Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
On the Craft vs. Digital debate, this is my exhibition catalogue essay for Craft Code 011 – New Ways of Making, currently showing at The Wills Lane Gallery in St. Ives.
Ultimately the computer is a means for combining the skilful hand with the reasoning mind. Our use of computers ought not to be so much for automating tasks as for abstracting craft.
Malcolm McCullough, Abstracting Craft 1996
The more we forbid ourselves to conceive of hybrids, the more possible their interbreeding becomes […]
It is perhaps ironic that the digital and the analogue are so often discussed in binary opposition to one another. The more present that digital becomes, the louder the discourse becomes in its pros and cons relative to analogue, when quietly, hybrid practices are developing. The present moment signifies a point of change, a desire for discourse on craft that does not simply create dichotomies that prevent understanding of processes and of making.
CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING explores the potential for experimentation and reappropriation, using digital technologies with traditional skills to create hybrid processes that create new contexts for craft production. These designer-makers reflect the move towards the postdigital in the hybridity of processes, playfully subverting expectations of ‘digital’ and ‘handmade’, but always remain connected to materiality.
These hybrid processes of making have emerged in part from the Autonomatic research cluster at University College Falmouth, where human-machine interaction, experimentation and innovative thinking produce diverse work connected by the discourse around craft and digital technologies. Combined with traditional skills and materials, these digital tools can create new modes of sustainable practice which seek to give the designer-maker greater autonomy.
In the 1970s, industrial CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines were developed that allowed the production of 3D things by entering numerical co-ordinates defining height, width and depth. From the 1980s onwards, computing technology evolved and democratised, allowing complex 3D objects to be designed on a 2D computer screen, but few had access to ways of making these objects real. Now, a new conceptualisation of tools and process is emerging. The physicalization of the digital is produced by challenging and interrogating these tools, and reflects a wider movement towards this reification of digital technologies as a natural progression from on-screen to real life from other kinds of digital media. What would have previously only been possible in 3D digital design on a 2D computer screen, developments in Rapid Prototyping and CNC allow objects to break out of the frame of the computer screen, creating new possibilities in making 3D objects that were previously only conceivable in 2D. Ultimately, as McCullough suggests, using digital technology is not about automation, or an anonymous computerised aesthetic, it is about intellectual investigation and creative manipulation, using hand and head to develop tools that give a new context to modes of production.
The autonomous hand of the maker is both visible and invisible in these new ways of making. A playful relationship between ideas of hand-made and digital connects these makers. A looping transformation between handmade and digital, blurs through an iterative process of making and remaking. Katie Bunnell’s Bunny Beakers started as a desire to create a narrative on a drinking vessel. Hand-drawings are scanned to create a digital image that is used to create a silicon mould, wrapped to create a beaker shape, and slip cast in porcelain. Concealing the mould’s join by hand-stitching the silicone reveals the hand in the beakers’ making, hand-made imperfections and continuous touch inscribed by hybrid process.
This hybrid processing of information to produce different contexts of making is integral to the circularity of process in collaboration between Ismini Samanidou and Gary Allson. Ismini’s hand-woven textiles made using traditional fan reed techniques are not flat. Tension in the weave produces a 3D object that is digitally scanned, then output digitally in different materials. When drawn on to paper with a CNC milling machine using pen or brush, they appear to be exquisitely hand-drawn. Using three sets of co-ordinates, a 3D drawing becomes 2D image, demonstrating a sensitive hand-drawn aesthetic that playfully refutes any preconceived notions of digital craft. The CNC milling machine then inscribes the textile weave into Cornish oak. The tactile surfaces of the woven wood are both impossible textile and miniature landscapes.
Drummond Masterton’s work in metal is influenced by his refusal to accept the limitations of digital technology’s aesthetics. The triangulation of points in space in 3D digital production tends to create a triangulated aesthetic, the process self-evident in the craft object. By understanding this triangulation he is able to break out of it, using triangulation to escape the triangular. Three-dimensional co-ordinates of making machines relate to co-ordinates in real space; fingers travel over the object’s surface and continue moving over an imaginary landscape. Drummond talks of the essential hidden haptic element of the hand’s intervention of the digital making process, the stopping and starting of the machine, the touching or blowing required that reveal the autonomous maker in the seemingly automated machine.
Points in space are materialised further in Tavs Jorgensen’s work exploring the possibilities of ‘Pin-Point’, ‘an array of pins placed in a set of perforated screens in which impressions made from one side are reflected as positive shapes on the other’, allowing infinite shapes to be reproduced in kiln-formed glass. This experimental tool allows for different modes of production, that allow, like the others used here, the intervention of the hand of the maker according to desire, to adjust the digital design by hand. The process of making is visible, and integral to the materiality of the object, creating layers of meaning beyond the aesthetic. Tavs’ investigations are iterations of process that express a need to find ways for makers to gain more flexibility and sustainability in contemporary craft.
Connected by points in space, place, inversions of process, playful and practical interventions of the hand, a love of traditional skills and the ultimate materiality of production, CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING is a reconsideration of contemporary practice.
The past is not simply there in memory, but must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than lamenting or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity. The temporal status of any act of memory is always the present and not, as some naïve epistemology would have it, the past itself, even though all memory in some ineradicable sense is dependent on some past event or experience. It is this tenuous fissure between past and present that constitutes memory, making it powerfully alive and distinct from the archive or any other mere system of storage and retrieval. [Huyssen 1995]
My aim is to explore this gap between an event happening, and remembering it in representation.
Working with Memory Bay and the St. Ives Archive, I am looking at ways of rethinking the history of the creative community in St. Ives, uncovering hidden networks and connections. To do this, I have been exploring ideas of what an archive is, and how it can be disseminated.
How can a creative exploration of the archive articulate narratives of memory, identity and place to communicate notions of what constitutes an art community? What exactly is an archive, and can the split between experience and remembering be used to creatively articulate ideas of individual and collective memory related to place? What is an ‘art community’? Is it shaped by and understood through memory and place?
My work aims to rethink notions of what an art community is from within the community, using the space between experience and memory to creatively examine narratives of history, place and identity. It draws on theories of individual and collective memory, cultural history, the phenomenology of memory, cultural geography and new media practices, and uses the Memory Bay archive in St Ives (a collaboration between UCF, Tate St. Ives, St. Ives Archive, Leach Pottery and Porthmeor Studios) as a case study to explore how art and cultural practice, past and present, connects individuals and communities, and how memory and identity is intertwined with and performed through space and place.
Using space, real or imaginary, as a tool for memory is an ancient idea. In medieval times, imaginary cathedrals were built by monks to remember theological ideas as an aid to contemplation. By attaching things to be remembered to peculiar and exotic icons placed around these cathedrals, they could then journey around this space in order to create narratives of devotion. This is the same technique used to perform feats of memory today, like remembering Pi to however many decimal places.
The archive contains memory. But it does not operate in the same way as the mind.
Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing… The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature. [Vannevar Bush, 1945]
So, is it possible to create an archive of the imagination, a kind of reified version of Borges’ Library of Babel, where memory can be encountered by association? Or perhaps an emotional archive, where memory can be accessed by feelings? Or, could memory be put back in place, relocating memory in space, reflecting Bachelard’s suggestion that ‘space contains compressed time. That is what space is for.’ [Bachelard, 1958]
Instead of a cathedral, in St. Ives we have the freedom of a whole town in which to place icons and attach memories. These memories, once placed, can ‘hyperlinked’ to be encountered by moving through space, creating intimate or collective narratives of place. From this point, anything is possible.
To make this possible, to create an invisible archive that litters the town with memory, I am exploring different kinds of technology. Pervasive media is a broad term that is defined by Bristol’s research centre, The Pervasive Media Studio defines it thus:
The simple explanation:
Pervasive Media is basically any experience that uses sensors and/or mobile/wireless networks to bring you content (film, music, images, a game…) that’s sensitive to your situation – which could be where you are, how you feel, or who you are with. Oyster Cards are a simple pervasive device: so are audio guides at tourist attractions, which can give you extra information according to where you are and which bits you’ve been to already.
The more complex explanation:
Pervasive Media is Digital Media delivered into the fabric of real life and based on the situational context at the moment of delivery
The two defining features of Pervasive Media are:
1. Uses technology to understand something about the situation and
respond based on that information;
2. Uses digital media to augment (bridge) the physical environment, and
The St. Ives Archive is housed [housed; where the memory lives; the dwelling place for the memories; where memory sleeps until it is disturbed and rearranged to become history] in the Upper Chapel Room, St. Andrew’s Street. If you walk along the seafront towards the train station, you’ll find the St. Ives Society of Artists clinging to the very edge between land and sea. If you walk the other way, past the cafes and shops, weaving in and out between the holiday-makers in the summer, or trying to escape the penetrating winds in the winter, you’ll find the 15th Century church, and the harbour, and beyond that, Porthmeor beach and Tate St. Ives.
The building itself is constructed in granite, its walls almost half a metre thick. The Upper Chapel Room is found by going through a small set of blue double doors at the side, ascending the steep carpeted staircase and at the top, turn right and go through the glazed wooden door off the small landing. The space itself reveals its construction, white-painted beams hold-up the Methodist‘s architectural simplicity, the attic-like space filled with light by the large windows at each end [three per wall, two small with four sections, two with eight panes, two with six, and a larger window in the between, three instead of two wide, and an extra row of two-by-six windows on top].
It’s not an very big space, neither is it small. The room is the whole of the floor, save for a small landing with a toilet and a cupboard, and at the far corner, a latch door leads to a little kitchen with its assortment of mugs, tea-bags and tea-towels, and a kettle that seems slow to boil [though not as slow as the one in the kitchen in the house in which I live].
At the kitchen end, is a computer that stores the oral history archive and slide-shows of photos, and next to it is the microfiche machine. Microfiche is still an esoteric thing of great mystery to me. I only partly understand it. We need to become better acquainted, the microfiche and I. Working clockwise around the room from the microfiche on the back wall next to the kitchen, there is the Family History Corner. This is for actual genealogy, rather than the genealogy of ideas or knowledge. Along the long wall that faces the door, are cupboard-topped shelves that reach from floor to ceiling, except because the roof is sloped, there is a gap. I’ve often thought it might be a good place to sleep [sleep with sleeping memories], rather than just daydreaming.
On the shelves are a rainbow of ring-binders, filed not quite according to their position on the spectrum. They are filed according to subject, and to each subject a colour is assigned. It starts with blue for Family History at the far end, then red for Buildings, purple for History, green for Maritime, and yellow, for sun, sand and Tourism. Black ringbinders are for the serious matter of the arts. Grey archive boxes contain monochrome memories in black and white photos. See-through plastic boxes hold precious glass plates and photographic negatives; look through to see.
Turning to face in the opposite direction is the other wall with the big windows which face the sea, with St. Eia’s Church to the left and the Society of Artists to the right. You can just see the see in the middle, between the rooftops opposite. You can also see Godrevy, dunes, sand, but no lighthouse. Along this wall are computers. These are necessary for lots of reasons, yet the data stored in the memory of the volunteers is far easier to access, and can be retrieved using simple voice activated commands. This is much more user friendly, and needs no special training to use. The search results are filtered, and come with intelligent metadata, and recommendations for further searches. Apparently, this is also how the Semantic web, or Web 3.0 will work. There are no accession numbers, or filing systems required. However, the system of memories is unique, sophisticated and individualised.
Turning again to the other long wall, there is a fireplace, not in use for fireside tales, with a sign above that says ‘THIS IS A DISUSED MINESHAFT it has been fenced for your protection PLEASE HELP TO KEEP IT SAFE’. Next to this there are three filing cabinets, two brownish beige and one royal blue. From left to right, they respectively contain administrative things, Artists and Sculptors and General Art (A-Z), and Volunteers and Displays and Writers and Poets. Next to filing cabinets is a dividing wall of desks and photocopier at ninety degrees to the wall, ending in a display table with local history books and postcards of local views for sale. The door to the stairs is on the other side of this half-wall. This divides the volunteer’s working area from the public’s working area. This separation is further defined by the difference between the assorted proper desks on the one side, and smaller tables, each with two assorted chairs, on the other. The visitors’ side tables, three of them, are an interwar shade of lemon syllabub. Modern red and black chairs sit in pairs with the lemony tables. The half-glazed door leads out on to the landing again, and on the landing is the cupboard where books are stored, and not unlike in Borges’ Library of Babel, the toilet.
But as Bachelard said, one never goes downstairs from the attic.
Modernity & Nostalgia, the Domestic Exotic
Alec Walker’s print designs, based on his paintings of rural Cornwall, are unsentimental in their semi-abstracted appearance and brush-like strokes. The pastoral patterns are at once modern, familiar and feminine. With pattern names conjuring visions of West Cornwall, such as Godrevy, St. Michael’s Mount, Fairy Glade and Cornish Farm, the designs were naïvely abstracted visions of pastoral landmarks, real and imagined. Railway advertising had prompted a significant rise in the numbers of visitors to Cornwall after 1904, and the ‘Cornish Riviera’ was compared favourably with Italy, despite bearing virtually no resemblance to the Mediterranean. For the most part, ideas of the imagined geography of rural England tended to include only the southern and eastern counties, excluding the wilds of the far South West. The British art-loving public would have already been familiar with the paradigm of images of the Cornish domestic exotic, as perfectly expressed in terms of romantic otherness in a travel guide for west Cornwall from 1928:
If Penzance, St. Ives and the Land’s End were replicas of Blackpool, Yarmouth or Margate, it would be folly to expect anyone to travel so far for what can be obtained near at hand by residents of London, the Midlands and the great northern towns. To visit Cornwall is to travel beyond the pale of the commonplace, into practically another country. It is characteristic of all the county that though it is England it is not of it. It is often forgotten that Cornwall is practically an island […] the wide sweeping river Tamar cutting it off from the rest of England.
[…] Cornwall is a county of romance, and has been less touched by the commercial spirit of the age than any other part of England. Less than sixty years ago the old passenger-vans took nearly four days to reach Plymouth from Penzance, so that it was a rare thing to find visitors crossing the Tamar for the purpose of viewing the Cornish scenery, and thus Cornwall remained a terra incognita to the great majority of Englishmen.
It is England, ‘but not of it’. Cornwall is isolated and removed, ‘practically another country’, which inspires the spirit of adventure, a journey into the unknown, yet is also only half-a-day’s travel from London. Cornwall is England’s unknown county, like the wild primeval subconscious to the familiar conscious of rational England.
The countryside was a focus for illusion and imagination, which went through rapid change in the interwar period, where changes in taxation saw estates being sold off, the emergence of the professional farmer, and difficult economic times with high unemployment. Rural England could be alienating and disturbing, an unfamiliar confrontation with the ancient past, an encounter with the exotic, as Waugh describes in Scoop:
His knowledge of rural life was meagre. […] ‘The country,’ for him, meant what you saw in the train between Liverpool Street and Frinton. If a psychoanalyst, testing his associations, had suddenly said to Mr. Salter the word ‘farm,’ the surprising response would have been ‘Bang,’ for he had once been blown up and buried while sheltering in a farm in Flanders. It was his single intimate association with the soil. It had left him with the admittedly irrational belief that agriculture was something alien and highly dangerous. Normal life, as he saw it, consisted in regular journeys by electric train, monthly cheques, communal amusements and a cosy horizon of slates and chimneys; there was something unEnglish and not quite right about ‘the country’, with its solitude and self sufficiency, its bloody recreations, its darkness and silence and sudden, inexplicable noises; the kind of place where you never knew from one minute to the next that you might not be tossed by a bull or pitch-forked by a yokel or rolled over and broken up by a pack of hounds.
The idea of Cornwall develops as a series of binary oppositions which serve to emphasise the differences between rural and metropolitan, ancient and modern, savage and sophisticated, and serve to ‘reinforce a concept of Englishness that privileges the South East’. This alienation combines with the reification of a fictitious past to create Cornwall as ‘domestic exotic’.  Daphne du Maurier’s novel Jamaica Inn capitalises on this view of a Cornish other as an imagined place of romance and adventure, setting the pretty and domestic of Helford against the rugged wilds of Bodmin Moor, as the adventurous heroine remembers her childhood home in a moment of nostalgic reverie.
She thought of the lane that led to Helford village, how it twisted and turned and wound suddenly to the water’s edge, while the ducks paddled in the mud before the turn of the tide, and a man called to his cows from the field above.
Walker’s paintings and textile designs for Cryséde capture something of this dichotomy, the imagined pastoral ideal, with familiar motifs and tourist landmarks that appear to float within an abstracted landscape of fierce windswept trees and high waves, tiny lighthouses and uncannily disproportionate figures. Designs such as St. Hilary capture du Maurier’s romanticised vision of rural village life, with curved and sweeping lanes, little cottages and domestic animals, metonymic symbols of an idealised Cornwall. This contrasts with Margate, one of Clissold’s designs for Footprints, which features a seaside scene that is the opposite of the wild and deserted Cornish beaches. It is the strand at Margate, packed with daytrippers and holidaymakers, picnics and Punch and Judy, and provides a more familiar view of the domestic seaside resort that contrasts with the exotic emptiness of the west Cornwall coast.
Contemporary artists living and working in Cornwall, many of whom were friends of the Walker family, like the Procters and Harveys, took the same visual tropes of the Cornish landscape and rural life as subjects for painting.
 Chris Thomas, See Your Own Country First: The Geography of a Railway Landscape, Ella Westland, (Ed.), Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, Patten Press, Penzance, 1997 pp. 107-128.
 St. Ives, Carbis Bay, Penzance, Land’s End, Illustrated Guide Book, Ward, Lock & Co. London 1928 pp. 27-28.
 Christopher Bailey, Progress and Preservation: The Role of Rural Industries in the Making of the Modern Image of the Countryside, Journal of Design History, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1996), p. 36.
 Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, Penguin London 2000, pp. 26-27.
 Helen Hughes, A Silent, Desolate Country: Images of Cornwall in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Ella Westland, (Ed.), Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, Patten Press, Penzance 1997 p. 69.
 Chris Thomas, 1997 p.120
 Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn, Arrow Books London 1992, p. 70.
The idea of the summer holiday was instilled in the middle-classes, with most employed getting a week or two of paid time off work, and as the train journey from Paddington to Penzance now took a reasonable six and a half hours, more and more middle class people were venturing as far as west Cornwall on holiday. Although ’s silks and gowns never functioned explicitly as souvenirs of the county, and thanks to an efficient distribution system, could be bought as far a field as Australia, without the need to ever travel to the wilds of west Cornwall, it could be argued that Walker’s designs represent a continued commodification of the region. They projected the image of a romanticised primitive retreat from modernity, which offered an escape to a simpler way of life separated from the speed of urban existence that begins with the painted representations of Cornish life by the original Newlyn School of artists in the dying years of the nineteenth century, and is continued both in the craft production of copper, pottery and enamel jewellery. Cultural products in turn produce an idea of culture, one bound up and reinforced by the site of production.
The world, along with the Empire, began to shrink for middle class women as travel abroad became more accessible and available. The bohemian and artistic circles attracted to the freedom offered by the wildness on the edges of the English Riviera began to travel with greater frequency to the French Riviera, which also offered golf, tennis and swimming, but also sunshine and glamour in greater quantities. The exotic beyond British shores became more familiar to the less glamorous and bohemian too, from society pages and novels, where even the ‘poor’ Mrs. Wilkins in The Enchanted April, wife of a thrifty solicitor, could save enough from her dress allowance to rent an Italian villa for a month. Equally, Agatha Christie’s characters travel widely. Light notes:
Travel books are not like travel guides intended for bona fide travellers – rather they are armchair romances for the stay-at-homes. Christie’s detective fiction, itself reading for leisure, must have been doubly appropriate for holiday reading.[…] From being a place known only as part of the empire, ‘abroad’ is amorphously exotic whilst at the same time being reassuringly familiarised. […] Abroad was being imagined as a place for consumption and leisure, a home from home.
Cryséde’s catalogue for summer 1931 (see illustration 2.2) speaks to both the armchair traveller, and the visitor to the South of France in its promotion of hand-printed linen beachwear:
Printed by hand in original and very distinctive designs, Cryséde have again taken and kept the lead in these wonderful Linen Coats and Frocks. So very different and so unlike anything seen elsewhere, they have captured even the imagination of the French.
Seen last year in other designs along every water’s edge from Le Touquet to the Lido, they are proving more popular than ever in 1931.
This statement contains an interesting ambiguity, both declaring the class-based leisure activities of the imaginary Cryséde customer and a provocation to the aspirational buyer, whilst the use of ‘Lido’ – presumably the Venice Lido – could also be referring to the less glamorous popular outdoor bathing pools in Britain, of which several were built during the interwar period to meet the demands of modernist healthful ideals, such as the Jubilee Pool at Penzance in 1936. So the domestic exotic is available to the female consumer, whether she holidays in glamorous resorts of the continent or the poolside of the newly built lido. Cryséde is desired and admired even by the French, suggesting that Walker’s designs are so fashionable that they are equal to the designers of Paris.
The culture and politics of place are embodied in Cryséde’s fabric itself, in which intertextual threads of nostalgia and fictive history were printed on to the surfaces of silk. The designs serve to emphasise the site of production, creating a double-layered reification of place and identity. Motifs such as St. Michael’s Mount, Newlyn Harbour, and Godrevy Lighthouse, are specific and defined, metonymic representations of Cornwall. The Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge and Chinese junks signify affluence, adventure and travel, both domestic and exotic.
Susan Stewart asserts that:
[t]he double function of the souvenir is to authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and, at the same time, to discredit the present. The present is either too impersonal, too looming, or too alienating compared to the intimate and direct experience of contact which the souvenir has as its referent. […] The nostalgia of the souvenir plays in the distance between the present and an imagined, prelapsarian experience, experience as it might be ‘directly lived’. The location of authenticity becomes whatever is distant to the present time and space; hence we can see the souvenir as attached to the antique and the exotic.
The souvenir becomes a way of negotiating the complex present, mitigating alienation and taking refuge in nostalgia. Cryséde’s vibrant pastoral fabrics perform the function of the souvenir, a corporeal external display of modernity that allows the wearer to escape the alienating present and take refuge in the nostalgia of the intimate of the domestic exotic.
The pain of the past is sublimated by unsentimentality, diverting and deflecting real emotion and real appearances into an imagined pastoral that refuses to negotiate with modernity. It is not surprising that following a period of great loss, that the pastoral has such an appeal in exchange for the real past:
[i]t has often been said that the pastoral mode wins its reflective qualities only at the price of an inability to deal concretely with cultural reality, as the author takes refuge from complex cultural problems in evocations of an imagined, simpler realm.
It is the search for the authentic, the handmade, the exclusive craft object which favours Cryséde’s designs, like the adventurous tourist seeking an exotic and authentic adventure, the fashionable modern woman seeks to be different from her peers, yet not so unfamiliar that her appearance is alienating.
The catalogue of 1931 depicts on its front cover a full-page aerial photograph of St. Ives, the square white block of the Cryséde factory ringed for the benefit of the reader. The contrast between the ultramodern format of the image and its subject, a fishing village in a pastoral landscape, speaks concurrently of technology, modernity and speed, yet also crafts, tradition and slowness. Its concomitant text reinforces the dichotomy of the domestic exotic, echoing the narrative of du Maurier, of smuggling and salty seadogs, of a place on the periphery, at the edge of the world resting precariously between land and sea. The text extends an invitation for tourists to visit the factory, which by this time was running tours for visitors conducted by members of the factory’s staff.
St. Ives… Home of Cryséde Silks
St. Ives! What romance and history is associated with the name. The fishermen of this little port have always been famous for their seafaring skill and boldness; in bygone days even smuggling was not unheard of.
Many artists have transferred its beauties to canvas and so made it one of the best known parts of Cornwall. To many, St. Ives is linked with Cryséde Silks and it is fitting that such delightful materials should be produced in an old building, the latterly modernised, on the Island, St. Ives.
This building is enclosed in a white ring in the photograph above; bounded by the old harbour and the open sea.
We shall be pleased to welcome visitors to St. Ives at Cryséde, to show them examples of our work and some of the unique processes which Cryséde undergoes in order that it may attain its ultimate loveliness and charm.
The blend of the old and the new, tradition and modernity is described in the promotion of the catalogue’s copy, romanticising the factory and underlining an alternative function as a tourist destination, as if it were a craft workshop.
The mode of viewing from the air distances and separates, confines and controls the wild landscape. The patterns themselves speak of the domestic exotic in prints that are aerial views of Cornwall and further afield. The rusticity of Welsh Hill Farm is defined by its goat and traditional Welsh costume hat, London Pride by the image of London Bridge. Eiffel Tower is the essence of Paris in its most famous cultural landmark, and Chinese Junks shows the romance of the orient in a panoply of little boats. Again, these are representations of romanticised and essentialised notions of place, functioning to reduce landscapes to simple motifs, like picture postcards. Like the photograph on the cover of the catalogue, the prints take an aerial view of their subjects, reducing them to tiny cottages and miniature people. They are separated by the camera’s lens, distorted and compressed by distance, as if viewed from an aeroplane. In this way the ancient motifs of landscape and tradition are distanced and separated, framed by modernity. The domestic exotic landscape becomes the domesticated exotic, transformed by compression and miniaturisation.
According to Stewart, the transcendent viewpoint implied by the miniature ‘erases the productive possibilities of understanding through time. Its locus is thereby the nostalgic.’ Whilst she is referring here to the landscape of the amusement park or the historical reconstruction, it could be argued that Cornwall, in its role as tourist destination, functions as both, the landscape marking ‘nostalgic allusions to interiority and fictiveness.’ So the very modern aerial view by miniaturising the landscape paradoxically creates a nostalgic narrative of place which makes the modern more familiar.
Compared with the grounded and land based viewpoint taken by traditional toiles du Jouy, or Dufy’s prints, the viewpoint offered in Cryséde designs could be seen as a modern way of looking. It can be seen in many other designers’ work of this time. Footprints’ Welwyn Garden City gives a bird’s eye view of the patchwork urbanity, as does Ruth Reeves Metropolis, to which the miniaturisation of the suburban or the city is most appropriate to confine and familiarise the image of modernity. Technological advances in aerial photography made in the Great War led to cultural advances in image-making, in turn giving people a new way of seeing the world, a new viewpoint, which gives artists and makers a new creative eye.
The flattening of the picture (or pattern) plane and the style of the brushstrokes is suggestive also of the exotically fashionable orient, an anglicized version of Chinese or Japanese art, which had of course also been an influence on French design. This connotation creates an impression of layers of exoticism from the orient, via France, to England. (Walker never travelled abroad apart from Paris, so it is possible that prints such as Koyoko, Coral Island and Samoa, in addition to those already mentioned, were realised from copies of photographs. )
The tension between the domestic and exotic is evident also of Walker’s initial designs. Polly Walker relates the story of events of the evening of Walker’s return from Paris, as witnessed by her uncle. Having spent the trip sketching and encouraged by Dufy’s advice to create his own designs, Walker was so filled with creative vigour that upon seeing the table laid for dinner he refused to allow anyone to touch the food until he had completed a sketch of the scene. This became Lobster Supper, the lobster a signifier of luxury, affluence and exclusivity as well as representing lobster pots, fishermen and a middle-class view of rustic peasantry, and features in many of the St. Ives Society of Artists paintings. The lobster is at once a sign of continuity of tradition, of lack of change and the passage of time, and yet also of modernity, expensive and exclusive restaurants, momentary indulgence.
 Catherine Horwood, Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars, Sutton, Stroud 2005 p.79.
 St. Ives, Carbis Bay, Penzance, Land’s End, Illustrated Guide Book, Ward, Lock & Co. London 1928, p. 12.
 Melbourne Argus, 2nd February 1921.
 Chris Thomas, 1997 p. 121.
 Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April, (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1922; Pocket Books Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1993) p. 77.
 Alison Light, 1991, p. 90.
 Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
 Susan Stewart, On Longing, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 1993, p. 133.
 Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft. Berg, New York 2008, p.104.
 Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
 Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.
 Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.
 Lesley Jackson 2002 p. 74.
 Interview with Polly Walker, 17th February 2009, Penzance.
Mobile Participatory Theatre?
Multimodal Partipatory Performance?
So, what exactly is this medium of performance? How do I describe it? Is it possible to come up with a term that describes its specificity, yet at the same time conveys the multiplicity of modes and levels of performance? To fall back on the term of ‘happening’ is vague and rather describes a historical moment in performance, and although this kind of participatory performance owes something to what has gone before, it is far removed from the somewhat chaotic and haphazard nature that the word suggests. ‘Participatory Theatre’ encompasses something of what is expected of the audience, placing an emphasis on the active mode of the ‘participant’ rather than passive role of the ‘spectator’.
I don’t think the title of mobile participatory theatre is really adequate. I think it is something more specific. ‘Subtlemob’ is a great term, but refers specifically to the mode in which Duncan Speakman/subtlemob works, a term belongs really only to them.
Interestingly, when you type ‘mobile participatory theatre’ into Google, subtlemob.com is the second link, after a somewhat dry article about the ethics of participatory theatre in higher education. Participatory theatre is just too blunt and simplistic a term, and is often used to describe performances in which the audience have little real involvement or impact, and is instead describing theatre events or performances simply where the mode of spectating is unusual rather than actually requiring the audience to actually interact.
I dislike the use of mobile, as I feel it is misleading, and the definition has to be qualified: is it mobile as in movement, or mobile as in device? Both are relevant, and it could mean either or both of those. As such, I think this is a problematic term, at least as far as specificity is concerned, and for the adequate communication of a set of ideas associated with that term. Perhaps that is part of the issue. Is it the format, the medium itself which is difficult to define? Perhaps it would be useful to establish a list of positive or negative attributes by which we might then attempt to better describe (in order to communicate, explain and share, rather than to define, exclude, confine) what this artform/medium is and isn’t.
There are members of the public.
There are performers.
Most or all of the performance is in real-time.
There is some kind of choreography or orchestration, game plan or controlling element that co-ordinates the movements of the participants.
There is a narrative.
Participatory defines the ‘player’s’ role as active, not passive, and suggests that they have agency and can influence outcomes.
Mixed reality suggests that there are virtual as well as real worlds.
Augmented reality is seeing the world through a virtual lens.
Mobile suggests both a device and a mode of performance.
Player is a better term than audience, participant etc. as it underlines their active role, and emphasises the ludic nature of the experience.
Participatory theatre/sound performance using headphones is a new language of performance that people are unfamiliar with, requiring more than a brief explanation to really get across how it works and what it feels like. This is also problematic when advertising a performance, to let people know what they’re letting themselves in for, without at the same time giving too much away.
We’re not sure if we know yet, but this is what we think it might be . . .
Imagine walking through a film, but it’s happening on the streets you live in
Subtlemobs usually happen in public spaces
This is music composed for those spaces
This is about trying to make films without cameras
It’s about integrating with a social or physical space, not taking it over
The audience listen on headphones, a mix of music, story and instructions
Sometimes they just watch, sometimes they perform scenes for each other
A subtlemob is not a flashmob
try to remain invisible . . .
I think the idea of the cinematic that suggested here is interesting. Watching and participating at the same time. It’s an immersive experience, and by being on headphones, separates the participant from their immediate surroundings. And yet, it also creates a hyper-awareness of present reality. It’s phenomenological, a stepping outside of reality whilst at the same time creating a more profound experience of that reality. Perhaps cineastic is a term that also describes the partipatory nature of making a performative experience.
The creation of narrative around the reality of immediate experience sets up a duality of time and space. The Player is immersed in two different realities, the ‘game’ or ‘narrative’ space, and real space, as well as the different time ‘zones’ of it being both now and ‘in the moment’. Guy Debord suggests that technology distances and separates, and people wearing headphones and replacing the dull drone of banality with a soundtrack is something that can be seen everyday on streets and trains and buses, people walking to the soundtracks of their own lives. but if as Debord suggests, ‘the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images’, then Speakman’s subtlemobs create a social relation between people mediated by sound and narrative
To continue to examine this kind of performance in relation to Situationism,the Australia-based pvi collective describe themselves as a:
tactical media arts group who produce interdisciplinary artworks that are intent on the creative disruption of everyday life. every artwork aims to affect audiences on a personal and political level and is geared towards instigating tiny revolutions.
This is more of a detournement, an intervention in the everyday with an explicitly political intention. Their work is still scripted and choreographed, and necessarily organised, however, but as the particpants haven’t necessarily actively chosen to be involved it requires flexibility to react to the way in which people respond to the work.
Multimodal Mixed Reality performance?
Immersive Mixed Reality Experience
- Click for curtain-up: technology and theatre (guardian.co.uk)
- How can smaller companies do a Punchdrunk with their experimental theatre? (guardian.co.uk)
- Networked and participatory education (smlxtralarge.com)
- Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age – EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER (edr.sagepub.com)