Landscapes of our Lives

An insight to the artwork Symbiosis by artist Rebecca D. Harris and how it represents the enormous microbial communities of our bodies.

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Welcome to your invisible world, for every single cell that is you, they are outnumbered 10:1. You are host to around 1,000,000,000,000,000 microbes, a community of microorganisms which are a vital cycle of life and this microbial community which colonises your body make you an ecosystem. In 2015 I was commissioned by the Eden Project (supported by the Wellcome Trust), Cornwall, to create an artwork to convey this story.

You are host to around 1,000,000,000,000,000 microbes

When we normally think of microbes we think of those bad for our health, never more so than within our current climate of Coronavirus. However, in the main microbes are essential for good health. In Symbiosis I created a hand and machine embroidered artwork which is bright and tactile, and so, enables the viewer to engage with the positive aspects of our microbial community. Our bodies are not blemished by the microbes, but like what I am doing with the embroidery, they are embellishments, a way to view the positive side of the microbes we share our existence with, and more so, owe our existence to.

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Symbiosis, 2015 by Rebecca D. Harris

The artwork took at least six months to complete, starting digitally with creating the topographical style map of the body and finishing with thousands upon thousands of hand embroidered French knots. The different colours represent the major groups of microbes present on the skin, and give a sense of the diversity, proportions and distributions of those communities. As part of the commission, I worked with microbiologists Professor Michael Wilson from University College London (UCL) who was also lead scientific advisor for the permanent exhibition. It was a fascinating experience to merge our two worlds, think together on this project, and to see what outcome would develop from this engagement. Part of which featured as a BBC World Service documentary, that did not air in the UK, but a clip and article can be read at the BBC website.

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Data from Professor Wilson

Professor Wilson presented myself with a large range of information and data on the differing groups of microbes. It was a huge challenge to resolve how to best handle this range of information for which I had no grasp of myself. With all my embroidery threads before me, I clustered them and simply assigned them to the major groups of microbes.

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Planning material for Symbiosis by Rebecca D Harris

It is not necessary to have ‘a key’ with the work. This was just my starting point to ensure I could give a sense of the diverse colonies of microbes and where they like to congregate the most or, as specific to my piece, where they are not congregating at all.

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Detail shot of Symbiosis by Rebecca D. Harris

The specific topic I covered for the exhibition was regarding how when in the womb we are microbe free, 100% human, awaiting our seeding of microbes when we enter the microbial world. To convey this, the In Utero part of the figure contrasts with its mother’s vibrant and multitude of hand embroidered French knots. During pregnancy, we have everything we need for survival from our placenta. It is through birth we acquire the first stage of crucial development of human health, microbes.

when in the womb we are microbe free, 100% human

There is a ‘small window’ of opportunity in early life for future mental health, immune health and gut health all from this microbial life. This is not to say that opportunity is our only opportunity. For my hand embroidered artwork Rhizome (below), produced for UCL Neuroscience Society’s SANE mental health charity auction, I was inspired by how gardening is said to alleviate depression. This is not only due to food production satisfaction, sunshine and the exercise — but also the microbes Mycobacterium vaccae found in the soil; absorbed by the gardener, which is said to then stimulate serotonin production within the brain. It fascinates me just how much of a symbiotic relationship our bodies have with the natural world, that there is a reward system for our interaction in tending to the land.

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Rhizome, 2015 by Rebecca D. Harris

Which brings me back to feeling a stronger link about how our bodies are like a ecosystem. Microbes forge the link between us and the natural world, ensuring good health, together forming the landscape of our lives. The painstaking process of months and months of hand stitching those tiny colourful dots to convey this, was time well spent. I enjoyed every moment of exploring this topic and especially for this piece of embroidery to continue its story where it can still be viewed (ironically, this particular exhibition is currently closed due to the pandemic) at the most fitting location, Eden Project.

Stitching Science: cloth and how it can reveal the body

This formed part of the talk given (virtually), October 2020, at Royal College of Physicians (RCP) by artist Rebecca D. Harris and specifically relating to the two artworks ‘Deep Seated Anxiety’ and ‘Untitled (black MRI)‘.

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Middle English cloth, clath, from Old English clāþ (“cloth, clothes, covering, sail”)


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Deep Seated Anxiety, 2012 by Rebecca D. Harris

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Untitled, from Skin Deep body of work, 2013 by Rebecca D. Harris
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Life Sucks, 2012 by Rebecca D. Harris

“undressing a woman of her skin would fundamentally destroy the myth of her being other’ and therefore she becomes defined by being both a container and surface with ‘coding of femaleness [taking] place on the skin”

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Life Sucks, 2017 by Rebecca D. Harris

 

In the artworks Life Sucks, tights retain more of their original format. Where they are used more as reference to strained sagging skin, leaving a short amount of legs coming from the tights gussets and held within an embroidery frame to represent sagging breasts.
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Untitled by Rebecca D. Harris

So where the body can easily be conveyed within a soft sculpture practice, how can I use cloth just in its two-dimensional form?

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Untitled (black MRI) by Rebecca D. Harris
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Digitally manipulated MRI head scan by Rebecca D. Harris
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Untitled (red MRI) by Rebecca D. Harris

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MRI scans and drawing progression for artwork by Rebecca D. Harris
‘Symbiosis’, 2015 by Rebecca D. Harris
Detail view of ‘Symbiosis’, 2015 by Rebecca D. Harris
Returning to the calico cloth used before, I could focus on the contours and bright colourful french knots which represent the huge variety of bacteria and other single celled organisms which colonise the landscapes of our bodies, both inside and out and how prior to birth we are microbe free. In this artwork, not only was cloth a medium to explore aspects of the body but I was able to take the act of embroidery further.
Detail shot of Untitled (black MRI) by Rebecca D. Harris


Rebecca D. Harris wrist injury future art making

Wrist Injury: future of art making

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.

Bambi on Ice

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.

Ct Scan scaphoid

 

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!

art collages by artist rebecca harris

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!

Introducing new arts based research project ‘Skin as Repository’

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.

Rebecca Harris Breasts art textiles

'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.

 

context

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.

Rebecca Harris obese art MRI head scan

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’.

 

aims

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.

Rebecca Harris obesity art textiles

 

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.

Rebecca Harris obesity art body

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.

 

support

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!

Women in Prison art workshops

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.

© Susan Merrick

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.

It’s oh so quiet … and so peaceful until …

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.

© Susan Merrick

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.

Rebecca Harris machine embroidery
© Rebecca D. Harris

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.

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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.

 

exhibition coming soon!

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.

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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Rebecca D. Harris who are your artist influences? textiles, affect & artists

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 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.

The audience

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)

louise bourgeois rebecca harris
Louise Bourgeois ‘Woven Child’ 2002

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.

Rebecca Harris obesity art body
Rebecca D. Harris ‘Deep Seated Anxiety’ 2012

The act of sewing is emotional repair.

Louise Bourgeois

 

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.

Louise-Bourgeois-cloth-female Rebecca Harris
Louise Bourgeois ‘Untitled’ 2002

‘I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole’

Louise Bourgeois

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Rebecca D. Harris ‘Untitled: stop tap’ 2012

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.

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Eva Hesse ‘no title’ 1970

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.

Rebecca Harris dwelling art
Rebecca D. Harris ‘Untitled: house skin’ 2012

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.

 

Eva Hesse

 

Tracey Emin

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.

 

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Tracey Emin ‘Pavement Sitting’ 2009
Rebecca Harris life drawing embroidery
Rebecca D. Harris ‘Untitled (life drawing embroidery)’ 2016

Mona Hatoum

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Mona Hatoum ‘Grater Divide’ 2002

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.

 

mona hatoum rubber mat rebecca harris
Mona Hatoum ‘Rubber Mat’ 1996

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?

Mona Hatoum

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Rebecca D. Harris ‘Untitled: tumble dryer hose’ 2012

 

Who are your influences?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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