back issues

28:sound links

 Issues earlier than this please go to our ISSUU site

Entries in hands (41)


Richard Long: Avon River Mud, 2011

Richard Long. A Line Made By Walking, 1967

Maybe all art is slow art, which is why it is art and not graphic design.  1967, Richard Long, then a student: A Line Made By Walking — the smallest gesture in a drawing where there is only artist and surface; no paintbrushes, paint, equipment, frame.  The surface is complex — grass and other little plants easily crushed, changing the nap of the field where Long walked back and forth until his path registered.  Cognisant of Smithson and the American land artists of the 1960s, he, perhaps because British, a student and probably cash-strapped, made equivalent gestures in the landscape without all the heavy lifting of cranes, excavators and dump trucks.  The restriction becomes the modus operandi for the rest of his career. 

Here, a video: Making River Avon Mud Circle, M-Shed, Bristol 2011

Richard Long. Video: Making Avon River Mud Circle, 2011


Paul Peter Piech: political posters from 1968-1996

Paul Peter Piech, Racism Is a Poison, Remember Soweto. Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection

If we are meant to be remembering Soweto, we are somewhere in the late 1970s, nearing the end of the handmade political poster: one could also be remembering Vietnam, remembering Nixon, remembering so many things that brought people out onto the streets in their hundreds of thousands: vigils in front of the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square that continued for decades, Greenham Common, a massive 1980s women's encampment protesting the placing of Cruise missiles in the UK by the USA.  Far from being some sort of golden, simpler era where men were men and women were cross and the Cold War was frozen in an impasse, the 1960-80s era, ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the impending release of Mandela, was hot and full of social movement and where those who are considered the elites now, the educated, the left-leaning, the experts and the professionals, had a serious voice.

But that's a long time ago now; one looks at the political posters of Paul Peter Piech to measure just how emasculated the alleged elites are now.  This is why we look at the past, not through rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, but to measure where we are today and how we got here.  One thing we no longer have is the political poster: we have political tweets — 140 characters with all the economy of the linocut and two colours of ink. Both can be devastatingly direct and inciting. The poster is not a long form essay; rather it puts out visual memes coded with references: above, identity and stigmata, violence and gun barrels held by hands, pointed at other hands, letters laboriously carved out of linoleum by hand, run off a press by hand, hands bleeding. The hand as synecdoche for a long form message.  

Piech was an American posted to England during the war, married there and stayed.  Some of his work was recently shown at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester.  The exhibition was called Dedicated to all Defenders of Human Freedoms: The Art of Paul Peter Piech.  I feel as if I am in a time warp: evidently this sort of thing still goes on, this valorisation of the alternative voice, not here, but at least somewhere, such as Manchester. 

Piech's work is, by the by, quite beautiful.  He was working up to his death in 1996.  The 1995 poster below, The History of Jazz, still uses his laboriously-carved hand lettering.  The sheer amount of time it takes to cut a letter, to fit the word to the space, to make a capital C hold a smaller letter – the process itself allows time to think.  At the same time, to do a portrait as face and hands, the way that Sargent did a century before, cuts to the chase. The processes might be slow, but the message is quick and focussed. If there was ever a time that we needed fewer words dashed off hot-headedly on a phone by people who don't write particularly well, it is now.  In the incoherent and very confusing cloud of words that surround us, perhaps the processes by which alternative voices will emerge will be like the political poster of the 1970s: deliberate and slow.

Paul Peter Piech The history of jazz. Linocut 1995. From the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection


Richard Hughes, RCGrimewave, 2011

Richard Hughes, RCGrimewave, 2011

Found this image while looking at something else, as is the way it goes.  It isn't a new piece, but hands have been a lot in the news the past few days, mostly shaking agressively, controllingly, powerfully.

This Hughes piece, a giant pressed cardboard fist propped up against a clean gallery wall, is part of a series in this journal, of hands used as political expression.

The hand is the last thing one can speak with after the voice has gone, after its writing has been banned; a fist can still be formed, until it too is cut off.
Resistance — how the closed fist held up, palm out, is a withholding of the hand and its ability to work.  It is passive, sullen, unyeilding: it isn't a horizontal punch, it is a flag held up in a massive objection to whatever circus it finds itself in.  

It surprises me, this, thinking of other signs of hand protest, especially the V — palm out, first two fingers open, the third lightly held by the thumb.  This is a flag that is so open, so optimistic that openness will prevail — the future is coming and it is full of light.  Churchill when he knew he was winning the war, Vietnam protesters who knew they could change government through sheer numbers, but it was never the flag of the Civil Rights Movement: that was the closed fist, with its obdurance and its passive weight.


But, this is art, not propaganda. Richard Hughes finds things in his own territory on the basis of how they 'have reached this state of uselessness, and how well they can be used now to deliver a narrative or depict something'.  This is from a long and absorbing conversation with Martin Clarke about his work.  Having found bottles, bits of plumbing pipe, cardboard, old sheds: things of little value but spied by Hughes at a moment of their descent into detritus, he chooses them, rearranges them a bit, makes a rubber mould of them, casts them in resin, sometimes bronze, and then paints the cast to look like the original.  There are two narratives here: the decay of things, and the arrest of decay by transformation into some other medium. The cardboard fist 'looks like' a cardboard fist, but is actually a sculpture of a cardboard fist.  

At art school in the 90s and with an MA from Goldsmiths in 2002, there is more than a little punk sensibility to Hughes' work.  The found objects, often unlovely; the unsentimental process by which they are made gallery-worthy (this after a generation of the ripping of art off the gallery wall and shoving it out in the street or turning it into performance), he finds boring. He'd pay someone to do it, but he 'can make a mould properly' so why not just get on with it.  It's his job.

He uses bronze for little things, like a collection of spitballs, but uses resin, a particularly inexpensive, blank and characterless material, for most of his pieces.  The unpainted cast is sheer form, the painted surface is a thin skin of narrative that contains all the romance of the processes of attrition, all the tragedy of waste, all the poetics of things without function that persist in littering our landscapes.  The original objects carry some sort of charge for Hughes – it's how he chooses him.  They are transformed by industrial and mechanical processes that deliver that charge into a gallery space.  The objects are legitimised by their simulacra.   I could be wrong, I haven't seen the work, I wasn't in Glasgow in 2012 when the fist was shown at Tramway 2, I only know the image, above, but I sense that this is a hard critique of how we value things only when they have been given the gloss of permanence.

One can critique a system (the Gallery, the Museum, the Art Market) with completely subversive works.  The half-rotted running shoe sprouting grass: cast it in resin, paint it to look like the original which deems it a sculpture because of the methods of its manufacture – a process that seemingly bypasses the existential narrative of the running shoe itself.  And what of that narrative – it is neither unimportant, nor irrelevant.  The 'charge' that Hughes talks about is still there, now primed to go off in that most rarified air of the white-walled gallery. 


Nadia Myre: owning the Indian Act

From Art Mûr: Indian Act speaks of the realities of colonisation – the effects of contact, and its often-broken and untranslated contracts. The piece consists of all 56 pages of the Federal Government’s Indian Act mounted on stroud cloth and sewn over with red and white glass beads. Each word is replaced with white beads sewn into the document; the red beads replace the negative space.

Nadia Myre, Indian Act, 1999-2002. Glass beads, stroud cloth, thread and downloaded copies of the text of the Indian Act (chapters 1 to 5, comprising 56 pages) amended in 1985.

Handwork as a political act: each bead is threaded and strung, attached by the hands of hundreds of volunteers who worked on this project, each page calculated and beaded.  And under it, printouts of a downloadable version of the Indian Act, produced by computer and printer, infinitely replicable, which was, of course, its problem – its replicability in the minds of not just bureaucrats in Ottawa, but in every school system in the country, in every mind of every petty administrator, policeman and worthy.  Did any of them actually read the text, the way the artists beading over it must have?  The speed of reading, or scanning versus looking at every letter, every word, every loaded space between each word, each paragraph, choosing a red bead or a white one: this project was an intensely political process and act – truly an Indian act. 

Nadia Myre, Algonquin, intensely beautiful and significant work.


Gee's Bend women

Right.  Having spent most of the morning watching various Gee's Bend videos, have found this absolutely beautiful one on vimeo posted by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.  It says it all. 

28 minutes long.

THE QUILTS OF GEE'S BEND from Souls Grown Deep Foundation on Vimeo.



piecework processes

Lorraine Pettway, born 1953. Medallion work-clothes quilt, 1974, denim and cotton/polyester blend, 84 x 68 inches.

This is a quilt made from work clothes.  Rather than linking the image to the original site, it is linked to a larger image where one can see the size of the squares that make up the colour blocks.  Blue chambray work shirts (usually from J C Penney, but Sears did them – each brand slightly different in detail and fabric) faded to this pale sky colour in the sun, leaving darker patches underneath the pockets and at the bottom of the sleeves which were usually rolled up.  They disintegrated across the back and at the elbows.  The pieces in this quilt would have been from shirts patched and mended until they could be mended no more, leaving the tails, the cuffs, collars and pockets.

Like any sort of piecing activity: dry stone walls, broken tile mosaics, quilting, each piece in the pile of material becomes intimately known for its colour, its shape, its peculiarities that allow it to fit into a greater whole.  Each piece is considered, set aside, reconsidered elsewhere, set aside and finally used in precisely the right place. In this process all the pieces become characters in the larger narrative that is the quilt, or the wall, or the floor.

This is also a process whereby the weak, the broken and the otherwise unuseable become strong.  Worn out fabric, easily torn, is stitched through a cotton batt layer to a backing cloth, so that it has no stress on it: strain is taken collectively by the batting, the stitching and the backing.   

What these pieced surfaces look like is an entirely different discussion.  Of course each piece is chosen and placed to make a beautiful surface.  But it is not by design, rather it is by detail at the scale of the fingers and the needle, and this is where the Gee's Bend quilts part company with modern quilting as supported by the contemporary quilting industry of patterns, books, new 'vintage' cottons, fat quarters and all the rest.  

I would say, not being an African-American from Alabama with a history of slavery, poverty and the church, that we could read these surfaces as conversations between each piece of fabric and the woman assembling and stitching the pieces.  And like conversations they are unpredictable, idiosyncratic and emotional.  They switch direction mid-stream, they are sometimes angry. They can sooth and they take a long time.   

Loretta Pettway, born 1942. "Lazy Gal" -- "Bars," ca. 1965, denim and cotton, 80 x 69 inches. All images: Tinwood Media


Gee's Bend quilts

Pearlie Kennedy Pettway, 1920-1982. "Bars" work-clothes quilt, ca. 1950, denim and cotton, 84 x 81 inches.

Gee's Bend, Alabama: a small community in a near-oxbow of the Alabama River, originally the Gee cotton plantation, settled in 1816 with 18 slaves.  This had increased to about 150 when slavery was abolished, and most became sharecroppers still working for the landowner.  Its isolation was grave: a ferry and a single road in, during the Depression it received assistance from the Red Cross and the Resettlement Administration which eventually purchased the plantation, re-renting it to its tenants who in the 1940s were able to purchase their plots.  Because of its historical, cultural and social isolation, it has been much studied as a community: its music, its speech and its quilts.

Much has been made of the quilts.  During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Freedom Quilting Bee was formed which sold quilts outside Gee's Bend – difficult as the ferry had been eliminated to make voter registration in nearby Camden hard: by land it was an hour's drive. Ferry service was only restored in 2006.  

The quilts received critical attention almost immediately; they were exhibited, documented, they appeared in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, at the Whitney and the Smithsonian and they've been on US Mail stamps.  It's a big deal.  Despite having done a slew of quilts in my time and collected a number of African American strip quilts from my time in Texas, I only heard about the Gee's Bend quilts on a BBC jazz program  (you can no longer hear it but the playlist is there) about the Jaimeo Brown Trio whose music is based on the Gee's Bend quilters' spirituals that they sing as they quilt.  

When I looked up the quilts, many of which feature on the Smithsonian site, I also found a much-repeated critical stance on Gee's Bend quilts, this one typical: 'There's a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making, writes Alvia Wardlaw, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts [Houston].'

Once again, we have something with its own history, economics, traditions and modes of production likened to abstract art.  Because it looks like abstract art doesn't mean it is abstract art.  Perhaps to an art historian, this comparison of visual similarities was once the foundation of some sort of taxonomy, but today?  I don't think so.  Wardlaw, above, likens the 'improvisational range of approaches to composition' to the same range of approaches found in abstract painters of the same era: mid- to late-twentieth century.  This doesn't add credibility to the quilts; it does outline the way that art curators seek to legitimise work outside the tradition of western painting.

The quilts need no legitimacy, they are themselves.  For this, the Smithsonian essay is good.  It doesn't bang on about how abstract they are because they have spoken to the quilters themselves, who recall things such as Martin Luther King's visit, adding bits to a quilt that is too small, great-grandmothers sold for a dime (not the quilt, the great-grandmother), picking cotton and okra, and sewing a quilt out of your father's work clothes after he died, to remember him by.  

None of this is abstract at all. And nor are the patterns.  They are determined by the size of pieces of fabric to small to use for anything else.  This is an art of poverty, where nothing goes to waste.  Anything less like the economic system that is the art world would be difficult to find.  

In 2007 two quilters filed a suit against dealers who had claimed to own the intellectual property rights to pre-1984 quilts and had used photographs and quotations to promote sales.  The case was dismissed, but it indicates a certain degree of ongoing exploitation of labour, just at a more decorative and sophisticated level. 

Rachey Carey George (born 1908). Work-clothes strips, c. 1938. Denim (wool trousers, mattress ticking, cotton). 82 x 72 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.


Nelson Mandela

18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013: a twentieth century life, in all its cruel outlines, and where this turned out to be training for political grace.  

1966: Mandela sits and sews inmates' clothes in the yard of Robben Island prison


sign painting

Kenji Nakayama's hand.

Kenji Nakayama, mechanical engineer, shoe designer, artist based in Boston, here.  Detailing and lettering of great exuberance. 

And below, a vimeo trailer for a well-discussed film on American sign painters.  For something so fundamental to the look of America, the painters are a near outlaw lot. Well, maybe that is the point.  Lose the signwriters and lose that nostalgic, hand-made quality that used to characterise the States, but increasingly ceases to do so.

SIGN PAINTERS (OFFICIAL TRAILER) from samuel j macon on Vimeo.



how to write a well-proportioned letter

&! Art of Signwriting, 1954

&! Art of Signwriting, 1954


hands, doing things

How to make Bread from The Joy of Cooking, illustrations by Ginnie Hoffman and Beverly Warner, 1931

Everyone has always heard that Andy Warhol was an illustrator, originally, of shoes and cookbooks.  I was convinced my old Joy of Cooking was done by him, but it turns out these disembodied hands in Juliet Greco sleeves were actually done in 1931.  Somehow I don't believe this date.  These hands are so like Warhol's in Amy Vanderbilt's 1961 cookbook, below.  Nonetheless, such drawings are both clear and bizarre: what the hand needs to know about making  bread, or rolled sandwiches.  Pinwheels these were called.  Just a couple of years later the Velvet Underground was formed as Warhol's house band.  

In American Masters: Lou Reed, rerun on PBS on the weekend, Reed said that Warhol had a levelling eye – politicians, stars, soup cans – all were treated the same. This determined indifference is the ultimate democracy: the line drawing of two hands cutting the side off a loaf of bread means nothing other than cutting off the side of the loaf.  It isn't a cleverly-shaped baguette or a whole grain loaf — it appears to be an unsliced wonder loaf.  These hands don't even have sleeves.  The bread board has no perspective, neither does the loaf; there are no crumbs.  The knives, the long pin and their blunt attacks on the bread are both clumsy and sinister.  I find the drawings both wry and amusing.  They are unarticulated, but not inarticulate.

How to roll sandwiches from Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cookbook, 1961, illustrations by Andrew Warhol


MacLean's method 2

On the list of stats for this website, a post I did on MacLean's compendiums a couple of years ago gets a surprising number of visits, every week, week after week.  I actually found a compendium in a box I was sorting through after the flood, not mine, but my brother's, from Grade 5. 

It starts with the correct way to sit, to place your arm, to angle the paper.  In fact the whole compendium is not just about the correct way to write, but how to conduct yourself as a good person, how to write nice thank you letters, get well letters, all in a beautifully smooth hand. If someone hadn't commented on MacLean himself, that he appeared at schools and did magic tricks, I would find this sort of teaching unbearable.  As it was, out in Victoria, he never came to our school and we were left with the rules.  I was an earnest student, tried hard to have perfect writing.  My brother clearly approached it all with a sense of irony.

It looks sort of asemic to me. 


Quadraat, 1992

Fred Smeijers, design sheet for Quadraat, 1992.

Fred Smeijers, Dutch graphic designer, formed a design studio called Quadraat in 1992, in Arnhem. 
Punch cutting is a 16th century way of making type that Quadraat, the typeface, is based upon. A counterpunch is a punch that makes punches.  

When making a piece of type for a letter press, the original was cut on a steel punch, then a mould was made from it, and then type was cast from the mould.  To cut the original letter, the steel had to be cut with sufficient depth into the matrix.  Internal curves and angles are extremely difficult to cut deeply, so a tempered steel counterpunch, harder than the matrix, was used to cut the negative spaces inside the letter.  The counterpunch, used for each letter gave a consistency to the corners and curves.
Smeijers wrote a book about this, Counterpunch: making Type in the 16th Century, Designing Typefaces Now

In terms of writing, it is always interesting to find that no matter what the historical investigation, or the mechanics of making a font today, there is this scrap of paper where the letters are drawn out by hand; where the writing of the letters, the drawings, are so delicate.


writing without meaning

Mirtha Dermisache, Asemic writing

Asemic writing: writing without easy translation into meaning, leaving one to contend with the marks themselves.  I'm not sure that marks that look like writing are, actually, writing.  I think they are drawing, and all the senses that they resemble writing are mechanical.  The hand makes marks.  Sometimes the marks are encoded, and we read them; other times the marks carry other things, and all we can do is look at them.  

This comes byway of an article by John Foster in Observatory on Michael Jacobson's website, The New Post-Literate: A Gallery of Asemic Writing.  Out of the long list of examples with the Observatory article, I picked this one.  It looks like something I understand, some of the others I don't.  Perhaps I understand how these marks are made, and so feel a kinship.  This is not meaning however.  I don't know what this page says, if it says anything other than that one can make such marks.  It is not text. 

Nonetheless, there are books written asemically, no doubt as magical as viewing any kind of calligraphy in a language one does not know.  It could be saying anything at all and we would never know.


matches: measuring off the miles


a change is gonna come

Sam Cooke - A change is gonna come by hopto

One of the proposals for On Site 28: sound is about recording studios and their particular qualities of surface and such.  Sam Cooke was mentioned.

We were in English in grade 9 and Judy Butler who sat behind me told me Sam Cooke had died.  This 1963 song, A Change is Gonna Come, sat, and still sits, at the heart of the Civil Rights movement.   

1963 was an important year: Martin Luther King wrote 'Letter from Birmingham Jail', the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham and four little girls were killed, King's 'I Have a Dream' speech was made in Washington, Medgar Evers was murdered.  Not until the formation of the Black Panthers in 1967 did black power begin to overtake black faith that a change was going to come.

And, still thinking of things Olympic, it was at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City that the 200m gold and bronze medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, shared a pair of black gloves and made their stand for human rights.  Last night on the Radio Australia's Asia Pacific Report, there was a piece about the silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, who also wore a human rights badge in solidarity and was subsequently reprimanded by the AOC and not sent to any further Olympic games. His 1968 200m record of 20.06 seconds still stands in Australia.  Evidently there is a debate in the Australian Parliament about apologising to him, although he died in 2006. 

Why do people wait until someone dies, before their time in this case - he was only 64, before admitting they treated them badly? 

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium as the US anthem was playing, at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. They all wore the badge of the Olympic Committee for Human Rights, OCHR.



Ruth St Denis on the beach, 1916. NYPL digital gallery Image ID: DEN_0543V

This is Ruth St Denis dancing on the beach in 1916.  Unlike classical ballet where energy flows off the body in smooth waves, St Denis, who changed dance radically with Ted Shawn in the 1920s, flings off energy from her body but then snaps it back with a tweak of her wrists.  

It is similar to what one sees in some of the drawings of Patkau Architects in the 90s: a retaining wall shoots across the plan and then, when normally it would subside with a sigh into the ground where the topography finally meets the level, the Patkaus would crank the end and all the energy of the weight behind that retaining wall would jerk back toward the house.

It is a powerful ploy, no less in dance than in architecture, to embody resistance.  What was Ohm's Law?  resistance = voltage/current?  This is the problem with going with the flow, no voltage, no resistance, no energy.  Things change when energy is interrupted.


Alesia II


Bernard Tschumi. Alesia Museum, Burgundy, France, 2011.

This Tschumi drawing of Alesia looks like a Roman bracelet flung onto the ground a long time ago, grass and weeds growing through it.  There is something about this project that keeps raising these images of decorative precious adornments.

Bracelets, Roman Britain, buried in the 5th century AD, now in the British Museum. 
Found at Hoxne, Suffolk in 1992. Alongside approximately 15,000 coins were many other precious objects, buried for safety at a time when Britain was passing out of Roman control.


clever birds

Thinking of the birds who live in prairie shelter belts including the beautiful and cheeky magpie, we have (unusually) a pair of hummingbirds living over the winter in the summerhouse.  They are Anna's Hummingbirds, originally from California, but moving up the coast as it all gets warmer. 

Then, thinking of other proprietal names such as Bewick's Wren, thought I'd have a look at Bewick's A History of British Birds which he put together between 1797 and 1804, illustrating it with beautiful wood engravings.  Evidently he used tools for metal engraving on hardwood, and when he signed his name, added his fingerprint, both (the metal on wood and the fingerprint) unusual lateral forms of expression.

Here are his engravings of a rook and a magpie. 

In the drawing of the rook, there is a scarecrow just above its tailfeathers – a tiny message about the rook's character.  There are some obscure details of something behind the magpie – if ours are anything to go by it should be the 18th century equivalent of roadkill: magpies are omnivorous.  The most endearing thing about these birds is that they all talk, chuckling away at each other and us, making jokes, issuing warnings, natter natter in the apple tree.  


Melchior's hands

Jan Stephan van Calcar. Portrait of Melchior von Brauweiler, 1540. Louvre, Paris

When lassitude and indolence were virtues.  One must never care too much.