"What's up with the doilies?"
(Video courtesy of Terry Fox Theatre's PechaKucha program. More info on the entertaining, informative and globally-popular PechaKucha format here.)
This just uploaded... Six and a half minutes devoted to that question I get a lot:
"What's up with the doilies?"
(Video courtesy of Terry Fox Theatre's PechaKucha program. More info on the entertaining, informative and globally-popular PechaKucha format here.)
Maybe it's the chilly monochromatic climate at work here, but I'm suddenly wrapping myself up granny squares. The more I think about them, the more potential I see.
There's a lot of culture woven into those fuzzy little colour grids. They're there in the background of popular culture, infusing irony and cozy home-yness, nostalgia and disdain. One graces the couches of neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler's nerdy apartment and Roseanne's working-class house. Jemaine sleeps under one (badly).
Sure, they achieve that soupçon of shabbiness or tastelessness essential to the story but those set decorators are no idiots; granny squares inject hits of high colour and pattern to the visual field. They are trippy, decorative non-decor objects. Their form is used because of their assumed function over form.
They are the throws that are thrown around, their colourful geometry reflected and refracted so that they radiate western domestic culture, love it or hate it.
Cate Blanchett adorned a designer version on the red carpet, to a chorus of derision by the fashion police, which secured the actress more publicity.
There's something delicious in the mix between haute couture and the easy, scrappy crochet method that results in over 13,000 Etsy items under the search term, "granny squares".
I've loved/hated granny squares ever since my cousin and I were given matching shrink vests at age 10, from our moms. I would have been wearing that single, large purple granny square at a time when the Italian dads in the neighbourhood were setting up that granny-square pattern in concrete breeze walls around their brand new Vancouver Specials.
Like the blankets, the breeze walls evoke utility and thrift but are visually interesting enough to warrant new consideration. The modularity of granny squares and breeze-wall blocks ooze with potential, especially as a mash-up.
Granny squares command attention. The Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum took on new dimensions when it was covered in thousands of donated granny squares as part of its CAFAM Granny Squared installation a couple of years ago.
Suddenly, a city that is generally at odds with notions of the handmade, the domestic and the artisanal was attracting mainstream media attention for its collaborative crocheted culture jam.
A couple of years before that, in 2011, members of many Finnish women's organizations and the craft teachers' union blanketed Helsinki Cathedral's steps in 3,800 granny square tilkkupeitosta (Finnish for 'quilt').
The modular motif marries beautifully to existing architecture, as the granny squares take on a Tetris effect, cascading down to the giant public square in this domestic intervention.
But what about the granny square as a building block itself? What if a building appeared to rise out of a giant crocheted coverlet? How could concretized crocheted granny squares be utilized as sculpture?
It's a fuzzy concept worth building on.
It's getting close to a decade since I packed it all in: my needles and wool, my sewing machine and fabrics, my mid-level-management career. There was more to explore.
I've been mixing it up with a wide range of materials (and makers) ever since but even I'm surprised to find that my latest tools of choice for bushwacking new routes of making are the ol' crochet hooks, knitting needles, rug hooks and embroidery needles.
The line on the paper has always been too limiting to me; I need to pick up that line, play with it in my hands, turn it into area, then volume. I remain entranced by the possibilities of connecting something created by a silkworm or an industrial manufacturing plant to a mathematical model or a wearable with uncomfortable connotations.
The beauty of fiber is in its physical and metaphorical ability to connect the Art side to the Design side (not to mention the science side), weaving the two together until it's clear that playing with ideas cannot be put into separate boxes.
Except if we're talking shipping boxes, for the Toronto Design Offsite (TO DO) Festival next month.
A few object-experiments from my ongoing Fuzzy Logic series will be packed in there, as part of the Vancouver group of makers, selected by the Dear Human creative studio.
It's all part of the ‘Outside the Box’ exhibits featuring works from three selected Canadian cities — Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver — and five from the U.S.: New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle.
It's a fine way to mine local design ideas and visions through an unexpected selection of objects that are shared in various locations via specific-sized shipping boxes.
The Vancouver contribution includes nine individuals and teams who live, design and make in the greater Vancouver area. The connecting thread is a pursuit of a design practice through material exploration, according to Dear Human. "Whether through common applications of unusual materials or transcending common materials through unusual applications, exploration is evident in each of the included objects."
Rounding out the Vancouver Outside the Box continent are: Cathy Terepocki, Dahlhaus, Dina Gonzalez Mascaro, Hinterland Designs, Laura McKibbon, Rachael Ashe, and Studio Bup.
Vancouver Outside the Box will take over the windows at 1082 Queen Street West, Toronto, from January 19-25, 2015.
TO DO is an annual city-wide not-for-profit week-long festival that celebrates and showcases the nation's design scene, providing exposure and cross-pollination of ideas and techniques. There are too many exhibits, installations, talks, parties and films to list here, so check out the full (and growing) schedule here as well as the fun promo video.
I would rather watch the little kids in my life play than watch the best TV. But it's tricky because they don't like to be observed and if they feel I'm too interested, they are on to me and it all comes to a halt.
I have to refrain from the urge to referee, guide, demonstrate or facilitate. Because it's only when they're sure the adults are not interested that the seriously unstructured play comes on, with all its small power struggles and shared moments of joy. (See legendary Lynda Barry talk about play at the end of this post.)
I'm fascinated by the ability of kids to spontaneously engage in creative collaboration (a.k.a. 'play') with other kids they didn't know 10 minutes before. It's a lesson in the power of putting ourselves out there creatively, to let go of control and all expectations.
In the past week, I took my inner kid out to play with strangers in two distinct venues: the Vancouver Art Gallery, in preparation for the opening of Douglas Coupland's major solo show, and at the first Arts & Crafts Social at a small Mount Pleasant neighbourhood gallery.
After-hours at the Vancouver Art Gallery, we were all quickly introduced before we were invited to attack and stack Coupland's priceless/useless toy bits to assemble his imposing 'Brick Wall' at the entrance of the exhibit, under the artist's direction. We were just playing but in retrospect we were problem-solving issues of density, colour, weight, communication, and give-and-take. We were just talking but on reflection we were wrangling with issues of value, object-images, collections, consumption, globalization and categorization.
A few days later, I hauled out one of my portable projects and headed to the inaugural Arts & Crafts Social (#HAWCsocial) at Hot Art Wet City Gallery hosted by Rachael Ashe and Kim Werker.
The beauty of a drop-in, BYOP (project) event is that if you're feeling a little shy, at least you have your work to focus until you're comfortable enough to mingle. The tables soon filled up with conversation-starters beyond the beer and wine: stabby felt needles, crochet and rug hooks, Thai take-out, Sharpies on canvas, a digital drawing pad and an old manual typewriter.
You play, you learn — about other methods, applications, directions. And you get to hang with people not typical of your usual social circle. To me it was worth the admission-by-donation just to get a glimpse of the unrestrained mind of Billy Patko (below, left). Which got me thinking: what would Patko's prolific doodles look like in a large-scale format? (See Photoshop'd sketch, below.)
Coupland's show, Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything runs May 31 to Sept.1. The next Arts & Crafts Social at Hot Art Wet City is June 25, 7:30 - 11pm.
The Crassmas season is one big distraction to me. But once I remind myself that a gift does not have to be a solution to someone's problem but a simple, seasonal gesture, I embrace the chance to make, and make it merry.
The place is a happy mess. Wool strands are stuck to my glue gun nozzle, my slippers are splattered with spraypaint. Black plugs of leather from my new punch tool are lodged in my laptop keyboard and tiny glass beads have rolled into every corner of the apartment.
There is some method in all this mad, frivolous playing and decorating, but I only see the playing with ideas after the fact.
Turns out my spontaneously created (ie. still in pajamas) 'copper pipe' wreath (sliced wrapping paper rolls and copper spraypaint) was a practical exercise in understanding patterns of circles within circles — the focus of a major project next year.
Glass-bead snowflakes, a dark-weeknight distraction, was a lesson in math ( a five-inch-diameter object requires a five-foot strand of beaded wire) and an experiment in creating area and density from line.
Crocheting chunky-wool slipper booties had its own lesson in scale; in this case, what looks cute in a kiddie size looks hideous in an adult version. (Breathe easy, teenagers.)
The gingerbread A-frame cabins involved more industrial design than I anticipated and more geometry than I normally like to endure but was essential for gaining the most area out of four cookie-sheet squares of dough. The possibility that math can be fun is matched by my new-found fascination of some basic chemistry that reveals the power of heat to turn granular sugar into glass, and the power of water as the only solution for pots cemented with rock-hard sugar syrup.
I can't rationalize the pounds of candy and icing sugar I bought for the four kids to decorate the gingerbread camp. That I would ever indulge in that sort of seasonal folly is a freakin' Christmas miracle.
Wrap (I), polyethylene fibre, 96" diameter
In my fourth-year sculpture class venerable artist and (now newly-retired) Emily Carr instructor Liz Magor took one look at my first installation of a kazillion doilies stretched across the cavernous classroom and said, "You seem to be in love with doilies. Maybe it's time to break up and find something else to love."
It was just the kind of motivation I needed to embark on a three-year challenge to bring the thrift-shop throwaways into the gallery fore.
Wrap (II), polyethylene fibre, 96" diameter
I admit I am in love with spidery, handmade doilies. My hands barely know the work that goes into their tiny filigree patterns. Following a complex pattern is a highly meditative exercise in concentration, patience and commitment. Their circular designs reflect the mathematical patterns of coral, brain, bibb lettuce.
But the real power of those little doilies for me is their symbolism. Each one represents its maker, invariably an older woman who has clearly worked this way with her hands for many, many years, who probably learned from her mother, who learned from her mother. When I spot them in heaps in a plastic basket on a thrift store shelf, 50 cents each, I am quietly horrified. How can all these humble labours of love, these overlooked objects of household protection, be reduced to almost no value? And am I still talking about the handmade items or their makers? I've been tangling up the two for a long time — for too long, some might say.
Flo (I), acrylic on canvas, 60" x 60"
For three years I've been pushing the doily into new dimensions, trying to make the invisible visible. Mixing them up with industrial materials like mortar and Tyvek. Using patterns from the back of 1950s Ladies Home Journals to turn eight-inch-wide doilies into eight-foot-wide doilies. Messing with the macho painting conventions of Abstract Expressionism from the same era.
The show went up at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre lobby last week. I don't know what the concert-ticket-holders will think of giant doilies hanging from railings, the small sculptures of unfathomable petrified doilies or painted fields of doily patterns, with names like Flo (after my grandmother with skilled hands and a bold spirit) and Persistent Grey.
Ravages (I), found cotton doilies, mortar, dimensions variable
I'm sort of resigned to the idea that many will find it all weirdly decorative. Maybe Magor would say that now I really need to find another object to love. But for me it's a mission accomplished. I've somehow managed to fool everyone with the promise of Art and filled the pristine, privileged gallery space with doilies.
Is my love affair over? I'm trying not to think about it too much. Over-thinking has never helped me.
Unlaced continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until Sept. 23, 2013. Gallery Hours: during QET performances or by appointment. Contact: Connie Sabo, gallery curator, 604-505-4297
Sanitary Doily, a finalist in the City's sewer-cover competition.
I'm deluded enough to believe I can survive on an art practice in Vancouver but I am under no illusion that my Sanitary Doily will be selected to grace the city's sanitary sewer covers for the next century.
But I couldn't resist designing my tribute to a traditional handmade use-object's chief function: to conceal and pretty-up unsightly evidence of everyday life. Sanitary Doily is a stink bid but damn if it didn't make it as a finalist among the more than 1,000 entries in the City's open competition.
The design borrows from actual patterns, with the swirling core used here to convey a flushing toilet action. (In retrospect, the swirl should be reversed. This is not Australia.) The surrounding negative spaces are reshaped as random water droplets while just managing to maintain pattern integrity. It is intended to be whimsically informative, enhanced by the prominent inclusion of the City of Vancouver into the lacework. It is conceived as an imperfect, pleasing intervention in a manufactured landscape.
Just what two designs will be selected for the storm sewer and sanitary sewer covers will be announced this Saturday afternoon, June 1, at the Ironclad Art Manhole Design Challenge exhibit at the Interurban Gallery, 1 East Hastings at Carrall Street. (The exhibit of all design entries is now on display through June 8, 1-5 p.m. where you can vote for your favourite, or do that here.)
I did a little fisty air punch when I was notified that Sanitary Doily was not rejected out of hand, mainly because I see it as a small victory in our culture where exquisitely handmade lacework can be found heaped in plastic bins at local thrift shops, at 50 cents each. I know how much dedication is required to make a doily because after decades of practice I can just manage to crochet a crude one. To me, the way we treat those little spiderwebby lace fragments of yore is symbolic of the level of honour and value attributed to that last generation of women who mastered that domestic art form. Not so much.
Image from junk-culture.com
Doilies are just another kind of mark-making, albeit traditionally in the home, so naturally I adore New York City crochet artist Nathan Vincent's crocheted manhole-cover, which makes its mark in the streets. (See more of his manly crocheted objects here.)
Meanwhile, I'm left thinking about what's next for Sanitary Doily. It won't be cast in iron any time soon, but I'm kind of loving the idea of re-injecting it with a little of the original use-object value, like Brooklyn artist Ronda Smith's NYC sewer cover throw pillows. (Or maybe it's just her pitch I love: "Who wants to snuggle up to a SMALL NYC SEWER manhole cover??? I DO!!"
After a long and often painful labour, I’m happy to introduce…the twins!
I’m not sure why I plumped up the two eight-foot-wide doilies, freshly completed today, for their first picture. It might have something to do with this morning’s mammogram.
‘Why’ is always a scary question wherever conception is concerned. ‘What’ and ‘how’ are a little more manageable.
What they are are two crocheted doilies on a scale of 1 inch = 1 foot, using a material that mimics the relative volume, appearance and weight of the cotton floss called for in the original patterns for the two table-top doilies I found in my stack of 1950s homemaker magazines.
What material was a tough enough question without the Why lurking behind. I’d been searching for the right stuff for ages until I realized it was all around me. In fact, I’d been hammering cedar shingles into it for weeks at a time last summer: Tyvek exterior building wrap. I pushed the Why away as I special-ordered a 100-yard bolt of the wrap.
The size of the doilies was determined by the biggest crochet hook I could get my hands on (and could handle). After making several swatches I finally decided two-inch strips were sufficiently doilyish.
Scraping up any residual knowledge of basic math that has clung to my grey matter, I have conjured up this probably-incorrect calculation of length of materials used, in answer to the What:
36 inches (1 yard width) ÷ 2-inch strips = 18 strips x 60 inches (length) = 1080 linear inches per yard x 95 yards (100-yard bolt minus remaining five yards) = 102,600 linear inches ÷ 12 inches = 8,550 feet ÷ 2 doilies = 4,275 linear feet per doily. (I love how stats can be simultaneously unfathomable and banal.)
How did I know how to make doilies? Let me count the ways in all those crappy/crafty afghans, potholders, slippers, placemats, doll clothes, stuffed animals, toques, nerdy vests and that abortion of a bikini.
Why the giant doily, you/I insist? Because it was there, in my head. I conceived two to enjoy their similarities and their differences.
Go forth, twins! Find your purpose! Write if you get a show! And don’t let the why-ers get you down!
We are to understand that being distracted is bad, and being focused is good. Being focused will get the job done while being in the moment is not productive — productivity being the cornerstone of our prevailing Protestant work ethic.
I'm aware that it is absurd to continue measuring our national wellness by Gross Domestic Product stats and I deeply respect those ER and childcare workers who must rely on their mental agility to withstand chaotic conditions but if I'm not at least working toward producing something I start wondering why I'm even here.
I've been forced to think about the virtues of making over the last several weeks as life trumped my fastidious little production schedule. The best I could do was grab a few moments to watch from the sidelines, or catch a glimpse of work by other producers, like Eastern-Canadian metal sculptor Cal Lane whose Gutter Snipes show at Grunt Gallery wound up last week. Lane, known for wielding an oxy-acetylene torch and scrambling around 2,000-gallon oil tanks, is my kinda hands-on gal.
Photo from grunt.ca
She shows serious devotion to her work of imposing filigree patterns into found, often rusted industrial materials. It's the kind of demanding work ethic that recharges my productivity urge, but under the circumstances I had to park that and be content surfing over reviews of her work, her other shows and other collaborators, and soon, other expressions of lace as a pattern.
And then I did what was only possible due to the distractedness of the last few weeks: I sat back and did nothing but watch a 12-minute video made for a 2009 exhibition of re-imagined manufactured lace that plays in the space between art and production. Time well wasted.
Kerry Polite photo, from The Design Center
Lace Fence, galvanized PVC-coated wire, by Demakersvan, 2009. 16 panels: 152'W x 6.5'H
My biggest obstacle is over-thinking — not to be confused with big thinking. Over-thinking is my umbrella term for all the second-guessing, the predicting, the analyzing and the re-thinking that can turn my mind into a maelstrom. It's unproductive and it's exhausting and it's why I and many of my maker friends are involved in repetitive, obsessive (I prefer the term "devotional") artwork methods. The focus required is just the ticket to get out of the rabbit's hole of circular thinking. Less mental chatter, more mindfulness.
Making is the key to learning for me. As the work takes shape I try to make out what it's saying, where it's situated in the whole art discourse thingy. It's clear that I have to be clear about my intentions, where I'm going with all this, and why. Some thought is necessary.
But over-thinking is a form of self-sabotage and it has threatened the existence of my latest project, Monumental Doily. As I hook into those strands I find myself grasping at threads from my art history and cultural theory classes, trying to work in ideas of power struggles and psychoanalysis. Next thing you know I'm assuming the posture of German artist-shaman/renegade educator/former Nazi militiaman Joseph Beuys, in some sort of feminist response to his famous 1974 performance art piece, I Like America and America Likes Me (below, left) until my Inner Victorian Grandlady cries, "Enough nonsense!" (She would never say, "I call bullshit!")
I have to be able to speak about my work but I have a pretty low tolerance for too much artspeak. I like artwork that has me at Hello, that hooks me in to investigate further and is not just some in-joke designed for the rarified few who have had the benefit of art-historical education.
It should evoke a wide range of responses from a wide range of viewers — 'multiple points of entry', as they say. It should resonate in different ways and over time, and not rely on an instruction manual disguised as an artist statement full of exclusionary academic language (unless the point of the artwork is to create a feeling of alienation). Yet if it's too definitive, it's over quickly, like a trick, and I'm done. Next!
Elitism is ugly and I really do agree with Beuys' belief that everyone is an artist, or at least can be if she would just shut out the rational jibber-jabber already and hook into the emotional/spiritual, the unquantifiable, even the unreasonable. (Beuys' beautiful mind is behind his urban intervention project, 7000 Oaks)
Sometimes a giant doily is just a giant doily, material evidence of one person's attempt to connect in an increasingly chaotic, hectic, overly-quantified and unrationally rationalized world.
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