Two Steps Forward and One to the Side
The work for exhibition at the degree show, combines sculpture and performance. A crab, made of mattress ticking is to be carried on the head of the artist, who moves sideways (one step) and forwards (two steps) at a slow pace. The structure is supported internally and stitching accentuates the detail of the creature.
Any cover used on a mattress was once called tick. Once industrial machinery was developed to weave different fabrics, ticking was made in a twill weave to create a barrier between the horse hair or feather stuffing and the sleeper. There is a process in textile production called crabbing, which creates the final surface on a fabric and stops it shrinking when it is made into garments.
Anselm Kiefer said he was interested in materials as long as they are charged. In this case ticking is used to contrast the comfort of lying in bed on a mattress with the scratchiness of crabs, the outdoorness of crabs, even the edibleness of crabs. It is charged with the meaning of liminality and connections between humans and non-humans.
Ticking is made in stripes, usually of white/cream and blue/ black. The stripes in this case run horizontally on the shell/body of the crab and lengthwise on the claws. The legs are made with brass rods so they can be made to straggle away from the body. The stripes on the ticking which covers the legs run lengthwise. Black stitching on the body of the crab, notably to pick out the 'pie-crust' nature of the shell, and the markings of the underside, accentuate some of the detail.
Pliny said we make art to remember what we have lost. What is it we have lost? The world of childhood when we took our buckets and spades to the beach? The seaside postcards with always a crab pinching a fat bottom? The fear that a toe would be grabbed as we paddled?
We fished for crabs with lines and nets, we collected bucketfuls before chucking them back in, or forgot and left them to scuttle their way out, or rot in the sun. We tried to grab them, or we ran away from them before they dived under the sand or into the pebbles as we dug moats for our sandcastle
In Two Steps Forward and One to the Side the artist wears clothing also constructed of ticking fabric, with stripes running vertically, and black slip-on shoes and gloves. The body of the crab is carried on the top of her head and the top part of her face is obscured by the claws. The body and claws will be approximately one and a half metres wide and rather less from front to back.
Owing to the weight of the piece the performance will take place for just ten minutes at a time during the pre-view of the putative exhibition. When the artist is not performing the crab sculpture will lie on the floor and be available to be viewed as a piece of sculpture.
The crab has been appropriated, perhaps from Van Gogh's painting of a crab on its back, but also purely from the natural world, to create a hand made art work. The artist is an Anglo-Scottish woman emulating the long history of stitching by hand by women in these islands. They have sewn, either for domestic necessity, or to earn a living or, in the middle and upper classes for decoration or merely to pass the time. Since the sewing machine was invented, a combination of hand and machine sewing was common, and still remains. The tradition is continued in this piece.
The initial plan was to attach the crab to the back of the Cabinet of Curiosities but this was abandoned as too unfocused. The very first idea of a hermit crab was also abandoned as too potentially related to the current lock down due to the Covid-19 virus. A number of experimental spider diagrams emerged.
Once the idea of a crab worn on the head and related more closely to the human form via the ticking fabric, Two Steps Forward and One to the Side, emerged through a process of thinking through making. Photographs and sketches of a real crab assisted the making of the crab sculpture, which is still to be completed. The garment is also not yet constructed. As noted by Everyday Futures Network at the Industrial Design Department of Eindhoven University of Technology, the method of finding out about a thing (in this case the crab), the thing itself and the concepts employed to interpret the thing emerge together gradually.
Feathers and horse hair, as if for an old fashioned mattress, being unavailable, the crab is stuffed partially with wool fleece and partially with a new material made of recycled plastic bottles. Recycled plastic is of course relevant to the way in which the oceans have been subsumed by plastic. Visible hand stitching on the crab shell will be in black thread, and the seams machine stitched.
The title of the piece refers to the movements made by the artist but also to the crisis the Earth is experiencing at present. There has been some progress in Western countries in bringing the attention of politicians and the general public to the climate emergency in the global South and to the planet generally, but there is no straight forward momentum. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought new fears but also new ideas about the potential change away from the Capitolocene.
Sea crabs are not endangered though land crabs are. The research for Two Steps Forward and One to the Side has an overarching reference to the climate emergency and increasing extinctions, and to the need for a feminist challenge to the status quo. The challenge is seen as feminist because of the way in which feminism takes into account the need for It explores how humans, animals, growing things and the planet can be seen as intimately connected. Everyone and every thing being in relationship with everything else. Ken Gergen talks about 'relational practices' noting how human experience and communications emerge from the 'we' of our relationships and everyone's use of language and gesture. Nothing can come from a single individual.
Joanna Macy and Donna Haraway have been active for several decades in bringing together feminist understanding about power relationships, and about peace and a concern for the planet. Object Oriented Ontology refers directly to the wider relationships, not just between humans but between all 'objects' in the world: humans, 'critters' (Haraways' all-embracing term) and things. It challenges the view of the Great Chain of Being where humans (white humans in fact) were seen to lord it over all other beings. Timothy Morton and others investigate the scientifically identified current age of the Anthropocene, the time in which humans have had significant impact on the Earth's geology and ecosystems, sometimes referred to as the Capitalocene This includes climate change and extinctions of numerous species. OOO specifically challenges each human to become aware of the way we have used and become estranged from the other inhabitants of the world who have an equal right to exist.
Ilona Balaga's BA thesis quotes Jane Bennett introducing her ideas about the life force of the non-human, which she calls Vital Materiality. Bennet talks about alliances and assemblages and helps the reader to see the world in a wholly interconnected way.
It could be said that in the current period, one role of the artist is to remind humans of their inevitable intimacy with the Earth, each other, with animate and inanimate objects, and to encourage a sense of wonder. Two Steps Forward and One to the Side uses making and performance to encourage this exploration. It references other artists who combine these processes, such as Joan Jonas, Angela Cockayne and Lucy Orta.
Like these artists, Two Steps Forward and One to the Side uses humour, humour which connects animals and humans and projects a dissonance. The viewer laughs and thus readjusts their thoughts. Surrealism was the first art Movement to recognise the re-evaluations that occur when the po-faced is denied and laughter is introduced. Dali did this while simultaneously referencing current innovations e.g.his lobster telephone. Climate breakdown is a terrifying prospect enough and can be faced more easily and indeed productively when it includes a level of creative fun. Extinction Rebellion has also exemplified this innovation.
Considering Roland Barthes' study of semiology and the way it can be utilised in art, a crab must at least imply water, sand, rocks, not to mention buckets and spades. Water is a poignant symbol of creativity, the amniotic fluid of the planet, as Linda Weintraub has called it, and materials generate meaning, as Joseph Beuys has shown. A crab implies boundaries, the boundary between water and land being a significant one. A crab is a creature of the beach, the coast, the edge, the liminal, the littoral.
Valerie Briginshaw, a dance theorist, thinking about site specific dance performance, notes that beaches exist between land and sea, forming borders and boundaries. As in dance, Two Steps Forward and One to the Side involves the movement of the human body and brings attention to the connection between human and 'critter' but also the sometimes precarious boundary between body and other Object. Donna Haraway also sees 'odd boundary creatures', in her case 'Simians, Cyborgs and Women'(as in her book title), as being destabilising to Western technologies and biological narratives.
The performance is video-ed in the street, amongst parked cars, which though damaging to the environment as soon as they are made or started up, are taken so much for granted as background to life. The sound track accentuates the clackety-clack of crab claws.
Haraway's requirement to live well and ethically means 'staying with the trouble'. Two Steps Forward and One to the Side puts that requirement into action, by introducing connections alongside a sense of wonder. It challenges humans who have taken such a large part in the destruction of the Earth to consider their own steps.
Fresh crab for drawing £15
Stuffing and supporting materials - recycled waste £0
4 days already spent to create body and claws of crab, and stitch detail
3 to 4 further days required to create legs and attach to body
3 to 4 further days to make a suit
The crab in development
Impression of crab in perfomance
Two steps forward and one to the side
Nick Cave. I Lobo You
Angela Cockayne. Hand tools. Rebecca Horn Unicorn
Studio Orta. Symphony for Absent Wild Life
Meryl McMaster. as Immense as the Sky
Salvador Dali Lobster Telephone Vincent Van Gogh. Crab on its Back