'Chiharu Shiota is a spider-woman – one who clambers around in the skeins of our unconscious. In her best-known installations she weaves black yarn into hectic webs that take over entire galleries and in which personal objects are found cocooned. The Japanese Berlin-based artist has ensnared everything from the wedding dresses seen in last year's Walking in My Mind exhibition at the Hayward gallery, to a grand piano and childhood toys. In one of her sleeping performances, you might even find Shiota herself ensconced beneath layers of mesh.

'Born in Osaka, the artist moved from Japan to Germany in 1997, to study under the performance art maven Marina Abramović. For one of her early works, Try and Go Home of 1998, Shiota fasted for four days and then smeared her naked body with earth before taking to a muddy hole. With its suggestions of both womb and grave, the work hinged on feelings of loss and oblivion that have underscored much of her work since. A later installation first shown in 2000, Memory of Skin, featured similarly dirt-stained dresses, suggesting knowledge that won't wash off.

There's a similar push and pull between closeness and separation in her sleeping performances, where women doze on neatly arranged hospital beds beneath a canopy of black threads. However intimate watching these people sleep might have felt, the artist implies that we can never know what's going on behind their closed eyes.

"It would be nice to banish every trace of myself, my looks, my papers, my passport, and even my fingerprints," Shiota has said, "and only create my works in dialogue with the cosmos." While exploring the hinterlands between waking life and dream states and chasing fading memories, in Shiota's labyrinthine installations the passage into oblivion always feels close at hand.

'Sound of silence: When Shiota was nine years old her neighbour's house burned down; the following day the artist saw a charred piano amongst the ruins. This instrument that lost its sound has haunted the artist and inspired various works in which she sets alight to a grand piano, then displays the remains within an installation of black thread. '







'Personal experience is central to Shiota's work. For a project initially staged as Dialogue from DNA in 2004 in Poland and then recreated in Germany and Japan, she invited people to donate footwear with a memory attached – resulting in thousands of old shoes, many of which had belonged to loved ones who had died. She attached each to a taut red thread, a symbol of the path through life as well as the imprint of journeys taken.'




'The threads are interwoven into each other.  Get entangled.  Are torn apart.  And disentangle themselves.  It's like a mirror of feeling' - CHIHARU SHIOTA




Italian Terracotta Sculpture

Through their masterful control of material and a superb sense of artistry, Italian sculptors have explored the versatility of terracotta to create some of the most alluring and expressive sculptures in the history of art.

A history of terracotta

'Modelling in clay is to the sculptor what drawing on paper is to the painter… In the soft clay the genius of the artist is seen in its utmost purity and truth…'
Johann Joachi, Winckelmann, History of Art, 1776

Clay is an inexpensive and abundant material that has been used since ancient times to make bricks, tiles, pottery, and ritual objects. When fired, clay becomes terracotta, or 'baked earth'.

In the hands of Donatello and his contemporaries in early 15th-century Italy, terracotta became a fundamental medium of artistic expression and creativity, and remained so until the age of Antonio Canova in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Skill in handling clay became a requirement at art academies across Europe; the development of new technologies fed the demand for clay sculpture, and clay models took on a central role in portraiture and relief sculpture. Clay was essential to the creative process of sculpture during this period.

Origins: The Ghiberti-Donatello style

The potential of using clay to reproduce devotional images was first recognised by two of the leading sculptors in early 15th-century Florence. Lorenzo Ghiberti ran a large workshop while making bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery. He trained most of the leading sculptors, and the young Donatello, who became the most influential sculptor of the period, also spent time there. The use of clay was central to the production of bronzes and Ghiberti recognised its versatility. Clay could be moulded to replicate images which were then fired, painted and gilded, providing a cheap alternative to more expensive materials, such as marble and bronze.

The Virgin and Child was a popular theme, which found classic expression in the works of Donatello and Luca della Robbia. Donatello's interest was in combining different materials, while Luca adapted pottery glazes to produce more durable and vibrant surfaces. This innovative technique was described by the famous painter and biographer, Giorgio Vasari, as 'a new, useful and most beautiful art'.



'Elohim creating Adam' - WILLIAM BLAKE, Tate Britain

After visitng the Tate Britain and viewing this work by WIlliam Blake, I began thinking about creation myths, in particular the myth of Prometheus.  This ancient Greek legend tells of a titan named tasked with the creation of man from CLAY, and punished for stealing fire from the Gods to give to his creation.  

Clay is a material that has longbeen associated with ideas of creation and even the bestowing of life,  given the common use of clay for human sculptures.  In many ways the Promethean myth is re-enacted through time with each sculptor forging their own man from clay.  


EXCERPT FROM INTERVIEW WITH JI YONG HO - Artist using reclaimed rubber tyres to create sculpture

'Were you always magnetized to the idea of using old tyre parts? What was the motivational spark or moment of inspiration that had you choose the path of tire sculpting?'

'I wanted to express strong living things under, what I thought of as, the term ‘Mutant’. So I looked for some stuff which could express the concept of both soft and powerful. Also I thought that life belonged to Mother Nature, so I brought that into consideration as well. At the time, I had found tyre scraps stuck behind my jeep, all roughly cut and stuck between the surfaces of the wheels. I felt that these grooves and slivers could be controlled, and soon enough, they became the body of my actual work. After a few years, I’ve been able to establish my style that you see today. I don’t think there is only one way to expression. The tyre was just the best material to express my vision of ‘Mutant’, there isn’t any more meaning to the material other than that. If I change or vary the theme or concept, it is because I have changed the medium I’m working with.'


Interesting to consider RUBBER as the conflict of the natural and the manmade; a natural substance now more commonly associated with industry and mechanics.  Ji Yong Ho seems to reference this through his creation of 'mutants'; rather than the thought of mythical beasts which combine animal and human, 'mutant' sounds altogether more unnatural, as if merged with machine.  


'SHEEPMAN' - by Ji Yong Ho

I particularly like this image, given the tyre tread marks are clearly visible.  Despite this however, the end result is an incredible transformation of the everyday into the extraordinary.

(Image below shows part of the entry for 'RUBBER' in Collier's encyclopedia)



Considering 'borrow' as a process in art is perhaps initially an odd one, given how personal artwork is to the creator.  However this well known quote highlights the need for such a process.  TO create new art, an artist must borrow from that which already exist.  This is almost paradoxical, as the new cannot be created from nothing, instead relying on the old to verify and legitimise it.  


'For some years Cornelia Parker's work has been concerned with formalising things beyond our control, containing the volatile and making it into something that is quiet and contemplative like the 'eye of the storm'.  she is fascinated with processes in the world that mimic cartoon deaths - steamrollering, shooting full of holes, falling from cliffs and explosions.  Through a combination of visual and verbal allusions her work triggers cultural metaphors and personal associations, which allow the viewer to witness the transformation of the most ordinary objects into something compelling and extraordinary'

'In Parker's hands, nothing is stable.  Objects fal apart, collide, combust, explode or are COMPRESSED to remerge as new ans surprisingly beautiful forms'


(Interesting to consider the harsh process of compression as a means of reinvention and rebirth.  Perhaps drastic processes must in some cases be undertaken for a genesis?)


'Thirty Pieces of Silver' - CORNELIA PARKER, silverware streamrollered, or COMPRESSED, and suspended just above the floor


'... that set me on the path to thinking about interior monologues and finding that everyone’s got a story; everyone’s either got a secret or everyone’s got something that you can’t perceive by just meeting them briefly or seeing them from a distance. So with the confession pieces I started in 1994 (and gathered into the film Confess All On Video: Don’t Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian), I decided that I wanted people to feel protected when they talked about certain things in their life that they wouldn’t want the public that knows them to know...

'... there are still large instances where people need to withhold secrets, and even since I first started the confessional pieces, I think we as a society have changed—people are being more open now—and that’s why I decided to make a piece called “Secrets and Lies” (2004). It’s the real big secrets that you probably have to keep from your friends, your colleagues. People came forward and again I used the same method, wearing masks to conceal identity. The masks kind of help protect the people, but people also feel quite empowered by them because they know they’re not waiting for some post-production facility to blank their faces out, and it gives them a sense of slightly being a different person because obviously when you put on a disguise you can be free of yourself for a certain while. There are some very big secrets in the film, really some large confessions, quite harrowing ones as well. I showed the work in a very small space, a bit like a confessional booth, so you had this very intimate experience when you faced the person, which is a sort of head and shoulders shot, that the person is somehow only talking personally to you. Someone telling you something for the first time, you really get close to the stories in that way. '



Still from 'Confess All On VIdeo: Don't Worry You WIll Be In Disguise.  Intrigued? Call Gillian'

Almost links to leather research; wearing the skins of something else for protection and security.


Image from 'CREMASTER' by Matthew Barney 

'Cremaster’s mostly wordless universe includes, among other things, the Isle of Man, Barney as a red-haired tap-dancing satyr, Ursula Andress in Budapest, a giant Barney with pigeon-tied testicles, Norman Mailer playing Harry Houdini (and Barney as The Executioner’s Song subject Gary Gilmore), a zombie horse race, a Bronco Stadium chorus line decked with helium-filled Goodyear blimps, gangsters, a multi-colored ram, vaudeville passages, growling death-metal icon Steve Tucker of Morbid Angel, the Masons, motorcycle sidecar races, a swarm of bees, bucking broncos in a choreographed death dance, fairies, and the Rocky Mountains. 

There was a conscious attempt to balance autobiographical material against the mythological, and the more intuitive, abstract material,Barney told me when we first spoke. “It’s not so much about creating a portrait of an individual, but rather a complex, or a system that describes an individual form. Something like building an elaborate mirror over a ten-year period, then arriving at the mirror and being surprised to see your own reflection.”'






[Joseph H. Peterson on Trithemius' ‘most notorious work’, ‘STEGANOGRAHIA’, pictured above]. ‘On the surface it is a system of angel magic, but within is a highly sophisticated system of cryptography. It claims to contain a synthesis of the science of knowledge, the art of memory, magic, an accelerated language learning system, and a method of sending messages without symbols or messenger. In private circulation, the Steganographia brought such a reaction of fear that he decided it should never be published. He reportedly destroyed the more extreme portions (presumably instructions for prophecy/divination) but it continued to circulate in mss form and was eventually published posthumously in 1606.’


Writing can itself be art, as well as, some believe, a portal into our own personality.  This handwriting analysis is the study of ‘Graphology’, however perhaps an even more interesting study is that of STEGANOGRAPHY; the ancient art of embedding writing in something else.  Today the study is more commonly associated with computer programmes which can hide information in files that appear to hold something else, however in ancient times this was obviously not the case.  Such a practice can even be applied to art; messages hidden in a painting for example. 


Eiko is the high court of horror,” notes Deborah Nadoolman Landis, historian and founding director of The David C Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA. “It was always about the opulence and always so elegant and refined, like the vampire bride in Dracula with that incredible lace ruff framing her face. It really was a head on a platter.” 



'Eiko’s otherworldly outfits did not disappoint: Dracula sports a bloodred sort of muscle armor that resembles anatomy-book drawings, and the promiscuous Lucy wears a party dress embroidered with peppermint green snakes to underscore her eroticism and attraction to evil. “When you make a movie, you don’t get exactly what you want—you never do—you get percentages,” Coppola wrote. “Except for Eiko. She got what she wanted.”'

(From photograph) 




Sadie Frost in costume by EIKO ISHIOKA, 'DRACULA'. 1992, Francis Ford Coppola


(continuing from image) 'It was the only female body part - excepting the face- on constant display...[it] could portray the social and moral position of the woman.'

'Women were expected to wear their hair bound after marriage and keep it covered at church, for visits, and in formal sitiuations.  If chaste, covered hair was considered to be the epitome of genteel womanhood, then free flowing, loose hair was considered to be unchaste and a characteristic of a morally depraved woman:

'A woman's long hair, after all, is the emblem of her femininity.  More than that it is a symbol of her sexuality,and the longer, thicker and more wanton the tresses, the more passionate the heart beneath them is assumed to be.'

'The Fetishization and Objectification of the Female Body in Victorian Culture' - Hannah Aspinall


Photography from Tate Britain Gallery - (right to left), 'EVE' by Thomas Brock, and illustration from CHAPTER IV A of 'The FIrst Book of Urizen' by William Blake

Considering HAIR as a material, I first began to think about the significance of hair in art, as I knew it was incredibly significant in the art of  the Victorians, primarily the Pre-Raphaelites.  These images from the Tate Britain therefore caught my eye.  'EVE is almost dressed in her hair, given the way it falls, drapes and pools at her feet like fabric.  The Blake illustration also uses hair to almost bizarre effect, as the figure's face is hidden under the hair that spills from his head and over the sphere in front, described as 'Round Globe, hot, burning, deep, Deep down into the Abyss'

The image below is a close up photograph of the figure in John William Waterhouse's 'SAINT EULALIA', which caught my eye due to the way in which the spilled hair almost resembles blood, pouring out from the head of the sprawled figure.  


'Hair embroidery, a traditional Chinese art, is a special needle-work of making patterns on silk with human hair as the thread. As Chinese hair is mostly black, it used to be known also as moxiu ("black ink" embroidery).

'Today the art excels by far its past attainment in colour and in variety. The colour is no longer limited to black. Others--blonde, amber, auburn, white and grey--of various shades are also used, totalling dozens of tones, mostly collected from areas of ethnic minorities. Occasionally, to give the lips of an ancient beauty their usual rosiness, white hair may be dyed red. But on the whole, pictures embroidered with hair are in its natural hues.

'To work with human hair is more difficult than with silk thread, for compared with the latter Chinese hair is stiff, slip pery and brittle, breaking easily when stretched with exertion. It requires a well trained skill but it is also rewarding in the end-product, which is elegantly neat, ero sion-free, worm-resistant and fast in colour.'


(Considering the literal use of  HAIR as a material, rather than asymbol in works of art)


Exploring the process 'PROTECT through a visit to the Wellcome Collection.  

'SENSE' 2001-2003 by Annie Cattrel

In a series of five glass cubes, above are pictured the first two.  The glass PROTECTS its contents, in this case also preserving them.  Inside is an amber resin reproduction of a brain scan in response to each of the five senses, therefore pictured on the left is the sense 'sight', and on the right, 'smell'.  The scans were recorded through the use of an MRI machine, and converted into 3D constructs through a rapid-prototyping concept.  I found this particularly interesting, as the art preserved the immaterial sense by converting into the material and tangiable.  



The Tate Britain installation by Phyllida Barlow, ( photographed above),  reminded me of the previously explored work by Chiharu Shiota due to the web-like structures used to create the piece.  What is different however is while Shiota often HANGS the threads from the central object, Barlow constructs the webs in order to suspend bulky objects from them.  

'Unlike many of her previous sculptures which take form through constant layering, the installation at Tate will be pared back. ‘I’m always slightly uncertain when things are finished,’ she says. ‘I never really know. I like that uncertainty – you can do just one thing and the piece is completely ruined. For these Tate works there is a kind of clarity – they won’t get that far. They won’t get to a stage when they have to be stripped back, because I’m trying to hold them in check.’' - Interview with Barlow concerning her Tate installation



'Leather has played an important role in the development of civilisation. From prehistoric times man has used the skins of animals to satisfy his basic needs. He has used hides to make clothing, shelter, carpets and even decorative attire'

Leathercraft terms

'Back. A side with the belly cut off, usually 15 - 18 sq.ft.

Belly. The lower part of a side, usually 4 - 8 sq.ft.

Kip. The skin of a large calf, usually 9 - 17 sq.ft.

Split. This refers to the undersection of a piece of leather that has been split into two or more thicknesses. Splits are usually embossed with a design or sueded.

Suede. Leather that has been sanded to produce a nap.

Grain. The epidermis or outer layer of animal skins.

Full Grain. Leather that is just as it was when taken off of the animal. Only the hair has been removed and the grain or epidermis is left on.

NOTE: ONLY FULL GRAIN, VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER will absorb water and tool correctly. All leather carving and tooling must be done on full grain leather.

Top Grain. Top grain leather has often been sanded to remove scars and then sprayed or pasted to "cover up" the work. Top Grain IS NOT the same as "Full Grain" leather.

To make leather a uniform thickness, first the hides are run through a splitting machine. Since animal hides are not of uniform thickness, and since they are wet when they are put through the splitting machine, thethickness of the leather will not remain the same throughout the hide. There will always be slight variations and that is why leathers are usually shown with a range of thickness - such as 2 - 2.4mm., 3.2 - 3.6mm., etc.'



The previous passage drew my attention to the almost primal important of leather in the lives of humans.  Man has turned to animal skins throughout history, yet when this is propery considered, it becomes clear just how brutal such an act truly is.  Slaughtering creatures and dressing in theit skin for protection seems fitting for an ancient time, yet not this modern age.  Keeping this in mind, I began to search for artists who use leather to interesting effect, and found 'microsculptor' Mark Evans.  His technique struck me for the brutal use of knife of leather, yet the care and precision at which he does so.  

'My granddad gave me my first knife when I was seven, I used it to carve images into bark of trees around the farm. then in 1995 I left wales to study fine art in london, it was pre-millennium and there was a digital revolution in the air, the YBA had exploded onto the british art scene, I was told by my professor that ‘painting is dead’ – all this was going on around me, but I couldn’t shake my childhood primal desire to play with knives.

'Then five years later, in the winter of 2000, just after the turn of the millennium I was trying to clean a blood stain off a new leather jacket I had just been given that christmas. I scratched through the blood into the surface of the jacket, right into the suede or the ‘nap’. that tiny etched patch of contrast in the leather suddenly became my own archimedes ‘eureka’ moment, as if an explosion went off in my mind. I saw a world of possibilities. I locked myself away in a garage for the next few years and focused on developing this new technique. I was living as part artist & part mad-scientist trying to perfect the process that I’d accidentally discovered. that blood stained jacket was the spark that led to my first ever leather etching. 

'It’s micro sculpture within a tenth of a millimeter, and I’m an obsessive perfectionist about it. full blown OCD. I have spent hundreds of thousands of hours slicing, etching, making tiny meticulous marks with scalpels. it’s an obsession with me that bleeds into all areas of my life. I need my studio ordered and tidy. my knives all need to be neatly lined up. my studio has to be cleaned every week. I need symmetry, balance, and order or I cannot think.'


Interesting that Evans too references this 'PRIMAL' element to leatherwork -image avove, 'FURIOUS EARTH by Mark Evans 2012



'I try to... percieve the strangeness of things... It is not an easy practice, as it presupposes an internal struggle with myself.'

'...try to escape from predetermined channels.  You can do so only by placing yourself 'horizontally', without any moral values, knowing that every phenomenon may be respected, and that all elements are on the same horizontal plabe, on a path.'

'I believe in the importance of the female principle in all things.  For instance, 'to concieve something' brings us back to the idea of 'conception', and is thus a feminine action...'

(Continued from article) ...'women are artists by nature, they don't need to create art, theur bodies hold the power to create, so they are less detatched from things.'

'I try to practice the principle of contradiction, and try to escape fictions.  I do very diverse things... I create works with words, or with words only; works with images, or with images only'

'I have a book of chaos... When I re-read it certain knots and themes appear... The subject shows itself and I develop it'

'I meet a title and I cannot free myself of it.  The title imposes itself, chooses itself, and influences the preparation of the show... I let words surpise me'


I was struck my how philosophical Castellucci is in this article, as he discusses ideas of detatching himself to let him freely build new constructs.  This is very much linked to the philoopher SARTRE who discusses freedom in this rather bleak and abstract sense, employing the term 'Nausea' to discuss the feeling when this harsh freedom from predetermined chanels, and therefore certainty, is realised by the individual.  I could not help but think of this when reading the interview with the artist.  

(Image below shows scene from one of Castellucci's theatre shows)


Considering EARTH as a ‘material’ invites ideas of almost any natural material; all in some way being a material of the Earth, for example fossils, clay etc.  However the term could perhaps also refer to locations on the planet Earth, each place offering a host of different natural materials.  Considering Earth literally however I came across the French artist Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy who uses soil to create living statues.

“The values of preservation, attachment to roots and relationship with land and time, emphasized in my childhood, continue to inspire my work. By exploring and juxtaposing subtle links between anatomy, psychology, ecology and cosmology, I try to understand the mysteries of our inner and outer selves.”


It would, as with ‘clay’ be interesting to once again refer this material back to mythology, in this case that of ‘Mother Nature’, or Gaia, often said to live inside the Earth and all of its natural forms.  


‘ I have very strange dreams now from which I wake up in complete horror. They repeat during different periods of my life. I can’t explain them. They have something to do with the disturbance of an order that is not supposed to be disturbed. I come from a military family—maybe that’s why I have these sorts of dreams. I have one where I’m in front of a huge army of five thousand soldiers in perfectly pressed uniforms. I’m inspecting them, and I go up to every soldier and take one button from each uniform and throw it away. I destroy the symmetry, and that is not allowed. Then I wake up in a panic.’ –MARINA ABRAMOVIC


Known for her daring and controversial performance art, Marina Abramovic cannot be conveyed as truly through images alone as many other artists can be.  It was for this reason that I was interested to discover transcripts of diary entries ( pictured below)  kept by Abramovic during her piece ‘The House With The Ocean View’.  To me these were as important as the performance itself, as it showed the emotions of the sole performer (i.e. Abramovic herself) throughout the process, the result being a piece that is as emotionally poignant as artistic.  


20 July 2017, 0:30

Hello. And Bye.
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