Many lives are being lost & devastated from Covid-19, for me it’s affording me time to recover from my trauma of Cauda Equina & death of my brother.
Alongside the loss of sight, losing one’s use of their dominant wrist as an artist is your worst nightmare! Summer last year I did something to my wrist, what I did I have no recollection of. I just know it was somehow sprained and hurt when I tried doing stuff with it. Being my right hand it was the one I would always go on to use, grab in a stumble, pick up stuff, open doors etc. As the year went on it got progressively worse. Further damage came when out with the children at our local roller disco (yeah, I know) I was the human version of Bambi on Ice. Determined not to give up I kept going and then before long was hurtling, what felt like 60 miles per hour, towards a pole to break my fall. My right wrist took quite a shunting and then I proceeded to do some pole dancing as I had to grab and swing around as the momentum was too strong. It, however, wasn’t until many weeks later, after doing weights in my local gym, followed by weight-bearing yoga poses, I had to go to A&E (yes, I ignored it and didn’t get help earlier). They thought I broke my scaphoid, X-Ray didn’t agree and I was given an appointment at the local fracture clinic a week later.
It was here I had a CT scan (below) which showed a scaphoid to lunate ligament (scapholunate (SL) ligament) total rupture (see the gap in my scan below, crescent-shaped bone on vacation from the others). They wanted this confirmed and just before Christmas, I had an MRI (something I totally geeked out given my art/science work and having done work with MRI scans). This confirmed it, apparently the most crucial ligament in the structure of the wrist. I am now awaiting open surgery, removing a tendon from the bottom part of my wrist and screwing this in place of where the ligament once was.
This type of injury severely alters the mechanics of the wrist and I have ongoing pain, issues in movement and use. With the operation, my wrist will be of no use for several weeks. It is very concerning where I will be left once this has healed. Furthermore, I will inevitably have arthritis in the future. I am trying to stay positive and explore other options for making. This has included, of late, collaging. I am going to try and get some sewing done though before the operation. I am now off to the studio to start a new piece!
One last thing I have been thinking about recently, was in her later years, Louise Bourgeois (a huge inspiration of mine) had restricted use of her hands due to arthritis. She couldn’t continue with her sewing, but the prolific maker never gave up!
about the project
For my Masters degree final project (2013), Obscure Objects of Obesity, an interdisciplinary research project, explores the obese body as a deviant body needing of control, restriction, and intervention to reach satisfactory 'normativity'. Developing from my own emphasised awareness of my obese body due for gastric bypass surgery, I cancelled the operation but continued my enquiry situating my fat body as an axis for research. As part of the investigation, I naturally went on to explore the sagging fat skin following weight loss. However, the final outcomes explore the alien interventions of restricting the body of food for example.
Earlier this year I delivered a talk on the project at Oxford University which ignited my passion for the subject once again. It became a natural route, following my own non-surgical dramatic weight loss within the last year, to return to the work exploring the sagging skin which remains.
'Skin as repository: my deflated as an axis for research' is an interdisciplinary arts-based research project on the skin as a container of history, stigma, materiality, and identity. A project consisting of the performance of myself as a life model, art exhibition and research paper. Currently in its research and development stage, the following describes the current rationale, aims, and objectives that will need further work as the project develops.
Following my continuing dramatic weight loss of several stones, I adopt an auto-ethnographical approach to investigate much more than just my own story. Nudity, shame, development, and changes of ‘self’ alongside the ‘gaze’ of others are all conditions which affect us all. Through this work, the audience access biomedical explorations through the conduit of art. They also go on a journey of the metaphorical, visceral, psychosocial, emotional and symbolism of the personal interfaces of our internal and external worlds.
Intensifying the previous approach on the meditations of my lived bodily experience I further this approach with performance art. My own deflated body goes on display to observers-as-participants who draw myself as life model. Adopting a performative persona of a Greek statue with various life drawing poses similar to that of the classical sculptures. The idealised forms, those aesthetic nudes draped in their second skins/cloths which are both part of, and not of the body, which it modestly conceals.
As a performative model, I drape areas of my own body with swathes of skin like fluid fabric but still revealing the contrasting areas of sagging skin which also takes on the role of swathing veils to conceal my form beneath. The performative and participatory element comes at the early stages of the project. Not only intending to start engagement throughout the project development but also as a stage to inform and propel the research and development of the artworks. The gaze of others, how they react, the areas they focus on to draw will provide research and inspirational material. I then move to the next areas of the project by creating a body of work for exhibition.
In weight gain arguably no other organ becomes visually or physically modified than that of the skin. Flesh, viscera and bones remain relatively undisturbed as the depersonalised body transmutes to that of the discursive abjectified fat persona. The stretch-marks are the indices to what the skin endeavoured to contain. In weight loss, the deflated and distorted skin retains its history and stories of a stigmatizing obesity. The skin becomes an archive to the body it left behind.
Through the slow execution of the preceding body, the unaccustomed form, concealed from sight and swathed in a transmogrified enveloping husk. Departed from the once defining fatty borders beneath and the now superfluous excesses in motion have no instruction nor intent. Its fluidity is unforgiving with total disregard of what is new, no recognition and no reconciliation. ‘New’, socially acceptable body, resides within the flayed skin of ‘old’ (fat) socially unacceptable body and thus leading to further surgery to ‘normalise’ this contradictory body. Well controlled and tucked away excess skin can be ‘lied’ about beneath clothing suggesting a desirable form. The fat inflated skin leads to fat discourses but inescapably so does the now ‘deflated’ (if exposed) stigmatised skin.
The skin speaks and in its status of ‘concealer’, it too becomes site to be covered in order to not reveal its actuality. Through literally stripping of my concealing clothes and supportive control wear undergarments I aim to ‘strip’ down, scrutinise my materiality to inform my research and the potential of textiles as medium and revealing ‘veils’.
This interdisciplinary arts-based research project will draw on inspiration from my own body as an axis for research for literally revealing it to the public to bring into play their reactions and drawings of myself as performic Greek statue life model. Following this, I aim to create a series of artworks through the medium of textiles which draw on the analogies between skin/cloth and cosmetic surgeries/embroidery/fabric manipulation.
The initial part of this psychosocial, biomedical and phenomenological project will propose a great personal challenge for myself due to how I feel about my identity and fear of nakedness and exposure. It will enable intense investigation into how I can explore this within my art practice and the extent to which or how others perceive me through their renditions on paper and my response to their ‘gaze’. A further aim seeks others to talk through their similar circumstances, to help further inspire and inform the research and art based activities.
Textiles occupy something of ubiquity, that we are literally born into, reside in throughout life and enshrouded at death. As a medium, an audience becomes engaged through familiarity, haptic qualities and a visceral engagement as it relates to the body. Furthermore, through surgery the re-contoured body is stitched like a ragdoll and using stitch within my artworks will explore this concept further. As the project develops I will undergo reconstructive surgery and continue with the life drawing classes in which participants will now have opportunities to draw me bandaged, healing and finishing when the scarred skin meets my new body. This part will also form a significant personal journey which will hugely impact on the research and final development of the artistic outcomes.
Where textiles are used to conceal the body I use them to reveal aspects of our lives. Through this project, I literally surrender my clothing in an intense exploratory project of nakedness, social perceptions and personal journey of exploring the universal themes of our attitudes and feelings to ours and others’ bodies.
Within the first stage, I hope to receive a ‘developing your creative practice grant’ (DYCP) from the Arts Council England. This shall enable mentoring and exploration of the potential of life modelling as performance and, to strengthen and establish this new area within my art practice. For which confirmation of support comes from Leeds, Oxford and Plymouth universities, as well as working with local artist Faye Dobinson.
Following my recent work with Oxford University, Professor of Human Ecology wrote a supporting statement to encourage funders to support the DYCP grant application. The Institute if Social and Cultural Anthropology request we do further work together which include working on this project. In supporting statement for the application Professor Stanley Ulijaszek comments:
It links with the interdisciplinary work we do at the University of Oxford on obesity and body fatness, and develops both existing methods within anthropology to a new field, and offers new approaches in Critical Fat Studies, as well as being deeply important and interesting art in its own right.
There are of course other artists who use body fatness as their subject and/or matter for their practice. How Rebecca D Harris differs is in the extent to which she is engaged in a truly interdisciplinary way in developing her practice and her work. She has the potential to do something really new, innovative, with significant impact. She delivers on what she promises and has a very strong likelihood of succeeding fully in this project. I am deeply impressed by her, and her work, and would very gladly collaborate with her. Rebecca D Harris is extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and is tough, rigorous and persistent in her approach to her work. She intends to take her practice to a new level, and with her keen original mind I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending her, in the strongest possible way, for funding from the Arts Council to develop her creative practice.
Only an extract from what shows as a glowing recommendation, if that does not convince the Arts Council I truly do not know what will! I will return with an update once I hear of the decision due within the next three weeks. If I do not get this DYCP grant I shall reapply but for the Project Grant also from the public funding body.*
*I recently attended an Arts Council funding workshop and do think I shall share what I learned here as a blog post soon!
In the summer I was involved in Susan Merrick’s project Statements in Semaphore by running art workshops at a female prison. The Arts Council funded project formed her residency for FiLiA conference for which she presented work developed from the interactions betweens artists and academics within local communities (around London). My involvement saw me lead art workshops at an all female prison on the outskirts of London for the Women in Prison, a national charity seeking to support women out of the criminal justice system and campaigns to expose the damage to these women and their families. It was quite an experience, nothing like I expected.
I first came across Susan’s work when my daughter suggested I apply for the open call for the project ‘Statements in Semaphore’. Susan is artist in residence for FiLiA 2017 and is working on delivering, as well as myself and other artists, workshops to women in various settings including prisons and women’s refuge centres. In response to these workshops Susan aims to create a body of work which is commentary from the dialogue created with these women and the artists involved.
FiLiA, the organisation Susan is working with, stated last year that ‘Art has a unique ability to communicate the diversity of women’s experiences, and to engage the public with feminism in an accessible way.’ My arts practice is predominantly textile based and I see it as a comforting, accessible and familiar medium to broach and open up subjects to an audience. There is a cultural, physical and visceral dialogue with the viewer and my themes of the human body are often concerned with feminist views of how women are treated and seen within the world. I believe this is where both myself and Susan became excited about working together.
The art workshops
For my part in the project I delivered two workshops at an all woman prison near London which is supported by ‘Women in Prison’ charity. Only as a child visiting my father in the Dickensian prison of Dartmoor, I have never visited a prison as such. Leading up to my first day I had no idea what to expect, of course I had some nerves concerning the reception I might receive especially after a recent bad experience of teaching disaffected teenagers in Exeter. I am from Cornwall with little cultural diversity and experience of the world, so I still possess that backwards view of London being a scary place and women in prison must be even scarier. Well they are not.
Upon arriving at the prison I was greeted by what you would expect, high fences, razor wire and lots of gates. That sense of enclosure was strong, as you passed through each gate becoming further and further removed from the outside world. Also, you were not allowed your phones and I felt very isolated from that world these women are no longer allowed to be part of. For myself this was just a temporary part of my day, for these women, reality. A further frustration of not having my phone was not being to take photographs (cameras aren’t allowed either), as an artist entering that space there is such a wonderful array of photographic opportunities on offer you just had to glimpse and remember in your mind. I did however complete some collages myself into my sketchbook and have since taken photographs for you to get a sense of what we did on these workshops.
© Rebecca D. Harris
Driving a great deal of miles and needing to pass through London’s longest car-park/forcefield known as the M25, I was late. Eventually arriving I was welcomed by big smiling faces who were getting the tables very messy with paint. You don’t have to a psychologists to read this experience, they were feeling liberated, as much as prison would allow them of course. Of which, I was struck that they constantly referred to myself, Susan and Claire from ‘Women in Prison’ as ‘miss’. They were nervous of calling us by our names written on the address labels we all attached to our chests. It became more relaxed as the day went on but was testament to the prison system treating them like naughty children.
When planning the workshop, we were asked to get them to consider the art competition ‘Women in Prison’ are running with the theme – ‘Which Way’. My approach was to consider which way we see ourselves in terms of body image, self-esteem etc. I believe that some courses, twists and turns we make in life are greatly influenced by what we think of ourselves and as physical beings in the world that starts by *that* ‘gaze’ of others and how we fit in to society. To start, we created a group collage, adding text and images from women’s magazines to create a large scale visual collection of how these women responded to this prompt. During the making of the collage there are wonderful conversations about how they feel they look, ranging from total body confidence to acceptance of scars and how they feel about life outside of prison and the decisions moving forward. To ensure there wasn’t too many clusters of individuality within the giant work, every five minutes the women are instructed to move around the piece. It allowed a sense of group identity within the work and a loss of territorial stance on areas completed.
Once finished the work is turned over, this is where random lines are cut all through its length and from these strips and then from these strips smaller fragments were cut. Initially they felt the work they had done lost, a group collective piece now fragmented. Turning them over like playing cards the women then select the pieces they can add to the A6 sketchbooks provided (see above for the example in my work I brought home). This enabled them to return to their individual identity, their aesthetic choices of selection and application. Every single sketchbook was individual, different, much like those women.
On the two workshops I led, it was clear they were totally absorbed in the process and enjoyed the whole day. They communicated often how they need more art in prison and I was really touched with the feedback given, one in particular stating she almost forgot she was in prison. These women are not hardened criminals, they are just everyday women. Women who are struggling with society and some spoke of feeling safe, cared for whilst there. It was particularly poignant hearing that some are now off drugs and don’t want to leave as boyfriends waiting for them would surely get them back onto the stuff, thus restarting the cycle of the justice system once again. One women commented, now she is in prison, how she no longer needs to shoplift for tampax anymore.
Upon completing my time there, I won’t miss that commute but I do miss the women I met and their fascinating stories. The art that I provided opened up dialogues within a safe space. It allowed them to talk freely with no eye contact whilst they were absorbed within their work. Imagine if they had more opportunities with this and the progress they could make within themselves as they explore their own identities? Art is not for the elite to enjoy, not for the art educated to partake in, not for those confident they *can* draw. It is for all of us and for all of us to enjoy moments of exploration and self-expression. I really hope these women have taken much more than just their sketchbooks with them.
Hasn’t it been oh so quiet here since May! Well, you see I have had a lot of changes in my personal life and have moved from Exeter and back to my home town, Penzance. Well actually, a little village just outside which is beautiful by the way. It has taken a while to sort this all out and settle into my new home. I am very happy to now replant my roots to the place they were once grown from. I did enjoy my time in Exeter and made friends and connections there and hope, in the future, to return to be involved in some art projects once again.
I have been involved in a couple of projects during my quietude here. So here follows a quick catch up.
In the summer I was involved with Susan Merrick’s project Statements in Semaphore. The Arts Council funded project formed her residency for FiLiA conference, for which she presented work developed from the interactions between artists and academics within local communities. My involvement saw me lead art workshops at an all female prison on the outskirts of London for Women in Prison, a national charity seeking to support women out of the criminal justice system and campaign to expose the damage to these women and their families. It was quite an experience, nothing like I expected. You can read more about the project in this post.
Whilst I was still in Exeter and resident to EVA Studios I had a curator visit Ines Valle from London. She was very interested in my work on the female body and the focus on skin. The curator was currently in the process of setting up a new exhibition space, NR Studio in Hackney. The concept is great, on one side is a tattoo parlour, the other, the gallery. Their aim is to create a series of exhibitions focusing on skin, body confidence and of course tattoos. After much patience from Ines due to my upturned life moving back to Penzance, we finally agreed on artworks and they were sent to London a few weeks ago. This weekend I travelled to London to attend the opening and give a talk on my work. It was wonderful to be in London again but I did not have time to do anything else and my head was in a bit of a spin after the 5 1/2 hour journey up and then back home again within 24 hours.
It was an interesting experience relinquishing control of my artworks, having someone else install and curate them. I was very pleased with the outcome and the show, Unforgettable (you!). It was beautifully put together, with such ranging media and subjects. The show features Christophe Beauregard with his photographs of people who are having tattoos removed; Joana Choumall with a slideshow of Abidjan citizens with facial scarification; Kaja Gwincinska as the model in Chaim Machlev (aka DotsToLines) of a body projection of tattoo designs; Steve Hines with a video Love and Then Hate carved onto the skin of the hands of the anonymous; Chibuike Uzoma presents paintings exploring the current practice of scarification within West Africa. The most moving of all on display is the archive from Survivors INK, a USA based charity which helps those rescued from sex trafficking. These women are often scared or tattooed as a form of branding from as young as five. The charity running on small donations and support from tattooists and tattoo removal specialists, help these women feel empowered by the covering or removal of their branding. The ladies working on the project, Jessica and Mary, attended the show and during their talk shared some harrowing stories. It was very inspiring to think of ways I could help raise awareness of these crimes with future work based on the branding.
The show runs until 19th January next year and is a short walk away from Bethnal Green tube station.
Now we’ve caught up I look forward to sharing more ‘stuff’ in the near future.
A very quick post to let you know that this Friday I open my show Storm in a B Cup: a story of breasts at EVA Studios as part of Art Week Exeter. Please come along and join me on Friday evening, 6-8, for the private view. The show then runs from Saturday 13th to Wednesday 17th 10-5:30 (late opening Tuesday until 8).
I have been extremely busy these last few weeks putting the artworks together. I often get a sudden rush of creativity in the lead up to deadlines, which is both a blessing and a curse! I’m still desperately trying to complete works started recently at the same time as starting new ones, it madness in my studio today. Cannot wait for the show to be installed so I can stand back and see all my hard work come together.
I do hope you can make it and pop over to my Instagram feed for some previews of the work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😀
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.
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.
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.
Back at the laptop, but have brought some sewing with me. I’m attaching the droopy doily to the canvas whilst browsing the web.
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.
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.
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!?
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.
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?
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 second, the second I expand here ‘Who are your influences?’, below is my response included on AWE’s post.
The audience, what they feedback about the work, in terms of stories they want to share, how they react/affected by seeing the work. In terms of other artists it definitely has to be Louise Bourgeois for her use of textiles and her personal experiences in her work, how touching her pieces are. You do not need to know anything of the artist to be affected by her art, they talk to the viewer of something of themselves. There are many other artist I draw from too for influence: Eva Hesse, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum, Doris Salcedo and Rachel Whiteread.
Today’s blog post I shall expand on four of those artists – Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Tracey Emin and Mona Hatoum.
In last week’s post in which I expanded on how memories and experiences play a role in my art making I mention textiles and how the audience impact on how and why I make the work I do. Please check out that post for more information on how the audience informs my work.
Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)
This one is probably a bit of an obvious influence. If you know her work and of mine you would make the connection that this artist is a huge influence. Bourgeois draws from the feminine, domestic, craft and the autobiographical, all strands I too like a tug at. Touching on memory in last week’s AWE questions post, Bourgeois’s practice has much more of an emotional intensity and is a form of catharsis of dealing with the past. Her childhood informs the narratives of her works and the techniques employed. Much like what I wish to achieve, although the work starts with the autobiographical it become autonomous. As viewers we can only interpret what we see through our own bodies and lenses of our own experiences and who we are.
The act of sewing is emotional repair.
Much of Bourgeois’s influences and themes within her work links back to her childhood, of a time of trauma with her troubled relationships with carers and parents. The artist came from a family of tapestry restorers in France. This act of taking a needle to restore easily explains a huge influence on her later techniques and the desire to use a needle to repair her emotional past. This differs to my own past where the techniques I adopt are not brought to me by a nostalgic or traumatised past, but just ‘stuff’ I taught myself when younger.
The artist was a hoarder and surrounded by a huge collection of kept clothing and cloths she would reconstruct into artworks. Holding significance then, these newly formed objects stem from personal intimate beginnings. Unlike myself, my choice of materials come from chance findings at car boots, charity shops, hosiery aisle at the supermarket and any decent haberdashery.
‘I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole’
A further influence the artist has on myself is her surrealism and the use of the body. Often adding domestic found objects within the constructed textiles works to add a tension of materials and meaning. These ideas really appeal and play with the idea of what the body is and what it does.
Eva Hesse (1936 – 1970)
Despite living a short life Eva Hesse has a huge impact on the modern art world. Riding off the back of abstract expressionism and firmly setting her ground in minimalism the artist established herself as the queen of materiality. With lightness of touch and terse construction of materials, the artworks are not without their bold and strong statements. Utilising everyday and industrial materials, that sort of play on masculine and feminine notions is a huge influence of mine.
With such simple additions of materials she could create, like some sort of alchemist, this gold, this art of wonder. Before you the simple constructions convey organic, bodily suggestions, the sexual and psychological states. With a major retrospective at Tate Modern 15 years ago it was said at the time the huge ripples of impact the artist would have on future female artists. Unfortunately, for myself, this was not the case. At this time, I had given up my art studies after divorcing my husband and went to the giddy heights of being a shop assistant to support myself and my daughters. It did however place the artist on my radar in later years when I returned to complete my art studies a few years ago.
I spent a great deal of my first year on my masters degree playing with latex. It was a very difficult material to work with but gave a perfect skin like rendering upon the surface of cloth. Above is the indexical trace from the side of my house. This piece is no longer ‘alive’, destroyed, after installation, it was folded away and I was never able to recover the sticky smelly mess. Hesse’s work, due to its, significance and importance, is well preserved and latex is very problematic in preservation. It raises interesting questions on permanence and physical lifespans of artworks, not something I will get into any detail here now.
Art doesn’t last. Life doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter.
Poor old Tracey is the wheeled out artist when a non arty type gets into a conversation with me about modern art. Often riled by her famous non Turner Prize winning piece the unmade bed. It is not those works which attracts me to the artist. The influence I greatly draw from her is her tender and gestural drawings, especially the ones converted into embroideries. Just stunning.
Hatoum’s work appeals for it affect and the assimilation of everyday objects and changing their status. Through our understandings of the objects she recreates as artworks, we get a sense of how our bodies would interact with the works on show without in anyway having to directly touch the work. It is what we bring to the work, what we already know of the things of the world around us. Often dismissing what she refers to as ‘journalistic’ readings of her work, like with Bourgeois we have a tendency to delve into the history of the artist to understand the artworks presented. Hatoum rejects this and seeks immediate autonomy. It leaves you the viewer to form your own relationship with the artworks being served.
The artist states that the embodiment of artworks is within the physical realm and our bodies are an axis for perception to be experienced both sensually and intellectually. Hatoum asserts the body as highly integral to her work. Coming from the Middle East, Hatoum notes that the Arabs are much more attuned to their bodies, unlike the West who are ‘very caught up in their heads, like disembodied intellects’ *
I have always been dissatisfied with work that just appeals to your intellect and does not actually involve you in a physical way. For me, the embodiment of an artwork is within the physical realm; the body is the axis of our perceptions, so how can art afford not to take that as a starting point?
Who are your influences?
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…
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.
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’.
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.
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 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.
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.
[tweetshare tweet=”There’s a power with textiles, it has an intimate relationship with us from birth.” username=”bexharris”]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?