I went to see Andrew Carnie’s exhibition ‘Seized out of this World‘ a couple of weeks ago in Winchester and came out with mixed feelings: I think because it was something so personal to me. What was most interesting for me was seeing somebody else’s artistic interpretation of temporal lobe epilepsy. It is the first time I have come across work on the subject in real life.
Using figurative, electrical and medical images projected onto layers of cloth, Carnie was able to engage more than just the visual sense. The hanging sheets rippled and undulated as fans blew air onto them from the sides, distorting the images as they merged. That he had used 6 slide projectors gave a rhythm to the piece. In the darkened gallery it was all encompassing.
It was a very different experience to mine although at times evocative of my own. I’m not sure whether Carnie has epilepsy himself or not, but it brought home to me that everyone’s experience is different. Of TLE and of seeing art.
The visitors’ book and the comments of other people while I was there was fascinating. I often think that the comments are as much part of the exhibition as the art. Ranging from ‘calming and meditative’ to ‘disturbing’ and ‘nightmarish in a Tim Burton kind of way’ the comments proved that this piece had moved them. Isn’t that what art is all about?
I’ve been gathering lots of new raw data this past couple of weeks. By that I mean that I’ve had a couple of seizures. While it is almost always inconvenient and often hurts quite a bit, this has also has given me some new ideas for Brainstorm 2.0 work. I’m pleased that all that going unconscious isn’t in vain. (Yes, I know I’m being flippant. It helps.)
Apart from the actual spinning I’ve been doing this week, I also made a tool for making a skein: a niddy-noddy. Using PVC pipe, this tutorial and a bit of help from my Dad I came up with this. I’m rather proud of it.
The yarn that I talked about spinning in the last post was put to use earlier this week. Within a day I had spun the main yarn, designed and made this hairband. I used a couple of hours of recovery-knitting time after a seizure to make it. Oh the irony.
It has been a proper British heatwave this week (um, for those not in the know that means that we have had more than 2 days at temperatures of over 25 degrees celsuis…) The humid weather had a cause and effect with me.
Heat and Humidity + Inny = Seizure.
Having said that, I always glad when something creative can come out of that situation. As usual I’m trying to make work that talks about electricity and instulation. I had planned for this to be a hat, but hadn’t spun enough of the main yarn as it turned out. The idea I was going for was the colours in UK plug wiring: Earth is yellow/green, live is brown and neutral is blue.
I wanted this garment (accessory?) to talk about the electrical circuit and what might happen if it went awry. I have started to do this by mixing the language of wiring with the language of a human EEG printout. The ‘electrical activity’ part of the hairband can sit over my temporal lobe (actually a bit further forward than in the picture) which is where my own epilepsy originates. I rather like it and I might make a hat along the same lines for the winter.
Something interesting and unexpected happened when I saw the hairband worn by somebody else. I had very uneasy feelings in response. Almost as if they weren’t entitled to wear it because they don’t have TLE. That doesn’t sit very well with me (not only because it is just stupid) and I think I need to explore it more. Got any thoughts on this?
This evening has been all about spinning. I’ve been trying to make a yarn with the look of the earth wire in a UK electrical plug for a hat that I am planning. I plyed this as an exercise in seeing how these two yarns would work together. Although not entirely what I was expecting, I’m pleased with it as a first effort. It is a purposefully slubby single handspun wool, corespun around a yellow commercial DK weight yarn. The plyed yarn’s texture is reminiscent of brainwaves in some places; of the yellow and green earth wire in others.
I don’t think I’ve made enough though. It may have to be a child-sized beanie.
I really want the hat to use the language of insulation at cross purposes. The idea of keeping a head warm, but using a visual of electrical instulation makes a certain kind of sense to me. It should enable me to talk about epilepsy via this and other visual cues.
But more on that later.
I’ve been drawing a lot today. It is something that I fully admit that I don’t do enough of. I’ve been trying to get some ideas out of my head; to articulate them in the physical sphere. A lot of the time I will work straight with the fibre, but lately I’ve realised that my work is lacking depth. It has been a hard day that frankly has not been all that successful. Nevertheless I’m glad I did it. There have been some unexpected turns which have been exciting and I’ve been coming up with lots of ideas. Extra layers of meaning are starting to appear.
Without saying too much about them, here are a few of the drawings and some yarn that I made today.
I’ve been learning to spin on a drop spindle for a while now. I have two: a CD spindle with a hook which you can alter to be a top whorl or a bottom whorl spindle, and also a far heavier bottom whorl spindle without a hook. I like the latter the best, so far. A bottom whorl spindle seems much easier to use for me as I don’t like the whole ‘rolling the spindle on your leg‘ bit that comes with the top whorl. Seems awkward to me and means I can’t be ambidextrous in my spinning so easily (I like to do be ambidextrous where I can for efficiency and also in doing so I’m hoping to tone up both arms by spinning rather than just one!)
In previous experimentation I had tried core spinning the fibre to make something visually redolent of a brainwave pattern, but it didn’t really come together. I was trying to make a sketch; a drawing in yarn to work on from. Reflecting on this afterwards I realised that I had taken it too far when I had actually knitted it into something. It seemed like the natural thing to do with the yarn (the natural thing or the done thing? hmm), yet when I was knitting I felt as if I was taking something away from what I had created.
I also gave some to a friend who I was teaching to knit at the pub quiz, and as she knitted the yarn, she pushed the chunkier bits of the yarn along to straighten them out: to make it like a commercially spun yarn. I was horrified! (Having said that, I was very English and didn’t say so in case she thought I was rude.) But basically I had a breakthrough in realising that the yarn was the medium for expression in itself. If I want to sketch in yarn, then my technique for it presently must be spinning.
So I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and yesterday finally decided to try it out again. Core spinning, I made this:
It is made from a commercially dyed green blend of wool, with a commercially spun metallic silver crochet thread as the core. I’m not liking the green much: I used it because I was thinking about ideas of ‘earthing’ the electricity (in older UK plugs the earth wire was green: now green/yellow). In the end my ideas changed somewhat from the time I drafted the yarn. The colour now doesn’t add anything to what I’m trying to say: it detracts in fact. However it is a good spin because I can play around and sketch with the yarn: I’ll be working on the colour.
The amount of people who have asked me what I am going to make it into is into the tens now. Certainly within my circle of knitters, spinning for its own sake; as an end in itself seems a little ‘out there’. I aim to continue my experiments and will be coming up with more ‘redundant yarn’ as they put it, yet. It might get made into an installation, maybe a fibre sculpture, and certainly I will be working out my ideas and sketching with it. I don’t honestly have a good answer to what I am going to do with it all …but I probably won’t be knitting it.
I tried some core spinning techniques recently as an experiment into combining different types and thicknesses of fibre and other media. I wanted to see how they plied together and how this might lend itself to talking about electricity and insulation.
I was initially inspired by brainwave patterns and was trying to get that kind of imagery in the yarn that I made.
My first attempt was just a commercially spun teal alpaca yarn and an emerald green corriedale single ply that I had spun myself. It resulted in this:
Very pretty and all, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. There wasn’t much yardage either.
I’ve been thinking about insulation a lot and in particular, hats and gloves which might insulate for warmth. Many questions surround this: could I somehow work the idea further so that the body, head and brain could be insulated from barometric pressure which comes with storms? Could my temporal lobe be insulated so the epilepsy can’t get hold of the other lobes and spread to a full blown seizure? Could this insulation factor (for want of a better term) be part of the actual yarn as well as what I make with it afterwards? What could I spin together to do this? (Shall I stop asking questions now and show you what I made?)
Anyway, eventually I came up with a first attempt at making those ideas into a piece of wearable art. I used a good few train journeys to decide what to make and a pub quiz as experimentation time to knit it up.
It is the first attempt at an insulating anti-convulsant wrist-warmer. If only it really worked and was not just conceptual!
It featured on New Curator’s ArtFriday post a couple of weeks ago, and before posting it, Pete at New Curator asked me how it was anti-convulsant. Of course, being so close to the work, I don’t think to explain to others what I mean because it is so obvious to me. Anyway, this was my explaination, which you might also find helps to clarify what I was trying to do in making this piece:
‘[It is anti-convulsant ] just in concept. I have epilepsy. When I have a seizure the aura (medical term for the warning a seizure is impending) travels up my left arm from my ring finger and spreads throughout my body. I was playing with the idea that the wrist warmer could be the buffer zone, insulating against the bodily electricity conducting itself up my arm. Maybe changing it from harmful to harmless electricity, if there is such a thing.’
I think that the whole idea needs more work but was a successful experiment in drawing out the concept further.
Let me know what you think. Comments, questions and constructive criticism are always welcome!
I’ve recently realised that in writing about my textile work, I have become much more active in my making.
I will be updating this blog as somewhat of a visual diary and reflecting on the processes, techniques and outcomes that I use to create the many and varied arms of my practice. I will be writing about a variety of textile related work that I am making, thinking about or am generally interested in.
I make work in a number of guises: the craft education researcher, the hobbyist-knitter, the knitter-designer, the new crocheter, the art-yarn spinner and the conceptual artist. Most of these areas seem to overlap at one point or another. I’m generally technique-led and like to learn something new and then see how I can push it. I do tend to be more interested in the process than the outcome a lot of the time.
One project that has I have recently been thinking about a lot is Brainstorm 1.0: my BA Textile Art degree show work. I’m revisiting and attempting to resolve it as, you guessed it: Brainstorm 2.0…
I’ve been trying to make work about human electricity for a few years now. I made a lot of pleated work at university in which I was trying to talk about the brainwaves, and the correlations between epilepsy and storms. This is something from my degree show.
This idea has been dormant for a while now and while I think I took it as far as I could with pleating, I don’t feel like it ever was fully resolved.
I’ve recently started to learn to spin on a drop spindle, and am exploring the ways that the fibres ply together to form a new yarn. There seems to be a lot which I could draw on and use in this technique to take the electricity idea in different directions.
Thinking about ideas of nerves and neurones, insulation, and the ways that the actual action of spinning can lend itself to talking about these ideas.
I’ve a lot to explore and experiment with in this new project.
I’ll keep you updated.