What do artists do all day Rebecca D. Harris

What do artists do all day?

I really enjoyed the BBC series ‘What do artists do all day?’  It gave you a little peak into the lives of artists and yes, quite obviously as the title gives it away, what they do all day.  I’m sure this is not all day everyday, but it gives you a good sense of their day-to-day professional lives.  Inspired by the TV show here you have my ‘What does artist Rebecca Harris do all day?’

I decided to take a photograph every hour on the hour to illustrate my day.  I have been thinking on this for a couple of weeks now and couldn’t decided when to pick *that* day.  So dear reader you got yesterday.  On the hour my alarm would ring to alert me to taking a photo of the there and then.   Trust me, listening to the alarm each hour gave me a shudder up my spine, reminding me of that horrible feeling you have each morning when the alarm goes off (I’m not a morning person).

What I got from this experience is that each hour became much more precious than usual.  By taking the photos, I was committing to achieving something as time ticked by.  Not aimlessly scrolling through Facebook doing a bit of pro-procrastinating.  I also figured, that I’m probably a bit boring, but why should I save the day until I am doing something a bit more amazing?  We spend our online lives sharing an idealised image of the cool things we do in a bid to make ourselves look much more interesting than we are.

So here goes, I may continue to do this on other days in the following weeks/months, who knows?

 

What does artist Rebecca Harris do all day?

The day is a typical day in the preparation for my show Storm in a B Cup coming as part of Art Week Exeter in May.

9 am


I am preparing breakfast.  Whilst waiting for the toast to pop and kettle to boil I make good use of my time.  With my daughter away for the holidays I’m keen to get to the studio, so wanted to get this job done quickly as that work needs to go with me.  During the evenings, whilst watching some rubbish TV I crochet.  It has to be TV that doesn’t require a lot of my attention as I frequently look down at what my hands are doing.  I produced this batch in the last couple of weeks and it was time to get it down to the studio to see what I was going to do with it all.

I had to reboil the kettle and my toast went cold.

 

10 am


I’ve arrived at the studio.  There’s no coffee and I didn’t bring any milk, so peppermint tea for me.  I’m working on what I’m going to do with some of the crochet doily titty pieces.

 

 11 am


Still working on what on earth I’m going to do with those doilies.  I make a larger droopy breast soft sculpture structure to attach them all to but this just doesn’t work.  The mixture of colours and patterns are wrong, it would need to be a uniform colour and pattern to successfully pull this off.  I’m really pleased with the flat piece (in the frame).  This is inspired by mammographs.  So at 11am I am happy I have ‘cracked’ a piece, this has now been finalised and I think it’s going to be presented horizontally on a plinth.

 

12pm


The droopy breast piece is bothering me. I’m getting frustrated that I’ve wasted all that time making those works to not then do anything with them.  So I’m taking a break but instead of doing a ‘nothing break’.  I decide to write up next week’s blog post “What’s the most challenging materials you have worked with?’  Starting three weeks’ ago, I write a post each week that expands on the questions posed to all participating artists as part of Art Week Exeter.  Here I am including a YouYube video about Eva Hesse and her use of latex (my most challenging material). Oh and enjoying some pistachios 😀

 

1 pm


Feeling inspired I return to the bench.  The blog post remains unfinished but will be picked up again after another blurgghhhh art moment.  I am looking at possibly presenting the series of droopy breast doilies I crocheted onto small square canvases.  As a background I have covered them in tights, I really like the ‘feel’ of this.

 

2 pm


OK, I’m back on the mac.  I have described in the past that I can’t concentrate too long on one thing.  It’s like I spin plates, having many small things going at once.  I’ve remembered I need to get an image sorted and emailed.  I am working on doing a cake & crit session in Exeter.  Working with Spacex and Exeter Visual Art Forum (EVAF) I will be hosting our first informal art critique in which we share cake!  So, I’m looking for a cake image to create the social media promotional image.  I’ve also sent and answered a few emails.

 

3 pm


Back to the bench.  The tights and droopy doilies are working, yay!  I’m also playing with making the background 3D – that don’t work so that’s been abandoned.

 

 4 pm


Back at the laptop, but have brought some sewing with me.  I’m attaching the droopy doily to the canvas whilst browsing the web.

 

5 pm


I have popped home for dinner.  I picked up more vegetable seeds at lunchtime so am potting these and watering my other seedlings before preparing lunch.

 

6 pm


If you weren’t bored yet, you will be now.  I am about to serve dinner.  Yeah, told you.  In case you were wondering it was lasagne.

 

7 pm


I have spared you this photo.  Honestly, it got so uninteresting at this point, I had just finished eating and couldn’t bring myself to take a photo.  My partner was doing the dishes though, maybe I could’ve taken a photo of that!?

 

8 pm


My partner has gone out for the evening, I was offered to join him and his friend at the Exeter Phoenix to watch an old punk band.  It might have made for more interesting photos for this evening, but really isn’t ‘my bag’.  So I have taken advantage of some free time and returned to the studio.  My hour’s alarm is going off as I pull up to the studio, so here’s my 8pm shot.  I like this time of year, lighter evenings.

 

9 pm


It’s all coming to a close at the studio now, I’m feeling tired and thinking I might head home soon.  Here, we go full circle and the doilies are being crocheted together to see how that might work as a complete piece.  I will return to the studio the following day to see if I am happy with how that is developing.

 

Was that of any interest?  Not a rhetorical, just wondering if people do find it interesting to see how us not so world famous artists do with our days?  What do you get up to in a typical day?

 

 

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What experiences or memories have played a role in your art-making practice?

In the lead up to Art Week Exeter (AWE) the AWE group have asked all participating artists to take part in a survey.  For the 60 days leading up to the event, sixty artists’ responses will feature on their blog and my contribution started it all a couple of weeks ago.  There are seven questions in particular I wanted to expand on here in the lead up to the exhibition I am doing as part of the city wide event in May.  Last week I shared the first, the second I expand here ‘What experiences or memories have played a role in your art-making practice?’, below is my response included on AWE’s post.

[My] formative years as a child play a heavy role in what I do now. Seeing how my body lost its gender neutrality and how I was gazed upon, treated as not just a woman but an overweight one too, really impacts on how you experience your physical and psychological presence in the world. I have always been introverted and as a teen I loved spending time at home, sketching and creating…. It was in recent years that the medium my artwork takes, textiles, got more and more feedback on nostalgia being brought to the audience and its tactile affect. This draws me closer to wanting to explore this further. It’s not just I want to make work about the body and that it just happens to be made from textiles, I now realise that it’s about the audience’s body too, how they are physical beings perceiving that art…

Formative years

Like many other humans, my childhood built my formative years.  I was brought up, with my brother, on a council estate by a single mother in a small town in Cornwall.  We weren’t a very cultured family, well to be honest there was no culture at all.  Which was quite typical, we were poor and growing up as kids within the Thatcher years, art was for the privileged and not for people like us.

Rebecca harris artist as a child

Having said this, my father was artistic.  This would have not played a huge role in my influences now as we rarely saw my father, but was it in the genes?  He created a lot of art whilst spending his various prison sentences in Dartmoor and Exeter prison.  There was one work of art on the wall at the bottom of the stairs at home that stays with me.  It was a nude he created, it was a women that wasn’t my mother.  

My brother, like myself, is also an artist, so maybe it is in our genes after all?  But then I do remember seeing a funny father’s day card recently that stated something like, thanks dad for just enough emotional baggage to make me an artist and not a drug addict.  Yep, maybe it’s that!

Instead of a series of stories of misspent youth, my time was spent, as teenager, teaching myself to draw, crochet and paint.  I remember as a child also creating structures in the garden, taking objects and plant material to create assemblages.  I was fascinated how ‘things’ could become other ‘things’.

The Gaze

Growing up seeing my body drastically changing as a teenager had a huge impact on how I saw myself.  As puberty hit, not only did the hormones increase so did the fat cells.  I remember becoming increasingly chubby and when out and about with my mum, her friends, when greeting us, would comment on me as ‘sum maid’ (Cornish for big girl).  I was becoming aware that my body was public property to be commented on.  In my later teens and at college I was badly bullied for being that big girl. It got really nasty and I had to eventually move to a different college.  It wasn’t that I was even *that* big, not that it would have been justified had I been bigger.  But when you are just a UK size 14 which I think is average, then you don’t end up with much body love when all around you think otherwise and body shame you.

Rebecca Harris obese art MRI head scan
MRI head scan manipulated by Rebecca D. Harris

This blog post is no ways a means to just vent these experiences and memories, they really have impacted on my arts practice.  For my 2012 masters (MA) degree project I used my body as an axis for research.  Coming quite close to having weight-loss surgery at the time of my MA I started making work about that experience, or what I refer to as the alien interventions into the obese body as a means to normalise it and allow it to literally fit into society.

In the project report I wrote about the theme of the gaze and in particular on the obese body, here’s an extract:

In weight-gain, arguably no other organ is more physically altered and visually modi ed than the skin. Flesh, viscera and bones reside relatively undisturbed as the mass of the body grows around. As the fat swells, the skin expands, transmuting the body towards the discursive fat person. (above)

Murray suggests that there are collective negative tendencies to judge the fat body. She states:

As members of Western society, we presume we know the histories of all fat bodies, particularly those of women […]. We read a fat body on the street, and believe we “know” its “truth” […] The fat subject is lazy, not willing to commit to change or to the dictates of healthy living. They are compulsive eaters, they are hyper-emotional; in short the fat body is discursively constructed as a failed body project. (Murray, 2006, p.154-5)

The social gaze is primarily constructed from our experiences with other people, Jean-Paul Sartre observed that one comes to the realisation of one’s self not just as a being-for-itself but as a being-as-object and being-for-others upon the encounter of the social gaze (Leder, 1990, p.93-5). Feminine bodily aesthetics, Murray argues, are formed by the relative worthiness or unworthiness bestowed by the heterosexual male gaze (Murray, 2008, p.91). Within the media, men’s bodies are ‘premised on the privileging of masculine bodily strength, power and ability to protect […] whereas the woman’s motivations are centred on their appearance’ (Murray, 2008, p.91). Linking fat as feminine, Murray posits that fatness for men is a feminising characteristic seen to weaken them, and for women their relationship with fat is a process of obtaining, or retaining, the ‘normal’ body to be aesthetically beautiful or desirable to men (Murray, 2008, p.91).

Leder, D. (1990) The Absent Body, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Murray, S. (2006) ‘(Un/Be)Coming Out? Rethinking Fat Politics’ in Social Semiotics, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.153-63.

Murray, S. (2008) The Fat Female Body. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Textiles

Rebecca Harris Eden Project keith martin
Public interacting with Symbiosis at the Eden Project, Cornwall. Photo credit: Keith Martin

It is not just about the body, my work uses the body in perceiving it.  It is through observing how people interact with my work that furthered my interest in how I could best utilise this.  There is an affect which happens between artwork and viewer.  When interacting with the public whilst I was creating Symbiosis for the Eden Project I saw how much textiles appeals to the public.

There's a power with textiles, it has an intimate relationship with us from birth.

There’s a power with textiles, it has an intimate relationship with us from birth from its close proximity to skin and its everydayness.   Furthermore, I found people would talk with me about their histories with craft, evoking nostalgia through the methods I chose to create the work with.  I discovered through this public interaction that textiles does not just have a sensual capacity to produce and transmit affect but it also opens up memories.  This makes the work much more accessible, especially for this piece I talk of in particular being a rather scientific based work.  It draws people in through that friendly, welcoming sense of familiarity and comfort before sharing its own story.

I hope you enjoyed today’s expanded post?  Please follow for updates on the rest of the AWE questions I shall share in the coming weeks.

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Rebecca D. Harris Where do you find inspiration?

Where do you find inspiration?

In the lead up to Art Week Exeter (AWE) the AWE group have asked all participating artists to take part in a survey.  For the 60 days leading up to the event, sixty artists’ responses will feature on their blog and my contribution started it all last week.  There are seven questions in particular I wanted to expand on here in the lead up to the exhibition I am doing as part of the city wide event in May.  With exactly seven weeks to go and seven questions, the first I expand here this week ‘Where do you find inspiration?’

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Here is my brief response that was posted on the AWE site: The body, craft and society. How we perceive each other and how that impacts on our perceptions of ourselves. How textiles and craft can convey meanings of a theme in different ways than other material might.  

Rebecca Harris fat obese body art

The body

Prior to explicitly making work about this, the body always featured. In 2010 after I lost my home (it’s ok I found another) I made artworks about dwelling and longing for home.  It was quite obvious I was making reference to skin, a sort of ephemeral nature of home.  I was very interested in the surface and skin like qualities that I could attain from using latex to create a sort of an indexical trace of the skin of a home.

Continuing from this body of work I started to explore the fetish, looking in particular the feminine domestic and the masculine of DIY materials.  Whilst making this work in 2012 I was due to have a gastric bypass (yeah not great) but later cancelled.  It was during this time I was worried about those alien interventions into my obese body, drastic extremes in order for my body to literally fit in.  Those concerns manifested themselves within my work.  It was through making, that I discovered a lot about myself and what I really wanted from my personal and physical life.  This helped me decide to cancel this mutilating operation.

Rebecca Harris art body fat obese

I then came out as a fat woman.  This was significant moment in my life, which up to this point had been spent living from the neck upwards, in sort of suspended animation until I was afforded the normalised life of a thinner person.  So through my artworks telling me something wasn’t right with the decision I was about to take, I thought ‘fuck it’ and make work about being fat.  Of course, I was quite apprehensive about this initially.  You live your life, although bigger than everyone else, wanting to be invisible, not to be seen.  So ‘coming out’ as fat, saying yeah you know I am fat, I know it, let’s not kid ourselves and I refuse to stay in hiding, so here I am and here’s some fucking artwork about it too.

Rebecca Harris obesity art body

In Drew Leder’s book The Absent Body the writer talks of the body being  self-effacing, so never really present in thoughts, just getting on and doing it’s job.  It’s only when the body dysfunctions it, as he states, ‘dys-appears’, it becomes present to us.  I was so acutely aware of my body in need of modification, to fit society’s norms and the extremes I was about to do internally to rectify the external. So I made some art about it.

I continue to embrace this as an approach and the body is a very significant theme in my artworks.

 

Craft

Rebecca Harris domestitty crochet textiles artwork

I’ve always been a ‘making’ child.  Not going to go on to say my grandmother taught me ‘this’ or my grandmother taught me ‘that’.  I taught myself all the craft skills I know today and did so when I was a teenager.  Don’t worry, I’m sure there are some misspent youth stories to share too but just not here, not now.  It was only recently I found out that I have been crocheting wrong my whole life.  Trying to teach my eight year old daughter to crochet and frustrating with not being able to, my fault not her’s, I took to YouTube.  It was here I found out … hang on, I’ve been doing it all wrong.  I crochet like a knitter, thread in the right hand, letting go of the hook and wrapping the yarn around.  I have now re-taught myself and low and behold, discovered that it’s much quicker the ‘normal’ way.  I’m finding it frustrating though when working with the small hooks and finer threads not to change hands.

Anyway, what were we talking about, yes craft and how that inspires me.  Textiles is something I have always played with.  I would craft stuff when I was a kid and when I became a mum at 20 I would sew for my daughters.  It was during the time my older two were in infant school and nursery I returned to college as a mature student (I had previously studied business and finance when leaving school *yawns*) and took some A-levels in textiles and art.  I wanted to continue with my studies to degree level but life got in the way as it does.  After having my third daughter I did get my chance to complete my higher education studies and textiles was a very prominent medium in all that I did.

Rebecca Harris art stretch marks textiles obesity

What appeals to me is the domestic and feminine nature of the craft and how that adds to the topics of artworks I create.  Also, it’s about textiles having that familiar presence throughout our lives and proximity with our bodies, the desire to touch, that tactile nature.  Cloth is a surface similar to skin and where textiles are used to conceal the body I use them to reveal it.  The making aspect of my work leaves marks of bodily presence in being held, made and manipulated to reveal concepts of the themes being conveyed.

 

Society

As a chubby child and an obese adult I was very aware of the negative ways society gazed upon my body and this then contributed to how I saw myself.   The discourse of what a fat person is shaped how I experience myself in the world.  I sought to normalise body through weight-loss surgery as previously mentioned which I never proceeded to go through with.  My body became my axis for research, although the works start from a personal place they become autonomous and relate to social themes others can relate to.

Rebecca Harris red MRI fat body obese art textiles embroidery

 

My current inspiration continues from this place of how I feel about my body, the social gaze and techniques relating to the domestic and feminine crafts.

 

What inspires you?

 

 

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Then I found AWE

Migrating from Cornwall, I moved to Exeter in the autumn.  Originally from Penzance (far down in Cornwall), I moved to Launceston in 2010 (high up in Cornwall (practically Devon anyway)) and studied in Plymouth (2010-12).  My sort of Bermuda triangle of stuff happening in my life, friends, colleagues and family scattered in those three corners (I daren’t venture into the middle).  So when I decided to move to Exeter it was a bit of a nervous time for myself, not knowing anyone and anything happening in the area.  Then I found AWE, also known as Art Week Exeter.

Not long after moving I made a conscious effort of finding all things ‘art’ and ‘Exeter’ related on social media, I highly recommend this method of stalking everything going on in a place you move to as soon as possible!  I checked out Evenbrite’s, well you guessed it, events; and groups, page and accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Then within a week or two I was at my first Exeter Visual Arts Forum (EVAF) meeting and it was here I found out about Art Week Exeter (AWE) which is now running into its second year.  Keen to get stuck in with what’s occurring in the city I soon got into lauding myself around like I was some kind of cool kid in town! (I exaggerate, far too introverted and a lack of confidence for such self reverence).  Anyway, running for nine days (I’ve had weeks that have felt much longer) from 13th May, AWE, the coolest acronym gets its groove on and I knew I had to have some of that action!

Art Soup team for Art Week Exeter
Morph (pitcher), Naomi Hart (AWE team), Rebecca Harris (me), Stuart Crewes (AWE team), Sophia Clist (pitcher), Gem (SOUP team) and Cleo Heard (pitcher). Photo credit: Exeter Soup

Delighted to to receive an invite by the AWE team (Naomi and Stuart above) to come and pitch at Art Soup in November for projects running as part of the city wide event in May.  It’s a great concept, people turn up, pay a fiver for a bowl of soup and to vote for their favourite project, the winner takes the pot of cash.  Not really sure what to pitch at this point, I had a vague plan of my year ahead so pitched the project I plan to do soon with Professor Mike Wilson  from UCL who I collaborated with on my Eden Project commission.  Sophia Clist’s project Stretch won that night and I’m very much looking forward to seeing this in the Cathedral fin May.  I find with much of these sort of events it’s not about winning, it’s the taking part that counts (I’m sounding like a meaningful parent or teacher here).  Seriously though, it’s so important as an artist to start getting known by people, networking and letting people become more familiar with your work.

Since pitching my project, my calendar didn’t pan out as I hoped.  So for AWE I bring breasts.

Storm in a B Cup a story of breasts exhibition by artist Rebecca D. Harris

As part of Art Week Exeter I am finally getting the show ‘Storm in a B Cup’ out of my system, clearly obsessed with breasts I look forward to working through my various bosom related paths and ideas.  I recently finished a crowdfunding campaign to part fund this show and am delighted to exceed my £1,000 target (and dear reader I promise to have my guide to arts crowdfunding series of blog posts over the coming weeks).  I am currently working on putting all the rewards together and am slowly crocheting my way through a plethora of breasts (below).  More posts will follow about the details of this exhibition and the thinking behind it.

domestitties artwork by Rebecca D. Harris

 

In the lead up to AWE, the team have sent out a series of questions for all those involved to answer and will feature 60 of those over the next sixty days, we’re now onto day 5 and my responses featured on day one.  I really enjoyed answering their questions and very soon I will create my own blog post expanding on those questions here soon.

Moving to Exeter has been a very positive experience for myself and being part of this event is creating lots of new connections and opportunities that I am sure will unfold over the coming months.  It was daunting at first but I think I am slowly getting to know the city and the arty peeps around.  Do comment if you live in the city, say hi and/or if you’ve moved to a new place, what sort of things did you do to settle in and establish yourself?