Friday, 20 February 2015

Leaving London

My last day in London was a whirlwind of activity, trying to fit in the last "must-do" things on my bucket list.  As my plane didn't leave until the evening I had the opportunity to visit a couple more places before I left. First stop was "Alfies" off the Edgeware Road.  Many of you know I am a big fan of mid-century design - textiles, furniture and ceramics mostly, and this mecca of antiques has been in existence for over 30 years. Alfies is housed in the former Jordan's department store in Church Street, so encompasses four floors with over 100 dealers selling antiques.
Alfies Antique Market, Church Street, Marylebone
One of the treasures I found was up on the third floor, humorously called "Naphthalene Textiles" and run by Carole Collier.
Carole Collier from Naphthalene Textiles
Carole and partner June sell a lot of vintage textiles, laces, haberdashery, jewellery and clothing and as soon as I walked into their shop my eyes spied a lovely 50's dress which just had to come home with me. However, to get to Carole's store on the top floor I had to bypass the most fantastic collections of mid-century furniture and lighting I have ever seen in one place, so it was just unbearable for me not to be able to look seriously with intention to buy. If you have ever been to my studio you know I am a sucker for retro furniture and design.
As I was just about to walk out the front door (although the place is such a rabbit-warren you could get lost in there for hours) I happened to glance to my left and did a quick double-take then a sidestep....I had walked into heaven.....well, if heaven is a shop crammed packed with the most wonderful African textiles, that is. 

Duncan's shop, Adire African Textiles on the first floor has some lovely examples of Ewe kente cloth from Ghana, Asafo flags, indigo stitch resist and dyed cloths, adire and adinkra and much, much more. Again, hard to resist buying anything but I had neither the time to look seriously with intention to add to my collection of African textiles, nor did I have the money to invest after having spent 2 weeks in London on a shoestring! Besides, I haven't yet unpacked or displayed the wonderful Ndop cloth I received from Cameroon recently, but Duncan's shop and website is now on my radar for the future!

Conscious of the time, I tore myself away from Alfies to get to my next destination - the October Gallery in Bloomsbury where a magnificent exhibition of work by El Anatsui had opened the week before. Amazingly I was allowed to take photos of the show, so here are a few to whet your appetite. And I thought I was a bit obsessive about my work....haha!

Now I am finally back in Canberra after the long flight home, and getting back into the swing of things.  Great news that Craft ACT POD has moved to The Hamlet in vibrant Braddon and I'm looking forward to seeing their latest exhibitions that opened last week in my absence.
A final thanks once again to artsACT and the ACT Government for their support of my trip to speak at the Cultural Threads symposium and book launch.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Art and About

One of the wonderful outcomes of attending and speaking at conferences is the meeting of like-minds, the chance to listen to the ideas and stories of others, to see and hear about their arts practice and to put faces to the names you have only managed to read about.

Last week I caught up with several people I met at the Cultural Threads symposium the week before including Dr Lycia Trouton, a conceptual installation artist I first met in Canberra when she exhibited the Linen Memorial at Craft ACT. It was great to re-connect over a meal and get to know one another a little more.
I also managed to have lunch with Dr Sarah Rhodes, a designer, jeweller and consultant who is currently working at the University of London.  Sarah gave a wonderful presentation at the conference and her chapter in the Cultural Threads book explores the question of ownership in contemporary textile imagery in Southern Africa. She is currently working at the University of the Arts London, London College of Fashion, but also has a range of jewellery she has designed selling in TopShop, Whistles and House of Fraser.
On Sunday afternoon I took the bus to Peckham to visit the Studio of another artist in the Cultural Threads book, Francoise Dupre.
Francoise Dupre in her studio with recently finished work
Francoise was looking particularly happy because she had just finished the work she was standing behind.  Her studio is in a large building complex called SPACE studios in Peckham. SPACE is a leading visual arts organisation providing creative workspace, advocacy, support and promotion of innovation.   They run 18 artist studio buildings across 7 London boroughs, supporting 700 artists with studios and another 700 with professional development. And....there is no time limit on the studio lease!! Amazing.
We then went out for a great Indian meal nearby and during our conversation Francoise told me that she had done an arts residency in Darwin several years ago and had visited both Maningrida and the Tiwi Islands as part of her research.

Earlier in the day I took myself on a public art walk down Brick Lane, so to finish this post off I have some eye candy here for you, just a select few of the hundreds of street art to be found up the streets and alleys criss-crossing Brick Lane.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Keeping it Real

Last Wednesday night I attended a panel discussion entitled "Keeping it Real: Craft and Authenticity" at Heal's Tottenham Court Road store as part of its 2015 Modern Craft Market.
Crafts magazine editor, Grant Gibson, chaired a panel of craft and industry experts comprising Chris Eckersley, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom and recent graduate designer Xenia Moseley to explore where the limits of craft reside and to try to determine was precisely is 'real' craft.
Grant Gibson introducing the discussion panel.
There were about 40-50 people at the event and Chris Eckersley shared with us his views on the four categories he thought that craft was currently falling into : Craft as art; Craft as heritage; Craft as hobby and Real Craft. We then heard from Zac about his practice in both the 'real' world of ceramics and the virtual world of 3D printing, and lastly we listened to Xenia speak about her graduate work as a young designer exploring the concept of "journeywoman".  Personally I didn't think the discussion got enough of the audience involved in order to really fire up the debate.  They all seemed to be a pretty polite lot, and looking forward more to drinks and personal discussions afterwards, so for me it was underwhelming. Perhaps just a very large question in a short space of time.

One event that did fire up the imagination was seeing the work of Gareth Pugh at Galleria Melissa in Covent Garden. This was an outstanding 'teaser' at this small underground gallery because there will be a larger exhibition of his work and a talk at the V&A on the 3rd March this year.
Front entrance to Melissa, Gareth Pugh fashion.
It's hard to believe Gareth Pugh has only been designing thee wearable sculptures for only 10 years, building up an impressive list of clientele from Lady Gaga to Kylie Minogue.

Although this was a small exhibition, it was big on talent, attention to detail, dramatic styling and innovative use of materials. Wish I could be here to see the more extensive exhibition.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

From Ruskin to Morris

I have to tell you that  I feel like a I am a gerbil madly running on the wheel of London life at the moment...I am doing so much it is difficult to keep the blog updated with all my news.
However, by far the most wonderful day I have had (besides the Cultural Threads Symposium!) was to take the train to Braintree to the Warner Textile Archive.

High Tea and Talk flyer@Warner Textile Archives
I had been sent a link to this talk by my good friend, Barbara Rogers, who happens to be on their mailing list. As soon as I realised it coincided with my trip to the UK I was up for it! Especially as the talk was being given by Mary Schoeser, textile historian, President of the Textile Society and author of numerous tomes on all things textile, including the most recent and very impressive 'Textiles: The Art of Mankind' published in 2012.

I know most of you wish you could have been there too, so I will take you with me now on the journey....
The exterior of the Warner & Sons Textile archives.
Braintree, in North Essex, is about an hour out of London by train and in the early 19th century became  a centre for silk manufacturing when Courtaulds opened a mill there.  This was followed by Warner & Sons who originally set up their silk weaving business in Spitalfields in 1870. By 1895 they moved to Braintree when they took over the weaving business of Daniel Walters & Sons who had gone into liquidation. The whole history is extremely fascinating, but unfortunately not enough space to share it all with you here.
A small information park on the way from the train station gives us a taster of what is to come...
The large metal printed plaques on the walls depicted 19th century woven silk designs in different colourways reflecting the, madder, indigo and weld.
The design reflects the 19th century fascination with scientific exploration of the natural
world and the appropriation of the 'exotic other'.
Now to the best bit...inside the Archives! Unfortunately there is strict policy for no photography, and I couldn't even get a photo of the shop, so you will have to make the trip yourselves one day to fully experience it.  Needless to say, I did remark to one lady that it was like being let loose in a candy shop and not being able to decide what to taste first....never mind the calories!
The Warner Textile Archive booklet
Luckily, Warner's do produce this A4 soft cover catalogue on the history and types of designs and textiles represented in the archives, so I am sure you could order this through their website.

Mary Schoeser delivered a wonderful talk 'From Ruskin to Morris' to a capacity crowd of enthusiasts.  I can't say how many people were there because of course I was right up the front and only had eyes for Mary and the textiles (LOL!) but it is a small showroom, so perhaps about 40-50 people. Mary has an amazing knowledge of not only historical textiles, designers and manufacturers, but also the social and economic conditions of the time.  She transported us on a journey of design with Ruskin, explaining his belief in social equality and design for everyone;  the sustainability of craft and design and his passion for conservation not restoration.  Mary then spoke about AW Pugin and his commitment to gothic design and the quest for the truth to nature by advocating flat representation of pattern (as opposed to trompe l'oile).
Mary is an animated and engaging speaker, never needing to look at notes as she continued our journey though to Owen Jones, obviously someone she has done a lot of research on and has a lot of time for.  He was also interested in social equality and was determined to provide products at different pricepoints, so that the masses could also benefit from good design, not just the elite. Some of his high-end wallpapers were printed with "best-prepared metal" and would cost the equivalent of £2000 for a 12 yard roll, whilst the cheapest were a couple of pence per yard.  Jones is best known for his publication 'The Grammar of Ornament" in which he articulates his Propositions for Design, that Mary knew off by heart (!). 
And finally, she took us through to William Morris and his continuation of the previous design concepts by creating flowing natural elements with secondary patterns in the background. She also spoke about the opening up of the East to the West in the 1860's and how textile and wallpaper designs were inspired from designs bought back from Japan by Christopher Dresser.
Now, if that wan't enough, we all went into the Archive room itself where there are over 100,000 catalogued items!!! We were in the capable hands of Kate Wigley, Archivist at WTA and who has considerable knowledge of the weaving process itself as a practitioner.  I feel this is extremely important because someone who has practiced a craft or process can bring so much more knowledge and is more sympathetic to understanding the collection than just an academic. Kate had pulled out many paper and textile examples from the archive that not only supplemented Mary's talk but enhanced it. We had wonderful discussions in an intimate setting about the use of mordant printing and the natural, synthetic, VAT and mineral dyes used; the types of looms and printing processes used to create both the paper croquis and the finished fabric. My favourite,  favourite items were the small thick, tattered dye books used to record the dye colours used in printing the fabrics, and the order in which the colours need to be printed. My heart leapt when I saw them and I was itching to get my hands on them as Mary picked them up and flicked through them for us.  I have never been so envious of someone in my life!
So I am afraid the rest of the event was a bit of a blur after that, I had already gone to heaven and no amount of scones and cream and chocolate cake was going to top that!
Oh, except I did have some personal conversations with both Mary and Kate afterwards, which were intellectually stimulating and have provided me with ideas for future research.  They were the cherry on top!
Painted Vases, printed textile by Willy Hermann in 1954
(photo taken from the catalogue 'Two centuries of Creativity')
Of course the WTA also houses 20th century designs as well, and most of you who know me and my work know that it is mid-century design where my inspirations and passions lie.  So there is a whole other field of discovery to be done at another time.....

Mary and may not have seen the last of me yet! Ha ha! 
Thank you so much for a truly wonderful day.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Columbia Road

On Sunday I took Sarah Rhode's suggestion for an outing to visit Columbia Road Flower Market, then wander down to Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Although the day was icy and overcast, turning the corner to see the flower market immediately brightened up my day!
Columbia Road Flower market
Columbia Road is a small street but packed with personality - little vintage stores, bespoke jewellery, coffee shops and bric-a-brac. Wandering along I found this cute shop....only to discover it was Jessie Chorley's!
Jessie Chorley shop, Columbia Road
I have been reading about Jessie for some time now, through Selvedge and other magazines and articles and was entranced by all the wonderful things she has made for sale. I started to talk to the woman behind the desk, and wouldn't you know, it was Jessie herself!
The wonderfully creative Jessie Chorley
We had a great chat and I immediately donned my Cultural Ambassador hat and asked her whether she had ever thought about coming to Australia to teach workshops???  Lets keep our fingers crossed.
After such an unexpected delight in my day, what better to top it off than a walk down memory lane (for me and my previous life in London) by coming across this stall selling traditional Portugese tarts.
The best Portugese Tarts this year.
My friend, Barbara Rogers, myself and my husband have a long running tradition of finding the best egg custard tarts anywhere in the world.  I believe these rate 11/10.  The pastry was incredibly crisp and flaky, the custard was thicker than usual (but, to be honest, not warm which is of course one of the important points to be awarded) however considering it was probably only 3 or 4 degrees at this outside stall, they can be forgiven.  Besides, not only did I buy one, but turned abruptly around as soon as I had finished devouring it to buy another.  I did not succumb to the "5 for 5 pounds" deal...that would be overkill, and no amount of quick walking that day would ever compensate for it!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Book Launch and Symposium

On Saturday morning I was up bright and early (well ...up early anyway...London is dark and cold at that time of the morning!) to attend the 'Cultural Threads :Transnational textiles today'  symposium and book launch.
Forecourt of CSM, Granary Square, King's Cross
Central St Martin's is just near King's Cross station and it was buzzing with people even though it was an early Saturday morning, where there were several conferences happening.
Jessica Hemmings opening the symposium
There was a good attendance and an impressive panel of speakers including Christine Checinska, Godfried Donkor, Françoisé Dupre, Helen Jennings, Toril Johannessen, Jasleen Kaur, Sarat Maharaj, Sarah Rhodes & of course myself!
Delivering my talk 'Walking with Darwin'
I would like to formally thank the ACT Government and artsACT for their support towards my trip to speak at the symposium, because it was a wonderful opportunity to meet so many academics and practitioners from Europe.
The start of my talk
There were lively panel discussions at the end of each session and all the talks were recorded so that Jessica can make them available in the future.

Panel: Christine Chechinska, Sarat Maharaj and Helen Jennings
There were two speakers who were not represented in the book, Godfried Donkor and Toril Johannessen, who gave wonderful presentations about their work and we all managed to have a wonderful catch-up afterwards over a celebratory drink. 
Myself, Jessica Hemmings and Lycia Trouton catching up over a drink
It was weird speaking at a conference where the only person I knew was Jessica, however after my presentation I was virtually mobbed and made a huge number of contacts and acquaintances which I am following up on this week - in fact my final week has shrunk considerably and now I am pressured to fit everything in! However thanks to the internet we can all remain in touch in the future.
Once again, thanks to artsACT for making this trip and opportunity possible. And of course a big thank you to Jessica Hemmings for not only including me in her book but for organising the launch and symposium with her wonderful team of helpers on the day.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Cultural Threads

I am sitting in the airport waiting to catch my flight to London via Melbourne later tonight, and thinking of the fact that no matter how hard I try to "pack light" I always seem to be lugging too much stuff with me! Do you feel the same??? And this time I only packed 2 pairs of shoes....! Must be all the winter clothing...
I am going to London to give a talk about my work at the book launch and Symposium of 'Cultural Threads:Transnational Textiles Today' at Central St Martins this coming Saturday, the flyer is below for your information.
This event has been organised by Jessica Hemmings, and is just the tip of the iceberg for a series of international exhibitions showcasing work by artists featured in the book who work on cross-cultural and post colonial issues. I will be looking forward to meeting the other speakers and artists.
My sincere thanks goes to artsACT for quick response funding for the airfare for this trip, and of course I am also indebted to my husband for making aspects of this trip possible.  It will be an amazing experience and I have already lined up other talks and events to go to, as well as artist studios, exhibitions, museums and cultural events.  Phew! I will need to come home to have a rest after all that!
I will blog again from snowy London and fill you in on how it's all going.