Saturday 31 December 2011

Close to the Skin - Patterns & Petticoats - Snibston CPD

Apart from looking at the collections under my own steam and meeting with my Mentors Barber-Swindells, I was also able to select items from the Collections Resource Centre. I was keen to look at old shift patterns and the some of the petticoats that were supported by hoops or worn under / over the bottle cages. Sarah Nicol, Inspiring Collections Officer, Leicestershire County Council, Communities and Wellbeing was a wonderful guide through my chosen items and we had a wonderful time talking about the items she had brought to show me.
I was very taken with the layout instructions and have a feeling I'll be coming back to these in the near future, especially as I have a whole box of vintage Vogue patterns stashed away! As I don't have the figure for couture or faith in my pattern following abilities these elements these may just become part an image but there is something very tempting about these maps of the body.
I found the shapes, crumples and wrinkles fascinating and was very drawn to the colours an textures of the old cloth. There was something playful, joyful about the swing and swish these petticoats create when in motion. I was amazed at the many variations on a theme, I thought about the restriction, freedom and support these garments brought to the wearer and even though they had lost their crisp newness they still whispered of display and attraction, dance and drudgery.
It is hard to imagine just what this metal clasp 
must have felt like next to the skin
the metalwork and the rusting hoops were 
a strange reminder of the male and female.
There was also something very moving about the signs of wear and tear. The patches, darns and repairs encased beneath skirts, the bottle cages, bustles and padding all hidden extensions of the body. Shape shifters.
Then there was the surprising, joyous red flannel, offering protection from the cold but it was also believed that the colour itself offered protection from disease and could be used to draw out inflammation.
It is quite bewildering to think about the amount of time it must have taken to dress and curious that many items of clothing were either there to enhance shape or protect the fabric from the body.

I was only able to make the visit to view my chosen items two days before my proposal was due to be completed and I had to write something to send to Claire and Steve the day before this visit was to take place. I didn't feel ready, nothing was flowing and to compound my anxiety, my partner took a tumble down the stairs and had to be rushed to A&E. Thankfully he hadn't broken his shoulder, just partially dislocated it, but seeing him lying in a grey, forlorn heap at the foot of the stairs did fracture my powers of thought! Whilst trying to get my thoughts in order, I felt compelled to experiment with the notions of soft (wadding, fabric) and hard (machine stitches) as a way of sorting out the jumble of seams, shifts and pattern pieces living in my head! 
I enjoyed the raw edges and the flyaway threads, but I think Claire and Steve were a bit bemused by my strange samples and having seen their meticulous work, I'm not surprised!
However there are just some times when it's important  to follow your own processes and ways of working, these samples are fragments of thought, beginnings not finished ideas.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Butterfly Net & The Bottle Cage

During one of my Snibston visits I brought my friend Sarah with me as I though she would really enjoy the diverse nature of the collections to be found in the museum. 
Together we tested out all of the interactive elements we could find. The skeletal cyclist and the plasma ball were particularly enjoyable.
On the same visit we spoke to John on the front desk and asked him to tell us more about the work of the miners and the nature of the community that existed before the pit closure. He had been in the navy and when he left he became a miner. He told me that it was “the best, the funniest, the hardest job” and he had loved the camaraderie he shared with his workmates.
He told us about an old mining tradition – when a young man started in the mine he would cut a piece of wood from a beam and take it home as kindling. This kindling was known as cock wood. I was curious about the role the women played in the community and he said they really ruled the roost as they looked after the money, kept the home and hearth going.
This made me think about the male and the female, the mining and the fashion collections and also of the symbolism of the Earth Mother which Encyclopedia Britanica describes as follows:-

"Earth Mother,  in ancient and modern nonliterate religions, an eternally fruitful source of everything. Unlike the variety of female fertility deities called mother goddesses, the Earth Mother is not a specific source of vitality who must periodically undergo sexual intercourse. She is simply the mother; there is nothing separate from her. All things come from her, return to her, and are her.
The most archaic form of the Earth Mother transcends all specificity and sexuality. She simply produces everything, inexhaustibly, from herself. She may manifest herself in any form. In other mythological systems she becomes a more limited figure. She becomes the feminine Earth, consort of the masculine sky; she is fertilized by the sky in the beginning and brings forth terrestrial creation. Even more limited reflections of the Earth Mother occur in those agricultural traditions in which she is simply the Earth and its fertility."
At times I have I felt as though I've been moving through the museum like a child with a butterfly net, capturing ideas. Some thoughts are half-formed, slipping away as soon as I try to net them, whilst others shift and change  making different strings of meaning, leading me to more thoughts and ideas.
I am intrigued by the idea of connecting the male and the female, the mines and the corsetry, lightness and weight, fragility and strength. Coal and corset are also potent instruments of change and transformation. 
I've been contemplating layers, above and below, inside and outside (garment / mineshaft), power (mining, heat, energy, finance, status), tunnelling through - from soft surface to hard hot darkness. The pipes that carry heat, air or water have also been on my mind.
Then there are thoughts about the corset as support structure – like beams inside mines – holding the body up whilst creating a confined space inhabited by the body. I have been making visual notes to myself, trying to retain every spark that has been ignited by this journey.
The shift is still important, it lays beneath the corset giving the memory and illusion of freedom. Once the corset is removed, movement is freer but support is diminished. The mine shaft and the work of the miners share a similar dichotomy, the work is dangerous, the spaces are confining, yet the money earned, the skills required and the closeness of the workers offer certain freedoms. 
When I asked John what effect the pit closure had on Coalville and he said without the pit work the miners no longer bought their twist of tobacco from the tobacconist, their quarter of sweets from the sweetshop, their loaf of bread from the baker, it wasn’t only jobs that were lost, many other businesses were wiped away as livelihoods were intimately connected. 

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Snibston CPD - On Site Inspirations- Connectivity?

On my second visit to Snibston Discovery Centre as part of my CPD investigations I found myself wondering whether there may be any visual, historical or emotional connections to be made within this "House of Collections". I am still very interested in the idea of the Shift with all the resonances that word creates but I've been wondering about the energy that drove innovation and industry and the way that the railways might link coal, corsetry and location. I've also been thinking about pipes, tunnelling, layers, strata, money, power, corsetry and constraint. 

Monday 28 November 2011

Snibston CPD Inspirations - Pipes & Ducting

This set of images were taken on my second visit to Snibston, on my day of collecting connections. In my mind there is a visual link between the ducting, what travels trough the pipes, the idea of internal and external spaces, expansiveness and confinement which is leading me back to corsets, bustles and bottle cages as sculptural forms.