Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Friday, 19 February 2010

New Market

Made a visit to New Market. Whenever Thurle or I asked where we might buy a particular thing, people directed us here. It is one of the busiest and biggest markets in the city. Spread across several buildings, the market has different areas for specific goods, you can buy anything from plastic cups, paper plates, livestock, fish, fruit, spices, glassware, textiles, electrical goods, clothes, printing blocks ......... nearly everything. As the saying goes: 'If you can't find it in Newmarket, its not in Bangladesh'.
The area is a hive of activity both throughout the day as well as late into the evening when the streets surrounding the market fill with small street stalls lit by kerosin lamps and evoking the intimate atmosphere of a Rembrandt painting.
One are of interest was the block printers on the third floor.
Here, amongst a tightly fitting mass of tables, near to the fabric areas of the market, men printed large swathes of fabric with traditional carved wooden blocks.
This section of the market was a bit like a multi-storey carpark with the perimiter open to the elements. On the balconies fabrics were hung to dry and large vats of water were used for washing or cleaning.
Customers bring their fabric, look through pattern books and select a colour and a design. They then have it printed.
There are hundreds of block designs, some are singular blocks where the design is of one colour, others have two, sometimes three blocks in a design -the latter more complex with more colours.
The customer can specify how the design is laid out on the fabric aswell.
Shops selling colours and blocks are in amongst the tables. Here people can buy or get their own designs made into printing blocks.
As I wandered I was met with the now usual questions of ' Whats your country?', Why was I in Bangladesh? How long I had been in Bangladesh? Where had I visited? and what were my thoughts of Bangladesh?
In conversations some of the customers commented on the range of fabrics available in the UK and how you could buy lots of different designs. They felt that there was more choice and better availability in Europe. I mentioned that in the UK the opportunity to select and print your own designs and colours wasn't very common, that it would cost a lot to do and that I liked the seemingly unlimited possibilities that were available with the block printers here. Different values.
The ink is spread out over a slightly spongy surface which allows the whole surface of the block to be covered when stamped into this pad. Ink is carefullt applied to the pad being careful to spread the ink evenly and not allow the pad to get too wet.
One of the skills of the printer is the consistency, spread and evenness of the ink on the block.
To make a printing block first the surface of the wood block is made completely flat, the design is then draw and carved into the block, flattening the surface ensures that all of the design is printed onto the fabric. more hard wearing and expensive blocks use metal pins or strips (the latter inserted 'edge-on' into the wood) are used. Proofs are taken as the carving develops to check the design is clear.
The designs need accurate measuring to ensure a good repeat in the pattern along all sides of the block.
This print is for a sari, the edges and the end of the fabric will be visible details when worn.
sheets of paper are used to mask areas of the fabric that the printer doesnt want to cover. This is used when the size of the block doesnt fit to the width of the fabric, when different designs meet or when creating a border.
An example of a double or two piece print using two colours, black and pink on yellow.
The blocks are carefully laid into position then hit with the side of the hand.
Two colours on one block, the ink is spread out using a small sponge.