Welcome to the blog of Spike Dennis; an artist and sometime curator. Trained in London Spike has exhibited widely, from London to Los Angeles, and has delivered projects from Cardiff to Stockholm, for organisations including the Illustration Research network and Cardiff Design Festival amongst Others.
Behind the Scenes of the Museum – Artists in Collections
Last month I attended ‘Behind the Scenes of the Museum’ which was a symposium at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff delivered by Axisweb in partnership with the National Museum of Wales and supported by the Arts Council of Wales.
Axisweb kindly invited me to write a short blog entry as a part of the documentation of the event. It was a challenge trying to cover everything covered by all of the speakers in such a small space as the event provided lots of food for thought and raised lots of questions.
The Bell, Walthamstow, London, E17 31 May – 15 June 2014
New Folk Visionaries is a new exhibition concept from the Pack of Wolves that will explore our collective interest in folk art traditions in the 21st century. It will be a presentation of neo-folk art from five artists emerging on the outside edge.
We are pilgrims seeking the past, the genuine, the individual.*
Traditionally outsiders, folk people and visionaries are often self-taught, marginalised from mainstream society. Despite our modern socially networked, Wi-Fied, 3Ged times, the Pack of Wolves have never stopped celebrating what it is to be an outsider; standing on the fringes looking in and observing, analysing, forever questioning what we see.
Our work explores contemporary society, values and morals, through storytelling, legend and tradition. Uncanny and obscure motifs are frequent in much of our work as we try to make sense of what we see and experience in this mad world.
Humour is important in ensuring that we aren’t engulfed by the banal horrors of modern living. We frequently poke fun at the norm with our ugly-beauty and tongue-in-cheek commentary on social mores and what is acceptable and what is not.
In keeping with folk art traditions you can expect to encounter work in an array of media including, but not limited to, embroidery, painting, moving image, and 3D collaged objects. Our curiosity has led us to teach ourselves these crafts. We make our puppets from driftwood and our witches eyes from plastic coated bagels. We celebrate the mundane and make it magical.
New Folk Visionaries will be an enchanting and sometimes disturbing exhibition of making, creating, performing, witching, spelling, hoaxing and coaxing, using self-taught traditional skills will be on display, with the emphasis on the way of the outsider.
I visited Chapter last week to attend the Wales Blog Awards. It wouldn’t normally be my kind of event but my Drowning Dogs blog was short-listed for the ‘Best Multimedia Blog’ award.
If you haven’t visited it before, Drowning Dogs is a collection of hand written interviews with artists that are conducted via the postal service. There’s a growing collection of interviews from around the world – do go check them out!
My fellow category finalists were the Blakeson Mashup Video Project and Hello Telegramme. All three finalists are very different blogs and I had no idea which way the judges would vote so I was surprised when Drowning Dogs was announced as the winner.
I was presented with a large Wales Blog Awards trophy, fittingly in the shape of an artists mannequin, and posed for a rather awkward photograph (public appearances and photographs really aren’t my thing!) with Lloyd from Rockadove who had sponsored the award. I declined to take to the mic to thank my mum, my dad and the lord above like the other winners but I did get roped into saying a few words on camera and that will no doubt surface on-line in the not too distant future.
I’ve been working on the creation of my very own Wild Man costume lately. This is a outfit that I intend to use a part of some forthcoming video performance works spawning from my unicorn studies.
The transformation of man to beast is a central aspect of traditional pagan rituals that are centuries old and which celebrate the seasonal cycle, fertility, life and death. Each year, throughout Europe, from Scotland to Bulgaria, from Finland to Italy, from Portugal to Greece via France, Switzerland and Germany, people literally put themselves into the skin of the ‘savage’, in masquerades that stretch back centuries. By becoming a bear, a goat, a stag or a wild boar, a man of straw, a devil or a monster with jaws of steel, these people celebrate the cycle of life and of the seasons.
In the past these folk costumes have been made with animal skins and/or plants and foliage. My own creation uses these old outfits as a starting point but I have added my own updated twists on these traditional methods.
One of these contemporary additions is the use of these LED pixel rings as eyes for the mask. When properly programmed they should display a continuous rainbow sweep.
They are currently powered through an Arduino Uno. This is a little clunky though so I’m hoping to get my hands on a Lilypad Arduino or an Adafruit Trinket to use in the final installation which should be a lot more discreet.
Having been using Tinder for a few months artist Anna Gensler (aka Instagranniepants) started retaliating to the crude messages she was receiving by drawing unflattering pictures of the offending men. As she states on her Tumblr she is “objectifying men who objectify women”.
Not wanting them men pictured to enjoy the images she says that she tried to portray them as “fat and not very well-endowed” using their profile picture as a point of reference. Having started drawing these men Anna then started posting them on-line and sharing them with the original subjects and recording their responses.
I came across these amusing drawings a couple of weeks ago. Of course I was particularly fascinated because they use messages received via an on-line dating tool to generate a creative output – much like my Unicorn Dating project.
The key difference between Anna’s project and my own is of course that she is a woman retaliating against the attitudes of men on dating sites whereas I am a man masquerading as a girl on a dating site to solicit content from men for my art. She is setting out to produce caricature’s of the men in the hope of shaming them whereas I have taken a much more documentary approach.
I had looked at Tinder as a possible platform for my Unicorn Dating project but eventually decided that Craigslist offered me more flexibility. The greater popularity of Tinder seems to have gifted Anna with some much more ‘interesting’ and entertaining quotes though. I haven’t ruled out using other platforms however for further developing my work in future if it’s appropriate.
I noted that Anna also branched out on to OK Cupid and added a disclaimer to her profile stating “I’m going to draw you naked if you send me rude messages”, and provided a link back to her previous drawings. I do feel that this demeans the project somewhat though as it is something of an invitation to playful or childish men stumbling across her profile.
She has since announced that “Now anyone can be granniepants-ed! Submit your material at granniepants.com”. Like the disclaimer on OK Cupid I feel that this devalues the project somewhat as Art since it opens it up to be abused or manipulated.
The project started off from quite an interesting conceptual point but it seems to careered off down a popularist route reducing the whole affair to something of a one-liner. That’s a shame because it could have developed into an interesting contemporary exploration of objectification and gender differences.
It was a delight to stumble across Leah Emery’s cross stitch porn recently. She is an Australian artist who has been cross stitching graphic scenes from hardcore porn films for a number of years. Apparently she exhibited alongside me at the Stitch Fetish exhibition in Los Angeles earlier this year but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it over there to see the show.
The imagery she uses appear to be sourced from vintage pornography which sits really nicely with the medium of stitch due to the slightly flat nature of the coloured threads. Crafted through the traditionally domestic art of cross stitch, her works pose interesting questions about ones ability to appreciate a work of art if it’s content offends your moral sensibilities.
There is a great little video interview with her here produced for The Feed:
Her source material is only ever so slightly different to that which I’ve been working with and I can associate with a lot of the comments she makes regarding the act of stitching graphic imagery.
Fragmented Memory (2013) is a series of three large woven tapestries by American artist Phillip Stearns. The production of the work combined digital practices with the physical act of weaving and explores the intersection between data visualisation with textile design.
Using a variety of software such as Processing and Pmem the artist took a snapshot of the physical memory on his computer and was able to convert that binary data into visual data. This was then fed into the programme for a computerised Jacquard loom to produce the three pieces of textiles (pictured above). The colours have been translated from the source data in such a way that it is possible to decode the textiles that have been produced.
I’ve been looking into a number of different art projects that combine digital technology with textiles lately as I look to develop my Unicorn Dating project. They currently combine hand embroidery with online digital content that is accessed through embroidered QR codes. As I look to develop the project I’ve been exploring the possibility of using glitch data from image files, the appearance of which is often similar to the data that has been visualised in Fragmented Memory.
As well as having produced this triptych of textiles Phillip Stearns is also the founder of Glitch Textiles who provide woven and knit wall hangings and blankets incorporating patterns developed from glitch data. You can also find some great examples of glitch imagery on his Year of the Glitch blog too.
This short video shows some of the processes involved in creating Fragmented Memory: