Conclusion and learning outcomes

Creative Arts Today has been my first course with OCA and certainly has not been easy for the very wide range of subjects to investigate and even more than that for the great effort it implies to develop an awareness of the ways in which all these cultural disciplines are strongly interconnected and not forget the common cultural ‘broth’ when studying them specifically.

The accent on the cross-disciplinary nature of culture and the invitation to test it by exploring how the same themes, in this case time and place, have been dealt with in different areas have been for me definitely the most fundamental and precious outcome of this first course and shall be my ‘fil rouge’ in future studies. So I am very happy to have started my learning journey with OCA from here even if it has been difficult.

Two other basic aspects that this course has helped me to focus on are the importance of theme on one side and of communication on the other and also their mutual dependence: to communicate effectively is possible only if the message is adequately expressed and this applies to all creative disciplines. The artist, the writer, the visual communicator, the photographer or the designer, all need to convey their vision if there has to be an exchange with the audience or the public.

In this respect my ‘discovery’ of the reader-response theory in Part 2 has been really inspiring and has triggered several lines of considerations as I explain in my conclusion to Creative Reading. But this is not all: the theoretical aspects covered by this course are another very strong feature and a good reason to tackle it before engaging into specific areas of study. Creative Arts Today has offered me a chance to come to grips or at least get the first notions of fundamental thought movements – modernism/postmodernism, structuralism/poststructuralism etc – that are at the heart of contemporary culture.

On a practical note I am also very happy of my decision of keeping a public learning blog at the beginning of the course: this has helped me a lot to organize my work, make useful cross-references that I shall be able to use also in the future and keep a good pace. What I shall try to do is add also personal research, details of exhibitions, books read and so on. I have not done so in this blog and my tutor suggested me that this would be a good idea even if it implies more work. Another area that I shall try to develop is critical thinking: I have been a bit ‘shy’ during this course since as a student I felt that I was not entitled to question what I was reading, but I am beginning to see that to ask oneself questions is a fundamental part of the learning process and is also very useful for self-assessment.

My next course will be Sculpture 1: Starting out in 3D and I am sure that what I have learnt so far will be valuable. Many concepts that I am researching for this new course are familiar now, but what I especially notice is that my level of awareness and attention and my capacity of establishing connections have much improved. It remains to be seen if and how I shall be able to feed all this in my burgeoning creative process. It shall be another voyage of discovery, I am sure.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Assignment 5: Reflections on feedback

My first, hasty thought after a quick reading of Prof. Rose’s feedback has been that my essay was in many ways ‘wrong’ and that I needed to rework it substantially, so I was initially discouraged even if my tutor’s overall comment was positive.

However, when I reread it carefully I started to see things differently and the feedback got really rich: the observations and suggestions were certainly meant to be useful pointers on how to make improvements in some places of the essay at hand and give me additional information on aspects and issues that I might not be aware of, but also offered important criteria for tackling essay writing at large.

I shall now try to summarise the main ‘lessons’ I got from this feedback (I put my tutor’s words in inverted commas).

I should be precise and consider carefully what I write, also implicitly: if I say for instance that the works were also exhibited in their entirety ‘is it the case that they are ever displayed singly’? Here an innocent little word like also does create misunderstandings.

It is advisable to double-check the meaning of what I write, to avoid mistakes: to say that an artwork is site-specific means that it remains in the place for which it has been created, otherwise if it is displayed elsewhere this ‘immediately removes the possibility of their being site-specific.’

Try not to be vague, go into details, go below the surface: if I say that the works belong to the landscape from which they came this is true ‘in a way, but also think about the artist’s intervention’.

Do not take at face value what primary sources say, always make an effort to evaluate them critically, question them: for instance ‘always approach artist’s own words with a degree of caution since they will emphasize (quite naturally) what they want their work to mean which is not necessarily the same as the viewer’s understanding.’

(Following from the above) Do ask myself questions about aspects of work mentioned, probe them further: in this case the relevance given to process in these artworks, their ‘history’, the act of repetition, the concept of ‘nature’.

So with all these precious inputs I got myself to work again on the essay and I did the following the best I was able to. After correcting mistakes and inaccuracies, following my tutor’s suggestions I tried to distantiate myself from my primary sources – in this case the substantial absence of secondary sources gives me a certain responsibility to at least attempt a critical appraisal. I also eliminated parts that did not seem really necessary or that were somehow reiterations of concepts already expressed at some other point. I rearranged some of the paragraphs in order to chain ideas in a more consequential way, to enhance cohesion and readability of the text. And lastly I rechecked the meanings of the words I was not totally sure of and my grammar, being English a second language for me.

Exercise 1: Analysing a garment

For this Exercise I have chosen to analyse a fashion image from the Gucci Live Autumn/Winter 2017 Ready-to-Wear Collection, at : http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2017-ready-to-wear/gucci/slideshow/collection#3.    Along the main picture I have also included images of two details of the same look from the main page.

I think that the outfit selected, with its luxuriant, superabundant maximalism, can represent well some of the latest trends in fashion today. Gucci’s creative director, Michele Alessandro, presents for the first time a combined men/women collection, and this also is an interesting innovative element of the show: male and female models walk the runway together, and so the accent seems to be on an easy fluidity between genders which can freely exchange their outfits and implicitly their roles.

Look 3 from the Gucci Live Autumn/Winter 2017 Ready-to-Wear Collection


Detail 2


Detail 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The overall first impression I get from this catwalk image is of extreme exuberance and eclecticism, great freedom in assembling disparate elements which look assorted at random, a general feeling of casual easy street style. An immediate association has been with the Seventies’ label Laura Ashley with its romantic floral frocks and 19th-century rural feel, but this is just one of the many possible inspirations that went in this super-abundant collection, aptly named “The Alchemist’s Garden” by Gucci’s creative director.

File:1970s Laura Ashley dresses 03.jpg

Printed cotton dresses made by Laura Ashley in the mid 1970s, on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, 2013. From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1970s_Laura_Ashley_dresses_03.jpg

 

 

But contrasting with the richness of decoration, if I now focus my attention on the silhouette I see naturally flowing lines not too tight to the body, moving swiftly around it without excess. There is an overall fluidity, underlined by the mid-calf length of the culottes which gently flare out. Also the platform sandals have a mid heel and contribute to a natural walk. The blouse just rests on the hips, not too fitted either, and even if the waist is belted the elongated silhouette is not interrupted. Shoulders are moderately wide and padded, soft and rounded, sleeves are long and straight. Every element emanates easiness and comfort, the overall shape is clean and lean.

Closely associated with the fluid silhouette are the moderate volumes built on the body by the light fabrics used for both the blouse and the culottes. All the attention is on the exquisitely ornamented details of this outfit and the gentle movement of garments is an invitation to slowly explore them. There is no excess fabric used here to form gathers or pleats, only that necessary to create the natural folds on the garments which accompany with grace the body while it moves and have a delicate drape.

IMG_4382

In order to analyze the outfit in terms of colour, I have reduced the chromatic palette to sixteen hues using PaintShopPro and what I got is a definitely autumnal/winter palette of muted, toned-down, generally low-key colours on the warm side of the spectrum which create a traditional, understated effect. The brightest colour, a nuance of Burgundy red, stands out pleasantly.

But of course what really stands out in this Gucci’s look is the outstanding combination of patterns and decorative details which have many references and inspirations in an eccentric ‘more is better’ mood. The mix of possible cultural and historical influences appears so varied and rich that in many cases it’s only possible to make guesses, as if in a serious but free and playful game.

I have already mentioned Laura Ashley’s rustic floral frocks of the Seventies, but the roses printed on the culottes can also be a remembrance of vintage tapestries or refer back to one of many historic Gucci’s botanical prints, chosen from the fashion house rich scarf archive, or possibly be a contamination of all these different styles and still others. And the roses are interestingly combined with the Scottish tartan pattern of the blouse, further ornamented with delicate embroideries of floral twigs, or else with the Seventies zigzag stripes of the lurex stockings.

But the mix and accumulation of decorative details of this outfit goes well beyond patterns and prints: there is the glitter braided sweatband in Disco style, the long romantic haircut of the model girl (or is she a boy?), the wide flat collar (a 19th century accent perhaps?) with its sparkling little bow. And then of course the accessories: the animal studs leather belt bag with the double GG logo, the iconic bamboo handle hand bag with the fox head broche and the Egyptian beetle print, the gigantic bee and moth fashion rings, the Oriental/Forties inspired platform sandals.

Flowers, insects, Egyptian symbols, oriental influences, men’s wear, Forties, Seventies, old wallpapers, Eighties disco dance, romantic British gardens … it’s an incredible mix and match of elements and styles. The message seems to be that everything can be kept and used, fashion is a free game that is serious and playful at the same time, and the result is a bold, easy, eccentric street style which everyone can adopt. There is also a vintage aesthetic but interpreted in a contemporary way, without exclusion of materials and fabrics, for an opulent but also pop effect.

From the commercial point of view I think that a collection like this is very savvy: everybody can find something that he or she (does it matter? all is exchangeable) likes, maybe only a little accessory or a detail, and such an outfit is an implicit invitation to keep layering garments and adding bags, jewellery, scarves galore.

If I like it? I don’t know really and I don’t think this is too much important either. What I do admire is the incredible craft that goes into all these beautiful details, the ability to give life to such a complex vision and the rich cultural background that makes a collection like this possible. My instinct here is to learn the mix-and-match lesson, go back to my wardrobe and see what I can make out of it using the same free spirit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assignment 5: Reflective Commentary

 

Studying for Part 5 has been a different experience from the other parts of the course: even if for several years now I have been dealing with fabrics and fibres in multiple ways – from stitching and manipulating them in experimental samples with multi-media techniques to learning rigorous pattern making, cutting and sewing – this has been the first time that I have approached textiles as materials/media having specific qualities that make them suitable for use in a high number of functional, design or art contexts.

In this regard and considering the very wide scope of the subject I have found very useful and stimulating the organization of Part 5 in four main viewpoints centred around the course themes of time and place. This has greatly helped me to connect the study of textiles to the other 4 parts of the course – contemporary art, creative reading, visual communications and photography: if at the beginning these disciplines seemed to me rather vaguely linked, they appear now all neatly and satisfyingly ‘stitched together’ – if I may use a textile metaphor. And having seen how the themes of time and place have been successfully ‘weaved’ through all parts of the course, I have now an idea of how I could decline and explore a theme in different disciplines, contexts and media.

The section on the life cycle of textiles and sustainability (Project 1) has opened up new perspectives for me. Like many, I am already used to collect old garments and fabrics for recycling or upcycling in new projects but I had never thought of doing so in the wider frame of well-defined practices to adopt during all the design/making stages as proposed by the Textiles Environment Design (TED) on their website. And this is certainly something that I shall try to implement in all crafts – textiles – but also jewellery and ceramics, two activities that I practice and that present many sustainability issues, from potentially toxic chemicals to waste of energy resources.

In Project 2 (revival of craft and the hand-made) I find particularly inspiring the distinction made between the workmanship of risk centred on the individual and the workmanship of certainty centred on the industrial design/production. I think that this type of approach can really offer a useful conceptual tool to designers, makers and artists in their experiences and dealings with materials and methods, especially if combined with the development of a personal narrative as further mentioned by Project 2.

Another very helpful instrument is the set of qualities outlined in Project 3 to analyse the various contexts in which textiles are employed in the environment. The same qualities can also be profitably considered during designing and making so as to work with enhanced focus and awareness in one’s own practice.

Finally Project 4 shifts attention from the use of textiles in the environment to the intimate relation that textiles have with the human body and while it concentrates research and exercises mainly on fashion, the function of ‘enveloping the body’ could also be explored in art by taking advantage of the visual/tactile characteristics of textiles and of their draping/handling/protective qualities.

(509 words)

 

 

Assignment 5: A sense of place, a sense of time: ‘Caught by the Tide’ (2014) by textile artist Debbie Lyddon

 

 

(All images are from Debbie Lyddon’s website and blog)

I discovered the work of British textile artist Debbie Lyddon two years ago and started following its evolution closely but it was only in the last months that I gradually understood how her slowly developed reflective pieces are in many ways deeply connected with the fundamental themes of this course – place and time. This is why for my last Assignment I choose to study a body of work by her, ‘Caught by the Tide’ (2014), that has directly grown from her special, intimate, prolonged relation with the coastal environment of North Norfolk, and specifically of Wells-by-the-Sea, and the processes of change brought to it by the daily tides.

The pieces of this series – a variety of Cloths, Pots and Pipes – were created over an extended period and finally exhibited as a cohesive whole in 2014 at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery in London. Even if, judging from the images of the exhibition, it seems that also in the artificial and space-limited setting of a gallery they still resonated strongly with the landscape from which they were born, the act of exhibiting them in a gallery somehow interrupted and froze the flow of their organic evolution and set them apart as objects. This ‘objectification’ is a step that the artist deemed necessary to get a perspective on her work but of course it also implied creating a distance from it, a separation that took away ‘the closeness of being with it’ as Debbie Lyddon noted in her blog.

That said, I think that reading the posts of her compelling, at times poetic blog and learning how her pieces organically evolved in time, how they grew from her thoughts and her walks and experiences in the environment is really important to understand her creative practice, develop a fuller appreciation of her work and usefully integrate the exhibition. Her emphasis on the processes of creation and on the action of natural elements on the materials she gathers and transforms makes us look at her actual pieces with increased attention, ‘through’ their story, and they become ‘charged’ with the place they are physically imbued with. These are aspects of her work that remind me of another textile and paper artist, Cas Holmes, who creates evocative mixed media pieces from salvaged materials found in the urban and natural landscape.

From reading Debbie Lyddon’s blog we get to know that the canvas she uses is that found on the beach in the form of tarpaulins, boat covers and sails and still bears strong associations with its primary functions of protection in a marine environment and for sailing by people who live by the sea. We learn among other things that to create some of her pieces, the ‘Tarpaulin Cloths’, she repeatedly dipped them into saltwater – ‘I like to use the sea as a resource – it is another material available to me – so I put this cloth into the sea and then left it outside in the salty, coastal environment’. And in describing the process the artist uses what I think is a very beautiful, powerful expression – ‘taking the cloth to the water’ – like for a personal, repetitive ritual that goes well beyond enriching the cloth with salt and let the sewn-in metal rings gradually rust.

An aspect that appears as fundamental in this artist’s work is the act of repetition, in the form of repetitive, contemplative gestures, recurring shapes and stitches. On the one hand, repetition connects her work to her former practice as a flautist and so to her story, to her personal narrative: ‘I think this way of working recalls my former life as a musician and the hours of repetitive flute practice required to learn a new piece of music’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).

On the other, the repetition of certain elements like holes helps to draw attention and direct vision. Holes are for her ‘an immaterial emptiness’ which ‘allows us to see a nothing – to make visible the invisible’ (Art that Inspires, 2016), and so encourage a meditative, intellectual exploration of her pieces. And in this regard Debbie Lyddon reflects on the holes in the works by Barbara Hepworth, an artist that she admires and quotes often, and sees an analogy  between matter and empty space in sculpture and sounds and silences in music, again reconnecting her work to her previous musical studies (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).

In this sense her pieces can be considered a form of conceptual, process-led form of art, but they are also very physical, materially intense objects having a strong visual, tactile and textural presence which can be perceived in the gallery space. The traces left on them by the salt and the sea demand an intimate, close-up appraisal. These are definitely immersive pieces that want not only to be looked, but also touched and felt – and in some cases even heard, like the ‘Aeolian Pipes’, which in their original environment resonate at the passage of wind (Aeolian Pipes, 2014).

Her previous experience as a musician was certainly crucial for the creation of these Pipes – whose shape and holes remind me of flutes – but the use of wind as material seems also connected to the rhythmic movement of breath which is ‘fundamental to life and being’, as she notes quoting Being Alive’ by Tim Ingold.

And I think that the idea of rhythm, which englobes also the idea of repetition, lies ultimately at the core of Debbie Lyddon’s work: rhythmic is the movement of the tides of the coastal landscape from which her pieces are born – ‘dominated by the twice daily tides, it is land for half a day and then sea for the rest’ (www.debbielyddon.co.uk) – and rhythmic is her constant movement as an artist from the inside to the outside, from the inside of her thoughts, readings, memories to the outside made of long enjoyable walks in the landscape or happy sailings on the sea. Her inspiration constantly moves between these two poles – in and out – and is nourished by both.

Rythmic and cyclical is finally also the sense of time in her pieces, that reflect the cyclical changes of the environment and absorb the energy of the place as it evolves. This is a vital, necessary connection with their origins that the artist underlines in her blog: ‘The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece … The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016). I perceive in her vision an implied acceptance of change in life and nature which does not contemplate regret for the decay of things or the passage of time, and so her way of dealing with time is fundamentally different from the drama of the vanitas paintings. The word drama does not seem to belong to her art, harmony instead, and a close, calm and passionate attention to all the small variations of her landscape of choice with which she subtly interacts, in receptive correspondence and uninterrupted exchange.

(1149 words)

 

Bibliography

Barnes, C.J. (2012) Exploring Dimension in Quilt Art, London: Batsford

http://www.casholmes.textilearts.net/page3.html (Accessed 12/08/2017)

http://debbielyddon.co.uk/ (Accessed 12/08/2017)

https://debbielyddon.wordpress.com (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Fox, A. (2015) Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects, Batsford

Lyddon, D. (2013) ‘Responding to Environment’, In: http://www.textileartist.org [online] At: www.textileartist.org (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2014) Aeolian Pipes and Air-songs [online booklet] At: debbielyddon.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/aeolian-pipes-and-air-songs-booklet.pdf (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2016) Textiles: A Response to Landscape, In: TextileArtist.org [e-book online] At:  https://resources.textileartist.org/products/textiles-a-response-to-landscape (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2016) ‘Art that Inspires’,  In: TextileArtist.org [article online] At: www.textileartist.org (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Meech S. (2012) Connecting Design to Stitch, London: Batsford

Thittichai, K. (2009) Experimental Textiles, London: Batsford

Triston, J. (2014) Contemporary Applique, London: Batsford

 

 

 

Assignment 4: Reflections on feedback

As my tutor Dr. Belshaw said in his email accompanying feedback on Assignment 4 there is a bit of a challenge in his response: he correctly perceived in my essay some doubts about David Hockney’s account on the limitations of photography as an autonomous medium and actually as I was writing the essay I thought that somehow this consummate painter missed the special point of photography – its unique capability of capturing a slide of reality in an instant of time – or else that he deliberately chose to ignore it because he is interested in making a point about painting, not photography. And on noticing my hesitation I think that Dr. Belshaw rightly encouraged me to muster up some courage and pursue my ideas a bit further thus adding critical thinking to my essay.

This was the first time that my tutor raised the question of critical thinking as such and it certainly rang a bell with me. It made me realize that I have always used my critical thinking intuitively, I would say without too much speculation, and that now, almost at the end of my first course with OCA, the moment has come to examine this issue in a more structured, intentional, less casual way. So I am taking his notes as a short lesson in critical thinking.

‘This means taking issue with something in the material you gathered for the assignment. The easy way to overcome this is to consider what the artist says with some scepticism’: it is a first general suggestion from my tutor about how to tackle the task and this is what I shall try to do on critically rereading my essay before assessment.

Then Dr. Belshaw goes into details and offers some critical perspectives among others that might be raised in the specific case of Hockney’s photocollages or photographic drawings. These are not meant to be as prescriptive, but by way of examples. Other questions could be asked, the point being here how to learn to recognise possible issues and hint at rational speculative directions. And he continues suggesting two possible questions: What does it mean to say some kinds of pictures are truer to experience than others? Or else: What do we mean by a “way of seeing”?

I must also especially thank my tutor for suggesting me Neill and Ridley, Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, which is a really useful read and an eye-opener in connection with the topic of critical thinking. It just arrived in the mail and I am reading the chapters about photography debates as a start.

(429 words)

Research Point: Designers using pattern and print

Can you think of any designer brands characterised by their use of print and pattern?

I shall limit myself here to mention some Italian designer brands that make a distinctive use of print and pattern.

The very first name that comes to mind for inventiveness and boldness is certainly Prada, both with the brand main line and with the second younger line Miu Miu

 

Two looks from the first line:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And two looks from Miu Miu Autumn-Winter 2017 collection:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another obvious name as a brand readily identifiable with its patterns is Missoni:

Two images from the first line Autumn-Winter 2017 collection:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there are many others, such as Marni, Antonio Marras, Dolce § Gabbana, Emilio Pucci just to mention the first iconic names of Italian fashion style that come to my mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All these brands have strong identities and certainly their use of surface decoration in the form of very individual prints and patterns contributes in essential ways to make them highly recognisable as brands at the point that when we name Missoni or Pucci we immediately associate them with their characteristic – and much imitated – prints and patterns. If they all started with clothing, today most brands have developed successful accessory lines – shoes, bags, eye-glasses – that borrow some elements from the luxury garments, sharing their prestige, and so contribute significantly to raise profits at lower production costs. I have not checked the economic data but I suppose that in several cases profits derive mainly from accessories.

 

Mary Katranzou

On her graduation show at Central Saint Martins (London) in 2008 Mary Katrantzou presented trompe l’oeil prints of oversized jewellery on jersey-bonded dresses and had immediate success, instantly becoming the ‘queen of prints’. As she explains on her website, prints have as strong an impact as a cut or a drape and have a definite subversive quality. The digital print technology she uses gives a freedom to experiment not possible with other methods and allows the designer to create hyperrealistic or surrealistic effects on garments that are bold, fresh and very innovative but also very enjoyable.

For her first solo show of Spring 2011 she had the idea to work in three dimensions with prints and started to lay photographs from old Architectural Digest and World of Interiors magazines directly over her dresses obtaining what she called ‘an almost hallucinatory depth to the images’. It dawned on her that the interiors could be as important as the models and so the concept of ‘the room on the woman’ was born.

I think that the effect is absolutely extraordinary: the placement of the symmetric images on models creates a sort of (con)fusion between their bodies and the interiors/exteriors and the volumes of both coincide and exchange themselves in mesmerizing ways. Body parts become pieces of landscape or room elements and vice versa. A curtain is transformed in a skirt panel or a short sleeve, roses in a vase follow the high line of the thighs or a balustrade becomes the hem of a dress. The woman is turned into a room and a room is turned into the woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the following season, Autumn 2011, she worked with the same idea but reversed the concept: the ‘room on the woman’ became ‘the woman in the room’. It is as if a woman were exploring a room crammed with exquisite objects, Fabergé eggs, Meissen porcelains, Chinese vases, and surrounded her own body with them, literally: through her eyes these objects become what the woman is wearing, again in a wonderful, dream-like confusion. The silhouettes are different, more rounded and layered, and borrow elements like petticoats or full gowns belonging to the historical periods of the objects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, season after season, Mary Katrantzou has produced more and more magical collections following her evolving inspiration.

Some images from her last Fall-Winter 2017 show:

 

 

 

On her website Mary Katrantzou writes that for this collection she took her inspiration from the world of Walt Disney’s Fantasia of 1940 and also from the femmes fatales of 1940’s film noir, with their big shoulders and furs. The effect I think is delicately dreaming and very elegant, also easier to wear and somehow more classic. Many looks seem to be geared towards formal evening wear, with their exquisite surface decoration and embroidery. The colours are rich and sumptuous but also more restrained. Overall the collection is less exuberant and weird, less girlish and more womanly and seem to indicate a new direction in Katrantzou’s creative evolution.