Autumn Seminar debrief

Lee Mingwei and relational aesthetics

Lee Mingwei talks about six projects.

Some consideration on how my projects / crits went after our April seminar week…The install and opening for Water complete, there is time to consolidate thoughts.


During the Autumn MFA seminar I wanted to test a couple of ideas, one was to begin a signature tea cloth; this evolved out of Exercise 45, and my interest and thinking around the value of signatures and the formal qualities of text in various formats linked by stitch. I also really loved the social side of the concept and creation – traditionally – associated with signature tea cloths or quilts, which is a gathering of people. This kind of project also brings to mind the labour of the stitching, the social and gendered history of hand embroidered objects. I needed material in the form of the signatures, and I wanted to engage with people participating and giving me this material.

signature cloth pencils

The second part of my work was testing my install plan for Water, this was really valuable, the process itself was fun; inviting my fellow students, supervisor and lecturer to participate in trying on garments or fragments of garments. To my great relief everyone was a good sport and joined in, quickly we started to discuss aspects of the installation that I wanted feedback on. What changed if a mirror was included? It changed the individual’s focus, from themselves and another, to themselves and their reflection. Is this experience with these object (and one another) affecting how you feel act? Yes, “I feel like need to stand taller…”

Social Bodies; Ocean of Air installed.

The opening for Water went well, I persuaded friends to participate, to hopefully open up the project to others, and they seemed to be having fun…

Water opening Franzi and Rachel playing

Fränzi and Rachel comparing capes

Water Franzi and the rack

Fränzi with the rack of capes

Water opening, collar

Stranger in a collar

Water opening cuffs in pockets

Anonymous in cuffs: there is a story about that coat

Water Opening Franzi and Leslee

Fränzi and Leslee, mutual admiration

Overall, it was a challenge for people coming in ‘cold’, to participate, declining the invitation to try on an object, “No.” full stop.


I was really nervous about bringing the signature tea cloth to the seminar, so far, anyone I had talked with about my plan had never heard of signature tea cloths or quilts (is this even relevant?) and I was trying not to fret that no-one (NO-ONE!) would actually sign the cloth. Logistically, it seemed a good strategy to have the cloth available for the duration the full five days, taking time over the breaks to personally invite people to sign it, chasing up friends on staff I wanted to sign – and also chat with. As a social project, it was interesting feeling that I did not want to pressure anyone, conscious that people may feel shy or may hesitate/not want to make an error… or simply not want to participate. But I wanted to talk with and hear from people around this cloth, so I had to push past feelings of shyness and just invite people face to face to come and sign my cloth. THAT was when I felt like there was a little sharing, a little story, a laugh, there was some kind of exchange. I appreciated those little stories and coming together around the cloth. In those moments I can see that being present as the artist with the other party is key for this kind of project, or at least my intention for it.

signature cloth angle

Autumn signature cloth, marks made

On reflection, if I was to do it again I would make it an event for an hour or two, I would be present for the whole time. I would really like to be sharing food with people over the cloth, but then is that just too much like an historical, traditional, signature cloth? Or is it a more social, disarming process to ‘break bread’ together? And then, still, is that even art?

Coming back to Lee Mingwei and his Six Stories above, he reflected on his experiences, in inviting/offering an experience, collaborating and being present with the work, in some situations, it was him, in others the role was played by another performer. At one point Mingwei describes feeling anxious and guarded about an impending interaction, rather than open and vulnerable, noting that his mindset and intention is interpreted by the other party, subconsciously contributes to the unfolding experience. With my cloths, when I was most nervous, it was probably obvious, and awkward, but taking a step forward with apparent confidence, eased the social interaction.

The other cloth

Below are some images from the beginning of a signature cloth I am working on for my brother and sister in law, which was started on the first evening our families came together, my sister in law’s family came to meet us all from Japan for less than a week of family fun times.

signautre cloth for Robbie and Asaka marks made

This was a significant event for our families, and I was delighted to see how everyone embraced the idea and spent around an hour making their marks, leaving messages for Robbie and Asaka.

signautre cloth for Robbie and Asaka Mum and Robbie

Drawing on cloth is quite different to paper, Robbie is holding the cloth for mum

signautre cloth for Robbie and Asaka Luna and Asakas nana

Setsuko, Asaka’s nana, Luna and Asaka working together

signautre cloth for Robbie and Asaka family

Almost the whole family surrounded the cloth at this moment

I introduced the cloth, my intention for it, and everyone set to work. It served as an icebreaker of sorts, and physically drew everyone close, passing pencils, checking spelling, observing and talking…

signautre cloth for Robbie and Asaka Luna and Asaka

Multi generational, multicultural

Like the act of sharing a meal together, this signature cloth project felt like a connecting experience, it was about us all coming together for a purpose. While I teased my brother that we will have to keep this forever, I hope it will be an object that holds meaning for us all, for this short period of time that our families became one family.

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