Strathcona SloFem event

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Last Saturday, the Slofemists were inside the Strathcona Field House listening to feminist stories.

We heard about how the closure of the Textile Art Prgam at Capilano University  is unfairly biased against women: the enrollment in recent years has been 100% female; and, the faculty members who are facing layoffs are female, whereas the male faculty happen to be eligible for retirement...

We learned about how the Bunka Shishu or Thread Painting archive of a Japanese needleworker/berry farmer grandmother wants to be brought to light.

We heard about the formidible clothing design skills of a Jamaican aunt who was a career role model and inspiration.

And, we learned about an elderly woman in Saskatoon who formed an artist in residence program that is still operational, in the nursing home which housed her husband who had dementia.

 

Launched at the Strathcona embroidery circle: Slofemists's two new patterns, by Lori Weidenhammer!

 

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"Tea & Cozy" at Strathcona Field House Ensemble this Saturday

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The Strathcona Field House Ensemble will be hosting a Slofemists embroidery cricle on Saturday afternoon. In keeping with the Ensemble's on-going practice of exchange, participants are invited to bring a personal feminist story in exchange for a take home feminist embroidery pattern... and in exchange for an afternoon of embroidery. The details are here - Download SFHE Flyer and here - http://fieldhouseensemble.tumblr.com/

 Also stay tuned for Slofemits events at the Yukon Studio (Vancouver) in the new year: January 25, Febrary 22, March 29...


Field House Residencies - art in everyday life

Last week I went on a nylon strap foraging expedition with artist Gaye Chan. I learned how those pesky, semi-rigid nylon strips that get thrown to the side and stepped on and tripped over, quickly accumulate into tonnes of industrial waste. In the usual course of everyday operations, after their one-time use, these durable nylon straps get thrown into the garbage or, best case scenario, get stuffed into massive white palette-sized bags and eventually get sent for recycling –somewhere into the great industrial beyond. Maki, Gaye and I spent about an hour reaching into the small collared opening of a recycling bag outside an East Vancouver organic food distributer, pulling out lengths of tangled multi-coloured strapping. Gaye taught us how to process our gleanings by cutting the straps into lengths and bundling them on-site. Extending the lesson, she suggested that we could further the low-impact recycling process by using our shower water for the washing phase. “I put the bundles into the tub and let them get rinsed while I shower. Then I hang the bundles to drip-dry from the showerhead.” Solving the problems of global waste and excessive industrialization need to be embodied and personal, is her suggestion. Producing colourful and barter-able, in other words valuable, baskets from troublesome waste, the action of weaving is confrontational in a social and personal way. So, the utilitarian basket reveals an unresolved industrial problem, and Chan is an artist who puts the know-how for a solution into the hands of others -- thus distributing the responsibility.

Her solution reminds me of the inventive ways that people with experiences of economic depression, war, or some kind of material deprivation are sometimes skilled in similar solutions. In my kitchen, I have a hotplate made from carefully folded and varnished strips of newspaper that someone bought at a fair trade craft boutique; I once had a very durable grocery bag made from flattened juice tetra packs that were sewn together in Haiti, I think –it was a fund raising item in a school drive; even steel drums (as instruments) could be put into this category. Chan’s baskets make me think of the gleaning action that has centuries of history. Agnes Varda in her movie, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, explained how foragers have through the ages been vital players in France’s food production systems. Her use of the camera echoes their inventive gleaning. She looks for value in what she sees through the lense in the same way that the people who are economically marginalized are continually evaluating the waste they encounter for possibilities: food value? re-sale value?  ‘worth fixing? ‘worth transforming? She asks: image value?

I am evaluating: how much time and labour do I put into gleaning and up-cycling?  When will I weave last week’s gleanings into baskets? and to whom I will gift the outcome? But the attitude of Chan’s project is more urgent and demanding than my decision of whether or not to take up a new hobby. How are we going to fix this problem of over production of packaging goods that have no value after their one-time use?

In the past week, I have encountered through the Vancouver Park Board’s Field House Residency Program not just Gaye Chan’s Basket Weaving Workshop, but also Maggie Winston’s People’s Potluck Performance Picnic (with the Something Collective at the Moberly Park Field House), Lori Weidenhammer’s Hummingbird and Herb Garden (Moberly Park), Debra Zhou’s Debraella exchange-based hair salon, Cindy Mochizuki and Janice Wu’s Bow Wow Saturday exchange-based dog portrait service, and Makiko Hara’s gardening (all at the Strathcona Field House).  These highly varied participatory activities are owing in part to the Park Board’s “arts policy objective of arts in everyday life”. Thus, in everyday life of this past week, besides learning to weave industrial waste into baskets, I have spent some glorious hours in two less-celebrated neighbourhood parks; I’ve enjoyed the unpressured company of artist colleagues, friends, and neighbours –who I would not likely have met otherwise; I’ve learned more about gardening; I’ve even gleaned hair clippings for my garden compost at home.

But by positioning these communal activities as arts in everyday life shouldn’t they be considered as symbolic, representational, canaries-in-the-coal-mine, even? In choosing basket weaving, potluck performances, hummingbird habitat building, bartering of low skilled work over more intellectual and critical art making, are the artists and the park board programmers suggesting that there is an essential lack in the everyday culture of Vancouver?

Similarly -

Gaye Chan will be performing Sweat at Kiosk in Burnaby in July.

(This image, from Eating in Public.)

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Craft of Use

Kate Fletcher, a UK researcher of fashion and sustainability gave a public lecture at Emily Carr University this week. She is a proponent, and analyst, of alternative fashion systems. In particular, she advocates for something she calls “craft of use.” Fletcher believes that if we consider the properties of clothing –what we find necessary and beloved, as well as the skills that we need to make, re-make or maintain clothing, as well as the impact of our clothing decisions on others and the environment, we might be able to mitigate the fearsome global impact of the fashion industry.

Her story telling about the clothing trade in the UK (echoed around the middle class world, one assumes) is shocking. Over the last 10 years there has been a 26% reduction in the cost of clothes in the UK. This doesn’t mean that people have redirected their saved consumer dollars into other things (education, health, community development, arts & culture??) --instead, they have bought a greater quantity of –lesser quality—clothes! It is estimated that about 2 million tons of clothing are purchased annually in the UK; but only about 1 million tons are discarded. Which leads one to wonder, what kind of hoarders have people become? As one of the oldest industries, second only to food, clothing/fashion has one of the longest supply chains. The environmental and social impact of production is felt all along the way: from the production of the resources needed to make the fibers; to the transport of the materials in and out of textile and clothing processing facilities; to the garments’ appearance inside a complicated marketing system; to your closet; and eventually into your garbage bin or into yet another supply chain of clothing recycling processes (thrift stores, and eventually recycling facilities which turn the fibers into other textile products – such as shoddy). The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that in order to avoid a tripling of resource extraction by 2050, the developed world needs to cut consumption by a factor of 5 – about 80%. Fletcher made a convincing argument for the dire environmental implications of fashion and the urgent need to take on dramatic changes in how we cloth ourselves.

Unfortunately Kate Fletcher’s concept of “craft of use” is a complicated proposition that seems hard to pin down to concrete or realizable solutions. But, the outcomes of the concept can be very simple, and very beautiful. Her current research project called Local Wisdom is one such manifestation. It is a growing web archive of the experiences that people already possess for making individual pieces of clothing enduring and endearing. In this project, she asks participants to attend a photo shoot, in which they are asked to discuss and demonstrate the way their craft of use makes their objects more useable. The website is becoming populated with photos and stories that quote people who have modified out-of-shape items; or who share with other wearers wardrobe pieces that only get used ‘once in a blue moon’; or who have such commitment to a garment’s fit and function that they continually have replicas made each time the item becomes worn out.

By coincidence, the Vancouver-based performance artist, Margaret Dragu – none other than the Mending Aktion persona, just this week completed the video How To Be Old – Chapter 3: get thrifty !!! If you need a few practical “craft of use” lessons that anyone can take up, see Margaret Dragu on Vimeo.


Chaos of Surfaces

Remember the austerity of Swedish design? Remember the clean lines and huge expanses of white, cut through with perfectly placed blue pencil lines? Forget all that. This is what greets visitors at the entrance to the new Ikea-mega-complex in Richmond:

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WOW.

I have an untested theory that the quantity of textiles that we encounter in designed spces (retail displays, show rooms, new restaurants, etc.) is inversely proportional to the cost of textiles, and their transport to North America. In the last ten or twenty years (since NAFTA, infact) retail fabric stores have closed, restaurants have become fabric-free, curtains and tapestries are no where to be found in this city of glass... But look: Ikea has obviously sourced very inexpensive expanses of printed cloth, and even a cheap sewing machine to take home! None of this adheres to an ecological 100-mile way of living, but then:

"The Office for Soft Architecture finds the chaos of variation beautiful. We believe that structure or fundament itself, in its inert eternity, has already been adequately documented--the same skeleton repeating itself continuously. We are grateful for these memorial documents. But the chaos of surfaces compells us towards new states of happiness." Lisa Robertson, "Rubus Armeniacus: A Common Architectural Motif in the Temperate Mesophytic Region" in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture.

Finished today, the latest Comforter Art Action:

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Emily Simpson designed it from the box of mail-art-derived 6" squares in my studio. It was knotted on the street in downtown Vancouver as part of the Manomano Collective's TOGETHER 2012, street intervention (August 25, 2012) - manomano


Honouring the Mending Aktion - Verb Woman Wins a GG

Congratulations to Margaret Dragu on winning one of this year's prestigeous Governor-General's Awards in Visual Arts and Media. How great it is to see her long career of gestures and interventions, correspondences, conversations, dances, bike rides, fictions -- in a word, AKTIONS-- recognized by the Canadian art world. Margaret has ammassed a vocabulary of art actions that describe to me a way of integrating creative experiments into a daily life and community. Living on the shoreline of an enormous land, she coreographs her body and the bodies of those around her to describe the conditions that we experience as individuals and as a collective.

Thank you for all of your encouragement, and your inspiration Margaret. And thank you for the mending aktions... sewing with me.

Coyote14

 

Read more about Margaret Dragu's Governor-General's Award here.