Exploratory Project 5

Chin Up – Making. To April 6th.

Emma and Caroline both expressed the same concerns about my collar and any arguments I presented did not stand up to their viewpoint. Additionally, Caroline said I had to make the collar as part of the EP – to see what I could reflect from the paintings into the structure of the collar. This rather blew my project plan out of the water and I was winging it from here on until I could complete the collar (which I knew would be extremely time-consuming) and regroup. I had to ditch many of the things I had planned to explore and see what I had time left to do and what remained pertinent at the end.

The title is taken from the banal things people say to others suffering from depression. Could be suffixed with ‘Might Never Happen’.

I kept the basics of the materials from the initial concept (the bra wires, fleece and lead weights) and rethought the rest of the materials. Caroline was keen for me to use barbed wire and whilst I understood her rationale, I was not. I was fast running out of money and the idea of using found wire repulsed me – after all it was me who was to wear this piece and/or be injured by its materials. I was happy to make my own version however, and it would be more appropriately scaled. I went to various hardware stores to see what aggressive ‘decoration’ I could find to work with that would also convey the drippiness of the depressed painting. The suggestion was to run a painting and collar alongside one another, but the painting has to be done so quickly whilst the surface is wet and collar construction was so slow that this just wasn’t possible. So I worked from the already completed painting and my understanding of how it was created.

I wanted to find materials that had spikes in one direction. That would convey a threatening intent of injury if your head was lowered in any way. Emotions are restrained in the British – and our ‘public face’ is to be upheld at all times. But if you are depressed it becomes very hard to ‘keep it all together’ but you try to ‘put on a brave face’ by ‘keeping your chin up’. The implication that, if you let any of these things slip, you’ll let all your emotions out. I wanted to take this one step further. Conveying the danger with a physicality. Let your head down this time and there’ll not just be an outpouring of tears and emotions but blood too. If you let your head down they’ll all see your peril – when you feel like you can no longer do so through your own strength, the collar is your last resort. A physical threat when a mental threat is no longer effective. Mortal danger or a ‘public face’ – your choice. Therapy or medication will be the next step if this fails…

I used a base of felt constructed over bra underwires – I liked the use of these, not only because they perfectly fitted my neck in a slightly stretched position (2 sizes needed and inspired from one of my own bras hitting my neck as I put it on the washing line), but because of all the connotations with women: that they are better at coping, but more likely to ask for help, suffer more from depression than men and the undercurrent that they should look beautiful at all times. The new ‘hardware’ materials were: fence staples, cut clasp nails, oval nails, black tacks, wire wool, galvanised rope wire and galvanised wire so I could make my own barbs. From the original concept I also retained the lead fishing weights and black eyelets for the fastening.

I embedded the wire wool in the felt – you can needle felt it in the same way – it just makes a mess of the needle, foam and your hands. It gave the collar a much more uncomfortable feel and the structure genuinely gives me a headache because it is slightly too long for my neck. But this is the point.

I sewed the ‘decoration’ on with burgundy thread – leaving the ends loose – and by doing so also implying what would happen physically if I were to let my head down and allow the decoration to injure me.

Each item of decoration was carefully considered for placement on the panel (to cause maximum injury) by studying the possible movements of the head:

  • The bra wires were chosen for their shape and structure. I coloured them black, but this has started to wear off and it gives them an unexpected fragility. Conveying that they are strong to hold the shape, but could snap at any moment – just like the wearer. They are tightly bound to the fabric and the bulging of the felt suggests a certain desperation.
  • All of the metallic items of decoration are intended to drive holes into things. These convey the drippy downwards feeling of the painting but also intimidate with their sharpness and understanding of normal function.
    • The front 2 panels are intensely decorated, as you would most likely drop your head in a chin to chest motion. So the perilous items are focussed here and positioned so a downward motion would cause the items to pierce the chest and neck.
    • The next 2 panels out have barbs just at the crease of the neck as it is virtually impossible to make contact with your jawline to chest here – the barbs at the crease would get your first anyway.
    • The third panels from the centreline concentrate damage on your ear. If you were to tip your head to one side (ear to shoulder) these would go straight into the ear canal (mine anyway) and the barbs on the upper part of this panel into your shoulder.
  • The tacks keep your face in position and create a sense of tension by pressing into the flesh of the cheeks and jowls.
  • The lead weights are an unseen heaviness that you carry around – ‘the weight of the world on your shoulders’. I am hoping that, over time, these weights will pull at and distort the fabric.
  • The wire wool creates an uncomfortable visual and physical texture – draining the colour without looking too decorative or sparkly – but also catching the light on occasion in the way someone would expect a ‘decorative’ item to.
  • The rear has little decoration, but has eyelets and is done up by a wire lace – which is strong, unforgiving and cannot be cut.

The whole piece is reminiscent of a corset and suggests constriction, restriction and compliance.  The manipulation of something to make it appear ‘better than it is’ which is really the truth behind the ‘public face’ of depression – conveying your mental health as being better than it actually is.

Overall I am really proud of this piece. Maybe it is still too beautiful, theatrical etc. But it appears exactly as I intended and in that sense I fulfilled my own brief. People’s reactions have also been what I intended – often needing a ‘double take’. It appears beautiful (but is constructed from ugly items) and is therefore coveted, but you really wouldn’t want what comes with it – the depression. Which was so pleasing to hear.

At our second Group Crit it was suggested that I take photographs of myself wearing it in additional states to those I initially intended – some in more mundane scenarios.

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