Thoughts on Week 6 Lecture & Resources
Chanel No. 5 Book
Through watching the above interview with Irma Boom, I learned more about the particulars of how she went about creating the book she designed for Chanel in celebration of the fashion house’s famous Chanel No. 5 fragrance, as well as its creator, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Boom’s approach is almost Dadaist, in the sense that it completely defies the typical definition of what a book “should” be, or look like. The book, fittingly for an avant-garde fashion designer who broke the mould, takes on a radical form by being seemingly blank, or invisible – something that also hints at the ephemeral and intangible nature of the lingering scent of a perfume.
It’s also notable that leafing through the pages of this book is a deliberately tactile, a sensory experience because all of its pages are embossed. It was interesting to discover that the book was actually featured as an integral part of the Chanel exhibition it was conceived for, which feels entirely appropriate, given that it is a beautiful work of art in itself.
This week, I have chosen two topics to research as potential ideas for my 3,000 written article. One is The Great Tapestry of Scotland, a large-scale embroidery depicting the story of Scotland. The other topic I’m looking at is a key figure from the pantheon of Celtic mythology, The Cailleach, known as the goddess of winter.
Research for Story #1: The Great Tapestry of Scotland
The Great Tapestry of Scotland is one of the country’s largest ever art projects, with over 1,000 people taking part by contributing their handiwork in the form of their stitches across 160 different embroidered panels to depict important events, stories, folk tales and key figures in Scottish history.
Alexander McCall Smith, a well-known Scots author, came up with the idea after being inspired by the Prestonpans Tapestry which was on display at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, a world-renowned tapestry studio established in 1912. In a similar vein to the famous Bayeux Tapestry (which depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066), this embroidery tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.
McCall enlisted the help of artist Andrew Crummy (who designed the Prestonpans Tapestry), and historian Alistair Moffat to bring the story to life. The tapestry will be housed in a purpose-built new museum in Galashiels, designed by Page\Park, and is due to (hopefully) open in 2021.
Visual Research – Tapestry
Visual Development – Tapestry
I wanted to make my visuals link in a very deliberate way to the notion of textiles, so I sought out a typeface which emulates the appearance of cross stitches, a font called Kingthings Xstitch.
I also wanted to add a visual surface texture for the background, so I photographed a book I own which has a linen fabric cover, a copy of John Rocha: Texture, Form, Purity, Detail. I then manipulated the image slightly in Photoshop to get the right feel.
Proposal #1 – Tapestry
Research for Story #2: The Cailleach
The Cailleach is an ancient and important female figure in Celtic mythology. She is linked to the darker, harsher parts of the year – late autumn into winter, and was believed to control winds and the weather. There are folk tales describing her as the queen of winter, bringer of darkness, even life & death; she has even been described as “divine hag,” a crone, and a force of nature.
In modern Gaelic, the word “cailleach” means old woman, or one who wears a veil. In terms of etymology, the name is probably derived from an older, more generic Gaelic term for women, “caillin” (Wright 2019). The Cailleach was also considered wise, and connected to owls – in Scots Gaelic, “cailleach oidche” is the term for an owl, literally translated this means “the old woman of the night.” As a goddess of death, hearing the call of an owl was once believed to be an omen that someone would die (Sinn 2012).
She was also viewed as the mother of ancient Celtic lands, and said to have created parts of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as having associations with the harvest: “In both Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, cailleach also denotes the last sheaf of a harvest and is the subject of many beliefs and practices.” (MacKillop 2004)
I have the book pictured above, which is a treasure trove of information on Celtic Art, including the typography, techniques and organic shapes. It shows many examples of calligraphic type, illuminated letters and decorative motifs from iconic Celtic texts such as the Book of Kells. This would definitely be a source visual of inspiration if I chose to develop the essay on the Cailleach.
Visual Research – Cailleach
Visual Development – Cailleach
I wanted to create a richly textured effect, so I used dry paintbrushes on textured cartridge paper with pure black acrylic paint. This was intended to give the feeling of the inky darkness in the depths of winter, which the Cailleach was closely linked to. It also hints at the concept of death.
I chose typography for the design that is meant to evoke a sense of history and is visually linked to Gaelic and Celtic culture.
Proposal #2: The Cailleach
Reflection on the week
A really interesting point was raised by someone on the Ideas Wall about the Chanel No.5 book – the fact that this particular publication would not work in a digital format. You don’t have the tactility and three-dimensional qualities of embossed paper this way. It would most likely look “blank” if you tried to scan it, since it has no ink and all the pages are white.
I think this is also true of a large proportion of Irma Boom’s work, because the books she designs and creates are like interactive, tangible objets d’art, and very experiential. They could not easily be reproduced digitally, but perhaps that is actually part of the appeal – holding it in your hands, feeling the weight of the book, and leafing through its pages, touching the texture of the paper… a true delight for the senses.
I found Richard Mosse’s INFRA photographs and film fascinating. The idea of creating a sense of otherworldliness through the deliberate choice of medium (in this case infra-red film) gives a stark contrast from reality. The imagery is incredibly thought-provoking and it was also interesting as an ethnographic case study.
For this week’s workshop challenge, I enjoyed researching both topics, and was quite torn about which route to go down. For the Cailleach, I immediately had a lot of ideas for visual concepts, whilst researching Celtic mythology proved quite challenging, because so much of the history was never written down, and tended to be passed down the generations orally. As for the tapestry, I initially didn’t have a design concept in mind, but found there was more “meat” in terms of research material on this topic and felt this could be a good avenue to explore, with a bit of time to further develop the visual side of it.
BAIN, George. 1987. Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction. London: Constable.
Birlinn. November 2020. ‘Ten Years to a Tapestry.’ Available at https://birlinn.co.uk/2020/11/26/ten-years-to-a-tapestry/ [accessed 04/03/2021]
BREHM, Caitlin. February 2020. Roots of Lore: Brigid and the Cailleach [Podcast]. Available at http://caitlinbrehm.com/brigid-cailleach/ [accessed 13/03/2021]
MACKILLOP, James. 2004. A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
MACLENNAN, Malcolm. 1982. A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language. Aberdeen: University Press.
MCALL SMITH, Alexander. April 2013. A stitch in time. New Statesman [online]. Available at https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1351879532/fulltextPDF/901B2E1FBE5C44D4PQ/1?accountid=15894 [accessed 04/03/2021]
Mythopedia. ‘Celtic Mythology.’ Available at https://mythopedia.com/celtic-mythology/ [accessed 10/03/2021]
Page\Park. ‘Great Tapestry of Scotland Gallery.’ Available at https://pagepark.co.uk/project/architecture/tapestry/ [accessed 04/03/2021]
ROCHA, John. 2002. John Rocha: Texture, Form, Purity, Detail. London: Conran Octopus Group.
SINN, Shannon. 2012. ‘Owl of the Celts: Ancient Bride of the Dead.’ Living Library [online]. Available at https://livinglibraryblog.com/owl-of-the-celts-ancient-bride-of-the-dead/ [accessed 16/03/2021]
Victoria & Albert Museum. 2021. ‘Bayeux Tapestry.’ Available at http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O118171/bayeux-tapestry-photograph-cundall-co/bayeux-tapestry-photograph-cundall–co/ [accessed 10/03/2021]
WRIGHT, Gregory. 2019. ‘The Cailleach.’ Mythopedia [online].
Available at https://mythopedia.com/celtic-mythology/gods/cailleach/ [accessed 26/02/2021]