Archive for November, 2009

Stitching on the Silver Screen: Bright Star

Posted in Fashion, Film with tags on November 23, 2009 by arttextstyle


From Bright Star: Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) examines a piece of handwork.

In the film Bright Star, released last month, sewing, fashion and handwork play more than walk-on parts. Set in London in 1818, the film chronicles a secret, and ill-fated, love affair between the young English poet, John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an out-spoken student of high fashion. They make an unlikely pair, he thinking her a stylish minx, and she unimpressed not only by his poetry but by literature in general. “My stitching has more merit and admirers than both of your two scribblings put together,” Fanny tells John Keats and Charles Brown, as they dismiss her so they can work on their poetry. “And I can make money from it.” That scene illustrates a key conflict in the film, between Fanny’s “utilitarian talent and his ethereal one, a woman’s ‘craft’ versus a man’s ‘high art,'” Elizabeth Bales Frank observes in her blog review of the film.

The film’s director, Jane Campion, spends time sewing herself — including embroidering pillowslips for her daughter and her own friends. Campion told Livia Bloom of Filmmaker magazine that “Sewing is a literal metaphor for making one’s will, stitch after stitch. Louise Bourgeois also has a lot of sewing and waiting in her work. I love that this film is an opportunity to look at the world, or look at an event, or at Keats happening, through the eyes of someone who was a sew-er and a wait-er.”

Campion’s eye for needlework detail is evident from the opening scene, an extreme close-up of a needle piercing a cloth. It’s “a close image, very close, so close that you can see the fibers of the cloth furring its surface,” says Frank in her review. “This, then, will be a film about intimacy and domesticity, about creativity and limitations.” In other shots, the camera will linger on buttonholes, and seek out hats, pointy shoes, an embroidered silk pillowcase and a lavishly layered triple mushroom collar. The film ends as it begins, with Fanny sewing, this time her widow’s gown.

“In that period there weren’t many opportunities for women to express themselves,” Campion has observed. “They sewed and they waited; it has a kind of rhythm — needle in, needle out — to me that’s kind of poetic.”

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A detail from the earliest plate in Fanny Brawne's book, dated 1812. Between 1821, when Keats died, and 1933 her book contains few entries. Her interest in fashion seemed to return after she married Louis Lindon.

Even Abbie Cornish, the 26-year-old Australian actress who played Fanny, picked up needle and thread to better inhabit the character. That Fanny created her own clothes and had a reputation for her flamboyant dress were key, according to Cornish. “You look back to her journals and they’re filled with drawings, different embroidery patterns and fabric swatches.” Fanny Brawne kept a Fashion Plate Book, from the time she was 12, in which she collected fashion, theatrical and costume illustrations. She wrote letters to Keats’ sister Fanny offering advice on fashion, textiles and London dressmakers and including diagrams to enhance her explanations. Fanny also occupied herself with embroidery, sewing and knitting. The Keats House Collection contains a few items that she created including a fichu scarf. A display about Fanny and fashion can be seen at the Keats House.

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In Print: Jennifer Falck Linssen in Surface Design Journal

Posted in Art, paper with tags , , on November 21, 2009 by arttextstyle
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Jennifer Falck Linssen’s work is featured in the Fall 2009 Surface Design Journal in a six-page article, Katagami Inversions: Jennifer Falck Linssen’s Carved Paper Sculptures, by Ginger Knowlton. The article features five dramatic images of hand-carved cotton paper vessels from Linssen’s four-part sculpture series, Wave and Water, Fire and Emotion, Earth, and Wind.

In Knowlton’s view, “[the] process of transference, and of the imagined, is what seems to drive the artist: an exploration between real/physical/tangible and tenuous/ ethereal/potential. On the one level, there is the dynamic between negative and positive space constructed through paper carving, air and light passing through the small pieces of fiber cut away from a larger whole. But there is also the sweep and curve of a vessel filled with…nothing, but in this sense, everything — all of the potential of the absence of the missing elements. This is where Linssen’s sculpture becomes water, or fire, in that essential empty space at once created and surrounded by earth and air elements.

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International Year of Natural Fibres, Part II

Posted in coconut fiber, hemp, jute, ramie, sisal with tags on November 12, 2009 by arttextstyle

Details left to right: sisal, coconut fiber, sisal, ramie, jute, hemp and steel, coconut fiber

The last post reported on the UN’s International Year of Natural Fibres 2009, a political and economic initiative that aims to raise global awareness of the importance of natural fibres not only to producers and industry, but also to consumers and the environment.

Young Ok Shin's work of ramie

There’s an aesthetic element, too, that the FAO site references but does not detail. You can experience natural fibres transformed into art by viewing Kari Stiansen’s and Ritzi Jacobi’s works that use coconut fiber; Mia Olssen’s and Magdalena Abakonowicz‘ hangings of sisal, Noriko Takamiya’s and Young Ok Shin’s works of ramie; Ed Rossbach’s wallhanging of jute and Hideho Tanaka’s vessel of hemp and steel and many other works of wool and silk and linen at http://www.browngrotta.com/index.html.

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International Year of Natural Fibres, Part I

Posted in angora, cashmere, hemp, jute, linen, mohair, ramie, silk, sisal with tags on November 5, 2009 by arttextstyle

naturalfibers.poster.jpgOnly a few weeks left to left observe the official International Year of Natural Fibres (yes, we’re sticking with the international spelling here). For browngrotta arts and many of the artists we represent, of course, promotion of natural fiber in art and otherwise is a lifelong pursuit. In 2009, however, we had the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, which declared this year the International Year of Natural Fibres

If you haven’t been there, the website naturalfibres2009.org offers a wealth of material — informative videos, lush images of natural fiber sources and production methods, interviews with producers and more fibre facts than you can shake a spindle at. The website even includes images of 15 natural fibres under the microscope. (I don’t know why they are there — but I found them interesting in a nerdy way.) Mostly, I just enjoyed the photographs of rice fields at sunset; workers knee deep in cotton and angora bunnies and cashmere goats, just being themselves, but I learned a couple of things.

In case you’ve ever wondered:
• ramie is a natural fibre, one of the strongest in fact and its grown mainly in China, Brazil, the Lao PDR and the Philippines.
• Hemp fibres are also used to reinforce molded thermoplastics in the automobile industry; abaca yarn is used in automobile parts by Mercedes-Benz.
• The biggest producer of mohair is South Africa, but Texas is also important, too, with 200,000 head of mohair goats. Just 20% mohair added to a wool blend provides crease resistance.

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Why is the UN urging us to choose natural fibres? Because they are:
• a healthy choice. As most people know, natural fibres provide natural ventilation. Coconut fibres used in mattresses have natural resistance to fungus and mites. Hemp fibre has antibacterial properties, and studies show that linen is the most hygienic textile for hospital bed sheets.
• a responsible choice. Natural fibres are vital to the livelihoods and food security of millions of small-scale farmers and processors. They include 10 million people in the cotton sector in West and Central Africa, 4 million small-scale jute farmers in Bangladesh and India, one million silk industry workers in China, and 120 000 alpaca herding families in the Andes. By choosing natural fibres we boost the sector’s contribution to economic growth and help fight hunger and rural poverty.
• a sustainable choice. Natural fibres are a renewable resource. Growing one ton of jute fibre requires less than 10% of the energy used for the production of polypropylene. Natural fibres are carbon neutral. Processing produces residues that can be used in biocomposites for building houses or to generate electricity. At the end of their life cycle, natural fibres are 100% biodegradable.
• a high-tech choice. Natural fibres have good mechanical strength, low weight and low cost, which has made them particularly attractive to the automobile industry. India has developed composite boards made from coconut fibre that are more resistant to rotting than teak. Brazil is making roofing material reinforced with sisal. In Europe, hemp wastes are used in cement, and China used hemp-based construction materials for the 2008 Olympics.
• a fashionable choice. Natural fibres are at the heart of an eco-fashion or “sustainable clothing” movement that seeks to create garments that are sustainable at every stage of their life cycle, from production to disposal.

More Natural Fibre Fun to Come: Wood was intentionally excluded from this year’s promotion. The International Year of Forests will be in 2011.

Next post: The International Year of Natural Fibres through Art

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