The joy of finding materials

Gustav Metzger in Frieze


Reading through this Freize article as I am using one piece of his work :To Crawl Into – Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938 (1996) in my contextual study about cleaning and our perception of it, I found this gem of a statement which really struck a chord with me. Although it is not especially relevant to my current project it does run through my practice and the idea of commodities and value which I am constantly preoccupied with. Metzger is talking about the beginnings of his ‘auto destructuve art’ movement in the late 1950s. He finds a cardboard box in the street:

‘This experience was fundamental: it’s like when you go into the British Museum and there’s one piece that strikes you above all the rest; it was the same for me with the cardboards. These particular boxes were simply beautiful and in perfect condition. This is important; cardboard boxes could easily be knocked about. I wanted the world to recognize how beautiful something can be at little or no cost.’

The cost being an arbitrary amount we can ask for something is as true in art as in any sector. This finding materials really resonated with me.

Metzger then withdrew from art for 3 years from 1977-80 as a protest against the commodification of the art market. But perhaps the most inspiring comments are made at the end of the piece is about taking risks and the importance he refers to his ‘To crawl into’ being inspired by both Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic  and their work which invited others to harm them in some way. Without taking any risks there really isn’t much point doing anything.

Experiments: making dirt piles and maps

For documentation in the gallery I think I want to place the dirt on the floor in the line from the map in small piles. This made me think of Anish Kapoor’s work in pigments some of which is in the permanent collection here in the Reina Sofia. Obviously the idea of my piles would not be about the colour or even the form in the same way. They would be about these links of dirt from seemingly unconnected places. As with making the nests for my mind map, and subsequent project for ‘Bellas Durmientes’  ,I am hoping that the physical making allows me to see the dirt and our connections to it in new ways. I would hope that this would also happen in the gallery if I choose to go ahead with it as a display. That the audience could also connect with the idea of dirt in new ways.

I am close to a door and other people’s work so was concerned about the dirt remaining in the ‘piles’ so decided to construct the piles using some kind of a base. After speaking to Emily Speed about how I use other materials in the project when necessary this really reassured me that along with the use of the marker pens, this did not go against my aims for the project. So I have begun to experiment with making bases for the piles. Above as you can see I have tried pouring plaster into a funnel, mixing sawdust and pva and white light weight modeling medium. All are relatively lightweight but the sawdust and plaster has taken longer to dry out. I could use the sawdust or the white medium to fix the dirt which would make the dirt more integral to the pile rather than just ‘stuck on’. I am now making papier maché to see if that could work. I like the idea of using recycled paper (from the shredder) and it is light and versatile in terms of form and I could easily add the dirt to it. I am hoping the piles or dots of the line make it a less divisive type of line.

In the meantime I tried using dirt on different types of cloths and putting more or less on the floor. The studio floor is distracting but and I prefer when the piles really are dots.

I am now working on a ‘floor plan in order to see how they could work on the floor. This could also work as a catalogue image if I can find a floor similar to the dark shiny one in the gallery.  I have enlarged the map to approximately 4meters. I need to check I can fit this into the space without blocking other people’s work. I also need to decide if I want to ‘paint’ dirt on the floor. In the other part of my documentation I tried drolvedaawing a map over the dirt I collected in Ólvega, Soria because I won’t be using this place as part of the final line. I already have an imbalance of places in Spain compared to France and UK. I took the dirt from Ólvega and drew the map of my journey through the town using permanent marker.  Without moving the cloth much I then covered the whole thing with diluted pva and it seems pretty stable, ie the dirt doesn’t fall off anymore. Of course the cloth is also now harder and more rigid but I am not sure it matters although I did like the  feel of the cloth.

Atienza and Padilla de Hita

Today I went to just 2 places but that means I have finished the performances in Spain except for, ironically, Madrid. I am leaving Madrid until last as I want to record it as it will be easier to get someone to film. This week has been exhausting and also a huge learning curve. It was far more useful doing just 2 in a day. I could take my time, choose my places pretty well and experiment more. Being the Saturday of the easter weekend also meant there were more people around and that was good for me.


is a medieval town with a population of less than 500 but on the easter weekend there were quite a few visitors and their three very small museums were open. I had looked on google maps as usual and had found this square where I thought there would be space to clean and there was also a church which is a museum in front and a fountain. In fact it was the most comfortable place to work I have found so far because there were also tables. Before starting this project I really hadn’t thought so much about all the logistics of just having the appropriate equipment and being focused when nervous.

Being more comfortable to work made things a lot easier and allowed me to experiment more with some of the things I don’t think work so well. The original idea had been to find lines as well as making drawings through the act of cleaning. In the North of Spain I had mainly focused on the latter.

Here I felt I had time to look for lines and try to make them using water, scrubbing brush and dirt. The square seemed to be full of them, I also drew line drawings on that section of the map with Atienza on it. Quite a few people passed by whilst I was there. Only one person spoke to me, but that was a first, she asked me for directions, probably thinking I lived there as I was sweeping at that point. A real variety of age groups passed by, some wandered around the square, others passed along the road. There were quite a few families and children but none of them spoke to me or asked what I was doing. I realized that in a way that was disappointing. I started to fantasize that they didn’t approve of my ‘playing’ with the dirt but that might be my imagination. A lot of children were fascinated with the tadpoles in the fountain which was fair enough. When I left I felt a bit disappointed that no one had interacted verbally but then, neither had I. Nevertheless I was more satisfied with how the drawing had gone and it felt like I had started to link the cleaning and drawing more.

Whilst driving through Guadalajara I was thinking about my whole insistence on the line. I was trying to define it. I had originally thought of lines as traces. The line to Barnsley tracing my journey. I had also considered the political nature of making the maps, the lines that trace the borders and how they have changed. At the moment we  cross the border into France in the same way as we change region in Spain or County in England but in the past this has been strongly contested as is the Basque border and I was reminded of this whilst driving through Navarra earlier in the week. But a line does not have to divide and separate, I wanted the road to link to show the commonalities of all these places. Of course I will be reminded on the way of the differences.

The Village of Padilla de Hita is probably normally deserted, according to wikipedia there were 21 people registered as living there in 2014. Usually, but exclusively, these tend to be older people. However, as it was easter lots of families were there visiting so I saw quite a few people whilst there. This time I took my long broom and dust pan partly as props as well as brushing standing up to begin with.

A small boy immediately asked me what I was doing and whether I was cleaning. I told him yes I was cleaning but also drawing too. He and his father played football for a while whilst I was working. A few other people passed through and others came to their doors. I now feel I need to have some kind of a uniform or develop the performative element in some way to engage people. The route through Spain has been relatively small places and at the beginning I shied away from the busiest places. However, even where there were people today I was not convinced that the action was so clear.

Physically what is starting to come together is a pile of cloths, bags of dirt, lists, drawings on maps and hopefully more dirt in the mail. There are also photographs and a video (from London). This is leading me to reflect on the relationship between the technologies. I feel so strongly about my need to create hand made work. Partly because I am better at it and also because I feel I need that contact with materials. However there is also the other point about the importance of making things and the need to conserve old technologies alongside the new. I have decided not to use photos or videos in the exhibition but I will use them on social media. (written 15th April 17).


Experimentation with Maps

Although I have decided not to use non cleaning materials my experiments so far showed that it is really hard to draw lines in dirt without using something else so I needed to revisit this. I therefore decided to experiment with marker which would go on top of the cloths which have been monoprinted in the dirt. I will need to do this on top of dirt and therefore a less smooth surface. maps tests

The maps representing the line which will go on the floor is being drafted on the wall. As you can see from the photos this involves scaling up. I did this first on an old OHP I found and kept at work. My aim is now to make a huge one – like about 5ms long in order to see if this can work. I will also try making the ‘piles’ of dirt to make each of the dots.

mapping the project

looking at the Michelin Maps I have put the red dots where the places I have or will visit are. This might change but I need to get an idea of what is possible. There are so many variables I need to plan in a kind of loose way but I am concerned about when I am in England I will need to finish everything off, although I can remain flexible I need a plan and a few options ready.

Reflections on Rebecca Solnit – what happened to walking in the project

Walking was edited out of the final major project. Partially through necessity, it was impossible to walk and make the work the way I am or go and earn the money I need to live. But it has also disappeared from the contextual study because of the word (and indeed the time) limitations. I felt particularly sad about this as I am still very much interested in relating it to what I do in the future. The line has remained, rightly or wrongly I feel the need to make the line that connects Madrid to Barnsley, a place I have yet to visit, as opposed to other lines which cover many maps and seem to divide us. The line is connected through walking as it is the line you get when you type walking into Google maps (322 hours). It is a much more convincing and beautiful line that the alternative routes too. So straight and yet not so straight.

I talked before about the Camino de Santiago which I already knew about but Rebecca Solnit introduced me to the ‘The Stations of the Cross’ and the  ‘Via Dolorosa’ and it is the perfect time to think about them. There is something of a pilgrimage left in my project however unwalking it may be. Why are we compelled to make a pilgrimage? A journey with a goal and stages at which some kind of a right of passage is completed, or not. Solnit also exposed, through the history of walking, how much of a social construct it always is.

The Treadmill as a punishment was also fascinating as we now see people performing on the gym treadmill as a public spectacle by choice. A really interesting phenomenon and possible future investigation. Although I am not driven to walking in this way as a spectacle and prefer that I am the observer when I am walking. For the future I am very interested in contacting the Walking Artists Network particularly the Walking Women project if it is ongoing to try and get involved when I am in the UK. For now I shall continue to walk and think and problem solve at 3 miles an hour.

Painting, drawing and representation of working women.

In my fight between making figurative drawings and paintings of people and other types of marks I was really pleased to read an essay by Linda Nochlin about Berthe Morisot’s ‘Wet Nurse and Julie’ (1988) which examines it at is as an impressionist image of a work scene. The work is especially powerful as it is a woman breast feeding the artist’s daughter whilst she is painting her. The two women are both working and gazing at each other. Nochlin assesses the exchange value of the French wet nurses and looks at the complex realtionship between the painter and sitter in the 19th and 20th century (When she was writing).

Pictorially the painting was pushing the boundaries of representation in terms of solidity and perspective. There is an sense of the atmosphere whilst the subject matter was complicated even for the 19th century. Perhaps this is largely because the artist is also a woman and it is her baby. As Nochlin states, 19th century paintings showing work were most commonly about men labouring in fields (Courbet and Millet). However Millet, for example showed female workers. However in the main the women working tended to be unpaid survival labour. The sort of work that had no exchange value was depicted such as childcare or cleaning, in short, unpaid work. Impressionist painting tended to show leisure activity more than work although they did not completely avoid it. Nochlin suggests that what happens in impressionism is that when work is represented it tends to be conflated with leisure and pleasure. For example the barmaid might be arguably working or representing a leisure scene, and be used for pictoral experiments and the same time. The same might be said of entertainers and prostitutes: that they represent pleasure and this, in some way was different to labouring.

Nochlin’s analysis brings me back to the nature of cleaning as largely unpaid work and the perception of work and the values we put upon it – use value as well as exchange value both need unpicking for the 21st century.

Katerina Seda – It doesn’t matter 2005


This Czech artist has based a lot of work around the village she is from. In 2005 she worked with her grandmother who made hundreds of drawings of the objects she had sold in the family hardware shop from memory. Her grandmother had worked all her working life in the shop. Seda’s work is usually about the everyday and unnoticed organisation of life.

Seda chose to involve her grandmother in this activity because she has decided not to do anything at all after the loss of her husband. When challenged about this she usually said ‘it doesn’t matter’. The drawing project began as a way of challenging this situation as the grandmother was perfectly healthy and this allowed her to relate to the past but create something in the present. It doesn't matter









Seda has also involved the whole village in working activities around different schedules. This artist has an interesting combination of documentation. Below is a link to an artists book which using drawings, diagrams (which I consider are also drawings) and texts together. This is interesting in my looking at ways to ‘produce’ work which documents the work when the work is ephemeral and investigative. I’m also drawn to the way Sedá is looking at the minutiae of everyday life in these villages.

This feels particularly relevant after visiting villages in the North East of Spain this week. I knew Spain was very less populated than the UK where I am from, and that the population is falling in recent years but this impression was reinforced. However, I was surprised by the number of villages with so few aging inhabitants and no businesses or (very important for my project) not even a post box. The same village always had a church and many had castles too. It made me wish I could have more time to make the journey and stop off properly on the way. I am, however, glad I am not walking. Even without much material, the cleaning equipment, bags, envelopes, lists, not to mention the ability to charge the phone, it would have been very different to have walked it. I would have needed 6 months I think to do it properly.

Artist Book

Artist Website

Questions about the line to Barnsley

Even as I am starting to collect the dirt and document the ‘cleaning’ process I am having many doubts about this project and what it is I am doing with it. I am especially concerned about identifying what the work is. I think this is because I really want it to be more about the drawing than it has yet become. After the peer review of the contextual study I could see that it was far less about walking than I had originally intended, however it was very hard for me to accept that I need to restart the study without the walking, and therefore losing some references I have become really attached to. The Rebecca Solnit book was so compelling and I really want to come back to it. However, the walking is not a main component of the work. Especially as I am not even going to be walking to Barnsley.

Drawing on the other hand is. And I have not resolved how I am going to make it so. I have chosen to put the work on the floor in an instinctive way and was thinking I would in some way follow the map and use the dirt I have collected, or some of it, possibly in piles from each of the places. The floor of the civic is shiny, but am I designing the work to fit the space? To a certain extent probably as I am used to making work for specific sites the installation matters a lot. However, there is still the question of what is the work? And for this project it is very much the performative nature of making the work.Tables 2Another  interference in my process is that I keep getting ideas which become about using the dirt to in some way represent the cleaners. Yet when talking to Emily Speed in February she asked me whether the drawing needed to be figurative I said no automatically and immediately. It was obvious from the beginning that I was not talking about representation. However recently I have been making very representational work. I am maybe concerned that my final exhibition for the MA is not consistent with what I have been working on over the past 2 and half years. Even at the beginning of the year I was going to make work about the history of Barnsley and I was interested in the legacy of the miners wives for instance. The history of the Trades Unions was also compelling for me. However, I did not see how I could do it justice in such a short time. The exhibition in Madrid about the history of work in one area has taken years of work and research on and off.

The Line to Barnsley draws on the ongoing interest in work and this I feel is genuine and also about contemporary issues like ‘laborolove’ my street art project. I would also like it to be a part of an ongoing investigation into the invisible work both paid and unpaid which goes on around us all the time.

How can I develop the drawing element in the project? I have been mainly sweeping and scrubbing in the towns and villages I have visited so far. I mainly sweep to collect the dirt and then I scrub with water which makes the more ingrained dirt mix with the water and then I have been using the cloths to make prints.  I have also tried working on the back of the cloths to get more dirt onto the cloths and using the cloths to clean the dirt directly but this has not worked so far.

Do I need to change the rules? According to the rules I only use water, cleaning equipment and the dirt I find in the place. Although I have now experimented with pva glue because this allows me to make lines. I not only like making lines but the Line to Barnsley was always about the lines we choose to draw and the lines we do not draw – ie not the borders or the coast but the connections in this case.

Finally I need to answer one very important question. Until now I have been thinking in a very purist way that in the civic I only use the dirt from the places and my documentation. Of course I could use things I have made in the studio from that. I am not sure if that doesn’t seem right in the context of this project. I need to think very carefully about either limiting it or making it too removed. I really want to somehow put the cleaners into the gallery and as I am the cleaner maybe I need to clean or I will be ‘reduced’ to illustrating them (or making a composite image which is one idea that keeps coming back).  The other option is performative drawing in the space. The drawing could certainly be temporary but should it include anything else in terms of materials? I would like people to be able to walk around it. I also want it to show cleaning in some way it does not yet.documentation ??

Documentation including the envelopes (ones not yet sent) which I am posting with the dirt in them.