As You Were…

I have finally finished my sundew chair. It seems to have taken me ages – which it has because it was very labour intensive – but also because I have made other work alongside it and during the process for the first time.

This has lengthened the whole process, but has allowed me to get through some very monotonous periods of work on the chair by using the time to think about other pieces, research etc. and allowing me to have a mental creative break whilst continuing a physical one with all the continued ‘doing’. It has also allowed me to step back and make more considered additions to the piece than get carried away in the moment of making and ‘flood’ it with unnecessary additions just because I am enjoying the processes.

I have decided to call the piece As You Were… For several reasons: firstly it is quite a banal/humorous saying that has relaxation connotations attached to it (from the services); secondly it implies something has changed – perhaps that you were a different person before you came into contact with the chair (for me, I was thinner) and thirdly that the viewer could read it as an unfinished sentence and create a story around the chair itself – as I was walking through the forest I came across…

I like the idea that the title adds an air of ambiguity or questions the intention of the piece (is it a statement about the artist? A jumping point for the viewers own storytelling?) as it is quite literal in representation.
This piece came about from the Art and Today chapter on Art and Nature and Technology where artists questioned the relationship between them.Something sparked a memory about a book I had read called ‘Affluenza’ which posits that much of the world’s discontent (in the developed world) with their lives, which often leads to depression, has grown from our constant striving to want more. To be affluent, to be thinner, to have ‘things’, to be better than those around you are all empty goals, which just leave us feeling emptier and more discontent each time we attain one. I read this book many years ago as a self-help book for my own depression, so I started to think of the things from my own life and life in general that can lead to such discontent.

Not surprisingly there were many things and I started to find a link between things that seemed benign, but we’re actually rather perilous. I began to link these back to the landscape and nature.
At this point, I was still not able to integrate my research fully with my development processes, so I am going to be honest and not retro-fit this piece. But I can say that I can see I was heavily influenced by the fabric sculptures of Yayoi Kusama and the kitschness of Jeff Koons’ work.

I have a series of pieces planned around such topics, which I envisage as a ‘nasty forest’ of plants. I still ultimately aim to produce many/some of these, but also now see the need to pepper that with other types of investigations that can feed those original ideas and spiral into a more developed and refined body of related work. I began this piece by reading about Carnivorous plants, drawing details and understanding their mechanisms of entrapment from botanical books. There is a lot of mysticism around Carnivorous plants – and as a whole people are shocked to believe that a plant could be capable of killing insects and sometimes small mammals by intent. Such fear is exploited by books like ‘Day of the Triffids’ by John Wyndham. I had also been researching what humans find distasteful or disgusting and why – in an effort to exploit the mixed emotions that sprang from my work on my ‘Chin Up’ collar, an item to be covetted, but that also inspired disgust or a feeling of unease. For this I had been reading ‘That’s Disgusting’ by Rachel Herz which considers why we experience this emotion and how it evolved. Clare suggested in our paired crit that this was like a modern reworking of Kristeva’s theories on the abject. One key thing I discovered is that humans do not like hair as it reminds us of being ‘animals’ – which we are – and therefore reminds us we are mortal.

A lot of carnivorous plants use hairs as mechanism triggers, so I felt this was essential to accentuate on my piece. I wanted to create a chair that was essentially a sundew plant – once seated in the chair the body is ensnared by the sticky secretions until the back of the chair curls round like the sundew leaf and absorbs its prey. Initially I was to make this piece far more literal, with gooey body and clothes remnants, but in the end pulled it back to omit this and the sticky secretions.

I intended the materials to be felt and have the tentacles made from pins of some sort. I began by drawing a ‘cute’ looking chair to give it the ‘covet-factor’. Once I had this flat shape I began to try to extrude necessary parts to make it a 3d structure. This was cut out of base felt (like a dressmaker’s pattern would be) and roughly felted by machine in a camouflage of greens to kill the colour of the grey base felt and to (I thought) do most of the donkey work. This piece was not sewn together by machine and was mostly joined by the pleasure of machine-felting the pieces together- eventually being sewn up by hand once it was stuffed. This whole exercise was rather trial and error and is hard to pin down as an exact process, but I ended up with hollow structures which I filled with foam to enable me to hand needle-felt detail on top of the piece once constructed. This, although initially enjoyable, was extremely arduous and took far, far longer than I expected as there are some surprisingly large surfaces, which appear much smaller than they actually are. However, the method of hand felting, directly through the base material and into the foam filling, allowed me to get some really pleasing marks with the fibres of the fleece which suggest a creeping and enveloping motion. Already this made the piece look cute but sinister – cartoon-like.

I also really like the way that the needle marks look like leaf stoma – adding to the ‘natural’ feel of the piece. Once this process was complete (which I did sporadically over a long period of time) I began to sew hairs onto the body of the chair using various colours and red in the areas of most peril. This pulled back to the collar work, where I sewed the decoration onto the piece with red threads which I left hanging to suggest blood and therefore peril. It also seems to be the predominant colour of the tentacles on the plants. I made the hairs coarser as they neared creases of the chair or the ground as this is also a fairly natural occurrence.

I used copper jewellery pins as the tentacles. The heads of the pins were hammered flat to hint at the secretions, but also as a follow-through of the shape of the back of the chair, which made them look more organic.  From the time that I initially hammered these flat, to the date of insertion into the piece, the pins had oxidised somewhat and only the heads appeared really shiny. I liked this very much as it gave a two-tone element to the tentacles making them more organic. I also really like how the pins almost disappear when they are inserted into the piece; being only visible at the right angle, only glinting but suggesting threat when seen.

One thing I found really interesting when photographing it was how some views of the back of the chair looks like landscapes.


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