Brenda Miller: OCA textiles tutor
The Open College of Arts offers award-winning distance learning degrees, including a number of exceptional Textile Art Courses. Their aim is to help “develop your creative capacities in the interpretation and application of imagery, tactile awareness and understanding of the theoretical and conceptual issues central to the practice of textile art”.
Each month a different OCA tutor discusses concepts relating to textiles, including both theoretical and practical applications of the skills taught in their courses. In this guest post by artist and tutor, Brenda Miller, she looks at why the textile journey is more important than the outcome through several of her wonderful short films.
The constant struggles of making artwork and staying open to change – confident to tackle something new
Keeping an open mind to ways of translating ideas to share with an audience has become key to the way I work. I aim to use this approach when tutoring my OCA students to inspire and challenge them to achieve their goals. In my work at the moment, I feel that it is the textile journey that has become the focus more than the outcome for my artistic practice. I like to collaborate with people involved in textiles including factory workers, shop owners, artists and people who love to make. I express this in my short film pieces, which have been shown in galleries and film festivals in the UK, USA, Canada and Denmark.
Keen to extend my knowledge
Since childhood I have always had a passion for making textiles. Like many OCA students, it was while my children were young, I was able to study and discovered a part-time City & Guilds course, which ignited my passion and enabled me to learn as well as experiment with a wide range of techniques. At the end of this I started to exhibit my work.
Constantly keen to extend my knowledge, I gained a place on the Creative Arts degree at Bath Spa University, studying textiles and fine art. In my final year, I tended to paint textiles and to stitch paintings in fine art. It was the fine art approach to textiles that has continued to excite and drive my work. More recently, I went back to studying, this time at Goldsmiths College, University of London and obtained an MFA in Art Practice. This course was taught in groups of students from different artistic backgrounds to stimulate, challenge and question our ideas in a rigorous environment with open access to a whole range of facilities including specialist textile workshops.
Along the way, I was drawn to digital embroidery and digital knit. However, I found that my practice was increasingly turning towards a more socially engaged approach. I could trace this back to a project entitled, Lazy Daisies, a display of 10,000 hand embroidered flowers planted in the Eden Project Mediterranean bio-dome as part of the South West Textile Group show in the early 2000s. For me this was a rewarding project involving volunteers over the enormous age range of 4-94. I was later supported to bring the installation to Under The Edge Arts in 2005.
How textiles are made today
Living in an area with a history of wool production I visited a local factory, making green baize for billiard tables to find out how textiles are made today. I found Sharon working alone in a large industrial building containing the space- age looking warping machine. When she first started working there, the factory made woollen suiting with stripes and checks. Now it was raw natural wool all day every day. It made me reflect on how some workers are de-skilled and isolated in their work today. This led to my first short film, Sharon and Me, shown as part of my MA Fine Art show in 2009. It was pivotal in the direction my practice has taken since.
Then after college, I was faced with the dilemma of how to continue to develop my skills and find technical support as I had not been able to spend long enough to reinforce the knowledge required to edit film. However, I managed to resolve this even though it took me some time. By this point I was eager to create a new piece of work and needed to research volunteers to take part, an appropriate venue to film and help with filming. This ended up as an even steeper learning curve that I’d anticipated, as I had to edit the footage from two cameras, plus for the first time deal with sound. I had not considered the complexity of the editing skills I was to need. However, with support this was achieved and Landscape with two women was produced.
The Tailor of Gloucester
I now feel more comfortable working in this more socially engaged way, I find that one story will lead to another and work is connected through threads of textiles in a freer way than before. At the moment I am working on a series of pieces through a chance comment about the story of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. The film, Thinking Stitch, and the most recent piece I have edited, Sharing Stitch, have lead to a third piece, Participation Stitch, currently being editing. In the last piece, I have been collaborating with a group of people to learn and produce tailored, hand-made buttonholes as mentioned in the story. In turn this has lead on to my next project where I am planning to record conversations between shop owners.
My collaboration with artist, Liz Harding, Physical Stitch, will be shown at Nature in Art, Twigworth, Gloucestershire, from 10-30 August and I am planning a solo show at 44AD in Bath next spring.
Although my focus has changed, I still need to make. I am producing a series of self-portraits and a rag rug at the present time.
Other articles by OCA tutors on TextileArtist.org
Rebecca Fairley explores her flair for the unconventional.
Collette Paterson discusses the impact world cultures have had on both her teaching and her art.
Neil Musson reveals how the exploration of new mediums and techniques influences the art he creates.
Do you have a question for the wonderful tutors of OCA? Please leave it in a comment below this post.