We take a look back at our interview with Enam Gbewonyo, whose work features in What Lies Beneath – Women, Politics, Textiles.… Decorating Dissidence Podcast – Episode 1: Enam Gbewonyo
Editorial: Bauhaus Continued
For this issue of Decorating Dissidence we wanted to reflect on last year’s centenary of the Bauhaus. Now at 101 years, the celebrations may be over but the movement’s legacy still offers much to be learned, developed and reflected on.… Editorial: Bauhaus Continued
Nisha Ramayya on craft, creation & ritual
Nisha Ramayya is a poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at Queen Mary, University of London. Her recent book, States of the Body Produced by Love was published by Ignota in 2019. We find out more about her process of crafting poetics, the ritualistic elements of language, play, and creation.… Nisha Ramayya on craft, creation & ritual
Spotlight: Xenobia Bailey’s Aesthetic of Funk
Xenobia Bailey’s career is as eclectic and colourful as the spiral crochet patterns that form a key part of her aesthetic. Having studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute, she went on to work as a costume designer for Black Arts West and learnt to crochet at the Greenpoint Cultural society in Brooklyn. Her crochet hats infiltrated pop culture in the 1980s, appearing everywhere from United Colors of Beneton advertisements, and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, to Elle magazine.… Spotlight: Xenobia Bailey’s Aesthetic of Funk
A Doorway In: My Own Way In
As I settled into my new routine, I began to explore the country, visiting Loch Lomond and the Hebrides, the Highlands and Orkney. While I felt such joy in each new place, I still had trouble connecting to the place-specific energy of the land. And so, I developed A Doorway In as a way to reflect upon my relation to this new place and also to experience more deeply the land around me.… A Doorway In: My Own Way In
‘The Event of a Thread’: a recap of Weave It! an exhibition curated by Decorating Dissidence
‘Something speaks to us, a sound, a touch, hardness or softness, it catches us and asks us to be formed’ – Anni Albers, ‘Material as Metaphor’ (1982)… ‘The Event of a Thread’: a recap of Weave It! an exhibition curated by Decorating Dissidence
Exhibition Review: Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism in Britain 1933 – 66
‘Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism in Britain, 1933 – 66’, the exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) offers a glimpse into the 1930s, focusing on the work and influence of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, artist László Moholy-Nagy and designer Marcel Breuer.… Exhibition Review: Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism in Britain 1933 – 66
Editorial 5: The Domestic
‘Home is no longer a dwelling but the untold story of a life being lived.’
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
The praxis and history of craft is intimately intertwined with the domestic. Its domesticity is linked to the status it has long held as a devalued art form: craft is women’s work, a pastime or simply a way of creating decorative items that find their use in the home. Art belongs, we have been told, behind glass cases in galleries and institutions, whereas the products of craft live amongst us in the everyday, at home. However, the fact that the art world is beginning to take notice of craft and value it on its own terms raises questions about how craft enters the gallery space.
If home, as John Berger suggests, is the untold and unseen story of a life, craft weaves itself into this rich interior life of the domestic. Craft objects dwell in familiar everyday spaces. Their materiality records the experiences of our daily lives: the cracked piece of pottery, a frayed blanket, a snagged jumper, these all speak of our intimacy with the objects around us. It works to bring people together in a shared home or community; to think through the threads that connect us to our environment.
There is a long history of silence, untold stories, women and the domestic. Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) installation critiqued the patriarchal erasure of women’s place in the history of civilisation, through a process of domestic labour and craft. Nicole Horgan reviews Patricia Kaersenhout’s community art project Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner Too?, in which the artist expands on and challenges Chicago’s project by inviting 39 black women and women of colour across 2000 years of history to the dinner party. Biographies of women like Queen Amanirenas and activist Marsha P. Johnson are included among the translucent glassware and table runners (made at community ‘stitch-in’ events) at this ‘table of disruption’, offering a new perspective on the canon of art history. Alis Shea discusses Ghada Amer’s Private Rooms, highlighting the tendency to view Amer’s use of embroidery in relation to English sewing practices; in the process, she notes the historical Orientalist fascination with and appropriation of Eastern crafts. Private Rooms, Shea suggests, utilises the domestic craft of embroidery to ‘unite diverse experiences of oppression which occur in both Western and Eastern cultures’.
In this issue on craft and domesticity, motherhood inevitably emerges as a prominent theme. There can be a tedious and time-consuming element to domestic art, with its relentless rituals of washing, cooking, mending, and sweeping. Sarah Cameron reflects on how the crafting of a family home impacts on and speaks to artistic making: in sweepRANT, Cameron laments the ennui the everyday tasks of the domestic, but plays with its ritualistic and repetitive nature to create a poem that weaves together her roles of artist, mother, and homemaker. Cameron reflects on these roles in an accompanying essay, ‘Two Heads, Two Hearts, and the Mother Goddess’. The crossovers between domestic and creative labour and the labour of childbirth are picked up on in Alessandra Leruste’s review of Spilt Milk’s (a Scottish social enterprise that promotes the work of artists who are mothers) recent showcase Re: Birth. Exhibiting artist Laura Ajayi’s We Used to Be So Much Closer – a soft sculpture that evokes the umbilical cord, but which is made from lint collected out of her family’s tumble dryer – reminds us of the interconnected nature of these intimate forms of crafting, creating and making. In this month’s spotlight feature, artist Blandine Martin similarly dismantle narratives of quotidian objects to question and transform their relationship to the domestic. Handwoven tapestries from recycled materials, sand, timber take on a new form; their title – objet sans importance – seems to pose a question, asking us to reassess the roles these items play in our lives and our connections to them.
It is Hull-based artist Ella Dorton who blurs the lines between the gallery, the community, and the domestic with her striking fabric works. In a recent exhibition, she turned the Humber Street Gallery into a space that ‘you could relax, sit down and feel at home in’. Her domestic portraits draw parallels between the ‘worn-out-ness of the fabric’ and the ‘worn-out-ness of peoples’ homes and lives’, using the intimate setting of the interior to explore broader socio-political issues. In an interview with Lottie Whalen, she discusses making art that creates material and conceptual connections between the domestic and the global, situating personal narratives within the context of broader political crises.
The artists and makers in this issue each highlight craft’s potential to shatter cosy notions of domesticity, transforming the home into a site of subversion, activism, and resistance. Appealing to the senses, craft creates intimacy and draws our attention to the embodied experiences of modern life; it opens up a space where the stories of our daily lives collide with global narratives, foregrounding the interconnected nature of our domestic and public worlds.
Interview: Ella Dorton on Craft, Community, and Culture
Hull-based artist Ella Dorton’s fabric portraits creatively capture the unique spirit of the city’s residents, giving a voice to those who have been left behind by society…… Interview: Ella Dorton on Craft, Community, and Culture
sweepRANT by Sarah Cameron
I don’t want to sweep the floor any more
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore
I must have swept it 10 times today
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore.
It’s dull, monotonous, dreary, drab
irksome, humdrum, nut-dummin’ banal.
I havna nothing ‘gainst sweeping per se
I quite like it actually;
but to do it quite as much as I do
steals my intellect, vibrancy, my derring-do –
I wager it would steal yours too.
the tedium of R e p e t i t i on
day in day in again,
shall I say it again?
R e p e t i t i o n
day in day in again.
R E P E T I T I O N
tition Re Tit ion ion Re Tit Tit ion
shall I say it again?
Annoying isn’t it?
That’s what I feel like about the floor.
O the dishes too AND the shopping,
O! Everest o’ Washing
A summit o’ grime
No pristine peak
an’ pennin’ ma name in a HIStory Book
the peggin’ o’ clothes to dry again
foldin’ them makkin’ them neat
pairin’ the socks
seekin’ the space inby the drawers
squeezin’ an’ stuffin’, huffin, puffin’
clenchin’ gr’und teeth
takin’ a breath
overwhelmed wi’ mess
‘shit how to detox this LOT?’
an’ when I think I’ve done it aw
boo hoo No Luck,
it’s to do aw over when I look up.
The filin’ o’ plates in the machine
that washes them clean
until they’re dirty aw over again!
The Dinner Breakfast Snacks
the Lunches packt,
shoppin’ again, the sweeping, the SWEEPING
the guilt I’m chucking stuff oot we should be EATIN’!
Evidently I’m no employing The Brain
I should be using
to be choosing
to do things
Regurgitate an’ spew it oot!
Clean it up, aw that muck!
For do you know it’s what I do
‘lang wi billion other wummen too?
Day in day oot, shakin’ oor brains aboot,
sloosh oot, OOT our Ears!
BRAINS spill through drains
ratatat on pot an’ pans
splatter stairs, squirt the sink
plop plop in stew, the bin too, the cat food,
spew atop the grimy floor,
doon the grubby uncleaned Loo…
Oh Sisyphus I am not
heavin’ a rock
it tumbles in punishin’ cycle.
My liver is intact,
not ramshed, re-growed an’ ramshed once mair
by Eagle beak an’ hungry claw.
Not Tantalus I
nor Ixion spun in perpetuity
on flaming wheel …whit destiny!
Alas, Mythical status is not afforded Wummen’s Daily Chores.
No tale will be wrote o’ bakin’ a pie,
stitchin’ a rip, plumpin’ a pillow
sloppin’ wairm milk intil mashed potato –
though certes it’s mythical in its endlessness, ness, ness
indeed I empathise wi’ Sisyphus…
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
For they are Men
An’ wumman are nowhere near the same
A Bloke’s sufferin’ is Monumental
Wummans’ only Temperamental
Downright screechingly Hysterical!
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
I do not bleed or burn
I’m just fed up o’ sweepin’ the floor
I’ve done it so many times afore
I don’t want to do it anymore.
I don’t want to do it again.
Two Heads, Two Hearts, and the Mother Goddess
I’m a Fraud. I’m a sometime-artist. A sometime-performer. A sometime-writer. A sometimer. Sometimes I’m a non-artist, a non-performer, a non-writer. A non-body. A Nobody. In spite of this lack of entity and identity, an artist is what I am. It’s my safe space. Without my art I’m adrift in dark and deep choppy seas. Defeated. Inert. A Dead Soul.
I’m also a Mother. A full-time Mother. Sometimes, a sometime Mother. A non-Mother, too. A Fraud. NB I put Artist before Mother! Gasp! The Guilt! “What does that mean?” hisses the judging She-Critic in my head, “A BAD Mother? Certainly neither properly Artist nor properly Mother” the cruel critic adds, spitefully.
The truth is I’ve always felt a Fraud. I’ve heard a lot of women feel similarly. I feel especially tricky about myself because I’m a Jack of All Trades Artist – a Sculptor by training, inclination and spirit but a performer too – also a writer, or am I more of a poet? I draw and make installations; after making a short film some years back & continuing to make filmic sketches, I intend to make at least one feature in my life. Sculpture is my language even though I no longer traditionally sculpt. Everything I put my hand to is mapped in 3d form, at least in my own bonkers head; the words I write are dynamic and invisible 3d energy-bombs that shape at your ear & explode, only alive when they quit the flat page; my performances are vigorous, animated lines and planes that move through and beyond space. (Blimey, I’m thinking to myself, no wonder I feel like a Fraud). I don’t fit into a BOX. Once, on moaning to my flatmate about my Jack of all Trades-ness, a woman who was queuing in front of me for a coffee turned to me and with striking generosity of spirit she said, “Sounds to me like you’re a Renaissance Woman.” I was gobsmacked. And chuffed! It was easier to belittle myself than to consider I might be skilled at more than one thing. I never got to thank her but I’ve never forgotten her.
After having my first child, I discovered to my horror that I wasn’t seen as a woman anymore or even an individual, certainly not an artist – only, Mother. Society defined me by Motherhood and little else, at least when my bairns were wee; it came as a huge shock even although deep down I’d known what to expect. When the blue-line had screamed ‘Pregnant’ I fixed my joyful partner’s gaze and hissed, “Don’t ever make me give up my Art.” I’d never been more serious about anything in my life. But I wasn’t really talking to him. I understood our patriarchal world too well. Motherhood should empower us; instead our sterile and soulless society degrades, diminishes and shackles us. Consequently approaching Motherhood filled me with anguish. I was in peril, in mortal danger, an existential force threatened to annihilate me. I was petrified I’d go mad. Making art keeps me Alive. Without it I couldn’t possibly survive – the life raft gone, what would I cling to? I would drown and take my innocent baby with me.
For a while I lived in the dark, choppy seas. After Babe was born, strapped about my heart or snuggled in (my nemesis) The Pram aka The Prison – I became the property of many. My mother, who’d once told me I’d never have children because I was too selfish (in reference to my being an artist I presume?) was either censorious or absent, my mother-in-law berated and undermined me, near everyone else felt they had the right to chastise and scrutinise. The interventions happened on the street, on the bus and tube, at the shops, on the beach even; places where I’d hitherto been joyously free to contemplate and cogitate became war-zones, “Your baby’s too warm!” or “Is your baby alive?’ or “Put a hat on your child! or “You’re an irresponsible and stupid Mother!” The scowls, tuts and sidelong glances were equally demoralising and draining. Not only was I in mortal combat with my own demon, I was assaulted everywhere I went by a She-Chorus of disapproving and cruel faultfinders! On one occasion an older woman attacked me with such vitriol that she stunned a whole shop into silence – to this day I’ve no idea what I’d done to offend her; as a wise hag now, I know it was always only ever her issue – point one finger at me, point three at yourself. My Inner Goddess, never fully formed alas, shrunk to a shrivelled cinder at my heart. My absent mother offered no help. My partner worked long hours and although he had the delightful and glamorous bonus of eating in Michelin starred restaurants at lunchtime, and although his career soared whilst mine evaporated (that’s hard to write) the burden of Breadwinner took its toll on him; the jealously, the fatigue, the anxiety, and the responsibility of motherhood took its toll on me. When I ventured out to parties, which I assumed would be safe, supporting spaces, I realised I was fair game there too! At my sister’s birthday do, a woman advised me that my ever-hungry son was only hungry because my breast-milk was inadequate. At two separate birthday gatherings, two different men unknown to each other and on hearing that I was writing a book asked if was I “doing a children’s one?” the implication being that from a male perspective at least (twice was surely too much of a coincidence) mothers were only capable of writing children’s books; these guys simultaneously and with ease managed to degrade both children’s literature and mothers in one fell swoop – two for one! At another party, a man who worked in publishing and who’d also assumed I was writing a children’s book, went on and on for ages about how easy it is to write children’s books and how he churned them out when required. At the same party a fellow whose wife is responsible for a huge London Art Fair, on asking me what I did (I dared to reply ‘Artist’) spat, “Was I a real artist? Did I know what it meant to be an artist? Had I suffered for my art? Really suffered? He had friends, you see, who had endured penury!” Can you imagine this man daring to say that to another man? It crushed me. WAS I AN ARTSIST? I wondered, befuddled by lack of sleep and dizzyingly out of body with my aching, leaking breasts. COULD I CLAIM TO BE AN ARTIST? The pasting got bloodier still when my old friend, a mother herself, piped in as if revelling in the attack, “You’re not an artist, Sarah! Not a visual artist! I mean what do you *do?” Suffice to say, she’s no longer my friend.
I grew isolated and resentful. Domestic chores became mind-numbingly imprisoning. Bejewelled wi’ posset and a belly that surely wasn’t mine I marvelled that the life I’d lived previous was but an imagining brim-full of theatre, cinema and art galleries; long nourishing walks about my city; wild cycles through Soho or along the canal; travel, exciting projects and exciting people; unlimited, uninterrupted stretches of meditative time. I no longer recognised myself, either in spirit or changed body. With no escape in sight, I disappeared. No one valued me as Mother. No one recognised me as Artist. I didn’t recognise myself. You’re only as visible as your last piece of work, mocked The She Critic. In spite of my deep love for my Boy, I felt few loved me back. Patronised and dismissed, I found myself drowning. I became Nothing.
As our Boy grew, I gleefully found snatched bits of time. I drew. I wrote greedily – when my son started nursery I became a writer obsessed. Sunlight shone through the dark. But when I discovered I was pregnant for a second time, and fearing I’d be unable to cope with two we’ans, I finally sought help. Near a year ago, I finished 14 years of invaluable therapy that changed my life. It was a tough ride but as I healed, my confidence grew. I performed again! Being a mother inspired my writing and my making, gifting both a profound new dimension and gravitas; without being a mother, my novel would have stuck stubbornly and 2 dimensionally to the flat page and would never have been published or made into a solo show. A host of brilliant women helped me back into work and into the world; my partner has given and gives tremendous encouragement and support too – though we still lock horns from time to time! Our kids are now 14 and 10. They’re great. It’s still a challenge; there are a few dark days here and there. I’m still frustrated by the imprisoning four walls, the cooking, the cleaning – the boredom. I ache for uninterrupted time so I can fully immerse myself in a long project. I rage at patriarchy and rail at misogyny – I discovered my inner Goddess was a fiery Feminist. My journey as a maker and a mother has been a hard one. It’s still a tough juggle. Working from home makes it tougher. Currently, I’m in a fallow field. Will I ever make again? I am A Fraud, you see – a non-artist, a some-timer, a dabbler as an ex once mocked after watching me dance at Sadler’s Wells. The truth is, being a mother taught me, inspired me, encouraged me, challenged me, allowed me to love myself and become a better human-being. Without children, I may have just destroyed myself. Motherhood gave me the kiss of life. Motherhood gave me the tools to survive. Motherhood empowered me.
words by Sarah Cameron
Sarah is an artist, performer, writer and mother. Born in Dundee, Sarah studied sculpture at Chelsea School of Art and theatre at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Sarah has worked extensively in theatre and has collaborated for many years with Clod Ensemble; with whom she created The Red Chair (published by Methuen) an award winning solo show.
You can follow her on twitter and instagram @sarahcam3ron
Spotlight: Blandine Martin, ‘Objets sans importance’
Our spotlight this month is the mixed-media artist Blandine Martin. Martin works with materials including sand, recycled paper and timber to combine the organic with the abstract. Looking at objects and their place within the domestic sphere, Martin questions and transforms everyday objects, their assumed function and associated rituals, particularly rituals involving women. Objets sans importance explores the weight and lasting legacy of female history, and how society has objectified women.
“Blandine plays with conceptual ideas and the art of dismantling objects and their purpose along with their narrative”Artist’s Statement
See more of Martin's work over on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Performance: Cleaning Her
Though conceptualised for the sculpture park in Graz, the performance piece Cleaning Her by Martina Morger was first executed in Glasgow’s Merchant City in 2018. In the run-up to the performance, the concept for Cleaning Her evolved to relate to the industrial past of Scotland’s largest city more specifically.… Performance: Cleaning Her
Disruptive craft in contemporary art: ‘A quilt is an art object when it stands up like a man’
There is a craft inclination in art that can put people at unease. It ebbs in popularity. Three years ago at an event at the ICA I was speaking to a sculptor who, when asked if they were still working on the same body of work, replied oh no, they only wrote now. It was one of several similar encounters I had, and whilst it can be common to move away from art after art school, we all seemed embarrassed that we had once been making. This idea was enforced by artists like Katrina Palmer, who moved from installation and sound sculpture, to published texts and plays. I’ve since been told in turning-point tones that Katrina Palmer is making objects again.… Disruptive craft in contemporary art: ‘A quilt is an art object when it stands up like a man’
Making with Archival Material: ‘ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED’
ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED investigates the folds and creases of letters displayed within the recent ‘Rights for Women Exhibition’ at Senate House Library, University of London.… Making with Archival Material: ‘ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED’
Query: The Un-Gendered Brushstroke
Is the brushstroke so hopelessly entangled with male subjectivity that the female painter cannot, unless she is willing to adopt at least a partial male subjectivity, make a gesture with a brush? Does she have to invent a feminine brushstroke? Or, might it be possible to un-gender the brushstroke?… Query: The Un-Gendered Brushstroke