Shwop and Sew Lab at M&S

This morning fellow PhD-er Nina and I attended the Tote bag making session for Marks and Spencer’s ‘Shwop and Sew Lab’ in Broadmead, Bristol. Neither of us had any idea of what to expect, but it was brilliant! Run as part of Bristol’s ‘Big Green Week’, the idea behind it is to get people recycling, up-cyling, and re-loving their clothes again.

When we arrived at M&S we were greeted by an array of brand new (and very swanky) Pfaff sewing machines and some exciting boxes of fabric. After the introductions, we were invited to delve through the fabric and choose the design for our bags. The fabric was actually old advertising banners which was a particularly nice idea, and they featured a whole array of different designs – including a headless David Gandy, some stylish shoes, beautiful patterns, or some hairy men’s legs! I opted for some rolled up pairs of knitted socks – I’m always a sucker for knitted things!

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Nina choosing her fabric and design

After cutting out the rectangles, our lovely tutor Delia from FloJo boutique showed us how to whip up a practical and stylish tote. It took less than an hour for each of the 6 participants to complete their project, and they all looked great. Afterwards, M&S treated us to some tea and cupcakes – because who doesn’t need re-fuelling after a sewing session?!

Tea and cakes!

I was also pretty excited to meet Alex from series three of the Sewing Bee! She works for M&S and was one of the brains behind the workshops being run over the nexttwo days. She was really lovely and gave me some fitting (and reading) advice for my ongoing issue in making sleeves fit. Hopefully it’s something I’ll get sorted out soon… In the meantime, I’m happy to keep making sleeveless garments now the weather is a bit nicer.

If anyone around Bristol is looking for something fun to do this evening or tomorrow I can definitely recommend a sewing session at M&S. They’re free, friendly and fashionable, and I really don’t think you can ask for anything more than that! Thanks for having us!

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Our finished bags!

Bassett Lecture 2015: Professor Marcus Doel

Bassett lecture

My lovely colleague Nina has been busy organising this year’s Bassett Lecture. It looks set to be a great talk and, as usual, all are welcome to come along. Details as follows: 

The 5th annual Bassett lecture will take place in the School of Geographical Sciences on Thursday 29th January 2015.

This year’s speaker is Professor Marcus Doel from Swansea University, who will be presenting under the title, ‘Through a net darkly: spatial expression and schizoanalysis (subject to finance).’

The lecture will take place at 4pm on Thursday 29th January in the Peel Lecture Theatre.

All Welcome!

No booking required, for enquiries contact Nina Williams (Nina.Williams@bristol.ac.uk).

Abstract:
In Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote that Louis Hjelmslev’s “concerted destruction of the signifier” not only unleashed “a decoded theory of language” that was perfectly attuned to both capitalist and schizophrenic flows, but also that it was “the only modern—and not archaic—theory of language.” Hjemslev was the blast of fresh air that blew Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Lacan away, and ushered in a post-structuralist schizoanalysis of world-historical libidinal flows. The encounter with Hjelmslev proved pivotal for Guattari, the force of which reverberated throughout all of his subsequent writings. Hjelmslev effectively counter-signed the two volumes of Capitalism & Schizophrenia and Kafka that Guattari wrote with Deleuze, as well as Guattari’s own Machinic Unconscious, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, The Three Ecologies, and Chaosmosis. And yet, “the Danish Spinozist geologist, Hjelmslev, that dark prince descended from Hamlet,” was never the subject of sustained attention in any of these texts. In this lecture I consider the import of Hjelmslev for Guattari, with particular reference to the spatiality of the structural unconscious and the machinic unconscious, and use this as a basis to think through the bewildering cast of characters that are ‘subject to finance’ and that increasingly plague our world, such as Homo Economicus, Homo Debitor, Homo Faber, Homo Subprimicus, and Financial Homo Sacer.

The City of Briswool

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The City of Briswool is a project to knit, crochet and needlefelt a huge model representing Bristol. Led by Vicky Harrison at Paper Village Arts this project has been in the making for over twelve months and has so far involved 90 makers, 4,000 hours of work, 10 workshops and hundreds of cups of tea! When the model initially went on display in May 2014 at Paper Village it managed to attract 4,000 visitors in just 10 days. The pictures I’ve included here are from that first exhibition, which really was a fabulous sight to behold. Since May the model has continued to evolve as people work on new contributions and expand upon the existing landscape. This weekend (4th and 5th October) the model is getting its second outing – this time at M-Shed. It’s open on both days from 11-4 so do pop in and have a look!

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Over the course of the weekend a series of workshops will be running called ‘how to craft a city’. If you want to join in you need to be able to knit or crochet, just bring along size 4mm hook or needles. Workshop attendees will be:
* Making Colston Hall and The Old Duke pub as a group
* Helping to sew together Queens Square, King Street, and Park Street
* Able to join groups such as Briswool makes Easton
* Assisted with identifying and designing their own contributions to the model

The photos here are just a taster of what will be in store, expect new contributions and a bigger city in a bigger space at M-Shed!

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Prof. Tim Ingold – Bassett Lecture, Bristol 30/1/14 4pm

A little more blatant advertising for an event I’ve been involved with organising….

The School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol is proud to host the 2014 Bassett lecture. This year’s presenter is Professor Tim Ingold from the University of Aberdeen.

Prof. Ingold will present under the title ‘Making and Growing, Doing and Undergoing’

Thursday 30th January, 4pm, Peel Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Sciences (BS8 1SS)

All welcome!

Abstract:
To make, we commonly think, is to implement a design that has already come within reach of the imagination; to do is to carry out the operations that such implementation requires. If making puts the emphasis on the final product, doing emphasises the performances that lead to it. Growing, on the other hand, is what happens to things – it is what they undergo. Where making and doing are active and intentional, growing and undergoing are passive and biophysical. In this lecture I question these distinctions, and aim to establish a sense of making-as-growing, and of doing-as-undergoing: a kind of action without agency that is characteristic of lives that are not just lived but led. Such lives are human.

Biography:
Tim Ingold is a Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Aberdeen. His interests include environmental perception, language, technology and skilled practice, art and architecture, creativity, theories of evolution in anthropology, human-animal relations, and ecological approaches in anthropology. Recent books include ‘Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture’ (Routledge, 2013), ‘Biosocial Becomings: Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology’ (co-edited, CUP, 2013), and ‘Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description’ (Routledge, 2013).

The Bassett Lecture:
The Bassett Lecture is held every year in honour of Dr. Keith Bassett, a critical geographer and long-time Senior Lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences. Although formally retired, Dr. Bassett continues to write, teach, and contribute to the intellectual life of the School and University. The lecture series recognizes Dr. Bassett’s work and contributions in the fields of social and geographical theory, critical geographies of political economy, urbanism, social movements and social justice, political ecology, and critical socio-legal studies. Prof. Ingold’s lecture will be the fourth in the series. The 2012 Bassett Lecture was presented by Prof. Erik Swyngedouw (Manchester), whilst in 2011 the School welcomed Prof. Melissa Wright (Penn State).

Crafting: Materials, Ecologies, Economies

tfThinking Futures is a week-long Festival to share and celebrate research from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law. This year members of my research cluster (Politics and Matter) are hosting the event Crafting in collaboration with local craft practitioners. This panel event will showcase ongoing research and coproduction in the Faculty on questions of crafting, materialism, community economies, and ecologies of thought and action. Primarily the session will highlight what emerging social theoretical perspectives can offer in terms of rethinking the place and power of craft and craftwork in the contemporary world. Is the recent revival of handicrafts a romanticisation of past worlds, or does it tell us something about our contemporary condition? Can past and present practices be shown to resonate? Can craft generate new forms of community activism which allow us envisage alternative economic futures? How does an engagement with the intricacies of craft practices alter the way we understand ecologies of thought, action, and process?

In this event, three dialogues, between theory and practice, will take up these questions and form the basis for an open discussion:

CRAFT PRACTICE.

Dr Merle Patchett (Bristol University) and Peter Summers (Taxidermist) on “The Craft of Taxidermy and Re-Drawing an Ethic of Apprenticeship”

CRAFTING COMMUNITY.

Joanna Mann (Bristol University) and Vicky Harrison (Owner of Paper Village and local ‘craftivist’) on “Crafting Community”

CRAFTIVISIM.

Dr Naomi Millner (Bristol University) and Jethro Brice (Bristol-based artist) on “Craft, labour and the commons”.

Chaired by Dr Mark Jackson, the panel will consider the importance of craft and craftwork to broader questions of political, economic and social change. The audience will be encouraged to participate in thinking material futures through craft and to question the craft of experience. Conversation will roll into a wine reception, where further interactive discussion will take place, and practices will be on display.

The event will take place on Friday 8th November 6.00-7.30pm at The Kitchen, The Station, Silver Street, Bristol BS1 2AG. Tickets are free, but seats are limited. Please order yours through the eventbrite system on the Thinking Futures website.

Knitting for Gromit Unleashed

A few weeks ago I installed a very exciting yarn bomb commission for Hotel du Vin in Bristol. During July and August the city hosted 80 five foot tall Gromit sculptures (from Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit fame) as part of a giant arts trail. Locals and visitors alike were encouraged to find and admire as many Gromits as possible, by way of the free printed maps or using the dect-o-gromit phone app. Each Gromit was designed by a different artist and the variety was fantastic! We had Vincent Van Gromit, the Gromitosaurus, the Gromberry, and Isambark Kingdog Brunel to name but a few. Ultimately all the Gromit statutes will be auctioned off to raise money for the Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Early in June Hotel du Vin contacted me to say they would be hosting Katy Christianson’s Gromit and wondered if I might be able to help brighten up their courtyard to provide a cosy home for Gromit whilst he stayed in Bristol. They didn’t have to ask twice… I set about making pom-poms, bunting, stars, and dog-themed wraps to adorn the space with. And here are some of the results!

ImageCanis Major Gromit in the courtyard

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         Gromit and a big knitted bone            Dog themed wraps in the trees 🙂 

It was a really fun project to be involved in and the staff at the hotel were super friendly and excited about the prospect of hosting some yarn bombing for the summer. The knitted bone took forever to make, but I’m so happy with the results and very glad I persevered with it. Despite the flat being covered in woolly goodies I was really worried there wouldn’t be enough stuff to cover the courtyard, but I think the fears were unfounded. The courtyard looked suitably cosy without being over the top. I’ve also seen a few lovely blog posts by Gromit spotters who enjoyed the woolly additions which is great news.  My current project is another commission (remember the AXA one I did last year? They want more!) and that’s due to be installed in early October. Seems yarn bombing is still in fashion 😉

The paper village coral reef

For the last six months 38 crocheters, knitters, and needlefelters have worked together with the community arts and crafts shop paper village to create a woolly coral reef.

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It’s been a great project to get involved with, for not only did participants get to practice new skills – I learnt ‘hyperbolic crochet’ and how to needlefelt – but it was a fab opportunity to meet other crafty people in the local area. Since beginning back in November all sorts of lovely coral models and fishy friends have been brought into Vicky at the shop, but it was only when it all came together in to one window display last week that you really got a sense of how much work had gone into the reef and how beautiful it looks. The photos really don’t do it justice. 

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I mentioned hyperbolic crochet – this is a fascinating technique pioneered by University lecturer Daina Taimina who wanted to make visual representations of complex mathematical concepts. She set out to model a hyperbolic plane, essentially a shape that is the geometric opposite of a sphere. So, rather than curving in on itself and having a closed surface, as is the case with a sphere, a hyperbolic plane curves away from itself at every point. This comes about due to an exponential increase in size as the plain grows. In terms of crocheting, then, you start out by crocheting around in a circle and continue to make it exponentially larger with each round. By starting with a circle of, say 10 double crochets in the first round, you would then do two double crochets into each of the first stitches for the second round (total 20 stitches), then another two double crochets into each of the stitches for the third round (total 40 stitches), two double crochets into each stitch for the forth round (total 80 stitches), and so on and so forth. The result is a structure which looks remarkably like coral, or a brain (or ‘brain coral’ as we’ve been calling it!) Physically creating these shapes gives you a real sense of how this mathematical principle works in practice, the first few rounds seem to take no time at all but by the time your piece is 20cm round it can take hours to get all the way around it. I’ve never found maths quite so interesting before! 

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Learning to needlefelt was also pretty exciting, although somewhat less complicated on the whole. Needlefelting is a method of creating felt without the use of water. Instead, practitioners will use wool tops and a needle that is covered in notches. These notches work to tangle the smooth wool tops, making them stick together. The more the fibres are poked and prodded, the stronger and denser the structure becomes.

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Vicky ran several workshops during which she showed people how to do this to make a fish (or seahorse, shark, squid….) which are also now a part of the display. I love the creativity people have brought to their creatures – each of them looks so individual and they make such colourful additions to the reef. 

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As well as being a great creative project and a way of bringing people together, the woolly reef also sits alongside an exhibition to draw attention to the plight of coral reefs around the world. Definitely well worth a read. The reef is on display NOW at Paper Village and will be there until the end of June. Paper Village is at 200 North Street, Southville, BS3 1JF and is open Tuesday – Saturday 10am-5pm. 

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More makers

Since my last update I’ve met up with a further four local makers. The first was fused glass artist (and carpenter) Kim Mylchreest who works from her garden studio to create bowls, plates, wall-art, jewellery, coasters, and anything else glassy you might be able to think of. We talked about the process of learning new skills and perfecting what you do, and making sure the materials are right at every stage. I never knew glass was so versatile and totally fell in love with some beautiful shiny glass called dichroic glass that looked a bit like iridescent fish scales. I also had the opportunity to meet with the basket maker Norah Kennedy in Stroud who told me all about the basket communities she’s become involved with all around the world and taught me loads about different types of basket-making using a wide variety of materials and techniques. Norah also does loads of teaching, and even taught Roy Youdale who I interviewed last year about his basket practice. Visiting Norah was much like visiting a basket museum with her vast collection of baskets from the world over and I was thrilled to be able to learn so much in just one visit.

My most recent interviews were with Sarah Burford and Julian Warren. Sarah is perhaps more widely known as Curious Pip and she makes handcrafted dolls using vintage fabrics and inspiration from 30s showgirls. Self-taught and working from home Sarah started out doing illustrations with the intention to make herself a little pocket money. Two years on and her dolls have become internationally collectable and always in high demand. We talked about the importance of the online community for contemporary makers and where her business might progress next. Sculptor Julian Warren of Metalgnu, on the other hand, has already been welding his creations for twenty years so it was great to hear the contrasts between someone just starting out and someone more established in their trade. Julian’s creations already adorn much of Bristol (in the Botanic Gardens, St Andrews Park, and on Whiteladies Road to name a few locations) and he showed me the latest work soon to be installed at the University. Julian’s sculpture fence is somewhat legendary in the area, and works as both something personal and a free shop-front.

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Above top left to bottom right: Kim Mylchreest’s fused glass heart, Norah Kennedy’s basket-weaving studio, two of Sarah Burford’s dolls, and a sculpture by Julian Warren

It’s nice to have such a variety between the things people are making, whilst at the same time starting to draw out themes that run throughout. For instance, the importance of time is something that comes up a lot, not only in the sense of time taken to learn a craft, but in thinking about how much time goes into each piece, and the impossibility of accurately charging for time. Many creative practitioners, particularly those working from home, have stressed the difficulty of separating themselves from their work, thus making it difficult to define ‘work’ time from ‘free’ time. Following this, then, how does one price something that might have taken 14 hours of actually interacting with the final piece to make, but also had endless hours of mentally planning the work, and years of practice to hone specialist skills? Different makers I’ve spoken to have dealt with this in all sorts of ways and it’s been fascinating to learn about the intricacies of their businesses.

Something else that’s really run throughout each and every interview is the real passion people have for the things they make. An enthusiasm for skill, materials, tradition, and innovation has been at the foreground of our conversations, and there’s been a strong sense of community lying underneath as makers recommend other artists and craftspeople to talk to and visit that they might have worked with, trained under, or simply admired themselves.

To make a start on analysing these themes I’ve been using my new favourite technique – word clouds. By pasting the text you want to analyse into a programme such as wordle you can produce snazzy-looking visual representations which instantly highlight the key issues that came up when talking to someone. The bigger the words appear, the more often they were mentioned. For instance, here’s the word cloud that resulted from my conversation with Sarah last week:

sarah word cloud

As you’d expect, words such as ‘dolls’ and ‘fabric’ loom large, as this is what Sarah’s craft is based around. We can also pick out the themes most influential in her work – ‘vintage’, ’30s’, and  ‘showgirls’ amongst others. I find it interesting that ‘things’ and ‘people’ are two of the largest words, indicating a stark bifurcation in thinking between maker and made which is at the heart of craft discourse. It is precisely this bifurcation that I’m interested in investigating, and potentially flattening out somewhat through drawing on theorists such as Jane Bennett and Bruno Latour. I’ll save that excitement for another blog post though, this one is plenty long enough as it is.

Politics and Matter

          

The ‘Politics and Matter’ research cluster at the University of Bristol has just launched a blog. I’ve been a part of this group since it’s conception just over a year ago and we meet regularly to discuss our research and organise events. There are currently 9 members within the cluster who have a wide range of interests which include  affective spaces of limit experience, the creative ‘shock’ of the art-encounter, tissue economies, embodied performativities, and the intersection of neuroscience and geography. Broadly speaking, the group researches an ongoing geographical concern for the shifting relationships between the human and its contemporary environments. By bringing cutting-edge theory, innovative empirics, and creative methodologies together, we seek to complicate constricting and static conceptions of human action and experience. This work participates in wider interdisciplinary turns toward nonhuman agencies, vital materialisms, hybrid ecologies, machinisms, affect, biopolitics, process ontologies, and assemblage theory. For more details, as well as updates on our upcoming events and details of our research as it progresses have a look at the Politics and Matter blog: http://politicsandmatter.wordpress.com