From July to August 2013, I wove 'Dark Hedges'.
One year later we arrive 'At The Edge of The World', a new body of work, of which 'Silver Shore' is my first piece. In the past few journal posts, you'll have learnt that the basic form of that work actually borrows its essential constructs from this new one, arriving later, but beginning before.This journal post too began before the others, and I'm posting it now, accepting that only the piece itself can tell you all of its story, and the best I can do is introduce it.
What is now 'At The Edge of The World' began in earnest in 2012 with two concepts, a vision of 'drowning in enough' - a metaphor for God's overwhelming grace, surrender to the sufficiency of that grace, and acceptance of the sufficiency of us as we are [made acceptable by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross] - which was paired with a new approach to weaving -Instead of developing collections, I began to arrange orchestral compositions to be played out on the loom.
The essential difference is that the individual works don't come from points selected from an already known arc. I don't start with the end-point and work backwards as you do with the construction of a collection. Instead, as each piece morphs into the greater body of work, it resolves itself in an arc from which I learn something that I could never have imagined or known had I not set out to go beyond my imagination, putting all the material I had spent years developing into the very first piece.
Back when I was still in college, and halfway through a soul-searching body of work in which I was branching out into several strands of exploration and expression, I met a talented Belfast musician called Brian Houston who gave me some great advice when I revealed my fear at selling the work that meant the most to me. "That big idea that you're holding onto as your most precious? The one you're saving for your grand finale? Open with it, Sell it, and go beyond." This is something that we don't see enough in music, where albums are constructed around that big single, or in art, where collections are grouped around the masterpiece, or fashion collections, where the commercial work is derived from the 'signature piece'.
In art college, collections were described to us as being like families, in that they have much in common, sharing the same 'DNA', but each of the 12 or so pieces in a full collection ought be distinct from one another and yet obviously created by the same person at the same time. This are the directional pieces that we see on the catwalk, which will be diluted farther down ultimately bearing little resemblance to the vast commercial collections you'll find in a store. Ultimately this isn't anything like a family at all, in that everything is decided from what already exists, and nothing new or unknown is born.
2007/8: In Search of The Visual Song; 028-9023 2471; Unexpected Flowers; Behind the Line; Why Not? R.
Some strands were heavily expressive, worked itself out in ink and glue, applied with brushes, knives; controlled and uncontrolled drips, forming series of inner self-portraits; loose poems, structured songs. There was one utterly raw strand to this , sprayed and dripped from a ladder onto 18" x 13" panels with paint, glue, rose petals, die, salt, crystals & lacquer in multiple layers with stencils [of letters, flowers & thorns] and structures on some layers, others looking more like astral explosions... One layer on each panel was a letter, not always visible, and underneath all the layers on each panel I pencilled a note. When assembled they asked a question. I hung it for assessment, and later burnt it to destroy it.
At the other end of a spectrum between the raw and refined in the same body of work was a restrained composition, 12 moments in the same form-factor, a 12-inch 'Willow Pattern' dinner plate. The mind tricks the eye into taking shortcuts when we see familiar forms. Hiding in plain sight allowed me to 'hide' personal stories, a collision of the physical and the relational, both in repeating pattern and in iconographic motifs. Some designs were digitally printed, others were entirely hand drawn, or even hand-painted, but then photocopied and displayed alongside the digitally developed ones so that their surfaces couldn't be told apart. In this way, the dialogue between the person creating the art and the person experiencing it is encrypted, but if the viewer knows what to look for, they hold the key.
In popular culture 'a good artwork' is essentially perceived to be something done by hand that could be done by a machine, as in, realistic reprography. In the art world, 'good art' is about the idea and the expression more than the craft of execution, and for something to catch the eye of an educated cynic, it must also arouse their imagination and curiosity.
It's possible to trick both groups, by creating the 'concept' after the fact of 'execution', and just churning out products, leaving the storytelling to the marketing department. I've always wanted to do something different. When I moved to weaving, I spent the first five years distilling place, and only in the past year and a half have I begun to incorporate the deeply personal stories and concepts you see in my journals into my scarves. What I've learnt from journalling the more personal expressions is that I forgot to tell people what to look for in the pieces that I wove about 'place'.
In some ways, true art allows the viewer to decide its meaning, but in other ways, by understanding the meaning the artist intended, they can learn to be artists themselves, they can see the process of idea creation rather than just product creation, and there's no need for marketing or PR, they have the rosetta stone in front of them and can enter into the story.
The fashion industry often has so little to do with creation and creativity in terms of what actually hits the shelves, there's nothing truly timeless, and in fact there are no longer even just two seasons. There's now so many collections each year that really it's very hard for the essential marination and formation of concepts to even take place, let alone find itself translated into product, and that's why it's so important to me that I develop work that can be true to its own story, which of course involves pushing the technical aspects of production quite far, so that what's resolved in the product is a true distillation of what you see in these journals.
In the 'art industry', the easiest way to demonstrate the conceptual expressive side of a project is to remove its function, but art has a function too - to inspire and elevate - and if we can combine both the pleasure of consuming design (product of function) as well as art (product of concept), we can liberate art from the sanitised and staid confines of galleries and museums. What many do when they want to combine fashion and art is simply print images onto silk dresses or cotton t-shirts, but that doesn't make it timeless. Prints fade and blur, and are often only on the surface. In my woven work I embed the stories in the interactions of the structural threads, on a single layer, with a perfect face on both sides. The story cannot be removed from the piece.
'At The Edge of the World' began with those projects from 2007/8 I've discussed here and shown parts of in previous posts, and it's been trying to find its way onto the loom since 2011.
The collection is an evolution of a in two previous projects in 2007/8, and it's something I've been developing since 2011, when I the first piece in a collection I've been working on since September 2012, when I happened upon an Uilleann pipe performance on Henrietta Street for Culture Night. After listening to jigs and reels, I longed for something haunting, for the pipes to come alive and speak aloud in their own true voice, drones, chanters, regulators, and so the piper played a song he said was about a wedding that became a funeral, as the party drowned on a lake, and were laid out then in their beautiful clothes.
As he played, I imagined the pipes accompanied by a full orchestra, and I began to explore the idea of composing pieces in suites, which I started with Dark Hedges a year later, and come back to again here.
and which I . In this collection I return to my beginnings as a weaver - the lough shore of Cultra, where I watched the sunlight dance with the sea, and spent the next two years thirstily learning how to distill that source on a handloom, working these shimmering symphonies of nature into woven cloth.
'Silver Shore' borrows its name from a song by John Mark McMillan, sharing some of the themes and concepts of the song, the idea that we're created to be both right here, and somewhere beyond here too.
Physically we're standing on the shoreline at Cultra - which you've seen before in 'Pebbles on the shore - the frontier of that body of water where the sun and sea danced and inspired my whole interest in weaving and distilling nature into cloth.
This though isn't a distillation of Cultra in the same way as 'Pebbles on The Shore'.
Instead it marks the embarkation on my own 'The Brendan Voyage' a journey from 'quies', that safe frontier, to the edge of the known world. History narrates the Brendan Voyage as the discovery of a new world, but for those brave navigators setting out from the shore, travelling out into all the world, they could never have known what lay beyond the horizon.
Stripped of colour, and woven only in grey and white, Silver Shore does something incredible, it literally takes on the quality of water in reflecting its surroundings.