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.
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.
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?