Copyright and catching up

Training day at the British Library on IP and copyright. I made a lot of notes (which I won’t repeat here) but a few interesting things came up which I’d like to think about some more.

Firstly, copyright covers ‘artistic works’ including “works of artistic craftsmanship” – surely this is a matter of judgement and who gets to decide?!

Secondly, computer code is technically a ‘literary work’. This had never occurred to me and could be a really fascinating aspect to investigate once I start to think about the nature of digital artworks…

And thirdly, the whole afternoon was dedicated to Creative Commons and Open Access. The ethos of open, shared knowledge is one I embrace and I’ve been licensing my work under CC for years (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) or Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (BY-NC-ND)), so it was great to see this and Open Access research outputs being promoted.

It was also lovely to catch up after the session with a few of the other CDP students and compare experiences so far – we had a few beers hence the brevity of today’s post!

Pulling threads

It’s the weekend and so I am finally getting some time to sit and work with some materials. I’ve purchased a variety of threads to test out – I’m trying to get a feel for the materials.

My usual working threads are stranded cotton, a 6-ply thread which I split depending on the weight (thickness) of stitch line I’m after, and standard machine cotton which I use for fine detail. However, having now spent some time examining the embroideries in the archive in close detail it’s apparent to me that my usual threads are far too heavy (thick) in comparison. While it’s not my intention to make precise physical replicas, the aim of this project is to translate embroidery digitally, I do think it’s vital to get a ‘feel’ for the materials and the scale at which the original pieces were worked.

However, I do hit a moral problem with regard to materials. The original embroideries were worked using silk threads and I have avoided the use of animal products for over 15 years. My intention is to find an alternative (and get some, hopefully, interesting insights into materials and techniques of thread manufacture in the process). I have access to vegetable fibres that were unavailable 500 years ago, but in order to find a comparable equivalent I think I will have to try some small samples working with silk.

But that’s a dilemma for another day…

This weekend I have been trying out various types of cotton, stitching sample lines in back stitch and running stitch so I can compare them. I noted that none produced a smooth stitch line, as these particular threads are not mercerised, and that when split into single strands the soft cotton and coton a broder (16 & 25) were extremely fragile and pulled apart after only a few stitches. Which makes me wonder how the original embroiderers managed to work with (the much more fragile) single strands of silk?!?!

Topologies and blurred boundaries

Today’s seminar discussion was around ideas of disciplinary boundaries. The essay (Academic Disciplines: Homes or Barricades? by Gary Poole) which began our discussion threw up some interesting points for me.

I began by thinking about my own work and the cross-disciplinary nature of my art practice blending traditional textile techniques with experimental digital technology. But what defines a contemporary art practice? Poole talks of an “academic home… a secure place” but the discipline of contemporary art practice would seem to be boarder-less – we as artists define our own boarders, working with themes, subjects, materials, processes and approaches that are wildly divergent – so are we as a discipline ‘homeless’?

Poole also talks about “discipline-specific thinking” as a way of maintaining comfort within a particular discipline (or “academic home”) – so perhaps our discipline is not defined in terms of common practices but in terms of how we think?

He goes on to talk about the comfort of discipline in terms of “complexity” and “uncertainty”, with complexity being the particular accepted concepts within a discipline while uncertainty refers to the conceptual conflicts, stating:

Uncertainty is reduced considerably by homogeneity of thought processes within a discipline… there is much less “starting from scratch” within the discourse of the discipline when people share a way of thinking…. [However] the discipline discourages diverse thinking patterns, epistemologies, or approaches to problems. The discipline stays insular and homogeneous.

While we certainly do have accepted (and taught) processes and language within art practice, I think we are unusual as a ‘discipline’ in that we are encouraged to embrace the uncertainty, to look beyond our boarders and embrace heterogeneity. It’s a multiplicity of thought processes, practices and approaches – and where our discourse arises is within the tension, comparisons and fusions of concepts.

Poole later goes on to discuss interdisciplinary thinking, arguing that “divergent views regarding the nature of thinking within a discipline should be encouraged because these views enrich the discipline.” but that “[w]ithout some clearly defined pattern of thought, there is no discipline.” What then, are the patterns of thinking within contemporary art practice as a discipline?

Again, I’m drawn back to the idea of embracing uncertainty, experimentation and taking risks. I think this is what training at art school cultivates, it was certainly my experience.

In short, I’m perfectly happy with the uncertainty of art practice, indeed I believe that’s where it’s strength lies. However, I am not just working within my own (albeit porous) discipline – my research is sited within a heritage setting with it’s own boundaries and I wonder how that will impact my work…

Reflections

I spent two days going through my journal notebook and translating my notes into this blog. What I realised through the process of re-reading and re-writing is that it seems to be a natural way to reflect on my work and research. My personal notes can be rather scrappy – by attempting to re-draft them for an audience I have to refine and refocus my thinking.

So what came out of this reflective process?

I think my overriding impression is that I need some studio time. I have been rapidly gathering initial research and testing out some possible approaches but I haven’t given myself any time to work through anything thoroughly. My studio practice is my primary mode of investigation and it needs time – drawing, embroidery and working with digital systems need to evolve through consistent work.

Therefore, I have decided to postpone my planned research trip at the end of February. I am already booked to go down to London next week and I know what I want to document (the second pillow cover T.82-1924) – this should give me enough material to work with for the next few weeks.

Slow tasks for quiet days

A few much needed days off. I spent my time flicking through some new books of Elizabethan embroidery techniques (included a few different versions of that ever-niggling plait stitch). I want to try them all out so I spent the afternoon stretching up my ‘home’ embroidery frame. This is slow, quiet work I prefer to do at home.
Stretching a cloth onto a frame takes time. The fabric must be pressed, a straight grain fold made at the top and bottom and then placed exactly matching the middle of the bar tape. Then you over-stitch the fabric to the tape, keeping the stitches evenly spaced every few mm. Repeat for the other bar.
Next you take a length of twill tape and bast it to either side of the cloth.
(the next stage will be to tension the cloth onto the roller bars and stretch the sides, but I didn’t have enough tape and pins so that’s a job for another day)
As I attach the cloth, fixing it down with hundreds of tiny stitches, wonder about the hidden labour – all the essential but usually unseen or undone stages in a process…

Drawings, diagrams, drafts and little windows

A morning in the Blythe House archive spent frantically documenting T.82-1924 – a pillow cover with an embroidered boarder

T.82-1924

The photographs were not great quality but will do for reference. I also got some microscope images – these will have to be put together, but I’m rather keen on he idea piecing together fragments. There are many areas of the embroideries which are fragmentary – the whole basis of this project is the reconstruction of fragments.
Collaging together images is a method I use in my drawing practice and find my fingers itching to get to my drawing board and begin to draft these motifs out. I have a notion that I would like to make a drawing on a monumental scale – these stitches are so tiny, I have an instinctive desire to enlarge them to massive proportions…

T.82-1924: pattern 20 (microscope)

I had requested the backing fabric be removed so I could see the back of the embroidery but the linen of the pillow cover has become extremely brittle, so instead the textiles conservator cut a number of small rectangular holes in the backing fabric – creating little windows onto sections of the embroidery.
This pragmatic conservation compromise is unintentionally brilliant – creating frames of abstract compositions. I’m going to have some fun with this!

T.82-1924: pattern 24 (reverse)

Picking up research ideas

Back at Blythe House Archive – the plan today was to get some close-up images of the embroideries using the DinoLite microscope camera.

T.230-1929: pattern 19 (photograph)
T.230-1929: pattern 19 (microscope photograph)

The images from the microscope are much more detailed but I will have to splice them together as the focus area is quite small. I’m not sure how much additional detail will be gained over the photographs – I’ll have to work with both once I get back to the studio.

Today I was introduced to another PhD student, Rosie Taylor-Davies (http://www.taylordaviesdesign.co.uk/), who is working on 18th century embroidery. I was very much inspired by her approach to research, in particular the research books she has produced for each object she is working with – I took some notes on the things she included that might influence my own approach (shared with permission):

  • Details on how the object was documented:
    * photo slices using a sliding camera rig;
    * scanning;
    * colour analysis.
  • History of the object:
    * provenance;
    * design sources.
  • Reconstruction:
    * documentation of process;
    * side-by-side comparisons of details.
  • Overall design diagrams (hand drawn) acting as a reference map.

I also had quite an interesting conversation when trying to explain my research, during which I had a moment of clarity regarding an aspect of my PhD that has been bothering me.
There has always been two approaches to the digital aspect of this project. The first is about the geometric structure of the patterns and digitally tracking the stitch paths – essentially regarding the patterns as visual algorithms – to create reconstructions. This could also be applied to the later, free form, speckled blackwork – but, I’ve had a niggle in the back of my mind that applying this ‘system’ to that style of blackwork would be artificial and the results inadequate. However, the second aspect of digital technology I am interested in pursuing is about physically integrating electronics into fabric to create reactive surfaces (trying to bring forward something of the materiality of textiles) – and I think this could work quite beautifully with the free-from blackwork.
In the back of my mind, I already have several ideas for pieces around these two ‘modes’ – indeed I’m already working on projects that explore both. However, I’ve been pensively wondering how to bring these two approaches together. What I realised during today’s brief conversation is that I don’t have to.
They are two separate (but related) approaches.