Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Final Module Results - oh my word!

Our results were published today, so as soon as I woke up at 5.30 am, I went on line to find out how the marking went.  First Sitting mark (prior to moderation by Examination Board) -  82%!  How good is that?

I worked very hard for this module, and I think that when I am frustrated with myself, I am very tiresome.  But it has all paid off and I am very pleased with the result.  My Mum has not been here for 13 years now, but she would have been proud of me.

So now it is time to reflect on the whole process and maybe share the learning points with the second years.  So in no particular order:

Practice staging your work, privileging the best pieces, and taking the idiosyncracies of your room and your position within it into account.

Allow plenty of time to stage work, so the inevitable problems do not stress you out.

When planning your semester's work, include a week's down time at the end as a contingency plan, so that if you are ill for a week, you can still hit the deadline.

Let the development work be fun.  I had a copy of Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal, which I completed to the theme "My Mother's Work" focussing on jam making as I received it at that time of year.  It made a lovely sketchbook, and I very much like it as an object in its own right, because I had fun making it.

Use knowledge gained from all modules in the Final Major Project.  I was the only person who wrote artist statements for each collection, and submitted it for assessment in the final module.  This is how I explained the concept of each collection, which I think made the work more powerful.  I am uncomfortable with my face on the artist statement, so I used photos of my hands working on each piece, as it reinforces the manual nature of My Mum's role, and the hand worked content of each piece.  We learned about artist statements, photography and self promotion in Enterprise &Employability which was an excellent, well taught module, yet I appear to have been the only person to apply it in the final module.  The only thing I think I could have done better was how I used my 1950s dress.  I chose not to submit it for assessment, as it is a marketing tool to associate me with my work at Private View and New Designers.  I did not want it to appear as a fashion application for my ideas, staged on a mannequin.  However, I could have put a luggage label on it, stating it was a marketing tool, and folded it on top of the box of samples.  This would have shown further analysis, and an understanding that customers are buying more than the item - you, as the maker, are part of the product.

Work as a team and critique each other's work.  Practice using appropriate academic language to state what goes well/badly with each other's work, and suggest solutions.  Be encouraging, accept peaking and troughing as normal and overcome the words "I don't know" as an answer.

Make sure you have a concept and really chew over what it is, that you want to say.  It is normal and acceptable for this to take ages.  

Accept that the stress of exhibiting deadlines produces the best work.

Refine your analytical skills.  Constantly look at things and exhibitions and ask questions.  Go to a wide variety of exhibitions (not just "your" subject).  Have an A5 exhibition book (this is the best piece of advice Vanda gave me). On 2 facing pages only, note the exhibition title, date, venue.  Draw something.  Look at the subject matter, staging, lighting, layout, order of works.  Note your opinion of what you looked at. Note ideas you had, that in any way related to your work.  Buy one postcard and attach in an original way to the page (I am a stitcher, so I use lots of different ways of sewing).  Be critical and apply your thoughts to your work.  

Keep a blog and chew over anything you are considering.  Blind alleys are part of the creative process, and show development.  If not used in the current project, they will be useful at a later date.

Be aware our degree is Contemporary Applied Art.  It is not fashion, product design, or commercial textile print.  Contemporary means it is of our age.  I found this difficult to understand and still struggle to define it.  Historical issues can influence our work but we should not do a historical representation.  Our degree is about Art applied to something - and we use the forms of textile, ceramic, glass and jewellery.  Therefore we need to do a lot of art.  I found it strange that I did not do an art class at UH, as part of the degree, but have the resource and motivation to do this outwith the university.

Read the verifiers feedback from previous years.  And use it.  This is how I realised the importance or documenting my artist research, and making it clear which artists influenced each of my pieces of work.  I wrote their names on the cover of the research folder, to make it easy for the verifiers to see who influenced me.  

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Private View

All the way through this course, I have learned things at unexpected times.  I was very wound up about the catering for the Private View as our organisation was a complete shambles, but comment from Vanda proved completely true - guests came to see our work, not to be fed at a buffet!    The food became almost an irrelevance, although it was all eaten, and my cakes went down a treat!

We saw the External Verifiers before the show and they said our show was the best in the last 3 years, and the student work had improved greatly since mid semester review, when we were all very negative.  They asked what we thought we had learned, and I said I had discovered I was a thinker, not a maker.  Freddie, the verifier from the RA, looked very surprised at this.  Later Lisa reminded me that Freddie is a knitter (who works in bold colour), and given I had 5 complex knitted pieces on display, she might have found evidence that I am an advance knit maker.  However, I know my thinking skills have developed a lot on the Contemporary Applied Art course, whereas my making skills have developed far less.

The Private View went extraordinarily well.  I wore my red 1958 dress, made from my kitchen utensil fabric, and it got a lot of attention.  I was surprised at how pleased I was that my 5 guests turned up and really looked at everything!  My friend, Pat, from the swimming pool, enjoys modern art, and I expected her to understand the work, but I was very surprised when Wendy and Alan, our retired dentist, cycling, friends made some very perceptive remarks about the varying amount of concept in different people's work.  Kitty's work is challenging but strong on concept, and they grasped what she was doing.  My brother and his wife came along and spent a lot of time looking at my work, did not really get the concept, but thought I depicted our Mum's work in some strange ways, but liked the fact that I chosen her as the theme.  I was also very pleased that former students took the time to attend, as they were interested to see what subsequent students had chosen to represent and in what way.  It was a celebration.

I also found out that NAFDAS (National Association of fine and Decorative Art Societies) had visited our show and asked our tutors to nominate students for Most Improved Student, and Best In Show.  Rosie, who worked on the theme of fire and ice, for jewellery got the Most Improved Student award (£50) and I was given Best in Show (£100!) for My Mother's Work.  When presented with the cheque, I said I would spend it on a day out with my sister-in-law, who cares for her Mum who has Alzheimer's.  We would have a day in London: go to the Tate in the morning, pick up some lunch, the go to a matinee theatre, and be home in time for her Mum coming back from a day's respite care.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Staging the Show

As usual it took far longer than expected to stage the show.  It took me 6 days.

I went a day early, while the show build was taking place, and discovered the magnets I planned to use to suspend my coat from the ceiling were too small!  I checked the order, and discovered I had ordered 10 x 3kg magnets, but 20 x 1kg magnets had been supplied.  The original supplier's website was now stating the 3kg magnets were out of stock, so I ordered a couple of 5kg magnets from a different website.  I was more relieved than upset, as at least I had identified the problem while I still had time to resolve it.

On the first day of staging, I discovered going up and down the ladder aggravated my back, so Jim became chief staging assistant and did this part of it for me.   He was an absolute hero, constantly moving the magnets around the metal suspended ceiling bars, in order for the work to hand just right.   It took me a long time to work out which pieces were best displayed in which position, but once this decision was made, I was able to paint grey panels on the wall, in order for the knitted samples and roller towels to show up clearly.

My Mother's Work - Supportive

My Mother's Work - Cyclical (plus me in my matching dress)

My Mother's Work - Unfinished

My Mother's Work - Unending

Most students were quite well organised and by Thursday a lot of them had completed their staging.  Two textile students had a good extensive display, and were going on holiday for a week on Friday as a reward for their organisation and work.  Others had used washing lines to stage their textile work.  The jewellery/ceramic students had laid their work out beautifully.  The glass student spent all week working and communicating diligently to have false walls built with the assistance of the technicians, then put special strong fixings in, and attached her hand-drawn, slumped panels.  She worked very, very hard and it paid off.

However, on the last day, I found it quite fraught.  One student turned up at 1pm on the 5th day of staging, assuming she would just hang her work and go.  We had been told about a month ago that no drilling into the walls was allowed, which gave me a lot of angst until I realised magnet fixings were actually more flexible for staging, and I did not have to use a drill (drills scare me!).  This student discovered she was not allowed to drill into the walls, complained that she had changed her work in order to hang it this way, blamed the tutors and technicians for the problem, cried, then threw a tantrum and started shouting at Antje for not sorting out the studio!  This deteriorated into a first rate row, where  Antje shouted back and said the final degree show was the students' show, and the student's  responsibility to stage it, and turning up on the last afternoon was not acceptable.  At no point did the student seem to accept any of this was down to her.  I found it all very stressful and removed myself from the arena as soon as I could.

This led to me thinking about self directed learning (again).  As a mature student, I have read the university guide, and made myself aware of the university's self directed learning style.  I have frequently railed against it, and moaned about having to find external classes to investigate things that interest me, …… but I have tried to be a good student, and just got on with it.

What I don't understand is: where is the defining line, for what self directed learning should teach?  If we don't teach the subject, should we teach how to learn?  If so, should we be taught how to communicate, how to analyse, how to conduct ourselves with professionalism by showing the appropriate behaviours.  Or is this also to be worked out for ourselves, just by reading the criteria upon which we are assessed?    Some of the seminars I have attended have been truly painful or pointless, depending on your point of view.  Many students do not contribute at all, and I am  not sure whether this is because they are disinterested and bored; stupid; selfish; not prepared to contribute to other people's learning ….  Others appear unable to answer simple probing questions from the tutor and their standard answer to any question about their work is "I don't know".   Surely students should be given feedback that they are being assessed throughout the course on their ability to communicate, so they know they need to buck their ideas up?  Should we be running flip chart sessions on what students need to consider when staging their work?  Should we clarify what planning and organising skills are required to be a professional artist?  Should there be a flip chart session to identify typical questions to ask when working out what goes well/badly in our work so we can self assess?  Or is this also part of the learning that we are expected to find out ourselves?  Even if it leads to our tutors (unfairly) being on the receiving end of temper tantrums?

Another defining line that I am puzzled by, is what is the role of feedback in self directed learning?  I believe strongly that robust feedback is required at every stage of learning, and thought it essential in self directed learning.  I benefitted hugely from the weekly classroom crits at Curtin, even though I found them stressful, often hurtful, and it made me cry on one occasion.  The hurtful stuff was fair comment (unfortunately!).   And you always had a lot of feedback before assessment.  Yet in the UK, we only receive feedback (brief) after assessment.  So this would seem to indicate that feedback is not a part of self directed learning in the UK.  The more I chew it over, the more I seem to be suited to a taught degree.

Having observed the behaviours of fellow students who conducted themselves well during staging, I wonder whether it is their previous work/life experience that gives them a positive, self-reliant attitude.  Two students have spent time working with a self-employed parent (off licence and garden designer).  Each student communicates clearly and is able to articulate their requirements and expectations (in very different ways).  Neither of them blames the tutors for their own shortcomings.   Each student plans and organises her work, by thinking ahead and identifying material and time requirements.  Have they gained these skills by working in the family business?  I suspect so.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

My Mother's Work - Supportive

My Mother's Work - Supportive

A lining to a garment supports and improves the experience of wearing it andextends its life, and is symbolic of the way in which women's work supports,enhances and improves the quality of life for people around them.

The lining on this coat is used as an allegory to the consequences of my Mother'swork.  The wooden spoon used by my Mother, has a worn edge and is warped, from being immersed in boiling jam, during her 42 years of marriage.  Over this time, she made 3,200lbs of jam for the benefit of her family.  While the coat is being worn, the high quality lining is unseen but supportive.  When the coat is removed, the lining is visible and gives voice to both the volume of workcompleted and the impact upon the implement used.

The silk satin lining of this 1960s original coat is designed to give feelings of warmth and affection towards all women who are remembered and recognised for their role in supporting their families.

My Mother's Work - Supportive

My Mother's Work - Cyclical

My Mother's Work - Cyclical

My Mother found being a homemaker to be cyclical in many ways - daily repetition of preparing and clearing up after meals, weekly cycles of cleaning and caring, and annual cycles of preserving and baking for seasonal celebrations.

Within the kitchen, there are many utensils that have a round shape that symbolises the cyclical nature of women's work - mixing bowls, saucepans, plates, cups, colanders, and plug holes.  Manual utensils have been hand drawn and printed on round tea towels.  Cross stitched words link the emotional feeling  of using specific utensils to describe the consequences of cooking processes she carried out, while also  recognising the value of her role and that the cycle continues rotating.
My Mother's Work - Cyclical

My Mother's Work - Unfinished

My Mother's Work - Unfinished

This collection of knitted pieces arose from a conversation in my favourite wool shop.  I was admiring the christening shawl pattern and laceweight wool chosen by a group of Polish ladies, who I discovered were migrant workers.

We were discussing the complicated pattern for the christening shawl and laughing about how long it would take to make.  I said the baby at the centre of the ceremony would be unaware of the time and effort put into making the complicated and delicate knitting.  One of the Polish ladies commented that it was unusual to have someone comment on their skills to be able to make such a shawl, as normally a shawl was admired only when complete, and wrapped around a new baby.  I reflected on how work typically carried out by women, often required high levels of skill, but while incomplete, was unacknowledged.  I also mused on how marginalised and minority people are frequently unrecognised for their skills, and decided to create some knitted pieces, where the most highly skilled work was positioned on a margin, as a border.

These knitted samples celebrate the quiet practice of women, like my Mother, who used their unsung and unrecognised skills for the benefit of others.

My Mother's Work - Unfinished

My Mother's Work - Unending

My Mother's Work - Unending

This collection of roller towels demonstrates the unending nature of women's work.  The roller towels emulate the style of a traditional glass cloth, and the printed words focus on the work involved in cooking.

The first roller towel is a classic length and the printed words describe making a cake.  The second roller towel describes making a shepherds pie and reaches the floor, indicating how repetitive meal making can make a cook feel dragged down.  The last roller towel is about making a lemon merengue, which was her son's favourite pudding, but gives the realisation that my Mother's work was unending!

The embroidered words on the body of work are phrases that my Mother used repeatedly.  She truly believed that "Vegetables need to be cooked thoroughly" and that "Gravy won't be nice without Bisto" and these sayings are celebrated in family storytelling, ensuring her legacy cannot be forgotten!

My Mother's Work - Unending