Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why Installation?

Salley Knight
Group 2 – research paper
Professor Hannah Barrett
April, 2010

Why installation?

Why would I ever want to create an installation? After the second meeting with my mentor, she commented on my hesitancy to go forward. The uncertainty came out of my discomfort with the changing form of my work.

I had come to AIB creating twodimensional artwork and now I was starting to make what promised to be an installation. It would take days and months to create this piece I was envisioning. I could understand putting that much labor into something that would be mounted on the wall and viewed over and over. However, how could I come to terms with an installation made of hand-dyed silk that might be in a gallery for perhaps a week? In this era of fast paced media, it just seemed an anachronism to spend so much time making something static that might be viewed briefly. My concerns about relevancy were only heightened by Michiko Kakutani’s March 21, 2010, New York Times article entitled “Text Without Context” in which she commented on the effects of instant messaging, e-mail, Twitter and You Tube which have served to make velocity all important and to make people unwilling to linger long enough to finish reading or looking at a total piece of work (Arts 1).

The first inkling of an answer to the question of the value of installation for me came in Maya Lin’s book Systemic Landscapes. John Beardsley, in his essay, “Hidden in Plain View: the Land Art of Maya Lin”, describes a term, ma, a Japanese concept which includes both space and time. Ma was first introduced to western viewers in Arata Isozaki’s 1978 show at the Paris Musee des Artes Decoratifs (Isozaki 95). He used steppingstones and also chanting as forms which demonstrated ma, which he defined as the “natural pause or interval between two or more phenomena occurring continuously” (Beardsley, 89). In the example of the steppingstones, ma would be the space between the stones as well as the time it took to take the step. Ma included both perception and action.

Suddenly, I could see how my intention to create an installation made sense. In Maya Lin’s piece, Wave Field, she had built a continuous series of waves. In my silk piece, I was creating a seascape out of repeated spirals that I intended to lay out in such a way that there were continuous intervals of open space. The option to walk through the piece, to feel the time it took to travel from one open space to the next would be integral to the work. This installation would include the concept of ma, an experience of human movement time in contrast to the fast pace of media.

Excited by my new understanding, I decided to further investigate traditional Japanese aesthetics. I hoped to find more ideas as support for my installation. Certainly, I had grown up in an environment where nature was revered, which I understood to be a core principle of Japanese aesthetics; my art was based on nature so perhaps the way that the Japanese expressed their respect for nature would give depth to and help shape my ideas.

To my surprise, I learned in Donald Richie’s book, A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, that there was no word in Japanese for aesthetic until the late 1800’s when Hegel’s asthetik needed to be translated (20). The lack of a distinct word could indicate insignificance or just the opposite, as was true in Japan. Simple elegance was integral to every part of Japanese life. Art was not considered separate and, as in the western view derived from Kant, valuable in itself. Art was subjectively experienced in such ways as placement of stones, arrangement with a single stem, exposure of the grain of the wood, or “the perfect judo throw” (31).

It was this stance of subjectivity that further intrigued me. Just as I understood the brush stroke in painting to show individual artistry, so could the placement of each of my silk spirals form distinct shapes and group together to form distinct spaces. Furthermore, individual viewers could participate in the serenity of the ma experience by the rhythm of the spaces created, similar to Maya Lin’s Wave Field. There was the potential for perception and action, much like in a garden.

In fact gardens and art have a deep connection in traditional Japanese aesthetics.

Teiji Itoh traces that history in Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden. He notes the16th century introduction to Japan of a Chinese book on painting called the “Mustard Seed Planting Manual” which offered instructions for painting rocks, trees and mountains. Whereas western artists learned by painting the nude, Japanese were challenged to paint rocks. The book listed “sixteen techniques for painting groups of rocks, and these, it is interesting to note, are all surprisingly similar to arranging rocks in Japanese gardens” (48). The book highlights the close connection between painters and gardeners in Japan.

This connection dates from the Heian era (794-1105 AD) in Japan when it was not uncommon for “the painter himself (to be) both a garden designer and a leader in the construction of gardens.” Itoh names several of these painters who established well known gardens: Kose no Kanaoka, his great grandson Hirotaka, and the Buddhist priest, En’en (Itoh 49-50). According to Itoh,

(t)hus in the Heian period, when the fundamental style of the traditional Japanese garden was established, the yamato-e painters played an important role in garden making. This fact in itself is clear evidence of the intimate relationship in Japan between the art of painting and the art of garden design. (50)

The value for me in thinking of my installation metaphorically as a garden stems from my high regard for the art behind the traditional Japanese garden. Several of the concepts that informed their design I found useful for thinking about in my installation: the concept of sky or emptiness, the importance of the good view, and the value of the unfixed gaze.

In Japanese writing, sky and emptiness are the same character. Both sky and open spaces were considered empty and integral to the whole. In the garden and in Japanese painting, the composition of the placement of emptiness was the most important (Itoh 51). I see this concept of emptiness directly addressing installation, which, by nature, is apart from the frame and often the wall, and addresses open space itself. Sky is all around. In fact, this concept helped me see the connection, or rather, interconnection between the piece and the space around it; therefore, including openings internally connects it externally.

The second concept I mentioned is called “to command a good view”. In a traditional Japanese garden, the view from the garden was considered a key element in its design (Itoh 18-21). A good view made a garden exceptional; by contrast it was sad when a “garden depended (only) upon it’s own intrinsic beauty and nothing more” (21). I found this idea of a good view of interest because it takes into consideration what is actually in the space beyond the garden or art piece. In the show at Carroll and Sons with the wife who had sculptural clay pieces on pedestals, the “view” included her husbands painting on the wall. The piece I am creating is set against the wall and I am using the scrim against the wall as a backdrop to indicate a sense of vastness. I am considering still how I much I might want to create for the views from other angles.

A third intriguing aspect of traditional Japanese gardens is “the gaze”. European gardens were designed for one point perspective, or a series of them. By contrast, according to Arata Isozaki in his book Japan-ness in Architecture :”the gaze of the Japanese … garden just as consistently refuses the fixation of any axis in space.” (286) The viewer was assumed to be moving. Similarly, in my installation piece, there is no single point for viewing. It can be viewed from any angle for 270 degrees as well as from within. The endless possibilities encourage the viewer to move around.

I have now committed much time to my installation piece. Although it is not a Japanese garden, the guiding principles of that aesthetic have lifted the resistance I once felt to this new (to me) art form. Traditional Japanese aesthetics not only has given me reason to believe in what I am creating and enriched my appreciation for the possibilities of the form, but inspired me to think even further, to include the space beyond the piece itself in my perception of what I create.

Works Cited

Itoh, Teiji. Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden. New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha. 1973. Print.

Isozaki, Arata. Japan-ness in Architecture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2006.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Texts Without Context”. New York Times 21 March 2010: Arts 1. Print.

Lin, Maya. Systemic Landscapes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Richie, Donald. A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics. Berkeley: StoneBridge Press. 2007. Print.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Melanie's flood

When Melanie was visiting, she noticed the boxes that I used to support my whorls for glueing. She arranged them into a confuguration which I named "Flood" since the flood of dried glue inside each box is distinct. Photos don't do justice to the subtle ways the light plays with the soft greys of the sides of the boxes versus the reflective dark bottoms. Thanks Melanie!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

mentor meeting- April 13, 2010

On Tuesday, April 13, I met with RPW at the Museum School again because the atrium has such good light for my work. I talked about coming to terms with doing installation, thanks to John Beardsley's article in May Lin's book "Boundaries". He mentioned a Japanese term, "ma", which includes both space and time. I write about it in my next research paper - and it led me to investigate Japanese aesthetics, which gave me a way to frame my understanding of what I was aiming for in this work. I will share this in my upcoming paper.

Meantime, RPW and I had a great discussion about my work:
1. The idea of the path through the water: I now have used over 100 yards of fabric. I had arranged the "whorls" in such a way as to establish a path, as if marking the route a sailboat might take, tacking into the wind. RPW thought that the literal path might be problematic - but that leaving open spaces did work.
2. Color of background cloth: She questioned the choice of black, a non-color, for background when the rest of the piece is full color.
3. That led to a discussion of how I use the loose silk which I had positioned near the edge as "run-off". RPW suggested I pursue a piece with just the loose silk pieces flowing one into another.
4. Images of water: We looked at a book on global water issues that had a aerial photo of an expanse of irrigation fields (post that on your wall for contemplation, she suggested) which gave the idea of possibly investigating Google earth for more images that related to water. As for this current piece, she asked me the title and I suggested, "eddy", the edges of water where it laps forward and then retreats again in trickles. She thought that worked and that that description should be included in the writing about it.
5. Finishing the piece: We also talked about my idea of having the fully saturated colors go into grey as it comes forward so the viewer is brought into the piece by the amping up of the color.
6. We talked about lighting and discussed light boxes. However, when I got home and tried my light box on a small batch, it really did not work - the light does nothing for the color and distracts from all the sublties of the cloth.

RPW suggested I might try cyanotype. I have done some work with dyes that react to the sun and loved the results. I'm not sure how that fits in with the water theme I have going now, but will mull it over.

Finally, RPW asked about my book of color swatches which I realized as I was going along that I was not making- I know the colors so well, that I just didn't want to take the time. However, I had brought along a piece - maybe 40" x 40", and I shared with her how gratifying it was to see the color on that scale, especially in contrast to the small work I was doing. So, I plan to make large wall size swatches, so to speak, of the colors I am using in my "eddy" piece. I plan the incorporate the number that refers to the dye into the piece so that it has reference value built in. That idea sounds exciting to me.

It was a great session. I feel inspired to finish the first piece, experiment with a new one using loose pieces, and have fun making the huge swatches.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention sound. I just had seen a theatre piece that used it so effectively. I brought the idea up but am just leaving it open-ended for now.

why hand-dyed silk

Salley Knight

Professor Hannah Barrett

Research Paper – Group 2

March 2010

Why Hand-dyed Silk?

Why do I use hand-dyed silk in my art? I am not from Asia where it has been used in art for centuries. Nor am I working in fashion, where silk is seen more often. I myself had not even heard of silk as a surface for art until the 1990s.

I first explored hand dyeing in the 1970s, when I worked on cotton. I returned to dyeing again in the 90s because I was frustrated with watercolor: I loved the vibrancy of the color of the wet watercolor paint, but often felt disappointed that it faded once dry. I was looking for intensity of color and I found it in silk dyeing. The appeal of silk over cotton, which I had used in previous dyeing work, was its superior capacity to absorb color. I found I could create a range of colors from vibrant to extremely subtle, fully saturated color to more translucent for layering; the silk itself came as opaque or translucent, which opened up even more options for color interaction.

The possibilities for color alone attracted me to silk. However, I am now discovering another aspect: its sculptural potential. In their article, “Mechanical Properties of Silk,” Krasnor et al report that “silkworm silk has a tensile strength comparable to that of steel. But, unlike steel it is also extremely stretchable ... possessing a toughness with a fracture energy much larger than that of a high-tensile steel.” (Web)It must be this strength that holds my silk rolls dependably standing upright in my first venture into silk sculpture.

The history of silk’s entrance into the fine arts in this country at the end of the last century was due to influences on both the East and West Coast. On the East Coast, the French imports of gorgeous hand-dyed clothing popular in places like Greenwich Village aroused curiosity about how the art on the fabric was created. The French silk at the time was dyed using a resist called gutta to make fine lines. The formula for gutta, a substance firm enough to contain dye but pliable enough to make fine lines in hand dyed silk, had been a closely guarded secret among the family members of the czar of Russia, a secret that they brought with them to Paris when they fled during the Bolshevik Revolution. Gutta was important and so was the dye itself. In the 1950’s, the Maison Sennelier, famous for its paints and extra-soft pastels, created a line of 104 dyes branded Tinfix which continue to be favored by artists today, in spite of recent competition. The combination of the Sennelier dyes and the gutta technique of hand-dying produced the beautiful art that was seen on French imported clothing. Information about this technique gradually became available in this country. One person who taught the techniques in New York City in the early 1980s was a French woman, Klara Gordon. According to Susan Louise Moyer in Silk Painting, The Artist’s Guide to Gutta and Wax Resist Techniques, “Within a year, (of Klara’s workshop) other surface design studios began using silk painting...Professional schools such as Parsons School of Design, the School of Visual Art...hired silk painters to teach...” (13).

Meanwhile, information on traditional dyeing techniques from Japan were introduced to this country primarily through the teachings and writings of John Marshall in California and Betsy Sterling Benjamin in Massachusetts, both of whom spent years living in Japan. John Marshall’s book Salvation Through Soy, Blissful Dyeing for all Eternity, in spite of its humorous title, contains a wealth of information on traditional Japanese dyeing using gojiru, or soy milk. Betsy Sterling Benjamin not only wrote a book called The World of Rozome, Wax Resist Techniques of Japan, but also organized a world conference in 2005 at Massachusetts College of Art where artists from Europe, Africa, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan and this country gathered to share information on dyeing and resist methods. It was at this conference that I was able to witness demonstrations of a wide range of dyeing methods and applications. This included the traditional methods of Japanese kimono makers, as well as the more recent modernization of those techniques by Susan Louise Moyer, whose two books on silk painting; Silk Painting, Gutta and Wax Resist Techniques, and Silk Painting for Fashion and Fine Art are the most comprehensive I have encountered on the subject of silk painting.

So, what is my specific process of dyeing? I use the French Sennelier Tinfix dyes with the traditional Japanese method. In preparation, I soak dried soybeans for 8-24 hours before putting them into a blender with added water and grinding them to a pulp; I then squeeze this slurry through a piece of cotton, to obtain fresh soy milk. I use a traditional Japanese brush, a jizomebake, which is a deer hair brush that is made specifically for the purpose of applying soy milk to silk and is far more effective than other brushes: it carries liquid well and the bristles are shaped so that no matter how you hold the brush, there is maximum contact with the silk (Marshall vi). I then leave the silk to dry before applying the dye. The dye can be applied in any of the ways that watercolor paint is applied to paper; the soy acts as sizing which stiffens the silk and creates a resistance to dye spreading. In my most recent work, I have been working large areas of wet on wet, but, in the past, I have done more detailed work with distinct shapes and shading.

Once I have finished dyeing, I allow the silk time to cure, the longer the better, according to John Marshall:

Curing allows the protein in the soymilk time to shrink, biting into the fiber and becoming a permanent part of it. Some Japanese artists allow the soy to cure only a few days. I prefer to cure up to three months. The longer you allow it to cure the higher the quality of your product. (21)

After curing, I steam the silk to set the dye permanently; this involves rolling the pieces of silk, sandwiched between absorbent layers of cotton duck, around a cylinder which is placed inside a tall steamer and steamed for at least 2 hours. Finally, I iron the silk, which becomes again as soft and sensuous as it started before the soy was applied.

In a January, 2010, telephone conversation with John Marshall, I asked him to explain why soy is so crucial to the dye process. Marshall explained the chemistry of traditional Japanese soy milk dyeing to me. Silk is primarily a protein; soymilk is also a protein that is cellulose based. The protein molecule of the soymilk in contact with the porous silk entangles protein with protein into the fiber itself as it dries. When the liquid dye is then added, the soy becomes gelatinous and holds the dye, encapsulating it in a suspension that gives the dye much longer time to penetrate the fiber. This produces rich color and reduces the run-off, or wasted dye that comes out in the steaming process.

What about the substance silk itself? The precise origins of silk are unknown, although, according to Shelagh Vainker in her book Chinese Silk, a Cultural History, she refers to a 7th century BC legend that mentions a princess who smuggles silkworm to her wedding destination (8). In Rajat Datta and Mahesh Nanvaty’s The Global Silk Industry, the authors point to another legend of the fourteen year old queen Hi’s-Ling- Shi of the W’Hang dynasty ( about 2,500 BC) who saw the tiny silk worms grow big eating leaves on her mulberry tree. She watched them make cocoons, which she took into the palace with her. When the moths hatched, she dropped several cocoons into her bath by mistake, and out of these cocoons came “shimmering” threads, the threads that would become woven into silk (17). According to Shelagh Vainker, “Some of the mystery that prompted (these) stories was felt within China…both at the level of rural religious belief and, in a different way, at the highest level of government” (8-9).

For about 3, 000 years China guarded the secret of silk (Datta and Nanvaty- 17) and became known from the third to the ninth centuries for the 6,400 km Silk Road connecting China to the Mediterranean. Even though other countries have since acquired the means of silk production, the pre-eminent supplier of silk continues to be China, which produces four times as much silk as the next closest competitor, India. (Datta and Nanvaty 33)

Chinese silk comes in many weights and textures, both variables which affect dyeing. In my work I use two kinds: a sand washed charmeuse silk which is opaque with one shiny and one matte side, and has a weight of 19.5 mm (short for mommes, the measure of weight for silk). I also use a translucent organza, 5.5 mm. I purchase them in 50 yard bolts from Dharma Trading, a company based in San Rafael, California, which buys directly from China and sells to artists and industry. I love the silk charmeuse because it is thicker and heavier than most silks but still stretches evenly and takes dyes beautifully. When sized with soymilk it provides a strong surface for many different kinds of dye effects. In turn, the organza is sheer, and I can dye it for scrim or layering. It also is stiffer and is key to holding the shapes in my sculptural work.

Because I am using such large amounts of organza for my sculpture, I have modified my dyeing process. In order to dye lengths of it outdoors on sheets of plastic on my driveway, I skip the soymilk preparation and thus forfeit some dye retention. I am compromising absorption of color per yardage for quantity of material dyed. Later I wrap the silk in rolls for my sculpture, which creates compact forms with layers of color so I can still accomplish the depth of color I seek. I continue to use the soymilk process with the charmeuse so that it receives maximal absorption of dye.

Learning about silk and hand dying has been an unusual journey for me in which I have encountered artists from other countries as well as teachers who have spent years assimilating knowledge from around the world. My first reason for exploring silk hand dying remains the primary reason I continue to make art with it: color. With the Sennelier dyes and the thirsty silk, I am able to engage in my passion for creating work rich in color. The fact that silk is also a strong enough fabric to offer sculptural potential gives me even more territory to explore.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Betsy Sterling, The World of Rozome, Wax Resist Techniques of Japan, New York: Kodansha America. 1996. Print.

Datta, Rajat K. and Mahesh Nanavaty, Global Silk Industry. Florida, Universal Publishing. 2005. Print

Krasnov, Igor, Imke Diddens, Nadine Haupman, Gesa Helms, Mal Ogurreck. Tila Seydel, Sergio Funan, and Martin Muller. “Mechanical Properties of Silk: Interplay of Deformation on Macroscopic and Molecular Length Scales”. Hasylab, Research Center of the Helmholtz Association. Hamburg, Germany. 2008. Web. 14 March 2010.

Marshall, John, Salvation Through Soy, Blissful Dyeing for All Eternity, California: Whimsy. 2002. Print.

Marshall, John. Personal Interview. 21 January 2010.

Moyer, Susan Louise. Silk Painting for Fashion and Fine Art. New York: Watson-Guptill. 1995. Print.

Moyer, Susan Louise, Silk Painting, The Artist’s Guide to Gutta and Wax Resist Techniques, New York: Watson-Guptill. 1991. Print.

Vainker, Shelagh, Chinese Silk, a Cultural History, New Jersy: Rutgers University Press. 2004. Print.