Visit to the Videogame exhibition at the V&A REALTIME ART MANIFESTO Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn Directors, Tale of Tales

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Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

Last day in London so I decided to visit the exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt at the V&A. I was very impressed by the equal focus given to both big budget, independent games and creative projects using game concepts and technology. I was obviously interested in the technical aspects but what I found even more fascinating was the presentation of the processes of planning, designing and prototyping.

Planning board
Production notebooks
Journey
Using wiki’s and photoblogging to create mood boards
Kentucky Route Zero
Concept designs and 3D printed models
No Man’s Sky
Sketchbooks
REALTIME ART MANIFESTO
Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn
Directors,  Tale of Tales,  ram@tale-of-tales.com
Facsimile copy
REALTIME ART MANIFESTO
Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn
Directors,  Tale of Tales,  ram@tale-of-tales.com

http://www.tale-of-tales.com/tales/RAM.html

WOMEN, WORK AND COMMERCE IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES: BRITAIN, 1750-1950 – CONFERENCE DAY 2

This two-day conference adds to the growing body of feminist scholarship that is deconstructing the male-dominated history of commercial and industrial artistic production. The programme will bring together current interdisciplinary perspectives on women’s experiences of work and the gendered dynamics of commerce in the creative industries in Britain between 1750 and 1950.

EventBrite description of conference

What follows is not a thorough exposition of the papers delivered at the conference but merely a write up of the notes I made about aspects I found interesting or relevant to my own work.

Dr Jan Marsh (National Portrait Gallery) – Women, Men and Money

Marsh is preparing for an exhibition about women in the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Her paper focused on gendered behaviour in terms of money (cash). She drew attention to the loss of economic freedom of middle class women as their material needs were met, while working class women had more due to their need to earn an income. She pointed out that any creative ambitions (i.e. training, materials etc) held by women of higher social status could only be fulfilled by agreement of husbands, fathers or other male relatives/guardians. Marsh also highlighted the gendered cultural exceptions of ambition, being encouraged in men but discouraged in women, and as a consequence notions of shame among the higher classes around women accepting payment for their (creative) work. This made me consider a few points. Firstly, how did the situation differ in the period of my study and how do I go about finding out? Secondly, could this be a factor in the types of creative activity that were (and still are) considered feminine and could this be an influence on the value placed on those activities? Thirdly, are we still effected by the notion that women should be less ambitious? Is there still an expectation of ‘humility’ with regard to our work and career expectations?

Catlin Langford, Royal Collection Trust – Lost and found: Discovering and revealing the histories of women photographers, 1850-1950

This paper considered issues of the attribution of women’s photography in the archive and the problems of gender bias in historical records. It made me consider how I am going to attempt to trace the histories of my objects – I made a small scribbled note that I would start with the acquisition records and build “family trees” from there…

Isobel Cockburn, Independent Scholar – ‘Fingers as clever as can be yet’: Shetland Lace and Women’s Craft in Victorian Britain.

Cockburn’s paper on Shetland Lace threw up a couple of interesting parallels with my own research. Firstly, that the lace patterns were knitted from memory and passed down orally. This made me think about the geometric fills used in blackwork and if they were passed down in a similar way? Were they the creations of each embroiderer and, if so, were they drawn out first or tried out in samplers? Or were there pattern guides that have not survived? Secondly, Shetland Lace cannot be made mechanically – the materials are too fine and the technique too complex. While I am not yet sure if the same can be said about the threads and fabric used in blackwork (having only just begun my investigation into the materials), the process of hand embroidery is certainly impossible to replicate mechanically. What does this impossibility of industrialisation of process do to the value of the handmade?

Panel 3 — Design, entrepreneurship and professional identities

Zoe Hendon, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Middlesex University. – “Widow of the Artist”: Grace Lovat Fraser as female entrepreneur and design expert in the 1920s

Rebecca Luffman, Victoria and Albert Museum – Marion Richardson: ‘a common tradition and style has grown up among the girls’

(My notes here become rather scrappy – I’m blaming too much coffee and ‘conference brain’!)

Points to consider:

  • The gendered nature of evidence
  • Designers and makers: The maker is often lost, although design choices are often made by the maker during the process in response to materials.
    *The value placed on ‘nurturing’ roles.
  • Collaborative models of creative labour and issues of attribution in those collaborations.

Panel 4 — Making materials: Industry and Trade

Michael Pritchard, Royal Photographic Society – The role of women within the photographic industry to 1914

Grace A. Williams, Independent Scholar – Nibs & Swallows: Women’s work in The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham c.1880-1941

Katie Lloyd Thomas, Newcastle University. – ‘On the Artistic Side’: Women and the promotion of building products in the interwar period

  • Language used in ‘feminine’ activities (early information about electricity)
  • Women in industry – supportive roles or roles linked to domestic activities.
  • Shallow evidence bases.
  • Cultural ideas of “Feminine skills” – neatness, accuracy, cleanliness, ‘fiddly work’

Women, Work and Commerce in the Creative Industries: Britain, 1750-1950 – Conference Day 1

This two-day conference adds to the growing body of feminist scholarship that is deconstructing the male-dominated history of commercial and industrial artistic production. The programme will bring together current interdisciplinary perspectives on women’s experiences of work and the gendered dynamics of commerce in the creative industries in Britain between 1750 and 1950.

EventBrite description of conference

What follows is not a thorough exposition of the papers delivered at the conference but merely a write up of the notes I made about aspects I found interesting or relevant to my own work.

Dr Patricia Zakreski, University of Exeter – Creative Labour: Women Writers, the Decorative Arts and the Art of Fiction

While the primary focus of this talk was on women writers in the later 19th century, it explored how these writers looked to the decorative arts as a model of creative work. I was particularly interested in her use of tessellation as a construct (Lewis Foreman Day – The anatomy of pattern), decorative arts as repetitive, patient labour vs. the romantic idea of the artist as creative genius.

The popular idea of the process of ornamental design is that the artist has only to sit down before a piece of paper, and, like a spider, spin out the fancies that may crowd his fertile imagination. Indeed, there is scope in design for all his fancy; but he is no Zeus that ornament should spring, Athena-like, full-grown from his brain. Ornament is constructed, patiently (I will not say laboriously, for the artist loves his labour), patiently built up on lines inevitable to its constancy…

Lewis Foreman Day – The anatomy of pattern, 1887; 3-4 (taken from presentation slide)

The speaker also made the point that decorative arts are creatively driven by material considerations, emphasising that these were usually domestic (hence feminine) activities using (often left-over) domestic materials. By extension this repetitive creative labour and the notion of assemblage equates to the feminine.

Decorative artists transform everyday ‘stuff’ into art.

Dr Patricia Zakreski

She also noted that this assemblage was encouraged to be harmonious in composition, unlike the practice of collage which is often one of contrasting, juxtaposing fragments. She drew examples from the practice of patchwork, discussing women’s magazines of the period which gave patterns and advice for the ‘correct’ way to combine colours etc.

The idea that female creativity is one of arrangement as opposed to creation is one that echoed through many of the papers.

Dr Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi, Bath Spa University – Edith Simcox’s Shirts: Clothes, Labour, and Professional Communities

What I found particularly resonant in this paper was the Victorian use of the shirt and the activity of shirt-making as a symbol of the exploitation of women’s labour. It made me wonder about the representation and symbolism of the act of embroidery and needlework.

Panel 4 — (In)visibility and the archive

The final panel of the day included two practice-based researchers, Caroline Douglas and Amy Goodwin, I was curious to see how they approached their research.

Caroline Douglas, Royal College of Art – ‘The Woman Who Was Alive There’: Hill and Adamson’s portrait of a Newhaven Fishwife

Douglas spoke at length about the need and desire to reduced distance from the object and their subject/makers, something I see as pertinent to my own work. She spoke about her attempts to reduce this distance by placing herself in the position of subject in the portraits she is studying and also by replicating the photographic process used. In emulating the process she discovered the material problems of the technique. She also spoke about the agency of the original makers and subjects through these reenactments.

Amy Goodwin, Norwich University of the Arts – ‘Lizzie: Striding Along’ and ‘Martha: Mesmeric Subject’

Goodwin, working with fairground history through incomplete archives and oral history, spoke of the position of practice to contribute to the expansion of these fragmentary archives. Her work uses her unique position as an ‘insider’, a member of the community she is researching, giving her access to otherwise closed knowledge as well as providing an intuitive framework in which to place her research. This is an attempt to “articulate negative spaces” through oral history and contribute to the narrative:

archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. They elaborate on the found image, object and text and favour the installation format as they do so.

Hal Foster, ‘An archival Impulse’ in The Archive: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Charles Merewether, 2006; 143 (taken from presentation slide)

On a technical note, I was impressed by Goodwin’s own system for documenting archive objects.

Christine Slobogin, Birkbeck, University of London – ‘What Did You Do in the War, Mummy? Surgical Drawings?’

I really enjoyed this talk, and I’ll admit mostly for the gory drawings (@morbidarthistory) but Slobogin did make an important point that compliments Goodwin’s position as an ‘insider’, the need for care when placing yourself in relation to the objects of study – “Be careful not to craft your own affect”, in other words, assume your feelings and experiences are the same.

The panel discussion expanded the conversation around contributing to fragmentary archives, throwing up the problem of adding to archives but that that this too may become invisible.

More work in the archive

Another long day in the archive gathering photographic data. The grid seems to have worked nicely and this should give me a fixed scale for working with when I get back to the studio.

I also got the right side photographed with the microscope. In an area where the plait stitch had come away I noticed that the patterns seem to be under the plait stitch – meaning the patterns were worked first. This is interesting because I usually work my outlines first and then fill in the patterns. But I don’t use particularly intricate stitches for my outlines, I suppose if you are working more complex stitches like plait stitches then doing them on top of the pattern edges makes more sense.

The other thing I noticed looking through the microscope is how beautiful the holes are where the stitching has disintegrated. It has left behind brilliant distortions in the weave of the fabric. I think these could make stunning textures for weavings

Back to the archive

Back to Blythe House and this week I have a plan to fully document the second, centrally embroidered pillow cover T.81-1929.

T.81-1924

I now have a system for documenting the objects by taking photos and microscope images of each element and pattern. It’s essentially a massive systematic data gathering exercise, even if the initial numbering of areas is somewhat arbitrary! But it’s physically exhausting being on your feet with your head bent over a camera for 6 or 7 hours.

I met Rosie again and, much like our first meeting, she was an incredible source of knowledge, particularly about silk threads. We had a close look as the threads used on the pillow cover – the ones used for the motif outlines are twisted, while the strands used for the infill patterns appear to have no twist at all and, according to Rosie, would have taken a great deal of skill and dexterity to work with.

I also observed her tracing directly from the embroidery piece she is researching. This allows her to have a full scale drawing of the motif with technical notes on the stitches and techniques used. This is not something I am going to attempt as the Blackwork is far too fragile and the range of stitches used are not a complex as the piece Rosie is looking at. However, it has given me an idea and I have spent the evening drawing a grid onto mylar (a type of clear plastic film they use in the archive) which I am going to lay over the embroideries so I can get a standard scale for the motifs when I come to print out the photographs back in the studio.