It's A Good Time Okay 2012

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Cheap and Ordinary, Vulgar and Mundane by Freddie Robins

Cheap objects that distract us from the mundanity of everyday existence, poorly written, badly printed romance novels and roughly cast, gold plastic trophies, ordinary household textile materials, woolly blankets, second hand clothes, embroidery canvas and woollen threads. These are the mainstay of Mae Finlayson’s new exhibition. Doesn’t sound very promising do it? But Mae reassures us It’s A Good Time Okay.

Mae has always been drawn to the ordinary and seemingly worthless. Everyday artefacts and materials that are readily available and affordable. These things are not only her inspiration but also her basic materials. She “loves the idea of starting out with something quite ordinary, and ending up with something quite extraordinary.”[i]

In this exhibition her playful combination of materials and use of traditional embroidery techniques produces objects that question our basic human needs to be desired, valued, to love and to be loved in return. Superromance – poles is made from circles punched from the pages of romance novels, strung together to form a vertical, suspended pole. The waste materials, the pages from which the circles have been punched, form Superromance – holes. These are stacked on the floor. Holes and poles, the theme of many a soft porn movie, quite the opposite of the romantic encounters described in the romance novels themselves. These punched circles or “paper sequins”, as Mae calls them, are a re-occurring component. Mae has constructed a large, circular collage made from these overlapping paper sequins, punched from the covers of romance novels. Sequins are the physical embodiment of cheap glamour, a fun night out and possibly “pulling”, where’s the romance in that? Hard Core Collages again uses the covers of romance novels; here photographs taken from vintage cookery books of hard-boiled eggs and platters of cold meat replace the faces of couples embracing. One of the books is entitled A Devious Desire, but there’s nothing devious about it, food and love, these really are our most basic needs and desires.

The use of old cookery books and the domestic kitchen was the main visual inspiration behind Mae’s final MA collection. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2005, having previously studied for her BA at Goldsmiths College, also in London. During her undergraduate studies, where I first met Mae, she was working with T-shirts, manipulating, changing and enhancing them. The T-shirt is the ultimate ubiquitous garment. A garment that transcends gender, age, race, physical ability and social class. This mass appeal makes them the perfect textile medium for expression and communication. Her final degree project, Pound Shop Bop, saw her transform items bought in a pound shop into experimental garments. Plastic shopping baskets were deconstructed and made into dresses and plastic pegs formed extraordinary collars. She also developed textile prints from other objects that she bought, children’s plastic stencils, dartboards and the plastic shopping basket themselves.

In 2003 Mae started her MA at the Royal College of Art, where she was one of my tutees. Here she embraced her interest in fashion further. She explored more textile and fashion skills including knitting, embroidery, garment construction and styling. Her final collection Kitchen Wear saw her take inspiration from the aforementioned cookery book. The imagery was used on the garments. The garments were then represented through video and through the manipulation of the cookery book itself, with the images and titles of the garments replacing the images and titles of the recipes – Meat Pie Mini and Floor Board Blouse. Mae’s creativity is rule less and boundless, at one stage in her MA her creativity was noted as being “highly mega”.

Mae is art school trained to Masters level has worked within the commercial design world and is also an academic but her creative practice sits firmly within the genre of DIY Craft, a movement that she is a forerunner of. In 2007 Dennis Stevens, the American writer and researcher added the distinctly separate genre of DIY Craft to his Definition of Craft. In it he states that DIY Craft is a “form of domestic creativity that emerges from a DIY ethos that seeks to confront mass market consumerism and the homogenization of culture as a result of the aggressive expansion of big box retailers. This creative handiwork is often nostalgically ironic, concerned with style, irony and occasionally contains a touch of kitsch; it often contains wit and humour and it is about being in the know; but also, without question, it is about choice. This work does not seek validation within traditional art methodology but rather it is motivated by a desire for creative and economic freedom.

Because they have a choice to make what ever they want, many Gen-X and Generation-Y women (and men) are choosing to create using traditional domestic processes such as knitting, quilting, weaving, sewing and decoupage.”[ii] 

“Nostalgically ironic”, “contains a touch of kitsch” and “often contains wit and humour”. I couldn’t sum up Mae’s style better. Inline with DIY Craft activities and philosophy Mae’s practice also includes open participation. In her “radical, experimental, interactive exhibition based around knitting”[iii], Knit Lab, Mae, along with Abigayle Tett, collectively known as Team Textiles invited “anyone (even those with no knit skills whatsoever)”[iv] to get involved. Elements of the exhibition relied upon visitors to the gallery contributing to the work with the works evolving over the length of the exhibition. The exhibition included “Vom Poms, a giant pixelated bacteria, the needle exchange and a poo machine on which you could finger knit your own poo specimen; stick it in a zip lock bag, sign it and nail it to the wall.”

American writer and researcher Betsy Greer coined the term “craftivism” in 2003; interestingly Greer was a contemporary of Mae’s at Goldsmiths College. This term joins the previously separate spheres of craft and activism. Since then there has been a whole raft of new words and terms to navigate the various new aspects and activities of craft – yarnbombing, yarnstorms, guerilla knitting, knitting salons and sewing lounges. Mae is also a deft wordsmith and has coined some new phrases herself. One of her blogs is entitled Thimblism with the strap line “it’s like a religion”. In it she mentions “crart”, “when art and craft take each other by the hand and declare their love.”[v] There’s the romance raising its ugly plate of cold meat again.

 

Freddie Robins

Artist and Senior Tutor for Textiles (Mixed Media) at the Royal College of Art, London

www.freddierobins.com

www.rca.ac.uk

[i] http://teamtextilestas.blogspot.com/p/who-is-team-textiles.html

[ii] For the full definition see http://redefiningcraft.dennisstevens.net/?page_id=123

Dennis Stevens 28th January 2007

[iii] http://teamtextilestas.blogspot.com (June 3, 2011 Be a part of our Knit Lab)

[iv] http://teamtextilestas.blogspot.com (June 3, 2011 Be a part of our Knit Lab)

[v] http://thimblism.blogspot.com