Part One (originally posted March 18, 2017 as part of MFA Contextualised Practice course at RGU)
As part of the Look Again Visual Art & Design Festival students on the masters programme have been invited to create a piece of work in response to an object from the RGU Art and Heritage Collection. George Cheyne, the Collections Assistant assembled some of the many weird and wonderful objects and artifacts held in the University’s collection for our selection. I chose a box labeled Alexander Performance Scale, the contents of which consists of numerous painted wooden blocks, printed cards and a book of instructions.
I found the contents to be both intriguing and strangely beautiful. They have an immediate tactile quality that demands handling and closer examination. The brightly coloured blocks with their painted red, white, yellow and blue faces are simultaneously toy-like and scientific in appearance. The book gives detailed instructions as to how the user can conduct a series of intelligence tests on children.
In 1935 William Alexander developed the Alexander Performance Scale Test, as a means of assessing the most suitable type of secondary school a child should go to.
The Education Act 1944 made education free up to the age of 15 and created three types of school: grammar schools with an academic focus, technical schools which focused on learning a trade and secondary moderns for children not placed at either of the other two types.
The kit had three tests: the Passalong Test, Kohs’ Block Design Test, and the Cube Construction Test where children made patterns of coloured blocks according to the illustrations while being timed.
On the train journey back to Inverness I started to explore my immediate response to the Alexander Performance scale test as a quilt-like design using simple squares of colour.
The next stage takes a closer look at the exact form of the painted sides, which consist of solid blocks of one colour and diagonally bisected blocks of two colours. This very simple arrangement allows a huge range of permutations and motifs to be created.
My initial digital sketches pick up on one of my previously explored ideas, that of a wooden quilt. This had been a feature of my continuing quilt project, but was forced to take a back seat due to the labour intensive and time consuming nature of my stitched aluminium pieces.
I had been reluctant to abandon this area of enquiry but the uncertainty of how the wooden pieces would successfully fit in with my current oeuvre caused me to put any further development on hold. This connection and the possibilities that it offers is what initially attracted me to the Alexander Performance piece.
I have decided to change the original colours to an earthier palette. This is more in keeping with my current colour range, as is the addition of black as an accent colour.
Part Two (originally post 25 March, 2017, as part of MFA blog)
The Alexander test-inspired project has gone well. The metal quilt was straightforward enough, not too much of a departure from my current work. What it has done is to provide me with a new source of imagery. By introducing triangles alongside the usual square sections I have created a whole new look to the work, offering up much more variety. It also has a much more upbeat feel with visual references to Latin American designs and colour combinations.
The most important departure is the work that developed out of the Quilt piece. I had initially intended to create a wooden quilt for the project, but in my impatience to get started and the fact that I had plenty of aluminium at hand but no timber at the required size, meant that I started on a metal piece first.
The desire to use wood would not go away, even though my early idea was dismissed as being too close to the original Alexander test piece. This was even more apparent because I also imagined that my piece would be interactive and allow the viewer to move the individual components to achieve a design of their own making.
The idea that the Alexander test was the means of measuring children’s intelligence made me think of rulers and other physical measuring implements. This included surveyor’s poles and water height posts in canals, docks and rivers.
The formal arrangement of the sculpture was determined by my ongoing interest in sculptured paintings and painted sculptures. This piece suggested a hybrid that was both on the wall and on the floor, a link between the two disciplines. I was especially excited at how the painting extended around the sides of the individual pieces to create elements of surprise as the viewer moved across the work.
My aim now as part of my ongoing quilt collaboration is to extend this direction to create larger and more ambitious pieces that use human proportions as their height and run the full length of the walls in which they are installed.
Along with a definite Latin American flavour, the wooden pieces also reminded me of the Afro-American slave designs, used by the predominantly female quilters and their descendants, derived from traditional African woven textile designs.
The above image shows traditionally Kente cloth, featuring the colorful stripes, which are typical of this type of work. Each strip is usually about 4 inches wide, and 3 or 4 meters long. Each cloth has a unique name and its own meaning, representing a wide range of topics including personal and social history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature and religious beliefs.
These narrow strips of fabric were originally the work of male craftsmen who then stitched them together to create wider lengths of cloth.
It is the thin bands of fabric rather than the designs on them that has provided the starting point for my own ideas.