First disclaimer: I do not practice Voodoo, nor do I know or understand much about it. But the flags that I came across on the web struck me as very beautiful and evocative symbolic communications, worthy of some reflection. Raw Vision gives an explanation of the flags that suggests that they are an outgrowth of Catholic icons, combined with the pain and anger of slavery. "Created one sequin and bead at a time, each stitch is a silent prayer. The finished flag is an emblem of spiritual resolve within a fabric and beaded skin which presents a constellation of beauty and brilliance."
ElCoqui Galleries describes the flags this way:"Unique to Haiti, Voodoo Flag or Drapo Voodoo is the most elegant and profound sequin art. Flag art originally started as a praying cloth in honor to the Iwa (spirits). The art is both complex and intricate, starting with the 18K-20K sequin and glass beads that are needed to complete a piece. Each Iwa is an abstract diagram called a veve that serves as a symbol. Spirits can also be represented in animals, objects or human figures having particular attributes. The iconography of voodoo is extensive and complicated. Voodoo artists need to have a good understanding of it and the color scheme for each spirit. The new generation of artists combine spiritual devotion with artistic ambition, appealing both to the art market as well as religious devouts." An exhibit, Sequined Surfaces: Haitian Vodoun Flags, that travelled the country a few years back, but this seems to be a largely ignored folk art medium(?).
Recent economics have given a new position to voodoo flags as secular art objects created by artists for collectors. Many of the newer works feature more mythological themes such as mermaids or stylized designs It is hard to find much history or documentation on the internet about voodoo flags, but just browsing the gallery offerings is fun:
Electric Gallery (15 pages of flags)
Haitian Art Co.
image: Flag (drapo) for Baron by Antoine Oleyant
Jose Luis Martinez' Visual Journal web site contains a dated entries for the past 18 months (more or less), each with a digital photo and some commentary. A favorite entry of mine is titled Humma, and features a woman who looks like your average American retiree, but with the Buddha shining out of her eyes. Jose Luis writes: "She has gone through several heart and eye surgeries, has a bad hip and she is hurting most of the time, that particular night in which the picture was taken, she had a crazy itch that would not leave her alone. What is amazing to me is that regardless of how worn her body is and how much she complains about it, her spirit is young and when engaged in a conversation she transforms in to a little girl filled with excitement about practically everything."
These photos capture daily life around San Francisco. Suburbs in paradise and Suburbs on a collision course; babies on buses; an extraordinary view from the interstate; city streets; a ray of light. Life is not what we expect, but we can always find more than we deserve. These photos are proof of the visual riches abounding.
Advice - go to the archives, pick any date with a line under it and browse. Use the before and after arrows to move from one photo to the next.
image: Trees, Treasure Island by Jose Luis Martinez
For the past week on RaggedClothCafe, we have been discussing when it is ethical to use another culture's artwork as inspiration for one's own, and when it is simply copying (And often not very interesting at that.) My 2 cents worth was about Bill Holm, a white guy from Montana who so thoroughly documented Northwest Coast Indian Arts that he became the link passing the knowledge on to a new generation of Native Artists.
After a week of respectful discussion, I was surprised to find an article in the New York Times, Artifacts for Art's Sake: An Eclectic Array, about a collection of Pacific Northwest Coast Indian art from the collection of a New Yorker. But the question of this article seemed to be, 'is this really art?' A quote from the article: "In their eyes, there is no difference between the aesthetic and emotional pleasures derived from European and American art and that of Native Americans. And they are spreading the word." And the conclusion: "What it does do is affirm the distance we've come toward understanding that historic Native American art — particularly object-making — has a worthy aesthetic place in world culture."
Huh? Almost a century after Picasso validated African art to the Western eye, we are still debating the value of the indigenous vision? Or is this a move aimed at the art valuation market. The article has some beautiful images, but the context is so sadly xenophobic that I am still shaking my head.
image: Human raven Mask, Bella Coola people, Pacific northwest coast, mid-19th century A.D., wood and pigment (Smithsonian Institution)
"I now interpret artistic inspiration, often understood in terms of unexplainable impulses and images (as I previously thought), in a more mundane but just as profound fashion: inspiration means, simply and literally, to breathe in." - a quote from an article by Akiko Kotani in Fiberarts Magazine (2001) entitled, A Zen Retreat on Fibers and Drawing.
Kotani's work is minimal. Through her writings, we receive some insight as to the wellspring of her purist aesthetic. She writes about the activities during the days that she spent on retreat at the monastery. But her deepest discovery came later, when she returned home and began to integrate her learning into her teaching and art. The thought of a Zen master that can grab an arrow in flight is an inspiration to most little boys. Being a Zen master who is fully embedded in each stitch sounds pretty enticing too.
image: Akiko Kotani, Deep Winter #5-10, 2000
There is an odd misconception in the quilt world that a technique can be one quilter's private (copyrighted) property. You may have a very cool way of doing borders, yet you cannot 'copyright' this and force all others to pay homage to you as supreme border maker. (But wouldn't it be cool if you could?)
Basics: patents, copyrights, trade secrets and trademarks are all part of a larger entity called "intellectual property".
Copyright protects an artist's right to expression. If you create and original picture, poem, or song, it is protected by copyright.
Patents cover process or techniques.
Here's the official U.S. Government's explanation:
Copyright - An Author's Expression:
A copyright is an exclusive right to reproduce an original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, to prepare derivative works based upon the original work, and to perform or display the work in the case of musical, dramatic, choreographic, and sculptural works.
Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, or embodied. Rather, copyright protection is limited to an author s particular expression of an idea, process, concept, and the like in a tangible medium.
"The kinds of works covered by copyright include: literary works such as novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspapers and computer programs; databases; films, musical compositions, and choreography; artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture; architecture; and advertisements, maps and technical drawings."
"Patents: Article 27 of the TRIPS Agreement provides that WTO member states shall provide patents for any invention, either a product or a process for creating a product, 'provided that they are new, involve an inventive step, and are capable of industrial application.' In other words, to be patentable, an invention must be novel, useful, and nonobvious..."
To summarize, copyright covers artistic expression; patent covers a process.
- Making a border is a process;
- Sewing a curve is a process;
- Doing embroidery is a process.
If a stitch artist believes that they have invented a "novel, useful, and nonobvious" way of sewing a border, they can apply for a patent to protect the process.
If that same stitch artist writes up a sheet on how to make their favorite type of border, they can copyright that sheet of instructions and the way they have phrased it (some folks have a gift with words) or illustrated it. But the process itself is not protected copyright.
So - the question remains - what is uniquely yours and how to protect your expressions? Knitty has some further explanations and ideas: " We've already discussed the notion of a sweater as a copyrightable work of artistic craftsmanship. If we accept that this store sweater is such a thing, then yes, it's protected by copyright. And yes, publishing instructions telling other people how to replicate it may be a form of authorizing or counselling infringement.
By the way, copyright aside, there are other ways to protect a sweater design. It could be the subject of an industrial design, also known as a registered design or a design patent. Such registered designs can offer more definite protection than copyright, and there's no fair dealing or fair use defence. However, registered designs are more expensive to obtain than copyright, and of shorter duration. A sweater design could also be protected through unregistered design or trademark rights if the designer could prove she was known for or associated with a certain style of design"
Notice - what Knitty is addressing is a design, not a process!
Asheville is the Southeast's answer to the need for art and beauty in every day life. I just spent three days there. It is not possible to see all of the wonderful things there in just three days. "Upholstered Fine Art" chairs by Robert A. Harman had to be the most innovative and refreshing art on view last week.
The chairs were on display at New Morning Gallery, in Biltmore Village (scroll down). Photos do not do justice to these works. The texture and colors play together so gracefully. For an exhibit at the Furniture Society web site, Harman lists his materials as "wood, velvets, jacquards, silk on wood frame" - note the painted feet.
Harman has the barest website up - here's hoping that it grows! Maybe even with some photos of the construction process.
The Magic of Images by Camille Paglia is a serious academic article, which provides a challenging assumption of where we (as a society) are now in image-making and visual communication. This is an issue not frequently discussed by quilt makers, but essential to our vitality in the larger arts community:
"Young people today are flooded with disconnected images but lack a sympathetic instrument to analyze them as well as a historical frame of reference in which to situate them. I am reminded of an unnerving scene in Stanley Kubrick's epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an astronaut, his air hose cut by the master computer gone amok, spins helplessly off into space. The new generation, raised on TV and the personal computer but deprived of a solid primary education, has become unmoored from the mother ship of culture. Technology, like Kubrick's rogue computer, HAL, is the companionable servant turned ruthless master. The ironically self-referential or overtly politicized and jargon-ridden paradigms of higher education, far from helping the young to cope or develop, have worsened their vertigo and free fall. Today's students require not subversion of rationalist assumptions—the childhood legacy of intellectuals born in Europe between the two World Wars—but the most basic introduction to structure and chronology. Without that, they are riding the tail of a comet in a media starscape of explosive but evanescent images."
But, unlike most (myself included) Paglia goes beyond citing the problem and grumbling. She proposes a solution in understanding the historic image making that can still involve the contemporary viewer (no, it's not Picasso or Pollock):
"At the Castillo cave complex in Santander, Spain is the so-called Frieze of Hands, a series of forty-four stenciled images—thirty-five left hands and nine right. In some cases, as at the Gargas cave in the French Pyrenees, mutilated hands appear with only the stumps of fingers. It is unclear whether the amputation was the result of frostbite or accident or had some ritual meaning of root, primal power.
These disembodied hands left on natural stone 25,000 years ago would make a tremendous impression on students who inhabit a clean, artificial media environment of hyperkinetic cyber images. The hand is the great symbol of man the tool-maker as well as man the writer. But in our super-mechanized era, many young people have lost a sense of the tangible and of the power of the hand. A flick of the finger changes TV channels, surfs the web, or alters and deletes text files. Middle-class students raised in a high-tech, service-sector economy are several generations removed from the manual labor of factories or farms." (Scroll to the bottom of Paglia's article to view the images)
Since Judy Chicago's Dinner Party is considered one of the most significant art pieces of the 20th Century - and one of the few created by a woman, it seemed proper to revisit the work. The work was created in 1979 and reflects the first wave feminism of that era. It also is a work of the 70s - birth control pills, wife-swapping and disco; its a celebration of woman as represented by their genitalia. "Sometimes beautiful, sometimes provocative, sometimes downright ugly in design, the plates evoke or blatantly resemble vulvas, flowers and butterflies, sometimes in relief several inches high. Each is paired with an often sumptuously embellished cloth runner to form a symbol-laden portrait of a mythic, legendary or historical woman, beginning with a generic Primordial Goddess and ending with Georgia O'Keeffe"
It is interesting to me - and perhaps a bit contradictory that Ms Chicago supervised over 400 women in the making of this work, yet hers is the only name credited with the piece. Most of Chicago's works have the commonality of this nameless collaboration. Chicago has identified that woman's art is largely anonymous, but unfortunately, she has continued this tradition, using the labors of 'volunteers' to create her vision.
Judy Chicago should have put fiber art on the map. But what she has done instead seems to be an exploitation of the quilter, embroiderer, ceramicist to build her own reputation. The work is extraordinary. But it would be easier to celebrate if we were doing it with the creators themselves, not just the director.
Matthew White has undertaken an atlas of the Twentieth Century. As part of his effort, he has created "The 100 Most Important Art Works of the Twentieth Century"
White explains his methodology, "To determine the 100 most important art works of the Century, I simply counted up the number of times a particular work of art was reproduced in the following history books. For example, the fact that Grant Wood's American Gothic illustrates three art history books, while Edward Hopper's Nighthawks illustrates five books is a pretty good indication that the experts consider Nighthawks to be the more important of the two. I also gave a work a few bonus points if it was displayed more prominently than its peers, such as on the cover, or in color among mostly grey scale illustrations."
I don't think that my old statistics prof would accept this as scientific, but the results are worth pondering, and probably as valid as any 'top hits' listing. My knee-jerk complaint would be about the books that White chose to consult. Most of them were written by men. I'm hoping this would explain that paucity of women artists. I found Georgia O'Keefe (#51) and Judy Chicago (#87).
On the other hand, White redeems himself and his list with some humorously glib asides like: "Giorgio de Chirico, Song of Love (Surrealist: 1914): mask of Alexander the Great and rubber glove. I'm afraid to ask what this has to do with love."
image: The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, 1979
Stenciling, the non-sentimental type offers lots of opportunities for the fiber artist. A series of tutorials by The Stencil Revolution takes you through the steps of Converting a color photo to a single layered stencil with Photoshop. Once you have the image, there is a second lesson on how to cut your stencil. Prochem offers directions on how to use the stencil with fabric paint.
Still unsure of what to do with the stencil on fiber? Here are some great examples:
Miriam Shapiro: Mother Russia
Lauren Camp: Quilt Portraits
Patricia Autenrieth lots of different uses, but especially Chameleon
image: Mao #91 by Andy Warhol
Also, PAQA-S has a new and improved email list. The list is open to anyone who is interested in art quilting, fiber arts, art cloth and art garments (not just paqa-s members).:email list page
(Disclaimer: I am the admin for both the PAQA-S web site and their email list)
On April 24, AQATS is offering the following surface design demonstrations for $15.00 half day or $30.00 full day:
Nontraditional Materials :: Amy Orr
Silk Screening :: Wendy Osterweil
Painting, Stenciling, :: Stamping Lonni Rossi
Creating 3D Effects Rita : : Burnstein
Shibori Dying :: Susan Brandon
Machine Quilting :: Cindy Friedman
Computer Printing :: Marion Mackey
Realism in Machine Embroidery :: B.J. Adams
I wish Philadelphia were closer!
When I think 'stencil', I think of a restrained interior decoration form that is traditional and usually somewhat nostalgic. When I was searching the web for stencil information, I discovered that for the 12-25 age group, stencilling is a form of urban decoration, with some dynamic results. Street art used to be limited to spray paint, posters and the occasional sticker. Add to this the stencil and street decorating has grown a whole new level of sophistication: the Stencil Revolution.
Tristan Manco has produced several books documenting this phenomenon, including Stencil Graffitti and Street Logos. The web site,L'expo Stencil Graffitti, highlights a few of the stencils from the book. Graffitis et Pochoirs shows examples found on the streets.
So why am I writing about graffitti in a fiber blog? The connection is not the images themselves, but the dynamic of the image making: stenciling removed from it's sentimental roots. And the parallels between the flatness of the stencil format (Fahrenheit 451, Zurich) and the flatness of the quilted image (Jane Sassaman.)
Sharon Boggon has a pointer to an incredible fiber art project, Portrait of a Textile Worker. This is a 2 year art project, creating a quilted portrait of an unnamed textile sweatshop worker. The portrait will be made "entirely out of clothing labels. It will be approximately 8 feet high and 9 feet wide when completed." There a photo at the site of the planned portrait. You can catch a glimpse of the work in progress. The artist, Terese Agnew, is the creator of intricate embroidered quilts, such as "The D.O.T. Straightens Things Out".
Agnew is in need of tags to complete her portrait. You can send the tags from "inside your clothing to complete the Portrait of a Textile Worker... Most labels are useful, but I urgently need gray and black labels (I can use labels that are gray on either side if the labels is a solid woven material). Those featuring proper names of designers are especially poignant in this work." Agnew estimates that she will need tags until January 2005.
Want to know even more? The journal, Behind the Label, features on article on the project, which looks at some of the political issues and inspiration behind the project.
The story of the unidentified woman in the portrait is in an article from On Wisconsin.
image: Portrait of a Textile Worker by Terese Agnew (in progress)
A new fiber blog: Sundancers, Wild Women and DreamWeavers. Cheryl Rae, creator, describes it as "a weblog of contemporary textiles, fiberart and techniques, embroidery, fiber-related arts, soft sculpture..." Lots of intriguing stuff to ponder over a cup of coffee, including a link to a silk felting resource.
When you walk to the edge of all the light you have
and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown,
you must believe that one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid for you to stand upon,
or, you will be taught how to fly