Thursday, September 17, 2015

Background noises

I have received a commission to make a queen-bed sized quilt as a wedding present, and the need is pretty imminent: to have the top finished by mid October at the latest. It’s not a complicated block, and I’m moving through it pretty fast. Nevertheless I glance back at the Living Universe quilt on the easel and play with at odd moments, allowing myself to keep the flame alive. 

The background space seems to have a long time manifesting itself, and I am conscious of the need to keep placement of the symbols to be used within the frame. I am surprised about the demands of what I have thought of as the ‘background’, having expected decisions about how to represent Jan's request for her Cancer birth sign, the Pleiades star cluster and her love of firecrackers might demand more attention. Clearly the background structure is the springboard on which to place the the icons representing Jan's relationship and feeling for the cosmos. The result is that I unpick machine-stitched sections and replace them with other fabrics, having 'tested' them visually in a variety of spaces in the overall composition on the easel, as the symbols Jan has requested drift in and out of my consciousness, without taking on a clear form, nor a position as yet. I am curious as to why the ‘background’ to the Universe story seems to be demanding such attention – then realise that the background is the context for the myriads of unfolding stories: a living Universe cannot be ‘backgrounded’. So, maybe more work needs to be done here before attending to the development and placement of the symbolic icons.

While I had thought the background had finished evolving, it keeps on manifesting , with more detail. I’m encouraged by a piece of fabric which looks like a field of wildflowers. This is the flourishing that we as Earth inhabitants know to be the effect of our particular position in the living Universe. Home Earth, as the daughter of our star, the Sun, supports myriads of life-forms. Looking again at the balance of the colour, newly introduced by the floral carpet, the bold orange red of the 'flaring forth' seems to be too dominant, for something that occurred over 15 billion years ago. Huh, – how to tell the story of the evolution of the Universe! How to imagine that and then represent it, and to know that it is still occurring in our expanding Universe. Nevertheless, with these few alterations, I think I am finally satisfied that the background is no longer in flux.

Not quite yet! On taking another look, I notice a small oversight at each of the corners, especially the right hand and bottom borders, which seem unfinished, and therefore the piece is un-contained. Although the context is limitless space, I become aware that something is needed to pull the composition into a confined space, that of my bring it back to Earth. Below is its final form. including a slightly diminished firey hint of the 'flaring forth' of the Universe over fifteen billion years ago, and the resultant flourishing of so many life-forms on Earth many billions of years later in the shape of a floral ellipse (a shape since early times symbolising the space of the life source, the female vulva, or 'vesica piscis'). Another rim of fire has been added, representing our planet's allurement to Sun, and that of other planets in our solar system. Withe the starry corners containing the background, I now feel set to start paying attention to the formation and position of the symbols that Jan wants in her quilt and any others that might come to the fore.

Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, (1992), The Universe Story, NY:Orbis
Barbara Walker, (1988), The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, San Francisco:Harper & Row

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Where to from here?

Fabrics thought suitable for the Universe quilt had been pulled out of my stash many moons ago and stored in a tub. With a nearly 5 months hiatus, which included surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer, I'm back on track! At this time of Imbolc, as we head towards the Easter Equinox, I have taken them out into the light to start to choose those to include, and those to put aside. The hand-dyes are my favourites, and have been collected over many years. I also like the contrast with the printed commercial cottons. It's a delicate situation, and I'm feeling very tentative, but I'll trust the process and get started on the fabrics. The drawing has been transferred to butcher's paper, from which I will cut template shapes to guide cutting the materials. It's only then that I will be able to play around and make decisions about the basic background colours. Is there any 'background' in/to the Universe; seems to me that the design I've drawn would look just as well upside-down... or on its side...

At the moment I'm thinking to hold off with the pink tonals, and work with the purples and blues. The only way to know is to start cutting!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Possible textile applications

Starting to think about textile applications I have re-visited the method used to ‘create’ the fabric for some bowls made many years ago, by cutting fabrics into small triangles, overlaying them and then stitching back and forth to anchor them. For this 3D installation of three textile bowls, I was working with the theme of Virgin, Mother, Crone, as THE Source. The triangular shape used represents the pubic triangle, a symbol used from earliest times and understood to signify the seat of all life expressed through the female body. There is no other way of interpreting this reality: it is not ‘faith’; it is physical fact. Consequently, I have started to cut some smallish triangular shapes, mainly in white – but think I’ll need red also, with Vliesofix backing (iron-on glue) to enable attachment – but still unsure of how they will be used. Below is the red bowl, symbolizing the life-giving blood of Mothers on the inside. The outside is covered in black to represent woman as Crone, growing old in the mystery that is her wisdom.

I have started making some sketches in order to consider how the concepts might be fitted into the form. Here's the first drawing...more to come no doubt. this one shows the symbols for the constellation of Cancer (crab) and the cluster of the Pleiades, including the seven point star also represented on the Australian flag. I want to include other imagery: moon phases, the life cycle of stars, fire-crackers (at the request of Jan...would you believe?) It's starting out towards the light.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Universe quilt unfolding

While thinking about Jan’s quilt I have realized that the Universe story has featured in many of my previous quilts. Here is one, which I titled ‘Harvest moon over the blue planet’. Though the colour representation is not very good in this image (taken on my phone tonight – I do have slides, but they need converting – my website has a good image), I’m putting it up to be inspired! Next blog will have some drawings, thinking about for the overall design.

This is the quotation inscribed on the back of the quilt in the previous post, which inspired its name:
“That which blossomed forth as cosmic egg 15 billion years ago now blossoms forth as oneself, as one’s family, as one’s community of living beings, as our blue planet, as our ocean galaxy clusters. The same fecund source – then and now.” 

(Brianne Swimme, 1996, p.111, “The hidden heart of the cosmos”, Orbis: NY.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Gestating ideas and images

In answer to a FB quiz question ‘what is your strongest quality’, I answered the 10 questions and received the answer: intellect. I wished it had been ‘creativity’, and then realized that my creativity does find its source through the intellect. All of the quilts I’ve made for the Wheel of the Year series have been didactic in origin and intent – to raise awareness is the role of the artist, no?  Jan’s Universe quilt is not different in the first intention, perhaps a little different in the second, it being a personal commission. It may still have interest for others in the story to be told of the influences.

 Though I love the dark skies lit by myriads of stars on a clear night, I’ve never had a deep interest in the science of astronomy for this quilt, though I do know the names of some of the constellations - and of course love the Southern Cross. Art making is always a learning process for both the art maker and the recipient - but more on this later.
I’m currently honing up on the story of the Universe  as a personal story, from inclusion through birth, death and regeneration. I’m inspired by a comment from Jan in an email, in which she said that she looks at the stars every night before sleeping (she lives on a property away from city lights), feeling  “surrounded and held” by the Universe. Rather than being a small and insignificant part, as is often the way people express their relationship with the greater Universe, Jan feels gratitude at being part of the ‘immense, creative, expanding consciousness’, that IS the Universe becoming manifest – as do I. My consciousness about how to develop her quilt is expanding as I keep searching online, in my heart and soul, to represent Jan’s sense of place in the Universe. Shown here are some images I’ve been collecting, as seeds gestating in the dark. Not sure how, or indeed whether they will show up in the quilt.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A version of the Pleiades

The Pleiades...hmmm pretty magical. Aboriginal story takes inspiration from this consellation - have to check it out. More to follow.

A “Universe” quilt, commissioned by Jan (January 2015)

The starting point: in the dark!
It’s not often that one is asked to represent the Universe in a quilt – let alone a small quilt to hang on a wall. I have fabrics cut in preparation for my own Universe quilt, which I hope one day I will sleep under – when it is finished! My quilt is quite simple, based on a design fom a quilt book. Using mostly hand-dyed cottons cut into various widths and pieced together quite randomly is the idea – though “random” is hard for me since I have to relinquish control.
I made a quilt for friend Jan a few year ago, which was called “The magpie quilt”, and was based on her memoir “Coming home to myself” (previous blog 6/12/12). Jan has asked me to record in fabric for her walls another (unwritten) chapter of her story: the influence of the bodies and energies of what we know as “the Universe” (– though we may not really know its extent).
Jan tells me in a brief email about her concepts of the Universe, revealing possible underlying themes, which could include stories of the ‘feminine and the sisterhood of all women’ as ‘expressions of the universal essence as is all form that is manifest – from the tiniest to the grandest… all the vitality and unity, manifested in different forms – often very fleeting – eternal and fleeting.’ Jan recognizes the paradox in this exchange of the fleeting nature of universal energy, becoming manifest and returning to energy, and although I ‘get it’ in my mind/body system, I wonder how such can be represented – manifested in a small quilt, big ideas in a small space is always a challenge.

Then some symbolic representations are provided: ‘moon, sun and the seasons, and stars.’ Important stars are the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, which Jan looks at with the naked eye, as well as seeing them through telescope: ‘they are beautiful and magical'. Jan acknowledges the wide range of myths associated with the constellation, where so often the female aspect of these stories is ‘subsumed into the male stories’. So, this is the 'brief', in brief, and the spark of inspiration germinating in the dark. Next installment coming very soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More on the ‘economy’ of the gift

Lewis Hyde’s reference to the gift as an ‘erotic’, biophillic exchange applies to this quilt; it promotes 'flourishing' (Grace Jantzen, 1998, Becoming divine: towards a feminist philosophy of religion). The small label that was stitched to the back of the original tablecloth is now on the back label of the quilt (as shown in previous blog, and here again). 

It reads “Soul catcher”, which I feel is epitomizes the elements of a gift exchange, where the soul or spirit of a community of people – here quilters – is recognized and flourishes in the ‘’moving”, the handing on of the object. My soul received nourishment in the receiving, as I believe did Annie’s in the stitching, and Sheila’s in the finding and seeing the value of the cloth.  Without art for its own sake, offered, received and moved on as a gift, the economy governing creativity can become at best artificial, or at worst, oppressive – which is the threat of a capitalist democracy’s unreserved reverence for ‘market triumphalism’ as Hyde calls it, (as though the market were a person). Certain values we hold important cannot be held by a market economy derived by the unregulated, exclusive and individual search for personal gain, without some things losing out. Things such as pure science, art and a spiritual life (unlike a ‘religious’ life), cannot be included in the economy unless by way of a gift; it is a contradiction in terms. And what is required to make sure these values remain active? The recognition of our indigenous spirit and the methods provoked and engendered over multiple generations for maintaining our communities and reciprocal values. There are different ways people do this. I do it through the recognition of the seasonal cycles of Earth as a means for informing and re-storying my indigenous consciousness.

While Hyde uses folk tales to demonstrate the power of the gift exchange to demonstrate the necessity of the arts and sciences as ends in themselves, recently the film “The woman in gold” did so for me. With a Klimt portrait as the central image, with its value to the community (of Austria) and the rightful ownership (by a Jewish family during WW2) being disputed – the artwork moved on. In the movement achieved the purpose of the artwork as a community 'be-longing': the value of the work as a market commodity was retrieved and distributed by the owner to many other community foundations. It is not uncommon for women who have made quilts to gift them to others. After the 2013 October fires in the Blue Mountains, in which over 200 homes were lost to the fires in only a matter of hours, mostly in the close vicinity to where I live. The result of a call for donations of quilts to help those who had lost all was unbelievably generous, with well over a thousand quilts being donated.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Art as ritual gift as community

“The Gift: how the creative spirit transforms the world” has been called a type of ‘manifesto’, written by Lewis Hyde and first published over thirty years ago. It seems to have had various subtitles with different editions, but is essentially about the mysterious role and purpose of creativity and the artist in the world of a market economy, such as has developed over the last four or five decades in particular – when the essential act of creating art has no material value and cannot be bought or sold. It raises question about how we place value on the creative arts in our society: as a commodity whose value is governed by market forces or as a gift to enlighten and nurture us, to maintain community bonds and express underlying shared values? Treating art purely as a commercial enterprise, are we in danger of ignoring its deeper, eternal worth? Or can we allow our art to be expressed in a context where ‘the true commerce of art is a gift exchange,’ the fruits of which is a ‘creative spirit whose fertility is not exhausted in use’ and which contribute to ‘the sense of plenitude which is the mark of all erotic exchange… as agents of transformation, and to a sense of an inhabitable world – …towards a civilization in which the realized gifts of the gifted stand surety for the life of the citizenry’ (p.161). His use of the term ‘erotic’ is in the sense of procreative, the ‘life-giving’ role of art in its relationship with a social economy, ‘…for a true image has a life of its own.’ Underpinning all claims is his assertion that there needs to be movement between the gift and those who accept it, a ‘passing along’ in order to fulfill its role of ‘increase’ to the society through its redistribution (pp.34-37).
There is much more to this exploration of the role of the arts than can be satisfactorily summarized here – it takes much thoughtful reading! But in the gift bestowed of the hand-quilting of the Celtic tablecloth I am conscious of the ideas coming into form as an image of the mystery that is the gift of procreation, for the maintenance of the life of the group. Gift-giving is a ritual so much more important as nourishment for the soul (either of the individual or the group) than religious dogmas and observances.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“The Gift” – as a quilt

“The gift is not used up in use.” (Lewis Hyde 1979, “The gift”)
This quilt, which I have called “The Gift” to honour the parts taken by Sheila and Annie in ‘gifting’ me this lovely, warm quilt, started with the gift of a tablecloth by an anonymous person to a garage sale run by the Sisters of East Timor. This group of women raises money to support women and girls to gain an education – another manifestation of the gift at work in our community. The gifting (unlike the acquiring) process re-doubled as my friend Sheila (who bought it for $1 she thinks), then gave it to me (Sheila gives me lots of little, lovely, inspiring things, for no reason other than to share).
It was a lovely piece, a whole cloth with a bold purple Celtic design printed onto a soft cream background. I have always loved the winding and weaving of lines in the Celtic design tradition. It seemed too beautiful to use as a tablecloth, not withstanding that I already have several in the cupboard, which I rarely use. Looking at it, I considered whether the design could be sectioned and re-constructed in panels for a wall-hanging, but the thought of keeping it a whole-piece cloth appealed more. Most ‘whole-cloths’ are hand quilted, something I had never done. I’m a machine quilter, and felt no inclination to undertake what I thought would make this quilt a special whole-cloth quilt.

The next stage of the gifting process related to this cloth came about during a conversation with Annie in the “Turning Page” bookshop, the business she runs with her husband Alan. Yes, she hand quilts, and yes, she would be happy to hand quilt the top that I’d been given. Forthwith I found a backing: a shade of purple patterned with butterflies and growing vines to represent the 'rebirth' of a tablecloth, to closely match the purple of the top. Annie said she would provide the batting. And, the cost for her work, I asked? Replacing the batting was the obvious starting point, to which I readily agreed, still expecting that there would be further monetary payment on finishing the quilt. About eighteen months later, Annie told me she was nearing completion of the quilting. When I went into pick up the quilt and discuss payment she would not hear of any monetary exchange – just enough batting, preferably wool, for a queen-size quilt. What a wonderful gift!

I will add more to this story, as seen from the perspectives I have gained after reading “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Light, dark and shadows: creating ways of seeing

After the Summer Solstice last week, I went down to Canberra with Leo, and we paid a brief visit to the National Gallery, a favourite drawcard. With limited time avialable, (we had gone primarily to visit friends), we 'did' the rooms of Australian art, which we always love. On the ground floor, I paid homage to David Hockney's 'A grander canyon', which was very influential for me in forming ideas about reverse perceptions, drawing one into the landscape instead of gazing at it from the safe distance of a window frame - and indeed the nature of perception formation.

The feature exhibition was a retrospective of the work of James Turrell, whose installation we had seen at the Guggenheim NYC last year. That exhibition was very beautiful, and people waited their turn to lie on the mats provided on the floor under the skylight to gaze up at the changing hues of each tone as they gradually glided down to the ground when above an orange emerged emerged from the palest pink, all no doubt created by laser lights. There was no time to take in this 'retrospective', but I was reminded of the permanent installation outside (called Skyspace I now know), which we had visited when we had travelled to Canberra to see the Fred Williams retro 3 years ago. So before heading home, we wandered over, down into the ramp towards the entrance. I'd forgotten how 'entrancing' this work is, where the natural light interplays with (natural) dark; where shadows formed gradually dissolve, and a burst of light can make shapes like phases of the moon. The colours come to life at sunset (or an early but warm, or late but cold dawn, depending on season) - but that will have to wait for the next trip to Canberra.

Thinking about my next quilt commission from Jan, this was the perfect spot to start the creative juices flowing. I took some photos, thinking about structure for the concept she has talked about. Other views are available here: Turrell says in the clip that we may have beliefs of set perceptions, when it is really we who create ways of seeing. Very much my position; very much what art does. I'm getting quite a little excited about creating this quilt now!

Tantalising images, taking one out into all sorts of worlds, interestingly (sub) titled as "Within without"...makes me think of Pink Floyd's 'Dark side of the moon'.