Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Enduring Antarctic Adventure of Clare Plug

 Illustration: Clare Plug. Ice Crack 2, 2008.

The New Zealand textile artist Clare Plug has spent the last few years of her career developing a fascinating body of work that entails intimately observed details along with wider conceptions and observations of the most rarely visited of all the planets continents.

In 2006 Plug was lucky enough to visit the continent of Antarctica as part of a fellowship, staying with the official government Antarctica NZ at Scott Base in the vicinity of the Ross Ice Shelf. It is no small exaggeration to say that this experience fundamentally changed her views and the entire aspect of her work, so much so that much of the textile art work that she produces to this day is haunted by this most spectacular and hauntingly beautiful continent.

Illustration: Clare Plug. Ice Crack 2 (detail), 2008.

The three works shown here are examples of Plug's Antarctica Series which explores a number of aspects of the continent from the fragile and relatively recent human experience, to the much older and grander sweep of geological and climatic history that has become so pressingly relevant in our own contemporary world.

Through discharge dyeing, applique and quilting techniques, Plug has been able to not only detail her own experiences along with those of others past and present, but perhaps more importantly to focus our attention on the emotional ambience of the landscape and the sense of harsh beauty that it entails. Through her sensitive use of textural colour and stitching, the artist can help us to identify the strange combination of a climate that is so harsh that it can kill most life forms, while at the same time being supremely fragile, delicate and sensitive and so easily prone to destruction by outside forces.

Illustration: Clare Plug. Midnight at the Barne Glacier, 2008.

These moody and sometimes even ethereal textile pieces are in many regards emotionally observed landscapes. Admittedly, they can only give us an indication as to the multiple experiences that would be observed on the continent itself. However, Plugs work has such a defined ambient compositional quality to it that although most of us will probably never visit the continent itself, we can at least share some of the wonder and sheer magnetism of this most intriguing and other-worldly part of the planet.

Through her landscapes, both climatically and geographically based, humans seem to make only the barest and most tenuous of impressions. No more obvious an example of this underlying feeling is Out on the Barrier which seems to give a hint of a hauntingly indistinct portrayal of a possible human symbol, or not. To show our lack of domination of one continent out of seven, everything in Antarctica seems transient, misleading, even misdirected seeming at times to be playing tricks on our senses and our preconceptions. The physical and emotional scale of the experience seems well beyond the human scale in which to focus, catalogue and identify. This often featureless and unimaginably empty continent challenges us to imagine a world where the human species cannot automatically deem themselves dominant, and for our own sanity that feeling of inadequacy mixed with awe, can only be for the betterment of us all.
Illustration: Clare Plug. Out on the Barrier, 2008.

A wide range of Plug's textile art pieces were part of the Look South exhibition held at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch New Zealand. This exhibition was due to continue until the end of September. However, due to the major earthquake experienced by South Island, the exhibition has had to disappointingly close early, though I am sure Plugs hauntingly beautiful textile work will be seen at many more venues in the near future.

Clare Plug has a web presence where much more of her work can be seen. She has exhibited in New Zealand, the US and Europe as well as being featured in a number of publications. Another interesting site listed is that of Antarctica NZ which gives details of New Zealand's official work in Antarctica as well as information on Scott Base where Plug stayed in 2006. On the site there is a webcam of the base which updates every 15 minutes. Both sites can be found in the Reference links section below.

Illustration: Clare Plug. Out on the Barrier (detail), 2008.

All images were used with the kind persmission of the artist.

Reference links:
Clare Plug website
Antarctica New Zealand

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Art of the Handwritten by Jeanne Raffer Beck

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 1.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 1 (detail).

Ever since the creation of human writing there has been a fascination with the written word. At times it seems almost magical that abstract shapes can give us an understanding and knowledge not only of the world around us, but also of the individuals that inhabit it. When you take this analogy across time it becomes both astounding and poignant, with generations passing down glimpses of their personality, dreams and fears to those who follow after them.

American textile and mixed media artist Jeanne Raffer Beck has made the written word one of the central cores of her creative work. As a long term professional writer she has an innate understanding of subtle inflection and intonation, the boundaries of words and the complexity of language. Although the written word cannot give us nearly as much information as the spoken word, with its particular and individual inflections and tone, there is a difference that can be measured within the parameters of the written word itself.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 2.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 2 (detail).

Beck has come to the fascinating conclusion that the hand-written word, as opposed to that of the printed, can in fact give us, through personal calligraphy, an intimation of feeling, emotion and character of the individual. It is the hand-written nature of old diaries, letters and journals that the artist uses in her work that give us the beginning of an understanding of the personal nature of calligraphy itself. This becomes somewhat poignant in our own time as the skill of personal hand-writing retreats to ever more infrequent usage, producing the result of an increasing separation, or at least distancing from the intimacy and connectedness to those in our own era, and perhaps even more importantly, to those who follow us.

Beck has used the idea of hand-writing and personal calligraphy as a inspirational starting point and stepped further along the creative road by studying the results as a form of personal mark making. By breaking down and deconstructing the original lettering, and intuitively over imposing more marks and symbols of her own, she is able to take personal hand writing to a different level, in some ways reinventing the original to reflect a new and personal experience of her own.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 3.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 3 (detail).

This is a fascinating and fundamental examination of the use of written language that is utterly compelling. It begs questions as to what the reading and writing of language means to us on a personal, creative and community level. It also raises questions as to our own era and the death of hand-writing as an expression of our own identity and personal parameters.

That a writer has been able to open up another avenue of personal exploration and creativity within the field of art is inspirational. The cross-creative process whereby the experience accumulated in one discipline is used to expand the parameters of another is one that should be equally encouraged and applauded.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 4.

Illustration: Jeanne Raffer Beck. Pages 4 (detail).

Jeanne Raffer Beck has exhibited her work across the USA as well as the UK. Her work has also been published widely and she has even been featured in TV. She has her own comprehensive website as well as a regular and fascinating blog. Both of these can be found below in the Reference links section.

Images were made available with the kind permission of the artist.