Thursday, 29 April 2010

Visual Thinking Symposium

Well, Berit and I had a great day at the Visual Thinking Symposium organised by the Textile Study Group and the Hub. It was a pleasure to spend the day discussing different ideas and approaches to the creative process. There was a good range of topics (from the inspiration and use of native materials such as scottish peat, to the creative journey through re-configuring a road map of the British isles, and touching on the visual language of people with Alzheimers: a subject very close to my heart. I liked the fact that there were a mixture of voices from makers, curators and philosophers. I particularly liked the talk by Dr Matthew Kieran (professor of philosophy and the arts at the University of Leeds) which explored the ways in which character and motivation are crucial to artistic creativity. He presented really well, but even then I struggled to keep up with some of the concepts he discussed, so I'd really like to see him talk again, so I can get to grips with and start to question his thinking, and explore the subject further.

Following the morning session of talking, listening and questioning, we hoped that our workshop - "Looping Something From Nothing" would provide a space for continued discussion but in a relaxed, creative and fun way. The workshop aimed to explore one of the central themes of the symposium: "what processes do we use to make something from nothing?" and also our continued approach to creating social spaces for collective making.

We started with two DIY loop tables we'd constructed during lunch. One holding a loop of blank paper, the other a loop of blank rug canvas. Our other materials were some pencils, graphite powder, some needles and a pile of old cassettes I'd dug out from under the house, and a blank cassette to record onto. 30 people took part.

To kick start the thinking we asked each participant to choose a favorite tool they used for making and then to describe what they do with that tool when they first start to use it. We then asked them to imagine that tool as a person, and to describe what kind of person it would be.

Each person then took it in turns to record their thoughts onto the cassette tape, through a loop pedal. It still amazes me how beautiful and moving some of these written pieces can be with something as simple as describing a making tool. Also, how the human voice, through intonation really brings these words and objects alive.

With the two looped pieces, we asked people to start with a word from their written pieces and then to freely move on in any direction with their marks, whether through drawing or stitching with the tapes. For the drawn piece we gave people a selection of sound pencils that Berit had constructed. The pencils make sound as you draw, using your body and the graphite in the pencil to generate and connect the current. With the fabric piece we were randomly sampling pieces of tape and thereby stitching sounds directly into the piece. Every ten minutes we rolled the fabric and paper round and asked the participants to continue working on their neighbors piece, until everyone had contributed to both the stitched and drawn loops. There was lots of chat, debate and laughter during the making which was great.

At the end of the afternoon we then played the drawing back using the sound pencils as amplifiers. We asked the group to join hands whilst one person held the pencil at one end of the drawing and the last person played the drawn marks. Using our loop pedal - as a simple way of recording, looping and composing live, we recorded and looped some of these sounds to create a collective sound piece.

When we're doing these workshops it's always interesting to see what works and what doesn't, and I like the fact that we don't know what people are going to create, which allows room for lots of surprises.

Here's a couple of short film clips of the workshop. I'll try to post the sound piece later.

A huge thank you from myself and Berit to all the participants for throwing themselves into the workshop with such enthusiasm, and to the Hub and the Textile Study Group for inviting us to take part. It was a great day.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


There are two sampler cultureclash related events taking place this weekend.

1) Berit Greinke and I will be running a 3 hr workshop as part of the Visual Thinking Symposium at the Hub - the national centre for craft and design in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. The symposium forms part of Visual Thinking Unpicked an exhibition by the Textile Study Group exploring the influences and inspirations behind the creative process. 30 people have signed up to the workshop, so it's going to be a packed but hopefully enjoyable afternoon working together. Our workshop "looping something from nothing" explores the connections between sound, word, drawing and stitch and the process of collective making. Our starting point is a group of people, a blank cassette tape, a roll of blank paper and a roll of white fabric. Let's hope that's not our ending point.

2) Whilst over in Romania, our friends Rokolectiv are holding their annual electronic sound and music festival in Bucharest this weekend. Check their website for further details of the line up and venues. You can also follow them on facebook

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Sampling Tunbridge Ware - Day 4

Today we started to refine some of the content we've created over the last three days. Also, how we might present some of this work at the end of project showcase event on Friday.

During the day, Jason worked with three of the participants, all budding musicians, to create a new audio track based on Tunbridge Ware patterns.

A couple of the participants brought in guitars and other musical instruments which we sampled to experiment with later.

We continued stitching and Yusra worked with a couple of participants to create a word collage of all the written pieces we've created so far. Which we plan to cut and paste to turn back into a spoken word piece.

Friday's the big day tomorrow and there's still lots to do, and as all the participants haven't been here for the last two days it feels as though we're a day behind. But that's cool we'll see how it all comes together tomorrow.

PS. Thanks to J for the great photos in this post.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sampling Tunbridge Ware - Day 3

Today we had less people attend, which is inevitable when you're running a session over five days during the easter holidays.  But it meant we had a relaxed day.  Two new participants Anne and Helen who are friends of the museum joined us for the day.  They both took part in stitching and worked with Yusra to create and record two new written pieces, again based on a piece of Tunbridge Ware.  We found out that Anne also loved singing, so she wanted to sing her piece.  Her piece is based on these two objects from the collection, part of a seamstress's tools.

She stood up to the mic and seconds later a beautiful voice emerged floating across the room.  Jason and I looked on and listened in awe. That takes some doing, to stand in front of people you'd only just met and sing something so beautifully, with words you'd only just written a few moments before.

Earlier in the morning, Kathie had introduced the day explaining the links between berlin wool work embroidery and early Tunbridge Ware designs: showing a selection of berlin wool work samples she had created herself.

Guided by Kathy's embroidery skills and expertise we started to create our own embroidered samples based on a sample of the visual work were started yesterday.  We hope that by the end of the week that everyone will have contributed to a collective sampler, which will be donated to the museum's collection.

Alongside the stitching, participants continued to work with Jason to create a sound piece using the sampled patterns in Reaktor they created yesterday.  One of the participants brought in two friends to work together to create a collaborative track - the result I'll post later in the week.

It's great.  After only three days we're already starting to build up a diverse collection of written and
spoken word, sounds, images, stitch, patterns and now song.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sampling Tunbridge Ware - Day 2

Today we focussed on visual sampling and turning some of these visuals into sound.

To kick things off and wake us all up, Yusra asked participants to write their first thought of the day.  Yusra will be using a selection of these words, weaving them into a poem she's working on during the week. 

Them, we started to work on two 10 metre rolls of graph paper to create our visual samplers.  We took black and white photocopies of the objects we had selected yesterday and using cut and paste techniques started to create new designs from them.  Various people worked directly onto the graph paper with pens to create patterns, images and words, again all inspired by the work we started yesterday.  With this exercise I like the fact that everyone works in very different ways and people's personalities start to emerge as a result of the process they use to create these images.  Some people are very particular and precise, some work small, others large, some are very freestyle and deconstruct patterns, whilst others work with letters and words.  The pieces will continue to grow over the week. 


In the afternoon, Jason led a session where he got us thinking more about sound, counting, cycles and repetition, based around learning an Indian classical ten beat cycle. Watching everyone's concentration as they followed Jason's lead and hand actions was beautiful.

Then the group started to take samples from the large visual sampler drawings we were were working on in the morning.  Using Reaktor software each of us took it in turns to create a sound from each image.
I'll post a film of the images with their sounds later in the week.  These initial sounds will be the building blocks from which to create our sound pieces.

I love the fact that everyone so far has just thrown themselves into each session or exercise we've done with open minds. I hope people are starting to understand why we might be doing some of these sessions? It feels like they are.  It was another fun and inspiring day.  It felt like everyone started to bond with some great conversations and discussions, and the work continues to grow in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Sampling Tunbridge Ware - Day 1

Well today was Day 1 of the Sampler meets Tunbridge Ware project.  Four of the sampler collective (myself, Jason, Yusra and Kathie) headed off to Tunbridge Wells this morning to start a week long workshop at the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, working with residents from the town and surrounding areas.

On the way there we still weren't quite sure who was going to be taking part, but we were delighted to be welcomed by a group of 15 or so participants of all ages from 11 yrs old upwards.  A great bunch of people to kick things off.

Over the week, we'll be collaborating to create new sound pieces for the museum inspired by its amazing collection of Tunbridge Ware.  Click on this link to find out more about Tunbridge Ware and its history. We'll be showcasing a selection of the work we've created together in a performance this Friday night from 6-8pm at the museum.  It's free so please come on down.

In true sampler style we'll be mixing up the visual, pattern, word, sound, movement and performance and with this particular project the innovative woodworking techniques used for making Tunbridge Ware.  More on that in a future post, as I still can't quite get my head around all of the complicated processes involved in its production.  Here's a link to the museum's website giving a brief introduction to the process: Making Tunbridge Ware.

Like some of our previous sampler workshops we're exploring how we can create new collective work inspired by traditional techniques and historical objects.  One of the ideas informing the project is to explore how the museum can get visitors, in particular young people, to spend more time exploring the Tunbridge Ware collection, perhaps looking at the some of the objects in a new light.  And hopefully to get more visitors to understand how unique, innovative and significant it is.  I remember the first day I visited the museum, I spent the afternoon sat in the room watching with slight confusion and bewilderment as visitors walked through barely glancing at any of the objects.  I'm certain that isn't true of all visitors. There I sat almost bursting with excitement at not only how technically complex and visually inspiring they were, but imagining the creative possibilities of working with the collection.  Perhaps many visitors have got so used to seeing it, that they no longer see it?  Do people think it's old wooden objects in a darkened room?  That's one question I'll be asking people over the week.

Having learnt more about embroidered samplers for the last couple of years, one of the things I like most about Tunbridge Ware is its connection with Berlin wool work embroidery . Much of the early Tunbridge Ware took its visual inspiration directly from Berlin Wool work embroidery designs, with makers recreating these patterns in wood.

So it's incredibly exciting to think that we are now going to take these wooden objects, inspired by embroidery into another art form - sound - and then perhaps even turning those sounds back into embroidery and new Tunbridge Ware.

Like all the workshops and events we've done so far we started the week with a blank canvas and a group of people - many of whom hadn't met each other before; some objects (fantastic objects - it has to be said!); open minds and our imaginations.  Not knowing what we're going to have produced by the end of the week, but thinking of it as a playground for ideas.

To kick things off, we spent the first part of the day exploring the magical place that is the Tunbridge Ware room in the Museum.  We each chose a favourite Tunbridge Ware object from the collection.

We then took it in turns to explain why we'd chosen the piece.

I chose this piece: a wooden letter box for the hall.

After lunch, Yusra then led a session using the objects, that everyone had selected, as the starting point to create both written and spoken word pieces.

We started with ten words describing the object and then created written pieces where we imagined the object as a person.  That particular exercise delivered some moving, dark, funny and beautiful prose.

We then recorded each of these pieces.  So at the end of day one we've started to create a library of images, words, prose and sound recordings to play with further over the week.

At the end of day, as we all sat round reflecting on what we'd done and created, one of the participants said that she'd had a great day.  It had been really good fun and that she made made some new friends.  I couldn't have asked for a more perfect start.  A huge thank you to everyone who took part today.  Looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sampling Tunbridge Ware

Just a quick update on all things sampler:

Craft Rally:
Well I'm pleased to report that the performance we did recently for the Craft Rally went down a storm.  I'm just waiting to get photos and a video of the performance, so when I do I'll post them up.  A huge thank you to everyone who took part: Kathie, Jan, Yusra, A.Dee, Pepperpot, Tom Dice and Berit - a brilliant mix of embroidery, sound, music, graffiti and calligraphy, dance, turntables, machines, song, film and the spoken word.  And of course a huge thank you to Helen Carnec who curated the event, everyone at Artquest and the Crafts Council for inviting us to take part in the day.

Sampling Tunbridge Ware:
Next week some of the collective are involved in a week long workshop (Monday 12 -Fri 16th April, sessions run from 10am to 4pm each day) in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery.  We'll be exploring the museum's amazing collection of Tunbridge Ware, and working with a group of local residents of all ages creating new sound and stitched pieces to go back into the museum's collection.  If you fancy coming along and joining in that would be amazing.  Click on the link above "sampling tunbridge ware" for details.
There will be a showcase event and performance of the work we've collectively made during the week from 6-8pm at the Museum.

I will be going back to Manchester in the next couple of weeks to see some of the work that the students have made during their project exploring samplers and sampling.  Can't wait to see what they've come up with.