‘“Play” is a vast, free-and-far-ranging term for what this interaction is… conjured out of found objects, simple tasks, hands-on curiosity and a willingness, on each artist’s part, to embrace the unpredictable and build on it.’ Mary Brennan, The Herald
Visual artist Helen Carnac and dance artist Laïla Diallo present Edge and Shore, a work exploring the edges and boundaries of making and working, performance and installation. The work is a development of an extended research project where the artists have considered process and making, exploring where the borders of their two creative practices meet and permeate.
The work has been shown as a large durational work including film and installation elements, and also in a two-hour iteration at the Whitechapel Gallery in August 2018 alongside the Mary Heilman and Keith Sonnier exhibitions,which were showing at that time.
4 August 2016, The Whitechapel Gallery, London
8 to 12 July 2015, Arnolfini, Bristol
30 January to 7 February 2015, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
1 to 5 October 2014, Control Room, Redland Bridge, Bristol
27 September 2014, Quay2c, London
26 September 2014, Siobhan Davies Studios, London
30 & 31 August and 5 & 6 September 2014 The Goods Shed, Stroud
Edge and Shore is commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Developed with support from Battersea Arts Centre, Bristol City Council, Bristol Old Vic Ferment, Quay2C and Stroud Valleys Artspace.
Image: Gorm Ashurst
Films: Helen Carnac and Laila Diallo
Along the paper 22 May 2014
From black to white
Control Room - Shadow
Helen is an Internationally acclaimed enameller – working with vitreous enamel on steel – it is the type of enamel used for domestic ‘white wear’ – including baths, sinks, pots and pans.
‘My primary material is metal and from this I take my position of understanding, of not just other materials but of the world that we live in, recently I learnt that many generations ago some of my maternal line of family were master metal engravers. I was taken aback by this and felt a certain recognition that one of my primary interests – scratching with metal on metal may be hard wired in me. This helped me think again about my compulsion in making to find and make marks’
Helen’s vitreous enamel works are available from her South London Studio.
They can be purchased individually, in installation and Carnac also works to commission.
The vessels in this piece have been made during an intense period of making activity, in response to each other. Beginnings and endings overlapping – each a reflection of the other. The drawn base forms part of the process that initiates and binds the thinking and making of the marks. The wooden frame is made by furniture maker David Gates and is intended to once more reflect on the making process the construction being made explicit.
‘I have always considered drawing to be a most significant part of my work and intrinsic to my practice as a metalworker and enameller. Over the last ten years my work has developed markedly with over-riding concerns of line, mass and landscape continually recurring. I aim to develop new ways of working where the drawn image is the focal point in a union of two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. This ongoing series of work is an expression of my fascination with mark-making in both two and three dimensions. I aim to record not only my thought process but also the connection of hand, eye and mind in a non-verbal discourse, whilst highlighting the cyclical nature of my making process and the marks and rhythms of my drawing process, which resonate and confer with my object-making processes. Repetition of mark is key and enables me to focus. I work mostly with vitreous enamels on steel. My primary aim is to draw with the material leaning towards techniques such as sgraffito. The combination of materials and my drawing methods have led to an ongoing body of works that I find rewarding and demanding. Firing for the most part only once, areas of the panels are ground and abraded to a matt finish in places, allowing the steel substrate to oxidise naturally, creating new relationships with the enamel; a crossing point between control and chance’.
This is what David says of the piece:
‘Helen Carnac had asked me to make the supporting work for her work that was to be shown at Collect, a series of vitreous enamel and steel bowls set on a large drawn and printed panel. The brief was “I don’t want a plinth!”, the resulting leg frame of pegged and lapped unfinished oak sections developed, and gained its own quiet autonomy in it’s making leading to something more of a collaboration than either of us had imagined at the start’
SIDE BY SIDE
Side by Side
For six weeks in the summer of 2012, Siobhan Davies Dance invited two artists to investigate the act and process of making, by working together as part of a residency programme. It was initiated by the insatiably curious Siobhan Davies and developed in partnership with the Crafts Study Centre, the artists and Programme Manager, Alison Proctor at Siobhan Davies Dance.
The project grew out of continued enquiry into dialogues between dance and other art forms which Siobhan Davies Dance has been championing since 2008. This project is research into how art forms can grow and evolve, and is also an initiative directly supporting two artists in their journey as makers.
IN A LANDSCAPE
The growing collection of Carnac/Gates’ work draws together their shared interest in industrial and agricultural architecture and landscapes as sites of creativity and reflection. The pair work from a shared studio and workshops in South London with the industrial buildings that line the River Thames visible from their workbenches. That landscape, and others like it, of wharves, conveyors, storage tanks, jetties – industrial and infrastructural architecture informs their work in direct but distinct ways. The work they make together synthesises David's concern with architectural structure, form, and mass and Helen's more micro examination of surface, patina, and decay – the traces of time and presence that inform her drawn, abraded, and sgraffitoed vitreous enamel panels . Visual research is made on long walking fieldtrips, the pair making scores of photographs and drawings as well as written notes. “They have the finish of objects intended to grace elegant homes combined with the expressive ingenuity of industrial structures”(Emma Crichton Miller, Crafts Sep/Oct 2017). Across the collection there is a playful and questioning variance in obvious function or utility. But shared amongst them is a resonance with the sense of accidental rightness, balance, and expediency found in the architecture of their research work. Across the work there are combined elements of chance and accident with deliberate, focussed, skilled hand-making.
David's cabinets are “striking pieces of three-dimensional art, inspired by, but not delimited by the idea of cabinet furniture.” (Emma Crichton Miller, Crafts Sep/Oct 2017). His work disrupts assumptions of studio furniture while drawing on traditional cabinet-making techniques and processes.
His work is held by The Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, the UK Crafts Council, and the Cheongju Biennale foundation. His piece Perpetually Ajar was awarded a Gold Award at the Cheongju Biennale (2015) and he was a winner of The Jerwood Award for Contemporary Makers (2010). His work has been shown in the USA at Milwaukee Art Museum, Houston Centre for Contemporary Craft and The Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland.
A unifying feature of David's cabinets are their asymmetric forms, geometric volumes held aloft on elegant leg frames. This lends an air of ambiguity and wonder to their apparent utility and function and also to their orientation. Indeed, the design strategy of each piece having more than one 'front' elevation – of being explicitly three-dimensional – means that the work offers itself up gradually to the viewer or user. It takes a little while to pause and consider the multiple drawers, fall-flaps, doors, and rolling tambours that each reveal possibilities for storage and display.
David's is a rare voice, one that unites exemplary studio practice with theoretical research in the crafts. His intellectual engagement with craft and design is evidenced by his published book chapters and conference papers. His research has culminated in the award of a doctorate in language, discourse and communication from King's College London for his PhD thesis examining the relationship between craft and language.
“Gates makes visible the important relationship between an artist's skill and the strategic use of tools...(his) work is also an example of creative problem-solving” (Milukay, J.G. The Journal of Modern Craft 5-3 Oct 2012 pp351-354).
In Helen’s current work she tries to capture and record, through mark making and drawing, something of the comings and goings, of arrivals and departures and marks left in the process of navigating the river. ‘I am interested in how material changes, how metal oxidises and how steel can leave marks behind through this oxidisation.’
‘Looking at her work and installations, one is reminded of the many components Carnac has assembled: what she’s seen, where she’s been, shapes of things and the spaces they leave behind. Carnac’s method is, for her, the perfect marriage of material, tool and process’. (Simon, M. Metalsmith 35-1, 2015 pp36-43)
Helen has strong connections with the USA. Her work is held by The Museum of Art and Design, New York, Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin and the Rotassa Foundation, California. She has taught at Penland School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, California College of Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, East Carolina University, Maine College of Art and The Pratt Art Institute, Seattle. Her work has been shown in the USA at Milwaukee Art Museum, Houston Centre for Contemporary Craft and The Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland. Helen is the programme leader for MA Jewellery Futures at Middlesex University, London and in 2011 was Professor of Design at Kunsthochschule Weissensee, Berlin. Having studied in the UK and Germany Helen apprenticed and with designer Tom Dixon and silversmith Jocelyn Burton before setting up her own studio in London.
Observe, 2014, steel, enamel, and paper
‘In the year which marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, Shock and Awe at the Royal West of England Academy considers past, contemporary and continuing conflicts. It highlights work by contemporary artists recently exposed to the front-line in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, as well as providing a platform for artists fascinated by acts of remembrance, or who use their art as a form of protest against war and conflict’.
Carnac uses the concept of silence as an act of remembrance for the focus of her work, which incorporates found objects. Observing a period of silence to commemorate those who have died in conflict has become a traditional public act of respect. The Times newspaper first referenced observing silence on 7 November 1919, almost a year after the end of the First World War.
The enamel Helen uses in her work is called industrial process enamel, it is the same material that is used in the making of London Underground signage and in enamel baths, stoves and pots. It has been used extensively in public art and can be seen in London in such pieces as Jacqueline Poncelet's Wrapper installation, Edgware Road and Ian Davenport's Poured Lines, Southwark Street.
This material process sits somewhere between those of ceramic and glass: it is made of ground glass (frit), porcelain clay, and mixed with electrolytes, which aid the fusing of the enamel to the surface of the steel. The firing is done in an enamelling kiln and is a relatively swift process.
Helen trained as a metalsmith and uses the enamel to explore the surface and material qualities of the enamel and steel in fusion. Firing for the most part only once, areas of the panels are ground and abraded to a matt finish in places (the time consuming part of the process), allowing the steel substrate to oxidise naturally, creating new relationships with the enamel; a crossing point between control and chance.
Editor Helen Carnac, 2011, A Shared View, Stitching Together Ideas in Time. Greenlab, Laboratory for Sustainable Design Strategies, Berlin, Germany. 192 pages. ISBN 978-3- 9814373-2-4
Editor Helen Carnac, 2009, Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution. Craftspace, Birmingham, 48 pages UK ISBN-10: 0952683296
Editors Helen Carnac and Ruth Rushby, 2007, Process Works. Site Publications, London. ISBN 13 978—0-9554379-1-5
Articles and chapters in edited books
Carnac, H and Sandino, L, 2017 ‘’Where’s the message? It’s hopeless, just hopeless.” Critique and performance of craft on TV. Namita Gupta Wiggers, (Ed) New Anthology of Craft, to be published 2018
Carnac, H, 2014, Is There Ever a First Time Visit and How Will We Remember it in The Future?, Unravelling Uppark, Ed: Polly Harknett, Caitlin Heffernan, Matt Smith, Unravelled Arts and National Trust, UK. p58 – 63 ISBN: – 978-0-9572476-2-8
Carnac, H, 2013, Moving Things Around…Collaboration and Dynamic Change. In Collaboration Through Craft, Ed: Amanda Ravetz, Alice Kettle & Helen Felcey. Bloomsbury. London. p31 – 41 ISBN: HB: 978-0-8578-5391-2, PB: 978-0-8578-5392-9
Carnac, H, 2013, Thinking Process: On Contemporary Jewelry and the Relational Turn. In Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, Editor Damian Skinner, Lark Books, USA. p234 – 239. ISBN HB 978-1-4547-0277-1
2018 Review of Craftwork as Problem Solving, Marchand, T (Ed): to be Published in Journal of Modern Craft, Autumn 2018
2010‘Into the Unknown’ A reflection on fellowship in Cultural Leadership in the Arts, published by Cultural Leadership Programme,2011
2010‘Making Time’ ‘Studio; Craft and Design in Canada’, Crafts Council of Canada. Fall/Winter 2010, pp38-42
2010‘House of Words’ Journal of Modern Craft: Exhibition Review Volume 3, Number 2, July 2010, pp. 253-256(4)
2010 ‘Stitching it Together in Time’ Essay Contribution to Upcycling Textiles: Adding Value through Design
2009 ‘Handmade is Favourite’ Paratus Communication: Consultancy and written report on Handmade to support International press campaign for Costa Coffee.
I have curated many exhibitions including the 8 venue National touring exhibition Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution. This project was developed initially by Andy Horn and Craftspace.
The exhibition and its blog makingaslowrevolution provided a forum for open discussion around the contribution of contemporary craft to the philosophies presented within the slow movement. We felt that these philosophies reflect many of the current concerns and interests that makers are exploring within their practices and the evolving identity of craft. It was an opportunity to connect some of the emergent discussions within craft and its recent movements to the slow debate.
The blog Makingaslowrevolution formed the thread running through a research project exploring ideas of slowness within craft. The aim was that the project was a reflexive process that informed ideas, future thought and informed the curation of a major national touring exhibition for Craftspace, which launched 17th October 2009 atBirmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
Connecting with the blog we developed a number of live events open to interested participants. These events moved our thinking around the nature of slowness and craft beyond text and the written word, through participation, shared activity and process. The blog offered an opportunity to follow in real time, and have insight into and around our thinking at the time and the process of developing the exhibition.
Under the Counter
A collaborative curated exhibition at Smith’s Row, Bury St Edmonds
Process Works aimed to understand and explain the discreet languages of making and its specificity to individual practice. Examining this in the first instance through an exhibition and catalogue, with an invited written contribution in the form of essays and maker interviews by Paul Harper. The exhibition toured 3 venues; curatorial reaction to venue type and location was a central theme of the project. Artist talks were held at all venues and The University of Herts. exhibition was reviewed. (Mark Lewis; Process Works: An exploration ofthe creative inspiration and developmental work of five contemporary jewellers. Findings. June 2007. P7).
Throughout our investigation we sought to understand:
How the act of making may be understood both inside and outside practice and whether the act is more understandable when we are able to encounter the process in whatever way?
Process is rarely examined in exhibitions of made artefacts and yet making implies a process – a journey, an examining of thought, of meaning and a putting together of elements, materials and ideas.
An important element was the positioning of Helen Carnac as maker/curator, this at once allowed the examination of curator and curated from the standpoint of one practice and the making of a comparative analysis of internal/external direction.
IN TO AND OUT OF THE FIELD
In to and out of the field 2013
‘This piece is a collection of pieces that I have found or made and I think of them as describing some sort of journey into the past whilst reflecting into the future. I often use objects as thinking points and so all these objects or paraphernalia have something about them that enables me to develop thinking.
I have mapped out where some of them come from, when they were found or when they were made below and tried to include, where known, who they belonged to.
I use the laying out and moving around of work/objects a great deal in my work – it’s an active thinking process.
The piano tuner.
I did not meet or know the piano tuner. The late father of the friend, some of his materials were given to my partner, David, some years ago. One day, on coming across them I was struck by the beauty and care with which they had been wrapped, stored, sorted, kept and cared for. I often take these things out of their various boxes and wrappings. I sometimes arrange/ rearrange them or use parts of them in my work. I often think about this man I did not know. About his trade, about what he made and repaired. I look at these carefully labelled boxes and their contents and imagine him.
About 11 years ago when I was working at a London university I received a phone call from a man in Colchester saying that he had a large cache of tools to sell. It turned out that he was a retired professional jeweller who was now dedicated to restoring vintage cars and needed to clear out his old things. I ended up visiting him and of course buying all his tools. Included in this were several boxes of various oddments, tools, scraps, and the beginnings of projects that had never been finished.
During our meeting he told me some stories that have stayed with me – of his days working in Hatton Garden, the centre of London’s jewellery trade and of his move to set up a jewellery shop in Blackheath. Of how, after the second world war, he would re-polish and sell-on sewer finds – cutlery etc and that he and his team would illegally gold plate base metal sovereigns and sell them as gold ones.
Jack Wax and Miyuki
In 2007 I visited Richmond, Virginia to work at Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s an early point when I really started collecting and laying out my finds as part of my work. It probably happened there as the streets were littered with pieces of metal and so I spent a great deal of time picking things up. It didn’t take long to amass a huge collection of pieces from around the streets closest to the University. I extended this process to the Alleys radiating away from there and then began to sift further out through Alleys and streets on visits to friends and colleagues.
On a visit to friends Jack and Miyuki I collected a huge amount of found metal with Miyuki, along the alley at the back of their home – old locks, nails, ring pulls (of various ages and descriptions), paper clips and other paraphernalia. Shortly after returning home I exhibited these pieces in an exhibition called Process Works.
Recently on a visit to the USA, to my surprise and delight, I received a box of new finds from Jack and Miyuki from the same Alley.
Why are these objects and associations important to me and what do they mean in the context of an exhibition about landscape?
I can’t say that I use landscape directly in my work in the way that you may directly recognise a configuration or laying out of a landscape. I do though see landscape as being important in a broader context.
Over time the objects that I collect and make form the back bone of my work and I see the collection and documentation and making from these objects as forming a type of landscape that I navigate daily.
One thing that I find persistently interesting is that many of these objects that I collect were formally part of a different market – commodities, parts of things that have been consumed or the beginnings of things that were made into pieces to sell or used in the construction or mending/repair of something which may now be redundant.
But I don’t see these objects as being redundant… they have become something else.
These objects perform as markers in time, reminders of what was and what can be. In the active moving of these things around, in handling them, in altering and composing with them they are important thinking things. I use them in a hands on way that I know that I could not do if I was just looking at them here in these photographs. Through handling them I know more of them and I hope I can convey that somehow in the work.
In the gallery they again enter a market and I hope too that they can share new meaning as a whole…and in this they are active and somewhat live things that live through my ongoing work’.