mixed media

In the Studio: Pierced Paper Experiments

At Dartmouth Avenue there is a vintage industrial felting machine in the mixed media textiles studio. It is traditionally used to felt two pieces of textiles together, but all I could think of was running all kinds of paper through it!

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

My interest lies in testing techniques to create degrees of opacity and translucency with manipulated paper. Piercing paper has been part of my practice through the use of a sewing machine to stitch images and sheets together. Patterns made in the paper as light shines through the piercings have been an unintended but welcomed outcome.

I wanted to see what happens with a less designed approach by simply allowing hundreds of needles to transform the paper. Would it be possible to get a more organic or at least abstract result using this machine?

Since this was a spontaneous set of tests during my induction to the machine with Stephen Daniels, I used three types of paper that I had on hand: sketchpad, vellum, and acetate. They had to be taped end-to-end to form a long enough sheet to safely pass through the needle bed.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

This is a promising start. It seems there is potential to create the effects and feelings that I seek: translucency, veiling, delicacy, vulnerability, impermanence. These initial results are satisfying, so I will continue in this vein. I am also surprised by how beautiful the destruction is from thousands of needle punches, and excited about the potential and application to my work.

For future experiments, I am interested in:

:: creating long sheets that can be draped or hung. I need to source rolls or larger sheets that are already long enough to go through the machine, or that can be attached (sewn, taped, lightly glued/lightly tacked?)

:: trying more types of paper and materials (thicker fine art paper, tissue paper, Tyvek (a synthetic American sheeting used in construction and for disposable hazmat suits), cellophane, handmade paper, plastic sheeting)

:: experimenting with color

:: text—possibly as a way of encoding hidden or secret messages

:: combining papers—run them through as two or more sheets together, layer felted and untreated pieces

:: making larger works —because the machine bed is only 16 inches wide, I will have to attach pieces together once they are felted to build larger pieces (machine stitch, hand-sew)

:: supports and frames—how will I install, suspend, drape, hang and otherwise make use of these materials?

Case Study: Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini

Grayson Perry's exhibition, The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!, at the Arnolfini in Bristol comes at an opportune moment. As students of research methodologies, we couldn't ask for a more accessible example of an artist's research and making process, from start to finish.

This is the second Perry exhibition that I've seen, the first being The Vanity of Small Differences (2016, Victoria Gallery). Then as now, Perry has deployed a repeatable methodology that involves a form of anthropological fieldwork that takes us full-circle from inception to reveal of the finished artwork back to the subjects of his research.

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!  Installation view (2017). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! Installation view (2017). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! felt refreshingly transparent. The work on exhibit is the result of his long-term project, All Man (2016, Swan Films), a documentary that investigated multiple aspects of English society and culture to understand masculinity. Perry admits that he had to overcome his own prejudices, and the impact of a traumatic childhood with a father insensitive to his needs. He coaxes transparency from the people he studies, uncovering deeper emotions beneath their macho behavior. His entire process is transparent - from conception to research through making - by giving us access to his sketchbooks and video footage of him in various socioeconomic groups, in the studio, and video of him discussing the work.

Grayson Perry (2017),  Matching Pair  (detail). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Grayson Perry (2017), Matching Pair (detail). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Perry's research methods sit somewhere between non-participant observation (NPO) and participant observation (PO) (Gray, 2004) starting with a personal struggle or question, then using interviews, observation, participating in group activities, open calls for content via social media; sensitive documentation via photos, video, documentary film, and sketchbooks - all of which make sense and seem quite accessible for conducting research into cultural and social norms.

Grayson Perry (2016),  Death of a Working Hero . Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Grayson Perry (2016), Death of a Working Hero. Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

One of the most powerful outcomes of Perry's process is that he shares the work he makes with the people who inspired it. It feels like a form of ritual, validation and healing for everyone involved, completing the vase or tapestry through the viewers' response to the work. The process seems complete for Perry as he reflects on how what he learned transformed him in relation to the original struggle that inspired his search for answers.

Thank you, Arnolfini and Grayson Perry, for curating this exhibition in a way that makes it highly transparent and extremely relevant for those of us digging our way through learning how to do proper academic research in service of our practice.

References

Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004). Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Swan Films (2016) Grayson Perry: All Man. Available at:http://www.swanfilms.tv/productions/grayson-perry-all-man/ (Accessed: 30 October 2017).

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!, (2017) Arnolfini, Bristol. 27 September - 24 December 2017.

Victoria Gallery (2016) Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences. Available at: https://www.victoriagal.org.uk/events/grayson-perry-vanity-small-differences (Accessed: 30 October 2017).