Soft Words

A few snaps from my workshop at The Mill last night, for their Soft exhibition in which On Being Soft features.



My friends Ruth and Laura joined me, as did a couple of other local ladies.




In accordance with the "soft" theme, I encouraged participants to embroider "soft words" of kindness to themselves or a loved one on to delicate doilies and handkerchiefs. One lady stitched a wedding present.








Love Exists

Love Exists is an online project envisaged by the artist Scarlett Barry, conducted through the social networking site LiveJournal, beginning in July of 2005. Barry encourages members of the Love Exists LiveJournal community to write the phrase "on walls. Carve it in trees. Paint it on our bodies and scream it out loud."


A photograph by Barry to accompany the LiveJournal community
 LiveJournal may since have fallen out of favour with bloggers, but the idea of Love Exists lives on in Flickr and Facebook groups.

I really like the idea of spreading a simple message of love and hope globally.



For example, the above photograph was taken by LiveJournal user darkestblue22 in the Sahara Desert.

Love Exists bears a close resemblance to You Are Beautiful,a street art project operating out of Chicago, which attempts to spread this simple, positive message globally "by any means necessary except through commercial use".

Here's what the project's creators have to say about it:

"You are Beautiful is a simple, powerful statement which is incorporated into the over absorption of mass media and lifestyles that are wrapped up in consumer culture.

The intention behind this project is to reach beyond ourselves as individuals to make a difference by creating moments of positive self realization. We're just attempting to make the world a little better."

You Are Beautiful has truly become a global project, as evidenced by the photographs below; the first was taken in Bailey's Head, Antarctica, and the second in Cape Town, South Africa.




I decided to contribute to the Love Exists project through the most global of networks; the internet.


I took this Polaroid several years ago when I first became aware of the Love Exists project; in fact, when I still had a LiveJournal account. I shared the photograph on LiveJournal through the group the-polaroids, and of course the Love Exists group. I have since uploaded it to Flickr, to share the message with a wider audience.

The message fits seamlessly into the Cure for Love project, and thus I decided to render it in stitch. I chose cross stitch for a bit of variation from all the straight embroidery I've been doing lately, and also because cross stitch gives such a regular and crisp appearance to text, and so works perfectly with the scrabble tiles. The design is based loosely on the Polaroid. I really like the simplicity of the piece. I've also shared it on Flickr and submitted it to the Love Exists Flickr group.


The Alchemist



Here is my second collaboration with composer Joe Donohoe. This one, The Alchemist, has quite a different feel to Kiss the Book, in that it is brighter, both musically and in subject matter, being more of a "straight" love poem than the more cynical Kiss the Book. This time around I sent Joe the text of the poem and he composed out of that, recording my vocals afterwards. Joe used composing software to simulate tuned percussion and violins, and I think the results are very beautiful.




A few shots of the embroidery which accompanies the sound piece


The text of The Alchemist reads:

The Alchemist

My words always did look prettier in your mouth,
you alchemist
Always taking lumps of coal and dreaming them into diamonds Making something out of nothing with the slightest
Sleight of hand or
Flick of the wrist;
You undid the buttoned-up British stiff upper lip at the collar,
Slipped that starched white surgical ruff off of the
Draft diamond, gave it room to respire,
A pause for a breather;
Then went mining beneath its varnished veneer,
Told me to take my medicine when i told you i belonged back in the coal scuttle,
Only just no longer merely a minor, so why don’t you try her,
Before she slips back down the mine shaft to try for another?

I want to kiss you on the mouth; I want to kick you in the teeth, Oh take out your molars and string ‘em up into a necklace and
I’ll wear you always, strung up and strung out and resting soft as clouds of
Cubic zirconium all along my collarbones;
Oh boy you just about knock me out.


Today I am sewing my next piece (which will remain shrouded in mystery until it is unveiled), listening to a lot of angry girl music (such as The Horrorpops and The Dresden Dolls!), and checking out internships at The Tate. Got a few more collaborations on the way and very happy to be busy.

Kiss the Book




This is the result of my first collaboration with Joe Donohoe; we recorded my monologue/prose poem, and Joe then added atmospheric sounds of East London at night, together with an out-of-tune chord harp. The embroidery in the video illustrates one of the lines from the monologue.







The embroidery is currently on show at the Pharmacy of Stories as part of the Here Is My Heart exhibition. 

The title Kiss the Book is a reference to a line spoken by Stefano the drunken butler in Shakespeare's The Tempest. The "book" of the line is in fact a bottle of alcohol.

The text of Kiss the Book imagines a romance between two self-styled tortured artists:


Kiss the Book

In later days the latter day lady lit her Marlboro Light and skipped lightly to the front of a 10,000 strong queue waiting on cheap thrills not one of us could afford (yes, we sold our very souls for the promise of a Parker pen and possible publication).

The background noise of barely mentioned sexual tension’s got me jumpy, buzzing in my ears like a pneumatic drill setting my teeth on edge.

So bring your lips to the battle and I’ll bring a bottle (the truth is I haven’t been kissed in a while), and we’ll wear our best black boot polish berets atop dreaming (a)spire heads. Blacker-toothed and blue-lipped, let’s riddle ourselves with writer’s cliches like other teens catch sexual diseases.

But don’t sweat it babe, bard, it’s quite legit, I carry a Poetic License for use in the event of romantic circumstances like these. If you amuse me, I’ll have you with my morning museli. You’ll briefly be my brightest burning muse. And valorously, vaingloriously, we’ll fur our teeth over with velour, spooning with a desperate fervour, for revolution, for a resolution to our private privileged hells.

Our teeth are furred over like cheap velour by cheaper wine whilst we worry the kerb, licking biro-bled blue-black lips, cursing the orange sky, cultivating Scrooge sentiments, stoppering our hearts before a drop is spilt. Dry ice breath puncturing the air, punctuating our sentences with commas, a brief breather between my romantic comas.

You and I might be the last remaining sufferers of Celia Johnson Syndrome, forsaking feelings for public decency, drinking to loosen stiff upper lips, awakening to find starched white surgical ruffs buttoned back up beyond the collar. Still, we are still so young and lost, on booze, lust, wanderlust. Wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning “Willoughby, Willoughby” at thin air for hours.

"Here Is My Heart" at the Pharmacy of Stories

Tonight I went along to the Here Is My Heart private view at the Pharmacy of Stories gallery in London Fields, Hackney. The Pharmacy of Stories describes itself as "a little storytelling Laboratory and gallery where we explore links between narrative and healing and how performance, installation and the art of making books can be combined."

Arriving at the gallery I had no idea what to expect of the evening but was very pleasantly surprised. As I arrived at the gallery a musician was playing a miniature keyboard and singing a song about Argentinian cows producing milk that is good for your heart! A "triage nurse" greeted me with a friendly "What's your emergency?" I told her that I had a heart to donate, and was immediately categorised as a high priority case. This meant that I could jump to the front of the queue for my "consultation".

The triage nurse then asked me to fill out a form on the condition of my heart;


and write a message in a bottle on my emotional state. Armed with bottle and form I approached the first curtain at the A&E, behind which was a "Flaminian accorn cardio therapist" (no, I have no idea what that means either... apparently the Via Flaminia was an ancient Roman road). The therapist asked me and the two other "patients" to do a number of exercises for her in order for her to assess our hearts' health. She asked us to copy her movements and tell her what we felt as we copied them. I felt excitable and anticipatory. Next, in an effort to "detox bottled up feelings" we began a collaborative dance and then threw our messages in bottles into a wishing well and made a wish.

After detoxing, I made my way to the X-Ray room.


Firstly, the radiologists asked me to drink some "heart contrast dye" (a shot!), as the previous x-ray of my heart was "cloudy" and they wanted to make sure that this time it showed up. They then ushered me into the X-Ray Centre and blindfolded me so that the radiation from the machine wouldn't blind me! Finally they encouraged me to press the "x-ray chalk" to the film and see how the x-ray of my heart turned out.


(I tried to write that my heart was "hopeful", but being blindfolded and attempting to write back-to-front conspired against me!)

(I promise it says "hopeful"!)

The radiologists compared the x-ray of my heart with my previous x-ray and concluded that my heart was "misplaced" (and possibly on the opposite side of my chest!)



The final stop on my trip to the A&E was to be to the "Marine Gastropod Molluscs" and "Cardio Memory Screenings" Departments. At this point, however, I met a "heart psychic", aka Tina, the night's organiser, donated my heart to the exhibition, and discussed a possible collaboration.


Tina the "heart psychic"

All in all, a very interesting, off-the-wall (but of course I'm used to that sort of thing, being a product of Dartington!)and relevant evening, and one which will, fingers crossed, bear fruit.

Stitch Therapy's My Heart Sings Like A Caged Bird, the piece which first introduced me to the Pharmacy of Stories and Here Is My Heart. Cheers Stitch Therapy!

William, It Was Really Something

Ah yes, the obligatory referencing of a Smiths song. My indie stock just went up by several hundred points. I digress.

Inspired by Walthamstow's greatest export, William Morris (or as I like to call him, "Willie Mozza"), I will be writing a love letter to "The Stow" and then translating it into stitch. I wrote a piece in this vein for Dartington at the end of my time there. I suspect this piece will be slightly less gushing however, as my relationship with Walthamstow is rather more complicated than my girlish crush on Dartington ever was.

William Morris

Brief Encounter


Brief Encounter typifies a very particular type of Britishness that no longer exists. This is a Britain of stiff upper lip and quiet reserve. Perhaps it was the fact that this 1945 film was made during the Second World War that lent it this "Keep Calm and Carry On" feel.


The film was based on the Noel Coward play Still Life, in which two married people embark on a secret love affair. This is no tawdry affair, however; it's a brief, beautiful and bittersweet escape from the stifling mundanity of their lives. Laura (played by Celia Johnson) is Brief Encounter's narrator; she is married to Fred Jesson, and the couple have two small children. The highlight of Laura's week is her trip to the fictional Milford to do her weekly shopping and see a matinée film. One day, whilst waiting for a train at Milford Junction Station, a "smut" gets into Laura's eye. She goes into the refreshment room to seek help, and here Alec (Trevor Howard), the other protagonist, is introduced. He offers assistance, the two start chatting, and therein the love story unfolds.

Eventually the couple realise that they cannot betray their spouses and continue with the affair any longer. Their final meeting is marred by the interruption of an acquaintance of Laura's, who babbles incessantly while the two struggle to contain their feelings. Alec's train arrives and he leaves without being able to say a proper goodbye. As the train pulls away, Laura dashes out onto the platform, and for a moment it seems she will end her life. However, she dutifully returns to her husband and family. The film ends with its most famous and melodramatic speech (one which was re-enacted in The History Boys); Laura has been lost in her thoughts of Alec and what might have been. Her husband, Fred, realising that something has been amiss, says "You've been a long way away. (...) Thank you for coming back to me."



The film has been adapted for the stage by Kneehigh Theatre, a company I originally wanted to complete my CEP with.



This introduction by the director of the production, Emma Rice, is well worth a read.

I have chosen to embroider pieces based on Brief Encounter as much of my own writing deals with the idea of stiff upper lip and what it is to be British, together with thwarted love. In addition to the embroidery of the train on the handkerchief in the previous post, you can expect a sewn portrait of Celia Johnson and possibly one of Trevor Howard, accompanied by original writing on the theme of Brief Encounter.

"I Have A Smut In My Eye"

As promised, one of the Brief Encounter-inspired pieces. For this embroidery I departed from my usual translating-poetry-into-a-snippet-of-text set-up and instead illustrated a quotation from the film itself.




The text reads: "I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". This quotation is taken from a voice-over/monologue spoken by Brief Encounter's protagonist, Laura. The full quotation is "I've fallen in love. I'm an ordinary woman. I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". I illustrated the quotation with embroidery of a steam train disappearing into a tunnel, as Laura's illicit affair with Alec begins at a train station, and this setting provides the visual drama of the film.

Tomorrow I will post on Brief Encounter in more depth, but right now it's past my bedtime and I must sleep!

The Cure For Love



A title embroidery for the project. I may write a piece of poetry/prose to accompany it.

While I was stitching this design, I came across a remarkably similar ink drawing on Flickr. Coincidence?

Tracey Emin - Love, Writing, and Sewing

LOVE

Tracey Emin, too, is a woman obsessed with love. Evidence of this can be found in the titles of her two most recent exhibitions, Those Who Suffer Love and Love Is What You Want. Her neons blaze scrawled love notes, her monoprints beg for “more love”, her blankets whisper, in huge letters, sweet nothings.

For You


More Love


International Woman

Emin has said of love that it "rarely comes easily and if it does, it usually goes quite quickly". Her work constantly touches on intimacy, as in Everyone I Have Ever Slept With. It's a common misconception that the names appliqued on the interior of this tent were those of everyone Emin had ever had sex with. In fact, they were literally the names of everyone she had ever slept beside. 

Interior, Everyone I've Ever Slept With 1963 - 1995

WRITING

Writing underpins Emin's artistic practise. She has said that she is "not known as a text-based artist", but "should be really". She pushes the boundaries between writing as visual art and visual art as writing. Melanie McGrath said of Emin that “She is above all a storyteller and her stories are embroidered, both literally and metaphorically”. 

Emin is indeed a consummate storyteller; revealing tell-alls are sprawled across her confessional, autobiographical blankets, ranging in size from five-inch-high appliqued letters to tiny scrawled passages on paper; her monoprints are written in her own naive, chaotic scrawl; her neon installations are recognisably “written” in Emin’s own handwriting.

Appropriately for work of such a universal appeal, the unrefined, unpolished aesthetic of Emin’s text connects her audience more immediately with her art. Emin cuts and appliqués felt letters onto her blankets by hand.This personal approach suits Emin’s often chaotic, brutal and autobiographical subject matter.
  

Some of her monoprints are solely text, featuring stream-of-consciousness phrases which appear to have the authentic and emotional “voice” of the artist, and a confessional, diaristic tone.

SEWING

One of Emin’s most common artistic formats is the quilt-like blanket. The creation of blankets or wall hangings like Emin’s has traditionally been a woman’s craft pastime. However, rather than meticulously piece together a network of twee fabric patches to create a quilt (as prior generations of crafting women have done), Emin hand-appliques unsophisticated letters and loud, mismatched fabrics onto her blankets. Critics have argued that Emin reappropriates traditionally feminine arts and crafts for feminist purposes, creating a savage, imperfect female aesthetic in chintzy, feminine media.


Emin has said that, through her embroideries, "the line I draw is accentuated and extreme, which complements the way that I think." She has also said that she does not use embroidery "like a craft, but like high art".

Joetta Maue

Joetta Maue explores familial love through her textile art. She embroiders intimate scenes of herself, her husband and infant son sleeping together. She posits the bed as the site of love, between husband and wife, and mother and son. These pieces are large in scale (life size) but simultaneously incredibly intimate; insights into a private life lived together.

With My Boys

My Love

Him and You

In her project Waking With You, Maue documented daily her emotions on waking, as well as the bed itself in photographic format. The "You" of the project's title refers to her husband; the posts on the project's blog concerning him are incredibly touching. In one, she writes "I thought how unbelievable it was that I woke with you everyday of my life and have been for 10 years... and you still take my breath away". The project culminated in an exhibition at the Elizabeth A Beland Gallery in Massachusetts, the centre piece of which was a hand stitched self portrait bed installation, shown below.


Waking With You

In addition to her figurative pieces, Maue also creates text-based works on found antique linens. Many of these also focus on love; familial love (once again), romantic love, and the loss of love.

Breaks My Heart
A Fragile Heart


Skin

Together

Maue has said of her work that "By using found, used linens that have been hand made by women of the past I am able to connect my everyday experience with that of my heritage. I pay homage to the women that have come before me and connect to the lineage that I have with them in the domestic, everyday sphere of life." Through embroidering onto found linens and those handed down to me by my grandmother, I also hope to connect to this lineage.

Interview With Iviva Olenick

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist who refers to her work as "narrative embroidery". She works on a small scale, juxtaposing image and text. In her project Were I So Besotted, Olenick hand-embroiders anecdotes from her experiences of dating in the 21st Century. Her small-scale embroideries form a hand-stitched blog. This embroidered blog is accompanied and documented by the Were I So Besotted weblog. Here she offers an insight into her creative process, and muses on "finding love in a chaotic, distracting urban environment".


Embroideries from Were I So Besotted




Pieced Together


Love Fire


Play


Iviva's other project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. Rather than telling her own personal tales of love, in The Brooklyn Love Exchange Iviva collects love stories from Brooklynite friends, acquaintances and strangers, in an attempt to map love in the borough.


Embroideries from The Brooklyn Love Exchange




Prospect Heights - "It Wasn't Love At First Sight"


Cobble Hill

Brooklyn is "that" girl...



Iviva kindly agreed to answer some questions on her practise for me.


Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering in 2002-2003. At that time, there was an amazing quilt exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama." I had also recently broken up with a boyfriend, and possibly for comfort, started stitching on things I had at home. The third influence was a quilt-making class: I took a 3-hour workshop at the Brooklyn Museum, and finished a very small quilt completely by hand. After that, I was more or less hooked on hand sewing.

Could you tell me a little bit about what drew you to map Brooklyn’s lovelife?
One night about a year ago, I was walking home from an art opening in Brooklyn featuring the paintings of my then love interest. On the way, I passed a number of spots, bars and restaurants, where I had been on dates with other men. I also walked past the apartment of a former boyfriend. That's when it occurred to me that the borough itself was a map of my romantic life, and quite possibly could be for others, too.


I find it interesting that the name of your current project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. What do you feel is being exchanged in this process?
When people are in love, they exchange all kinds of information and energy through touch, through speech, gestures, behavior. More specifically for this project, I receive stories, and in exchange, I embroider them. The stories are a gift, in my opinion, as is the freedom to reinterpret them.


You call your work “narrative embroidery”. Why do you choose to render the stories you collect in stitch rather than another medium?
Sometimes, I feel as though I draw with thread. Occasionally, I feel as though I paint with thread. Intuitively, this medium feels right to me. I now think with my needle and thread. I was at a friend's studio once, and she had built an installation of a tree from paper and cardboard. She asked visitors to draw on a leaf of the tree. She handed me a pencil, and it felt like a foreign object. I was momentarily lost without my needle and thread.


Do you think there is a similarity between writing and embroidery? Do you think writing translates particularly well to stitch, and why?
I think writing and embroidery compliment each other, but I don't think they are necessarily similar. Embroidery is a physical act; writing is more of an intellectual act. I like the tenderness and intimacy in prose stitched by hand. It's emotive and immediate.


Do you have a background in writing as well as fibre art?
My formal training is in French Literature and Psychology. I went back to school 6 years ago to study textile design. Embroidery was not included. Weaving and designing prints for fashion were the focus. I found embroidery on my own.


I’ve read that you refer to the text in your pieces as “post its”. Are these extracts from longer pieces of writing?
I call some of my pieces "post-its" because of the size of the final piece. They are not formal excerpts of longer pieces of writing. I sometimes think in catch phrases. We do live in a digital world, where speed is valued. I like the idea of packing a lot of punch in a few sentences or a single sentence or phrase. It seems appropriate for our shortened attention spans.


Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
The fabrics I sew on gain more sentimental value through making the embroidery. Like you, I have a fair amount of my grandmother's linens. I have not been able to sew on them because I want to try to preserve them as she last used them. It's in fact harder for me to sew on items that already have sentimental value. Those tend to be tucked safely away in a drawer.

Poesie Grenadine/The Cure for Love

Poesie Grenadine
I first encountered the phrase “poésie grenadine” in a French text book. In fact the full phrase was “la poésie du coleur grenadine”. From what I can recall it pertained to the cloyingly saccharine writing which can arise from teenage romance; the poetic equivalent of purple prose.
It has since become my online alias. This is apt as I write primarily about love and loss (and other “little l’s”); knowingly, willingly or not, I’m sure I often stumble into “poésie grenadine”.


The Cure for Love
The Cure for Love was originally the title of a community arts project to be run by the Plymouth based social arts company Effervescent. The project would culminate in an artwork made in collaboration with young and older members of the Plymouth community, on the subject of “love and loss, the things you want to forget, and how to get over a broken heart”. The plan was for me to join Effervescent in devising and running the project as part of my Contextual Enquiry Project (CEP). Sadly the project fell through, but the title stuck with me. Now that my writing practise had expanded to include embroidery, I had begun to consider ways in which I could assimilate The Cure for Love into this practise. I decided on embroidering shortened passages from my longer writings on love, complete poems, and found phrases, together with sewn illustrations. Instead of “Knitting a Love Song”, as the 2004 short film suggests, I will sew love poems, labouring (with love) over each stitch.
Originally the embroidery aspect of my CEP was conceived as merely a supplement to the community arts project. Now, however, it can expand into a much wider undertaking.
 When I met with Ellie, the founder of Effervescent, to discuss my involvement with the project, she told me that she was “obsessed with love”. A housemate who writes a column for a gay magazine refers to me in it as “The Hopeless Romantic”; love, therefore, is an obsession I share with Ellie, and with you for the next few months.