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Friday, 4 February 2022

#Softlads Anthology has launched!

 

“Do I have to sacrifice the softness to be read as strong?” - Harry Wyld, workshop participant.

I wanted to Share with you our exciting news that the #SoftLads anthology has launched!
We had a really lovely launch event at Henry Sandon Hall. So many folks came along it was a little overwhelming!

For those who are new to my site here is a little more information about the project:

#SoftLads is first limited edition book is the result of a series of creative writing workshops with Holly Winter-Hughes of The Word Association CIC – exploring gender, identity and self-worth through my new art series #SoftLads. To buy the SoftLads anthology follow this link https://tinyurl.com/4465h359 To buy postcards of the Tapestries follow this link https://tinyurl.com/mu244j9m For the past two years, I have been creating a series of tapestries focusing on portraits of tattooed males to explore male identity. We invited members of the public to experience the work for themselves, and with guidance to create poems and pieces of prose in response to the work and the themes explored. The workshops took place at the Henry Sandon Hall in Worcester, and the Stryx Gallery in Birmingham as part of SHOUT Festival Of Queer Arts And Culture. The workshops allowed people the chance to experience the artworks, talk to the artist about the work and explore the themes from the work through a series of gentle writing exercises.
The book includes over 30 creative writing responses, has two critical essays and full colour picture panels of each of the tapestries.

Here is a video of some of the workshops in action to give you a flavour of the workshops and what we did!

Please feel free to purchase a copy of the anthology or the supporting postcards that showcase the tapestries!






Thursday, 13 January 2022

Launch event for #Softlads is being hosted by the Royal Porcelain Works! Come along join us 1pm 29th January


 #SoftLads

Saturday 29th January 1-3pm


The series began from looking at #tattoos and #Facialtattoos on Instagram. The tapesteries explore themes span from contemporary hero worship, body image, activism,  and history of identity. The work explores why we promote ourselves on social media and its impact. The pieces aim to celebrate and question how online sub-cultures have developed through hashtags to create online global communities. 


The tapestries will be on display throughout February, the space is open 10-4pm and copies of the anthology #SoftLads will be available to purchase. The anthology is full of creative responses from the public who attended our workshops and explored the themes in the tapestries resulting in a collection of creative writing.

The anthology has been developed in partnership with The Word Association, The Royal Porcelian Works and Shout! Festival and was funded through Arts Council England, Worcester City Council and the Brandsford Trust.


Please come and join us for some performances by the poets involved in the project, a chance to see the work on display and to get a copy of the new anthology. 

There is also going to be a tester workshop available the Foyer Space on Saturday 26th February 12-3pm. Contact me on o.bliss@ymail.com

The Foyer Space

Henry Sandon Hall

Worcester 

WR1 2NE 


Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Reflective Writing Adaptive Evolution

  


Title: Adaptive Evolution Dimensions:  

100cm x 90cm 

  

This piece is called Adaptive Evolution with the figure based on the Instagram account @bionicguy. In the tapestry the model is featured with his full body and the model is posed in numerous ways as he does consistently post on Instagram presenting his progress from a training session. On his account he is usually posting about which part of his body he has been focusing on enhancing his work out at the gym. The image in the tapestry is the reflected image his has taken via a ‘selfie’ he has uploaded using his camera phone, taking a picture of himself in the mirror. 


This type of content is regularly seen on Instagram. Lots of people who are interested in weight training or health and fitness will regularly share pictures of themselves. These pictures are often of their post work-out selfies at the gym or wherever the person has been training. 

  

When I was looking across different accounts, I noticed that this behaviour occurs quite a lot. Some accounts including @bionicguy will share content that is mostly of themselves repeatedly positioned in slightly different poses. Usually, the image is full body or torso based, people usually flex or pose to show off how they have sculpted their body. 

  

This behaviour can be positive for our sense of self and self-worth, have great benefits to our mental and physical health in the short and long term. This behaviour however can also create an unhealthy relationship whereby the person becomes obsessive with chasing an idealised version of themselves or a particular aesthetic. Or can develop an unhealthy relationship with the person’s body and sense of self.  

These potentially negative qualities have been observed in global history and storytelling. For example, narcissism comes from the Greek legend of Narcissus a man so beautiful that he rejected all advances from other people and eventually fell in love with himself after staring at his own reflection in a pool of water.

Variations of the story say he was either fixated looking at the reflection until he died or fell into the pool and drowned. There is also the Grimm’s fairy tale of Snow White with the Evil Queen who obsessively looked in the mirror asking – ‘Who’s the fairest of them all.’  The Queen was willing to kill her own family to remain the most beautiful person alive

Similarly, I had used the myth of Jupiter and Ganymede as a reference point within another tapestry- Xochiplli. Ganymede was taken to the stairs and immortalised for his beauty.

Stories of vanity and beauty can be repeatedly found in our history. There is a duality with these stories, between something that is both desirable and dangerous.  

  

There is a strange vague, blurred line between being beautiful and healthy and something which is unattainable and dangerous. Stories and media articulate and establish a sense of traditional beauty, I am interested in how social media, like Instagram contributes to this narrative but also allows space for more ‘non-traditional’ beauty to be represented and celebrated.  

  

For this piece I wanted the starting point for this portrait to be focused more on our relationship with our body and how the body is displayed on Instagram. A substantial portion of accounts with #tattoos and #facialtattoos with have accounts with men who are topless in part because they want to highlight their tattoos as body art. Additionally, some accounts highlight the training they have put into making their body look fit and healthy. This is another type of body art; their whole body is an artwork. 

  

I became interested in @bionicguy’s account in part because of his body confidence, queerness, and celebration of himself as an amputee. Some other the hashtags in his posts include: 

  

#gym #fitness #fitfam #amputee #gainz #prothesis  

  

I like that he is so confident in himself and his appearance. Of the accounts that had a real focus on body image and fitness his was more interesting in that he celebrates his whole body. His account consistently posts images of his full body shot which is less common on the fitness focused accounts. Usually, posts will focus on half the body such as torso to head, or butt to foot. These posts highlight the area the person has been training. I believe that this is in part to celebrate his prothesis as an integral part of himself. He is in part using his amputation and prothesis as an element of his aesthetic and individuality to has separate himself from other account and display something different and unique.  

  

I wanted to celebrate his protistic as well, as I thought it would provide another body type to the series. It made me start to consider our evolving relationship with technology. I considered how technology has developed so far that he a leg that merge so naturally with his identity. I researched into how prosthetics have developed over time. I found some images within medical heritage and looked at how technology has really progress in the last hundred years. I am aware that this is in part due to momentous events like the first and second World War. Science and technology have contributed to how we adapt and evolve. I considered how we use certain tools to aid our progress.  

  

 I considered including some of these historic images to show that progression. I decided against this decision and instead concentrated on representing technology in current form. When I looked back at older images, representations of men in tapestries tools and technology are always evident. Horse and cart, armour and weaponry, books, clothing, all representations of technology of its time. I decided that I wanted to develop the narrative of technology in the present day. 

  

 I conveyed this through the inclusion of his mobile phone with its three camera lenses and the air pods. Items which he uses to help him with this training and to build his presence online. He owns current technology, and his prosthetic leg is clearly current technology. These are more than symbols of tools and technology. These are also symbols of privilege and wealth. He is independent, self-driven and in total control of his body and place in the world.  

  

I am interested in how temporary this technology is and how long he will own these items. We have a culture of throwing things out and progressing to the next ‘new thing’. How long will these three items last before they become obsolete? Where will technology progress and how will we use tools in future?  

  

This led me to considering humanity and our evolution in generalI had recently visited Oxford University Museum of Natural History and their Pitt Rivers Museum.


There was a display about Charles Darwin and the subject of Darwinism, something that I had been loosely thinking about. The display really caught my attention because I was just drawing out his figure before I had made the tripI was considering what themes would surround him and when I saw the display I was deeply inspired. 

  

There was information about his voyage on the Beagle cruise in 1836 and about Darwin’s early career. There was also a display of Darwin’s Principles which had bullet points about Natural selection: 

  





  

Natural selection is the driving force of evolution. It can be explained in terms of five simple statements: 

Reproduction. Like begets like when organisms reproduce, offspring are similar to their parents. 

Excess. The reproductive potential of a species- the number of individual offspring that a population of that species could potentially produce- greatly exceed the number of those offspring that survive to maturity. 

Variation. Individuals vary within populations of a species. Much of this variation is hereditable: it is transmitted to descendants. Novel variants or mutants may occur from time to time and pass on their characteristics to later generations. 

Selection. There is competition for resources between individuals and populations of organisms in the environments they inhabit. Individuals with favourable features will be more likely to survive and produce offspring than those with less favourable feature. 

Divergence. the environment various from place to place, and changes through time. Individual with heritable characters that favour survival in a particular environment will be selected there and reproduce. As a result, populations in different environments will diverge. 

  

These five driving principles interested me as it made me consider how to apply these principles to human’s to how they behave today. It made me consider what primal functions does social media provide? We need to reproduce to survive. We have an overpopulated excess within our population. I personally believe this does in part contribute to variation in sexuality, as we have a greater excess in population; more than is required to stabilise offspring into maturity. We have too many grownups. (Having a baby contribute to a 7 ton of carbon emissions in a life time! 

  

I believe we have evolved and developed to a level of over populating, and this could be a contributing factor to some offspring having same sex attraction. It is just a reductive theory which does not really work in practice, (As I have queer friends who have either reproduced or found other ways of having offspring of their own.) I do also believe we have advanced beyond our biological needs. I do find it interesting still to consider how and why social media supports our biological needs.


I am interested in this from male gay perspective as well in terms of how it contributes to the series of tapestries overallWhat is the purpose of social media serves if there is no need to reproduce? How does this platform serve @bionicman form a biological standpoint if it not about reproduction? 

  

The selection of displays was complimented with a variety of pigeons and skulls. The displays showed how animal bones had evolved and how birds vary in shape and size to help them adapt to their environment. This led to me doing further research in aspects of Darwinism and eventually led to the title of the piece ‘Adaptive Evolution’.   

The phrase ‘Adaptive Evolution’ comes from Charles Darwin’s studies in the Galapagos observing variations of finches during his Beagle voyage. His ship sailed 27 December 1831 and returned 2 October 1836. His research led to publications which became most know by the title ‘The Voyage of the “Beagle” which had been published in 1905.   These observations are known as Darin’s finches or the Galapagos finches.


Darwin made fundamental observations of the birds and was able to demonstrate how processes of natural selection and adaptive radiation led to changes in the birds. He had argued that unstable and challenging environment had led to ecological diversification and speciation which resulted in a striking diversity of phenotypes (for example, beak types, body size, plumage, feeding behaviour and song types. The beaks were particularly notes for their changes and it was suggested this is to aid them in hunting and foraging for food.  

Further information about this can be found through this article by Wenner-Gren Fellow.  

  

When I thought about the idea of survival and selection, it made more sense in terms of social media’s functionality and purpose. Using social media to assert where you ‘rank’ in terms of your physical attributes and displaying yourself as someone desirable and attractive to appeal to others to gain a partner. Social media helps facilitate these needs and is a tool for communication in a digital environment. The measure of your like’s and following help add influence on an individual’s appeal and makes them appear instantly more desirable. This digital tool helps @bionicguy compete and assert his dominance as someone who is highly sought after. He adds further appeal by demonstrating his strength and dedication to his body. He has found a way to work with technology to help him adapt and excel in his environment. This makes me question how our bodies will physically adapt and change to complement our radically changing environment. 

  

This abstract helped articulate the general summary of the purpose of adaptive evolution and natural selection: 

  

  • It is an observable, interpretable, and repeatable process in a natural environment.  

  • It oscillates in direction. 

  • It happens when the environment changes. 

  • It has evolutionary consequences (adaptive change). 

  

Rosemary B Grant, Peter R Grant  

  

I was able to find photographs of finches’ skulls and early sketches of Darwin’s ideas. I used the photograph as a reference for the piece and chose skulls over other illustrations I had found of the birds with feather over them as I wanted these images to connect to other references across the tapestries which related to life and death. (For example, Artist/ Activist there are several references with skulls).


I also found images of varieties of butterfly. Lots of images highlighted the diversity of species through a collection of different butterflies. I had noticed that @bionicguy also has a tattoo on his leg of a butterfly so I wanted to make a direct reference between his tattoo and the notions of variation. Additionally, I also like how a butterfly references transformation.

The metamorphosis from a caterpillar to butterfly. Although I do not know the reason @bionicguy has a butterfly tattooed on his thigh, it is easy to see how he has actively transformed himself into his best self. I also liked how having skulls on the left and butterflies on the right create a reference between death and life. How his prosthetic leg is inanimate, and his other leg is organic.  

  

 I also found an image of an evolutionary map he had created, and I could see immediately what he was trying to describe. He had created a Family tree of the birds in an 1861 letter from one of Darwin’s correspondents. 

  

I liked how organic yet organised this concept was. This map aimed to articulate his concept visually. It reminded me of maps of social networks, clusters of communities that are connected and separate to one another. I decided to recreate the image of the map with an indigo blue background and insert the map in white to help it appear like a ‘Blueprint.’



A map or a copying method of articulating an architect’s designs. Cyanotypes were originally used to help make copies of design ideas and I wanted to reference Darwin’s ideas and apply them to compliment the themes of this tapestry. 

  

Darwin’s map of a bird’s family tree contributed towards the themes I wanted to articulate within the piece through a visual language. I wanted to link this back to our relationship with technology. In the opposing corner of the tapestry, I used an illustration of a logic gate to reflect a visual interpretation of technology. What I particularly liked about this image is that it is describes the sequence of how something is turned off or on. I thought there is some geeky humour in a logic model as a backdrop to being ‘turned on’ by this image of @bionicguy.  


In the right-hand corner of the Tapestry there is an image of a Red Umbrella referencing the Red Umbrella project. The Red Umbrella Project was founded in 2010 by writer and activist Audacia Ray I wanted to include this reference as @bionicguy Instagram is quite different to his account on Twitter @bionicsergio where he has a ‘Just For Fans’ whereby the posts sexually graphic content for his private followers.


The aesthetic on his twitter account in terms of what he promotes and shares on his account is incredibly different to the type of contact which is shared on Instagram. The way in which he has adapted his virtual self for each social media platform is another example of how he is adaptive to different virtual-social environments. 

 

Learning from construction of the tapestry  

The piece took 115 hours to complete roughly 23 days to complete averaging 5 hours per day. If I was paying myself for my time (which I am not) and I charged £50 per day (£10 per hour rate) this piece would cost £1,150 to produce.  

This is great as my previous piece Artist/Activist took 25 days and would cost £1,250 in labour. 

Xochipilli 22 days £1,100, Pilgrim took £1,250 and 25 days; Hardcore Vibes took £3,450 69 days. 

 

I really felt like I was able to plan much more effectively based on the learning I had gain through the previous pieces. I did have to plot out and draw the figure first. Using straight lines of sewing on the fabric really help secure the movement of the material later. 


The composition was more effective and balanced in this piece because I focused on contrasting colours from his skin tone and the use of red on his shorts. I did make more of a concerted effort to consider how to push the narrative of using Instagram further with this piece. 

Including aspects like a yellow translucent hand and layering several versions of the same face as part of the composition is much more experimental for me especially for work at this scale. I really liked the effect of the yellow hand as it evoked a sense of spiritual and digital self, connecting to the technology. Aesthetically I also thought it was more interesting in terms of contrasting with the purples and blues of the piece.

I would like to move further away from detailed photographic qualities of the physical form and facial features and move towards conveying feeling and move within my portraiture. This series relied heavily on achieving a level of likeness of the people on Instagram. I have discovering that I am more interested in capturing a sense of the internal self and qualities of a person's character rather than a replicant depiction of their face and features. 

A lot of the is portrait has also been overshadowed for preparing for the launch of the exhibition itself. It was quite scary for a while as I was running out of time before the launch of the exhibition. 


 I was able to complete the sewing two days before the installation date! A separate point of learning is about how much time it takes to deliver project aims which are connected to funding. #SoftLad involved a lot of participants, and those participants needed a high level of communication to make the project a success. I’m immensely proud of what was achieved during the Workshop phase of the project I would however plan more time between delivering workshops and delivering the launch of an exhibition. I will write more about the launch event itself soon!