Some of the research I have been undertaking around ‘call and response’ has led me to consider ideas of tribes and image projection… what are the messages we give out and how do others receive them? How do we find ways to visually connect with ‘them what think like us about that’ and repel ‘them what don’t’?
One vehicle for this that intrigues is the t-shirt. I like their chameleon like quality, their humour, and their potential for disobedience. It is not just what the t-shirt says but what it is saying about the person wearing it. I will explore this idea further and build in more research to consider ideas of belonging, identity, virtue signalling and protest. What do we project, when, and why? Do certain circumstances allow freer forms of expression…
In the meantime, and as a way to finish my first MA year with an actual real piece of work, I set myself a project that would utilise some of some existing & new-found printmaking skills. Whilst at Catton Hall, for the 10th Bearded Theory Festival (which was amazing by the way), I took ten minutes every day to bond with a pint of Thatcher’s, ‘the perfect breakfast cider’ and make a list of the t-shirts that went by. These were edited to become ‘found’ poems and formed the textual elements for the Bearded Poe(t)ry book.
I was keen to get back into the screen printing studio to get more comfortable with the process before the academic year finished. I set myself the challenge to increase my limited colour palette (there is life beyond the black and red) and explore the outcomes when combining printing techniques, in this case screen print, letterpress and rubber stamping. I used geometric shapes to echo isotype and directional elements as the foundation blocks of screen printed colour and I also included an illustration made by Alys in my sketchbook at Catton Hall, to include a drawn element (her response to what she found).
I over-printed the text elements in letterpress, along with some ornamental border in gold. It was so enjoyable to spend a proper chunk of time on the Arab, printing something for the simple joy of it. The rubber stamping takes the form of a hand cut homage to the Bearded Theory logo, the home-made and imperfect adding a humanity and character to the more ‘formal’ or ‘rigid’ printed elements. The happy accident of printing the stamp upside down was the perfect, though maybe subtle, solution to communicating the New Model Army vs Ferocious Dog ‘t-shirt off’.
I have long been an admirer of Theresa Easton’s work and keep coming back to the egalitarian ideals of chapbooks and broadsides and so for this decided to combine them both.
The broadside element was printed in the garage on my trusty Farley proofing press, not perfect but perfectly adequate, the home based approach further enabling the prINtDEPEDENCE (which will increase once the mice have been properly rehoused after their eviction from the sofa hotel).
The finished ‘chapside’ is Japanese slit fold book with a single one line ‘t-shirt’ poem as a proclamation broadside on the reverse. The whole thing is kept together with the poe(t)ry wristband.
Bearded Poe(t)ry is in an edition of 20 copies and will be included in the Off-Set Exhibition at the Christmas Steps Gallery in Bristol from 29 August until 3 September 2017.
Make: French Sewn Book
Cake: Rachel’s Granny’s Orange Yoghurt Cake
The invite was a real cobbled together affair combining scavenged print finishing leftovers and the coming out of retirement of my Imperial typewriter (swapped for a shiny set of rotoring pens when at Chelsea School of Art nearly 30 years ago and still going strong). Typewriting is a perfect way to challenge the perfectionist within and I forced myself to embrace the mistakes and their inherent charm. It was a good exercise and opened up thinking for future projects.
The making of the book from our french sewn block in part I, took place at Robert Smail’s Printing Works on Tuesday 22 August 2017. We decamped to ‘work’ so that we could make use of the nipping presses, guillotine and extra space. This involved gluing the spines, attaching the ‘mull’ or scrim’ and craft paper to stabilise the block. Then we moved to the quarter case bound cover. I had pre-cut the boards to save time and Heather again provided comprehensive instructions for each step of the process. It was really useful (for someone who usually wings it) to have precise measurements as that really helped the neatness of my finished results.
I had never made a quarter bound case cover before and I have to say I liked it. Traditionally to manage production costs a more expensive (stronger) material (say leather) was used for the spine and extended slightly onto the covers with the rest
being covered with a cheaper material.
Our books consisted of a buckram spine and paper covers. This allowed me to use one of the lining paper roller prints I had made in collaboration with Ruth Broadway at a wonderful workshop led by Stephen Fowler (King of the Rubber Stamp) at UWE back in May. Others used print room make ready sheets, end papers, wallpaper samples and gift wrap… the possibilities are endless.
It was time-consuming… we all underestimated how much time it takes to measure, cut and glue but a couple of us got there by the end (with a chance to finish next time, rather than rush for the others).
There was a satisfaction in making a ‘proper’ book and I liked the potential for the combination of materials this format opened up. The other combination of materials (or rather ingredients) we all liked was the orange yoghurt cake. She has recently inherited her Grandmother’s recipe book and brought this in for us all to see. It was a beautiful, well-loved, well used object and it sparked conversation and equivalent memories and laments for everyone. The thing that made it magical for me was the greasy finger prints, embedded crumbs and especially the little notes put next to the recipes (some glued in from magazines, some handwritten). Their provenance was always acknowledged… ‘Mr Little’s Marmalade’, ‘Isobel’s Coffee Buns’ (not as good as Mum’s), some were ‘good for freezing’, some ‘nice for parties’… a personalised Mrs Beeton which connects and resonates across the generations… the people known forever linked to the food eaten. Will Rachel add her own recipes and notes or conserve it as epitaph all bound up in a book? I wonder…. maybe the book from this OBC will be the start of her own? The Orange Yoghurt Cake had made it into the book three times so it must have been a favourite and after tasting it we could see why… thank you Hazel, I will add it to my own collection with its provenance acknowledged and think of you every time I make it (possibly with a note… ‘not as good as Rachel’s’).
Make: Pop Up Books
Cake: Heather’s Lemon Drizzle
The third OBC happened on 6 June 2017. The invitations were little postcards. All survived the post!
This time Rachel took the lead with enthusiasm and introduced the group to ideas for creating pop up elements to our books. We tried three versions: the ‘box’, the ‘diamond’ or ‘mouth’ and the ‘zig zag’. These were very effective methods that everyone found easy to re-create and there was excitement about the applications possible beyond the book form… Heather left buzzing with plans for Christmas cards (and it is only June!).
Examining a call for response…
I have realised that I make with a specific ‘audience’ in mind, within the instrumentalist idea (or some inherited sense of work ethic) that art should have a practical purpose, be for something and someone. I am interested in this as a vehicle for engagement and change. I also want to consider the praxis… how the practical is underpinned by the theory and production.
As a way to support my own emergent practice I want to gain a better understanding of how to engage and initiate the call, start conversations and subsequently engender the possibility of a meaningful response. I have always been interested in the ideas of encouraging ‘disobedience’ and this is part of a bigger project that I am developing as part of my MA. As I progress this I want to understand more about how engagement is made through an individual’s creative being and practice to promote a better sense of shared citizenship and a ‘common good’ within a neoliberal world.
I am defining disobedience in this context not only as a way to challenge rather than maintain the status quo (an example of which could be the refusal to give up a seat on a bus) but as a conscious decision in taking the time to be, think, make, talk and exchange ideas with a kind ‘artfulness’ (in both senses of the word).
I wonder whether, in the current time of noise and visual saturation, the quieter, more considered, creative conversations are more effective and ultimately more sustainable (and less exhausting) than the rant and has more value than a click. Looking to go beyond mass protest and a strictly ‘anti’ agenda that relies on binary thinking of a ‘us and them’, or the ‘powerful and the powerless’, I want to focus on the elements that have an emphasis on (quiet) subversion and creative making as a means of activism, protest and resistance (real or imagined). I believe, by its very nature, it cannot stand alone, it relies on engagement with and within the grey areas that form society, communities and audiences. I want to explore the processes and platforms used as ways to start conversations and build the connections… the stage, the public space, the event, the happening, the participatory workshop and the anonymous (?) intervention.
It could be argued that as the more acknowledged models of protest and resistance have become ‘established’ and there is a risk to them becoming formulaic and almost cliché. This, in turn, allows them to become easier to ignore… the derogation and subsequent dismissal of ‘student style politics’. As the appropriation/subversion of ‘the Spectacle’ and its graphic language as tools for protest becomes more sophisticated and prevalent is there is a danger of it being consumed, but not considered, by the very models and audiences it seeks to challenge? Is there a way that mimicry maintains rather than challenges or subverts the status quo?
There is a rise in more passive models such as ‘slacktivism’ and ‘clicktivism’ which again can feed an innate ‘want to do the right thing’ in the responder but can lack the integrity of real thought and does not necessarily deliver a call to action. This new model of petitioning can also risk dismissal under a ‘quantity not quality’ agenda. Placed alongside ideas of virtue signalling it is a way to be ’seen’ to be engaged with important issues and concerns but without actually having to do anything much. Should we be seeking models that embrace elements of these where useful but are re-imagined and smarter, indeed more artful, for our times?