Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Anything goes.

My son has been playing the drum set since September, and is taking lessons. Sometimes he  sits down to play at half past five in the morning, more frequently he waits until way past half past six, and although he has made terrific progress in that short time he hasn’t really mastered the art of playing in low volume.

Just before Christmas his teacher invited all his students for a “Christmas Party”. The children brought Christmas cookies, the teacher served children’s punch, and then they watched two DVDs featuring different drumming events. I am not going to muse here about whether that is an appropriate agenda for a Christmas Party, or whether that might have taken place at any other time during the year just as well. Because it was my son’s first Christmas Party with this teacher, and we didn’t really know what to expect, my husband and I agreed that we wanted to go along, but that we would take turns. I went there with my son and my husband followed later, so I could leave. During the time I was there, I got to see the larger part of the DVD featuring a drum-musical “Stomp”
I have to admit that I had not thought about drum-set when I had promised myself that my son would be allowed to take lessons on any instrument he chose. I did not even consider drum set a real instrument. But my son has been a drummer all his life, looking back I even understand now that he already was a drummer while I was still carrying him. So he has taught me a lot about the fascination of rhythmic instruments, and I am beginning to understand much more about it, and even have started to enjoy it.
But I had not been prepared what I got to see in this film. It started with several people tied to a high scaffolding with climbing gear, and a large number of drummable items tied to it also. There were wheel rims, beer barrels, pipes in all sizes (metal and plastic), plastic containers, tin buckets, anything that resembled cymbals, and many more that I could not identify. Nothing that would ‘normally’ be called a drum. And those people were drumming, you bet!
Followed change of scene: broom ballet. The swishing sound, hitting the broom’s head on the floor, tap-dancing-shoes, ten people – you’ve probably never seen anything like it. Before my husband took over I still got to see Basketball-Drumming in an American backstreet, wet from rain, and a card-players-drum-quartet. When I left, not a single word had been spoken in the film.
So how is all this relevant on this blog? My son had been drumming on anything he could lay his hands on for quite a while before he finally got the drum set. Of course, this should have showed me a lot – namely that anything can be drum, anything goes. This was definitely brought across in the film: the whole world is a single drum. It reminded me of  Margit Amann von Gelmbotzki’s description in the supplies list for the Bauhaus-workshop in November: „Anything that fits under a sewing machine can be sewn!“ Or of the way of thinking of surface designers who look at things only under the evaluation of „can this be used to print on fabric?“ I myself have quite a collection down in the basement, waiting for the day when I will finally start using it. Just a few days ago I looked at the plastic roll which constituted the interior of a strand of satin used for wrapping gifts and decided that I was going to add that to my collection and test how it can be used in printing on fabric.

Anything goes, anything can be turned into art. Why do I still stick to fabric, piecing, threads and quilts? It might not be long now before I finally come up with a good idea what to do with those metal shirt hangers which keep accumulating in our basement after my husband’s shirts come back from the dry cleaner and I feel sorry to throw them away:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sketchbook, handmade

When I took part in the Bauhaus-workshop by Margit Amann vonGlembotzki in November we were all given a welcome present by the organizer of the workshop, Dörte Bach. She had bought very nice sketchbooks for each participant, measuring 12 x 12 inch. Simply bound, but very pleasing to look at and hold.

Spontaneously I decided to make this my sketchbook for the workshop, although I did feel the urge to save it for future use. But what future occasion could be better suited than immediate employment?
Prior experiences with notepads and sketchbooks, either ringed or tightly bound had led me to just bring a stack of paper which I was going to have bound after the workshop, when I would have developed any pictures I wanted to include in it. But this beautiful sketchbook immediately changed my mind, and throughout the entire workshop I was always pleased to open it and enter more information, or glue the sheets of paper into it that we received as material. We received a number of copies that I glued next to each so that you can fold them up easily, but that they don’t all sit on top of each other, adding to the thickness of the whole thing. Thanks to 12 inches of paper size several pages could be added next to each other:

Here you can see a few more pages from the book. Photos were glued on the backsides of the copies, into empty spaces, or sometimes onto extra pages that I added:

The sketchbook now contains the entire workshop up to its last page and is a wonderful memory and stock of ideas.

Dörte Bach was so kind and did give me the link to the place where she gets these wonderful books.

After the workshop, however, I was so inspired about this new experience with a sketch- and notebook that I started making my own. I still had large sheets of paper which I had obtained a while ago because I thought I would again take up book binding. This hadn’t happened, though, and the paper was still sitting there, waiting to be used.
At first I cut the large sheets into smaller pieces. 

They ended up being 10 by 14 inches. Not exactly square as the inspirational one, but not bad as a format either – some of them in landscape orientation, others in vertical orientation.

The paper store downtown had two pieces of interesting paper that would be perfect for the outside. Leftover from a long-ago order, so really cheap.

Then I punched the holes.

And used my Shibori-thread for the binding.

Finally I folded the extending pieces of outside paper over the first and last pages of the booklet and sewed them tight with a zig-zag stitch.

Probably not usable as a sketchbook to drag along with you on a long hike or journey, but certainly well suited to use as a sketchbook in a workshop.
I will not be producing these in large numbers, although it was a lot of fun. But there are still a few more large sheets of paper left, so if I find another suitable piece of carton paper for the outsides, I might make a few more.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A visit to England

While we were on family vacation last summer I received a pleasant surprise: an e-mail by Denise Davies, secretary of QGBI, the British Quilters’ Guild. She invited me to come and teach at their April 2013 annual meeting in Nottingham.
Who would say no to that! Especially with that much planning time ahead - my husband can block a certain part of the month from anything outrageously time-consuming on his side, making it possible for me to go away despite the fact that a then almost eight-year-old might need special daily attention.
Denise mentioned that the British Guild would in time advertise the fact that I will be in the country, so perhaps another teaching possibility could be arranged for before or after that particular weekend, making it worthwhile to travel that far. We are still negotiating exactly which workshops I will be offering as the QGBI’s workshop format at their convention does not really coincide with my usual workshop schedule. Basically I have designed my workshops as two-day-events, whereas the QGBI-meeting is characterized by half-day or at most one-day workshops. But it should definitely be possible to come up with something for a shorter occasion.
I’m very excited – although I majored in English and even got a Ph.D. in English Linguistics, I haven’t really been to England itself that much. A couple of short visits probably add up to just about five weeks of my life that I’ve spent in England. Instead, I lived in the United States on several different occasions (adding up to a total of more than four years), and traveled through New Zealand on my bike and on foot (adding up to not quite three months). So England somehow acquired a status of white spot on my personal map, which can definitely be modified. For that I am already planning a trip to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham next August, but Nottingham is a place I’ve never been to before. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Emergency room, again

Yesterday just after noon I had to go to the emergency room of the nearby hospital. I had been grating carrots while preparing lunch, and managed to include my right thumb in that process that it needed two stitches. It was the third time in less than twelve months that I showed up there, always around the same time of day, always for the same reason. First time, on the day of New Year’s Eve it was the left thumb, two months ago my left index finger, and now the right thumb. The first two times the offender had been a knife, and the whole thing could be fixed with one or two of those long narrow band aids, this time it was the grater, and had to be stitched.
Shows you how dependent you are on your right hand, if you’re not lucky enough to be ambidextrous. First of all I realized how many things I do with my right hand, even though they could be done with either hand. For example, when I learned to type in High School during my year as an exhange student in the US, we were told we could use either thumb for the space bar. Now I am surprised to find out I am in fact only using the right thumb. When I try to use the left thumb it slows down the process considerably, because I keep hitting the shift button instead. Wrong wiring... Secondly it gives me the very personal and first-hand-experience of how fantastic that evolutionary step was, shifting the thumb to its current  position opposite of the index finger. If you’ve lost that thumb to a thick band aid there isn’t really much you can do comfortably any more, except for reading a book. Can’t write with a pen, can’t really button up your pants after going to the bathroom (not to mention any of the other steps just before), can’t really safely hold a glass when you want to drink.
And picking up pins or fabric is not exactly easy either, so working has been slowed down considerably.
I guess I will make the best of the time by figuring out what to do about my kitchen utensils so my fingers and thumbs are well removed from the danger zone, since I can’t really stop preparing lunch.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Little escap(ad)es: Ellworth Kelly, Black and White

Since I had seen the announcement on the side wall of the Haus der Kunst earlier this year I had known that I would have to return to this museum once more this year:

Pre-announcement earlier this year
Ten days ago I finally managed to get away and spend a day in Munich, and it was well worth the trip.
The Haus der Kunst, with its history as a Nazi-building and its role as place where the “Degenerate Art” exhibition was shown in Munich, is not a museum that I can develop a special sympathy for. But it certainly is a befitting location for an exhibition like this.
Abstract paintings, objects, sketches, all in black and white, with a plentitude of space around them – the effect is almost indescribable.

Outside announcement of current exhibition
The place was brimming with guards, so it was not possible to sneak a (forbidden) picture to show at least a little bit of the combined effect of space and Kelly’s works. Unfortunately, the catalogue does not nearly convey what it meant to be present in the huge rooms, surrounded by several of Kelly’s large scale paintings in odd shapes and interesting positions.
One room was almost completely filled with a floor-covering-sculpture/painting commissioned by Haus der Kunst, “Black Curves 2011”, which will be destroyed after the exhibition ends. I made several little sketches of the arrangement from a viewer’s perspective, here is one of them.

sketch by a dilettante
This piece is not even displayed in the catalogue itself, but only as a study from a bird’s eyes view. 

Kelly's study for "Black Curves", photo taken from catalogue
It was put into the room touching the walls on each end such that you could not walk around it, robbing the viewer of the possibility of walking around it like a sculpture. What you see is a painting placed on the floor, submitting a two-dimensional piece to viewing conditions dictated by three-dimensional space. The perspective changes completely, depending on where in the room you're standing, and much more so than with an ‘ordinary’ painting hanging on the wall.

Just as interesting as his paintings and sketches were his exhibited photographs. Kelly takes only photos in black and white, and it is mostly the forms that he is interested in. I take lots of pictures like that myself – even got a guard’s official permission to do so in the sacred halls of the Haus der Kunst to catch a shadow that was very befitting to a Kelly exhibition in black and white. Of course nowadays one doesn’t have to take photos in black and white, as it is easy to turn a photo into black and white via software:

Kelly-type shadows in Haus der Kunst...

... transformed into black and white.
And – perhaps except for the colors – this could be a Kelly, too, although it’s entirely mine (found art in local town hall):

You get a lot of inspiration for the ten euros entry fee that you pay for this exhibition! Open through January 22, 2012.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bauhaus philosophy and transformation into textiles

In the middle of November I spent four days on a workshop by Margit Amann vonGlembowski. I had spontaneously signed up for it after talking to Margit at the German Patchwork Guild’s Annual Meeting in May, when she was so enthusiastic about the atmosphere of the house where the workshop would be held. I had figured it would be a good way of summing up the year, which had brought me a lot of teaching, by being a student myself again. And by being a student with a different teacher than Nancy Crow, who was the only one I had been taking workshops from for several years.
Margit certainly was right about the peaceful and creativ atmosphere of the place where we were staying. A monastery on the western side of Lake Starnberg, close to the “Museum der Phantasie” initiated by Buchheim. (I have already written about our visit to the museum here.) The house is located in a hugepark area which has been saved for the public through the generous donation by Wilhelmina Busch-Woods.

I went for a short run before breakfast almost every morning and enjoyed seeing the different appearances of the old trees in the park, depending on the thickness of the fog. (I did not really enjoy the fog, but...)

When I had received the supplies list for the workshop I had been briefly tempted to chicken out and cancel. There were so many things on there that I had finally removed from my many kinds of collections when I decided that I had not used them in several years and was probably never going to use them anyway, such as sweets wrappers and things like that. (One of Margit’s attitudes is “anything that fits under a sewing machine foot can be sewn!”...) But then I thought “what the heck” – I have enough experience to manage in a situation like that with little material available, so off I went.
The car was FULL up to the roof, because I was taking my handdyed fabrics for sale, so at least there wasn’t going to be a lack of fabrics.

The topic of the workshop was “colour - form – object: textiles after Bauhaus-philosophy”. I have done a bit of studying about Bauhaus over the years. Not only did we take a brief stop at the actual Bauhaus building on a family trip up north, where my son, who had just learned to walk, very much enjoyed the staircase, and climbing up and down the famous Bauhaus design chairs.

But I also have several interesting books on the Bauhaus, its history and its most famous protagonists. Many times have I admired the beautiful desings for carpets which were carried out in the weaving department. Nevertheless, I had so far not made any attempts at integrating Bauhaus design or philosophy into my own work, so the workshop would possibly open up new fields of activity for me.

We started off with some history of the Bauhaus and the various developments of and changes in the faculty. After that we did a couple of exercises as they might have been done by Bauhaus students (e.g. touching and feeling various materials and shapes that were hidden under a piece of fabric), and trying to apply them to the textile medium. For example, we sewed a number of pieces that dealt with Kandinsky’s attribution of yellow, red and blue to the triangle, the square and the circle respectively.

Amongst these were hollow objects in color, difficult to sew, delicate to handle, and intriguing to look at. In the final „exhibition“ of all our completed works at the end of the workshop we presented a collaborative textile sculpture “Objects in Color” in which we combined every participants’ objects on a black background.

As for a way to ‚use’ the objects at home I have decided that I am going to try to find foam that can be cut into the respective shapes to stuff them, so that these delicate little things don’t get squished completely. Beyond that I haven’t made up my mind yet. They are certainly too interesting to just leave them lying around, too voluminous to fold them up and pack them away as reference material to remind me of the workshop, and too nice (and too big) to turn them into a needle cushion.
The various types of „sewable“ materials that almost scared me off were needed for an exercise in which we were supposed to create a small collage inspired by a pair of opposite adjectives which we had drawn from a bag of papers. My pair of opposites was „starr – bewegt“ (stiff – in motion) and used up a pair of knitting needles with additional string attached to them which I happened to have with me. In addition, I made creative use of a little bag of organza in which we had received a little welcome-present, and a few items from Margit’s large collection which we were allowed to take from. And suddenly I had again produced something about the topic “dance”, although I claim that I never work in a representational manner...:

The entire workshop lasted for four days, which made for a pleasant and leisurely atmosphere. We weren’t rushed for time or pressing deadlines, we had plenty of opportunities to sit down with our sketch-book, and I jotted down many ideas about the triangle – square – circle combination.
Here’s another small piece for which I had the idea during my morning run before breakfast.

Unfortunately it turned out just a little bit larger than the assignment had called for, which is the reason why it couldn’t be mounted on a frame for the final exhibition.
I’m planning to use this as a study for a larger piece. And then we will see how much of the Bauhaus will enter into my future work.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Daily Oak: November report

Number of days missed: 10
Number of days with more than one visit: 2
Number of visits with more than the two standard perspectives taken: 7
guest trees: 7, plus one picture of neighboring tree from across the street
Total number of pictures taken: 61

In my memory this was a very gray month, during which it didn’t really matter at which time of day you went to the tree, because it looked the same all the time anyway. Looking at the pictures, it turns out, of course, that this is not entirely true. In any case, the days are so short now that there were very temptations to go visit the tree twice...
I was away during the first week and can’t really say anything about that time, and during the second week I picked the sunniest spots of the day, and there were some.

Perspective a, November 8, 2011, 2:13 p.m.
The second half of the month was indeed rather gray, though, but I can’t really tell whether the tree looked different at various time of the day because I ended up going there at almost the same time during those gray days, combining my trip to the tree with my trip to pick up my son from school.

Perspective a, November 24, 2011, 2:35 p.m.
 What surprised me was the way the tree shed its leaves. I had mentioned last month that nothing spectacular had happened in terms of changing of color of the leaves. When I returned after my week of absence, all the leaves were gone, whereas its neighbor, about 50 m away on the other side of the street, which had displayed such a more interesting color development, still had many of its leaves up.

Perspective b, November 7, 2011, 11:35 a.m.

Neighbour to Daily Oak (which is in
my back right now) on November 7, 2011,
with still many more leaves
Very much noticeable, of course, is the lower elevation of the sun in the sky. Whereas in June the sun would not even appear in the picture around 2 p.m., I would now have to shift position so that it would bed covered by a branch in order not to spoil the picture, as you can see in the first picture at the beginning of this post.

Perspective a, June 22, 2:37 p.m.
 Or, close to sunset – which happens more than four hours earlier now than in June: the sun now sets to the left of the tree when looking from perspective b, whereas it was far to the right of the tree in June.

Perspective b, June 19, 2011, 8:49 p.m.

Perspective b, November 22, 2011, 4:44 p.m.

During my second absence in the middle of the month, I encountered a very interesting tree during my morning runs, which I chose as guest tree for one day. This tree has a threefold appearance. It looks like a single stem when approaching it from the north.

Then it seems to be two stems when you are nearing the eastern side of the tree.

And then it turns out to be three stems in total, looking from the South-East of the tree.

Too bad I don't live there, this would be a perfect object for another daily tree project next year. But I'll probably do something else.