t h r e e + materiality

i remember, clearly, when i was young and adults would come up and exclaim loudly: how did you get to be so big ?!? [or some other turn of that phrase]. there was often the proclaimed: the last time i saw you, you were only THIS high [with the necessary hand indication of height]. i would stare at them with the ticker tape in my head saying. what do you mean? i'm not very big yet. i want to get bigger faster! and why is my getting big such a big deal for you? [or some other turns of those phrases]. 

i was raised to be polite so usually i would just stare into said adults eyes and say. i dunno. or simply smile, or look away shyly if i didn't know them too well.

but now. now that i have my own child and she just turned THREE.... well. i'm firmly planted in those adult shoes of wonder at the speed of time. and i did indeed say to her - i remember when your whole body fit in the crook of my forearm - tiny baby that you were. [and then i sort of gasped in horor at myself for doing what i had hoped i would never do - THAT adult nostalgic size reference]. 

so time - indeed it does it's marching thing - fast and all - leaving in its wake a sea of memories and amazements, some regrets, but mostly a blur of just day to day stuff. stuff that you can't possibly fathom upon recollection. and as i've gotten older i've attempted to wrestle with it, i've begged it for mercy, i've cajoled and yet conclude that ultimately we are powerless. you always hear how children change your sense of time -- and yes - that is one of those cliche things that is just too true - what new perspective could i possibly have to offer? i don't. 

so we mark the occasion. with small vanilla strawberry cakes [her request]. a happy birthday banner. and presents. and balloons [also her request]. and a party for friends and family next weekend. and we'll see if anyone says - how did you get to be so big? my little one is less shy than me - so i envision a very very funny answer coming out of her mouth at some point in time. she told her father the other day - dada i'm not BIG enough to do that yet... i fear that she will be sooner than we all think.

use of materials

i have had a lot of people come through the studio lately. this is nerve wracking as it's always hard to show work in progress w/out feeling a bit awkward. i often hear myself saying - ignore the tape - these aren't finished yet - i'm still figuring out where and how many and if these are done. personally i love seeing work in progress in other people's spaces so that may be why i'm game to share before things are finalized. part of this is just curious folks. [and also my need for some input from other makers to help work through things]. part of this is that my solo show in april is quickly approaching.... shows always mean more visits. more explaining. more more more. 

one of the things that keeps coming up is my use of materials. how i combine paper, pins, all manners of embroidery [hand and machine], felt, ink/acrylic, pencil, colored pencil, etc. etc. sydney remarked she was amazed that i could just USE all of them. and that it seemed so natural. she said there was no way she could get away with incorporating so many materials in her work. this made me pause for a moment. how does one acquire their visual vocabulary? what does material choice mean in a work? in contemporary art you can't pretend that your material choices don't have implications. and for a long long time i really thought about what the ramifications of thread/embroidery were. what it meant to use pins and other domestic accoutrements. when you use oil paint in essence you are conversing with THE HISTORY OF PAINTING. even if that isn't your intention that is what is happening. your choice of material can alter the meaning of a work in both subtle and incredibly powerful ways. 

then a student came over and she said that she often felt frozen in regards to materials. that one of her professors [not me] had been grilling her so intensely on them that she felt that a mistake or wrong choice in that arena could have devastating ramifications in her work. she said that she noticed a freedom in my use of materials. it was interesting to me to hear this from 2 completely different people/perspectives and it made me think. while i agree that materiality is a choice and has meaning [intended or not] - i told her that i think in some ways it was just that i have been using these materials for so long. that for me it was no longer about if they were "different", or "trendy" [because embroidery is certainly trendy at the moment], but that they were what i knew. i know what they implicate. i like what they do. ultimately how they work and function and look and feel to me is comforting but in no way stale. and while work always has a conceptual component to it - the process of making it has to also be reflective of the maker. and these are my tools. 

i liked that. the idea that anything, ANY material, is in the end a tool. something to be used. and how familiarity breeds comfort and then new discoveries to what said tool could do. and i thought about how we don't usually ask why someone uses a pencil. but why do you use thread [or any "crafty" material] is still a common question. i always say my work is rooted in drawing. i can simplify it even more now : for me thread has become a pencil. 

phew. that was a lot of typing. if you are still with me... i wrote a post on poppytalk about tara donovan. 
till next time....


Eireann said…
ahhhh lisa i love reading this. thinking recently, spontaneously, about teaching together. somehow. and feeling so sowed under, already, by worry and work and wanting to be writing things like this. i miss you! hug for new year and maybe chat soon.
Kathryn said…
First off, Happy Birthday to your daughter! My daughter just had her 7 year checkup and I was told she is 50" tall!! I hate to say it but it is shocking when they grow so fast!

Secondly, love your post about tools and the comment on a pencil versus thread. I hesitated for several years before delving into fiber. I still feel the need to 'justify' every fabric, every thread I choose but, like you, they are becoming my pencils more and more with time.
Jacqui Dodds said…
Happy Birthday to the little one Lisa :-) the cake looks yummy!
I think people tend to say how big children have grown especially if they haven't seen them for a while.
I would love to look around your studio and see all the materials you use and work in progress - it would be fascinating.
The student who is being grilled by her professor could probably do with going away from the eyes of the teacher and just playing with different materials to see what happens. I guess the professor is asking so that the student is confident to say 'this is what I use because...'.
I think we all need to play with materials sometimes so that we gain freedom and become confident in our work.
Anonymous said…
As a parent myself who has been there/done that with my own child I really enjoyed,and identified with, all you wrote about your little's b-day. At the risk of using another cliche it is interesting, and sometimes quite funny, to see how 'the wheel turns' as one goes along in life as a parent. Hopefully, one manages to keep most of the really noxious comments adults can make to kids about their growing up from actually coming out of one's mouth!

Thanks, too, for taking the time to write so much about the visits to your studio and your thoughts about materials. It helps me understand the process of 'making art' more thoroughly. You must be a terrific classroom teacher!
julie said…
yes.. time! my enemy at the moment. happy happy birfday to little (big) f. She is gorgeous and i am enjoying watching her grow :).

choice of materials is always a big deal for me. i am never certain of my choice and unfortunately jump around too much. i have too many favourites. you always seem so at ease with your choice and they work so well together. great post, l xxx
andrea said…
oh lisa. the speed of time, the speed of time. I am all too familiar with it. can't believe she's three! happy birthday, sweet girl!

Katrina said…
happy bday to the little! wow, 3. i can't imagine my own little one will ever be bigger than swaddle size! i know, in time.

love your thoughts on textiles/ thread/ crafting in fine art. i was grilled by a professor in grad school and almost gave up on fabric and thread, but like you said, it's just become a tool. and yes with a lineage i adore. happy making to you.

ps-- and come visit us anytime!

Cally said…
Sweetest cake! Birthday wishes from me to her will mean nothing since I'm a stranger, so I send them instead to you, the birth day was as big a deal for you as her and the celebration is as much yours. Happy Birth-day Lisa!

Interesting stuff about the materials. Mine started as a scavenger hunt, I couldn't buy so I used what others discarded, or what I could find in nature. Choosing between them was partially about the final effect but often more about scale and speed. Sometimes I enjoy the slow timing consuming work of cutting, knotting or stitching, other times the physicality of changing the shapes of metal and yet other times the more tactile qualities of sculptural materials like clay and wood.

Often the end result is unimportant, it's the play along the way, hence my love of paper & fabric- affordable, fast and so easy to transform an idea in your head into a tangible thing, or 1000's in my case (honestly, I must learn to get rid of the experimental work that fills every space in my home).

Having said that, when I knew before making it that a piece was to be shown in a gallery I felt totally different about the materials because I knew the choices would be scrutinized more closely. Often that stopped me from making good work. I'd get too tied up in the conceptual relevance didn't work as freely. It felt like the meaning of the material was dictating what I did - and I hate being told what to do with my work. Hmm, perhaps that's partly why I don't show work any more?

I was doing another photographic book for my Mum this Christmas but house DIY meant it wasn't ready in time so in a panic I opened a box of work to see if I could give her some of them (well received). It was weird pulling out a string piece that seemed odd to people when I made those peices, but now looks right at home with what is out there. At the time I remember feeling I couldn't show those string works, or my net work and macrame inspired things, because of people's perceptions about the use of common string.

I really worry too much about what other people think. I took some photo's of the one I gave her and seeing it dangling on my sheds I couldn't understand why I'd been so worried. I loved it, the simple string not pretending to be anything other than it is. It's what I love about fishing nets - strong and simple.

Blimey, it got dark while I typed! Need to close the curtains before the storm whips away all the heat. Very very windy here - still.

I imagine the party is on this weekend, hope it's been good, and that there are some great quotes on the 'my how you've grown' front.
bugheart said…
i can't believe
she's three.
i only ever saw
her when she
fit into the crook
of your arm!

i loved your
on choice of
i do think that
speak a great
deal about
the artists
(not sure if that
is the right word)...
whether they make
that choice
it was your choice
of materials
which first drew
me to your work.

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