Friday, September 01, 2006
Sunday, August 20, 2006
crafting the art world
although my own work is concerned more with the infolding of craft into the spheres of technology, primarily through the platforms used for ubiquitous and wearable technologies, i nonetheless remain fascinated by the way that crafting has come to redefine a number of artworld spheres. while betsy greer argues in her MA thesis that crafting (in particular knitting) holds within it the potential for a radically subserversive performative community-building, i wonder if (or how) this holds true when the use of craft begins to intersect with the profitability of global art markets, creative industries, and the seedy underside that continues to define the sweatshop production of textiles, yarns and clothing.
in large part, these are questions that remain unanswered and largely undiscussed in the burgeoining field of art-craft (of high craft or fine craft or whatever you want to call it). so too is the role played by craft in the proliferating discussions over creative economies, creative cities and cultural capitalism. on the other hand, to define something is often to pin it down thereby adding boundaries to the direction that it might take. but on the other hand, these are also, i think, important questions for those of us who are both academics and practitioners (and there seem to be a growing number). though these are questions that will certainly come up in my work, for the moment i'm just collecting, questions as much as artists.
one of my recent favourites in shirin neshat's film women without men. i haven't seen the film, but have obsessed over the still images from it.
From a review of Shirin Neshat by Britta Schmitz:
"Neshat's most recent works, "Mahdokht" (2004) and "Zarin" (2005), constitute two independent sequences of what is to become a five-part feature film entitled "Women without Men". The novella of the same name by Shahrnush Parsipur was published in 1989 in Tehran and subsequently banned. Today the author lives in exile in America.  The book comprises several metaphorically related short stories about the lives of five different women who are suffering from their respective situations and run away. They ultimately find themselves in a garden where they seek to form their own new society. Writing in a feminist, mythological terminology, Shahrnush Parsipur describes the cultural and religious social pressure facing women, which often leaves them with no other resort than to go mad or commit suicide. The book proved to be an immense provocation to the Guardians and Administrators of the Revolution under Khomeini.
Following the election of President Khatami in 1997 life in Iran changed; and even the rules governing the wearing of the chador are now observed with increasing carelessness.  With each millimeter that overcoats have become shorter and tighter-fitting, Iranian women have gained new ground in terms of self-determination. Color permeates the cityscape, the provocative game of concealing and revealing is flourishing, as is a nascent fashion industry devoted exclusively to the veil and chador. Satellite television and the Internet are essentials for city-dwellers without being considered a sign of "Westernization," but rather posing questions as to a unique, non-Western identity.
Since the attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York, many things have changed in the USA as well. The declared "clash of civilizations" has changed the land of individual liberty and the culture of critical faculties. Shirin Neshat's response to these changes has been seismographic. As an artist with a transnational education and consciousness located within Western discourses, who has played an important intermediary role between Western and Iranian, or Islamic, culture, she has an unusually clear view of the vulnerabilities of a particular society.
In a certain sense, "Mahdokht" and "Zarin" are strange and new in her oeuvre, since Shirin Neshat refuses to fulfill any "orientalist" expectations. Both films are produced entirely in color; Zarin is structured like a feature film and includes spoken language. The frequently cited dualisms of black and white, male and female, are abandoned by Shirin Neshat in favor of a style closer to magic realism.
In "Mahdokht" the camera emerges from graywhite surroundings and travels along a clear and lively stream, passing through an opening in a clay wall into a luxuriant, green garden. At the beginning and again at the end she is shown floating, like Ophelia in a white gown, dead upon the still and shallow water as though sleeping; swathes of mist cover her like a veil. Children and the young Mahdokht play in a fertile, paradisiacal landscape and Mahdokht is consumed by the thought of knitting an inordinate amount of children's garments with yellow wool. She wishes she had a thousand pairs of hands in order to carry out her mission. At an almost crazy speed she knits with the yellow yarn strewn throughout the surrounding landscape while hordes of children frolic around. "Mahdokht" features an almost surreal ambiguity, though it refers to an infertile civilization in search of revitalization - here in the image of a woman (Mahdokht) obsessed by fertility. Mahdokht, the mother of civilization, Mother Earth and the vitality of the garden, has drawn the wrong threads together and ha departed from life in a state of despair. What remains are lichen and seeds with which she will spread herself across the world.
In the novella by Shahrnush Parsipur Mahdokht wishes she could turn into a tree: "She wanted to grow on the riverbank with leaves... She would give her new leaves to the wind, a garden full of Mahdokhts... She would become thousands and thousands of branches... She wanted to, and it is always desire that drives one to madness. 
The central place in both the novella and the film is the garden, for the garden is a motif of major importance in the Islamic world. Islam and Iran are renowned for their gardens which embody a stark contrast to the seemingly infinite expanse of the desert and offer something of a reflection of the garden of paradise. The idea that a human being in a garden can become a tree is a widespread metaphor in Iranian mythology which stands for the human being's rootedness within the community. The transformation of a woman into a tree would allow her to found a new society, a female society and to be included in a community. She would not be coerced into adopting a passive role, or forced into a private, shielded domain of society. Rather she would become the active figure in determining her own way of life."
in the meantime, i went to little miss sunshine. it was wonderful, except that i have now had the song "superfreak" in my head for three straight days. nevertheless, it's definitely worth a little disco-head....
Thursday, August 17, 2006
what is this mess?
it's a half-finished, much enlarged, acrylic and sari silk baby kimono from the mason-dixon knitting book (a treasured birthday present). problem is, said baby is arriving (at my house, not in the world) for one day on wednesday, which leaves me six days to finish this sucker. that would be no problem except that i also have only six days to finish several assignments for my web design certificate, polish off a chapter, write a paper and fit in a whole lot of research work. typical week i guess.... but in the great battle between academia and knitting... who will win? (actually, i would have to vote for the felt optimus prime puppet that was recently posted on the makezine craft archive.
updates to follow....
Sunday, August 13, 2006
i worked my butt off all day yesterday, so i took a break in the evening to finish a wardrobe refashion project that has been sitting on my table for a month and a half. it was very simple, but also very effective, and i love the end result! i've decided to enter it in the deconstruct/reconstruct whiplash competition as well.
i began with this boring but well-made skirt that i got at the salvation army for $1.99 last year. i bought it for teaching, but never wore it because it was too bland. then one of my friends showed up in the grad room with a cute skirt with a knitted waistband, and i knew that i needed one as well!
i started by unpicking the zipper. this skirt has a particularly long zipper, so i took it out, and then sewed together about 2.5 inches at the back. it's very important at this point to make sure that it will still fit over your hips. the final skirt hangs low, so choose a point at the widest part of the hips, measure up 1.5 inches from this point, and then cut off the fabric above (on newer skirts with lower waistbands this will be less material than on vintage skirts with waist bands that end somewhere around the ears).
i then cut off the waist to the level that i had sewn the back together (approximately 4 inches of fabric). i sewed the lining together in the back so that it lay flat, and finished off the top with the sewing machine so that there were no raw edges.
i set the skirt aside and knit the waistband in noro kureyon #52. i cast on 16 stitches and knit in garter stitch. when stretched, the waistband should fit snuggly around the waist (the stretching is very important). don't cast off!
i then hand-sewed the knitted waistband to the top edge of the skirt. i didn't cast off, because it's important to stretch the waistband as you sew, and it's very difficult to estimate the exact finished length. when i was about 3 inches from the end, i added a few rows, cast off, and overlapped the ends of the knitted waistband. the skirt will look a bit puckered and funny, but it will hang perfectly once on. it's very important to stretch it as you're sewing because otherwise it will stretch itself and fall off. and no one wants a skirt that randomly tumbles to the ankles! i added three buttons for decoration, and hey presto, a new skirt that i adore!!!
Saturday, August 12, 2006
1. delicious baked olives: take a whole whack of olives (kalamata and otherwise), put them in a baking dish with some olive oil, thyme, garlic, and chili pepper flakes (all to your taste), cover the dish and pop it in the oven at 350 for 40 minutes. watch out though - people devour these ... make sure you get your share early on!
2. even more delicious feta-pepper spread: roast 2 large or 3 small sweet red peppers. i do this by putting them in my toaster oven on the tray and running it through 3 cycles of dark toast. works like a charm every time. peel them, chop up a jalapeno (i use 1.5 because i like kick) and dump some feta (maybe a cup?) in the food processor. process and voila - tasty deliciousness. serve with baguette. for an even better, but more expensive treat, replace the feta with goat's cheese. also, try to get feta that hasn't been stored in brine - it makes a big difference to the taste. and bulgarian feta, in my experience, is by far the nicest.
3. zucchini pancakes: grate 2 large or 3 small zucchinis. crumble whatever feta remains (0.5-1 cup), add 1 large or 2 small eggs, salt and pepper to taste, and then add flour until the mixture sticks together (there shouldn't be water on top). cook in a frying pan or griddle until brown on both sides, and serve with plain yoghurt. this is one of my favourite dinners, and i've added all sorts of things to these - everything from mint, to potato and onion, spinach, corn, peanuts (not so successful), and whatever else happens to be lying around. they're almost always scrumptious.
i'm of the "if it's easy and it tastes good it is delicious" school of cooking, and i'm not sure where any of these recipes came from. they all seem very 1970s party to me though, so i tried to take a 1970s style photo, complete with random adornments. the tea pot stand in front with the poppy was a gift that my mum got me from the highland pottery. they have beautiful, if not easily accessible (as in, it's in the middle of nowhere), dishes, and my mum (lucky thing) has a whole set that she got for next to nothing when they were working out of a shack on a hill. i get homesick every time i look at it, but i love it nonetheless.
anyway, happy eating. and now i fortunately have plenty of leftovers and snacks for the work marathon that i see in my future.
Friday, August 11, 2006
camping slide show; or, three and a bitch
T wrote in french to book one of our campgrounds: "nous sommes trois avec une chienne." when he ran it through google translate to check it, it returned "we are three and a bitch..." which of course became the calling card of the vacation.
7 delightful days on the north shore of the st. lawrence. many marshmallows met sticky ends, many whales were seen, many pictures of the dog were taken, much fun was made of the fact that i could not, for the life of me, remember the word for zodiac (as in, fast greenpeace style boat in which one takes one's life in one's hands). in fact, the only word that came to mind was "gazebo," so of course my darling travel companions had to yell "gazebo" every single time we passed a boat. they think they're funny.
anyway, the trip was great. we camped at île aux coudres, in the middle of the river. it poured with rain and twenty minutes later the road was covered in a blanket of yellow snails. lucy enjoyed a supper of escargot and then lay down in the mud - truly a dog's dream vacation.
we then went north to tadoussac where you can see whales from the beach. they come in to shore because of some weird freak geology that has carved out a deep canyon along the shore full of plankton and other delicious whale treats. several hump shaped rocks were pointed out and accompanied with the cry "look, a whale!" but we did see a couple ... i think. although it is possible that they were just particularly animated boulders. otherwise we walked on rocks and i managed to get a nice lobster burn. lucy's vacation got even better when she found the biggest bone she had ever seen. the fact that it was part of a whale skeleton on display at the museum didn't seem to bother her. and the guards were too busy laughing to do anything about it. seriously... dog heaven.
the only bad part was that she had to sit outside while we ate lunch.
we finally ended up at an amazing campsite in bergeronne, where we could just sit and watch the whales go by. this time we really could see them blowing water out of their spouts and generally ignoring all the dumb humans waving and pointing.
it was stunningly beautiful, although our diet of marshmellows seemed to attract all the mosquitos. we cunningly didn't shower for a few days in hopes that they would mistake us for walking trees, but alas, it was not to be. my sunburn (now cadmium) was polkadotted pink as well. i was truly attractive on those last couple of days.
on the last day i was convinced to go out on a gazebo... uh, i mean zodiac. i was against it, having been on a whale watching boat in newfoundland that actually hit a whale. it was horrible and traumatizing, and whales are fricking BIG! some day that whale (which wasn't injured by the way) is going to exact its revenge, and being in a rubber dinghy in the middle of the bloody-huge-river-that-eventually-flows-into-the-sea surrounded by his relatives and friends did not sound appealing. nevertheless i was convinced/dragged, and of course it was a blast. i'll be a rainbow warrior in no time flat. i particularly enjoyed having to dress like a space explorer and making lame neil armstrong jokes (they were really lame and do not bear repeating here).
then it was time to go. boo hoo. we went back via quebec city, one of my favourite places.
lucy impressed tourists with her acrobatic drinking skills. some even took pictures. obviously i should have handed around a hat.
and that was that. now i'm home and have stacks of work to do. i wish i was a whale. i would eat plankton and avoid tourists and all would be well.