Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A return to Fagus Works

Last year I visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site Fagus Works in Alfeld, near Hanover in Germany (more information here). The first object realized by young architect Walter Gropius and his colleague Adolf Meyer, from 1911, is a fantastic building, the site has been meticulously restored in preparation for the world heritage status, and it is still a working factory. Thus visitors get to feel the atmosphere of continued production, and although there is a museum and documentation on site, the whole place doesn’t feel like a museum at all. 

Sketch for the entrance building

View of the main building from the railroad-track side

Wooden shoe lasts -
nowadays they are being made from artificial materials

View of the building from the parking lot


The cobblestones by themselves seemed a piece of art

I freely admit that both times I felt a bit of envy – it must be nice to be working in a place like that. They even have their own canal covers.

The founder of the company, Carl Benscheidt, who gave Gropius the commission, was a very social man, he initiated health insurance programs and retirement benefits for his workers, which was still quite uncommon at that time. He was an active member and president of social organizations in the community for several decades, and a local secondary school now bears his name.
In the documentation part of the site is also an interesting exhibition facility. Last year I saw a wonderful photo documentation of the restoration process which had been closely followed by the public relations manager of Fagus works. Together with Mary Schliestedt, a friend who lives in Alfeld, and Gaby Weimer, I will be exhibiting there late next year. 
On the occasion of this visit we had a meeting with cultural manager of Fagus, Favienne Gohres, to fix the dates and other related aspects of the exhibition. We have been measuring and looking closely at the set-up of the exhibition room, and we have been making a lot of plans regarding the sizes and number of works we will need to have finished by then. Work begins after I get home...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dobrý den!

A couple of weeks ago I heard a term on the radio which I hadn’t heard used like that before. They were talking about a ‘crazy quilt personality’, referring to a person who ‘had no clearly discernible patterns’.
Of course, the term ‚patchwork family’  has become a fixed item in our language – in German even so much so that it is the primary reference people think of when hearing about patchwork. The quilt group in my town meets regularly in a local church’s social room, and these dates are announced in the church bulletin as “patchwork meeting”. The minister recently told me that he had had a call from a social church service, inquiring as to what kind of social services for patchwork families they were offering in this meeting, and would that be a suitable meeting for a TV documentary...
Of course, patchwork gives one access to experiences that are different from what ‘normal people’ consider a ‘normal’ life. For example, the experience of addiction. When I could not get to the sewing machine for a couple of days, because I had to start working in the garden, do some paper work I have been putting off, and helped the local nature group to put up the fence for the protection of amphibians, I felt acute withdrawal symptoms.

Putting up the protective fence

The first - and so far only - little guy
that I have carried across the street this year

In German, a word play is possible, because – literally translated – we talk about heroin addicts as ‚hanging on the needle’, and sometimes heroin itself is referred to as ‚Stoff’, which can be translated as ‚stuff’, but originally means ‚fabric’. So just as a heroin addict, a German patchworker can talk about hanging on the needle and needing stuff (that’s fabric). And the symptoms are similar indeed. Don’t you know that itchy feeling when you haven’t handled fabric in a while? Luckily, patchwork addiction is not as physically harmful as the addiction to the kind of things drug addicts take. But it can influence your mind and personality just as much.
And patchwork and quilting can have an influence on your global orientation. I have always been rather internationally oriented, due to the fact that my parents took us traveling a lot while we were young children, and because we even lived abroad as a family during my school years a couple of times. Seems natural that I continued that approach during my university years as a student and lecturer. And it is one of the "additional things on the sideline" that I really cherish about quilting – the international contacts.
So when Anna Šterbová invited me to come to the Patchwork Meeting in Prague in April 2014, I spontaneously decided that I wasn’t just going to go there as a German with decent knowledge of English and expect everybody to talk to me in either of these languages. Accordingly, I have signed up for a Czech language class at the community college. After all, the border to Czechia is the closest border here, and the possibility to get in touch with other European cultures and identities is the one aspect of the European Union that I – still - really like. So I was really happy that enough people signed up, and we had our third lesson yesterday. I know that, although I still have a full year before I will actually be there with my exhibition and fabric stall, I will not be able to converse fluently in Czech with this kind of language class, once a week, during semesters only. But I want to be able to say a few words. The difficulties start with pronunciation, but I was perfect yesterday evening when I had to read out loud a Czech tongue twister about bushes and Greeks and Greek rivers. (That reminded me of my school days and Latin – I would be able to position the correct accents for indicating the pronunciation of hexametre verses, which brought me extra points to level out all the mistakes in translation that I made because Latin just was not my cup of tea.) And by now I bid you good day (as in the title of the post), Ican tell you in Czech where I live, that I am not Czech (not that anybody would assume...), that I am an artist, and I also know that personal pronouns are hardly used except in a demonstrative meaning, and that there are seven cases.
Three more than in German. Great. When I was teaching German as a foreign language, I used to think how happy I was that I did not have to learn German as a foreign language, but was sort of blessed by talking it as my mother tongue. So many cases, so many endings! But those students of mine managed to learn German, so I;too, should be able to learn at least enough Czech to get through a little bit of conversation. If I get really ambitious, I might aim for being able to understand the Czech bits and pieces that are spread out through my favorite German novel, “Anniversaries” by Uwe Johnson. Until now I always had to just pass over them, because no translation is provided in the book. In a few weeks I will take a look whether I can recognize something. See – patchwork is a mind broadening activity!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Little escap(ad)e: Haus der Kunst, again

A few days ago a friend of mine and I took a day trip to Munich together, that also included yet another visit to the Haus der Kunst. (There are other musuems in Munich worth visiting, but somehow I often end up going there, because they have the shows that most interest me...) Of course, the Haus der Kunst in  itself is an always impressive building, outside and inside.

Outside facade with temporary installation of Jiddish words,
put up onto the Nazi-building by Mel Bochner.

Electric shift switch? Or art in itself?

Ancient organisms integrated into the building -
for the visitors to step on...
This time I went to two different exhibitions, both of which I found very impressive.
The first is an overview of Kendell Geers’ works from 1988 to 2012.  Geers is a white South-African with a working-class background, who begins his CV with the arrival of the first Dutch settlers at the Cape. His work is full of political statements, and although the catalogue claims that he has altered his original political approach to more spiritual statements after a year’s break from making art in 2000, it remains very political and provocative nevertheless.
He has used one of South Africa’s most successful export goods – double sided barbed wire – to build labyrinths for the visitor to walk through, arranges police batons in circles, spirals or other patterns, sticks broken glass into various shapes and uses as a lot of words in a variety of arrangements:

Very thought-provoking! This exhibit is still on until May 12, 2013.

The second exhibition was conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s  “Wenn die Farbe sich ändert” (“When color chages”. (His website is here and an entry in wikipedia is here). I especially liked his text-paintings. (Pictures taken from the internet.)

But also the wall with two number lines: one had been written on masking tape, starting from the left, and then pieces of the tape had been removed. This line thus was interrupted. The other number line starts from the lower right corner, running consecutively, filling in the gaps that had been left by the removed masking tape. No picture of this one...

Interestingly enough, my friend witnessed a woman photographing the Blah-Blah-picture at the entrance platform to the exhibition who insisted in her argument with the guard (who wanted her to stop taking pictures) that she had to photograph this because Bochner had stolen her idea. (Though I would say that it does not take a whole lot of originalty of idea to put a text like “blah blah” into a painting, numerous comic strips have used the sequence before...) 

And in the museum shop I found a postcard of a work by Sigmar Polke, which was similar to some of Bochner’s paintings and even the textual orientation, though at that moment I wasn’t sure which work was dated earlier than the other. But perhaps once that using text in (conceptual) art had established itself there isn’t that much stuff left to be truly original anymore?

This, too, was a very interesting exhibition, and is on until June 23.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Text messages

On Saturday I received the good news that my entry to SAQA's juried exhibition "text messages" was accepted.

For this piece, I interpreted my second favorite poem by one of my favorite American poets, E. E. Cummings, and part of the first line of the poem is also the quilt's title: o(rounD)moon,   . (The comma is part of the title.)
I had to get Cummings' complete poetry on interlibrary loan because the poem I was originally thinking about is not included in the selection of his poems that I have. And in fact, the opening line I was contemplating for interpretation turned out to be different than I remembered, and the poem wasn't suitable for adaptation to the format required. So I changed my mind and took another poem. (The one I rejected was not my favorite poem by cummings, by the way. That one is still waiting for its time to be interpreted.)
I had a lot of fun making this quilt. And I learned a lot about my machine while making it...

We are not allowed to post a full photograph before the first hanging of the show. But a small detail shot is in order:

And this is the poem in full length:


than roUnd)float;
lly&(rOunder than)



Thursday, March 7, 2013

SAQA benefit auction donation

One of the things that I did get done last week during the little studio time I hadwas that I finished my piece for the SAQA benefit auction. Quite a bit earlier this year than last time, as I am aiming to make the ‘early bird deadline’. I have already filled in and submitted the donation form and plan to send the little quilt off today.
The SAQA benefit auction is a fund-raiser for the organization, and I have participated three times before already, so this is number four. (If I remember correctly...) All of these have been very different.

Play of Lines XXI, donation in 2010

Liberté?, donation in 2011

June, donation in 2012

Dreams of fields, donation for 2013

Perhaps it would be an idea to start a SAQA benefit auction series? I like the small format of 12 by 12 inches. It is so different to work in such a limited space, compared to the rather large pieces that I have been doing mostly. And although I have been using these small pieces as field for experimetation in the past years, they are much more than mere playful activities trying out something new. The small size is growing on me – that sounds a bit weird, but I can’t think of a different way of saying it right now. I think ‘growing smaller’ is certainly one aim of what I will be doing when I am finished with the things I am working on just now.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So what have I been doing?

As the week is drawing to a close I sit and wonder whether I have really done something. Of course I have, I don’t tend to sit around doing nothing. But it was a week with little studio time, and after those I always feel as if I have been an underachiever.
During a seminar I once learned that as an artist you need to calculate that up to 50% of your working time will and should be time not actually spent on making art, but on marketing, organizing, networking, book-keeping and what-have-you-not. Many things that many people don’t really like doing.
I don’t really want to bore anybody by posting a list of those things from that spectrum of the job of being an artist, that I did do last week. But I do wonder why doing those things – e.g. getting application forms together for an organization – give me so much less satisfaction than being in the studio and actually working with fabric.
I did get that application in on time, and I also entered a quilt with SAQA’s ‘text messages’. I had, however, messed up about the measurements regarding Euro Blues, which has been rejected by Yeiser’s Fantastic Fibers. It’s too long for the text messages, so it will have to wait for other chances this year.
I don’t know what it is about this quilt. It was not successul last year when it ran as ‘Building the House that’s Europe’. I reworked it considerably earlier this year, and somehow my heart is in it.

Euro Blues, detail

But it just doesn’t seem to click with jurors. If it hasn’t made the cut by the end of the year I will throw it out.
In any case – I did finish and ironed and rolled approximately 26 pieces of snow-dyed fabrics, which went up on the website today, too. 

(After several days of rather unrelyable internet, which makes one rather jittery, feeling out of touch with the rest of the world...)
And we were lucky today: after last week’s official statement by the weather observation people that this had been the most grey and cloudy winter since weather observation began in Germany –  i.e. in over sixty years! – we had a full day of sunshine. Felt like being reborn. Perhaps that holds true for studio work next week, too.