Wednesday 30 May 2018

Bassam Al-Sabah at The LAB

A few weeks ago, I made my way into Dublin's The LAB gallery in order to see an exhibition by Basam Al-Sabah, Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset. I first came across Al-Sabah when he was an art student at IADT a few years ago, and I was curious to find out how his work was developing.

I did a double-take at the entrance: in previous exhibitions at The LAB, the small square space gallery was used to exhibit a different artist than the main space, but here was an introduction to Al-Sabah's work. The colourful drapery beautifully printed with spaceships and rockets could have been from a child's bedroom (curtains or bedclothes).

In the corner of the space, there were roughly made, unglazed clay forms, which despite their organic shape seemed distinctly ominous and malevolent to me.

The main room displayed a number of individual works in a variety of media, but one could tell that a story was unfolding and further examination would be enlightening.

I am not sure whether it was from a direct conversation I had had with Bassam Al-Sabah or a written accompaniment to his work at some point, but I remember being struck by him recounting that he thought their had been musical drumming at night when he was a child in Iraq - only later understanding that this was the sound of his city being bombed. As one might expect, such a strong memory informs the Al-Sabah's work: innocence, loss, melancholy, a certain sadness and fear feature poignantly in images of family and the remnants of anime cartoons that Al-Sabah watched when he was a child.

While not hugely au fait with the world of anime myself, I could recognise a circling hero figure seeming very confused in a video tower piece.

This same hero figure was portrayed as broken on a nearby table, hero body parts intermingled with human body parts. The broken pieces for me displayed a shattered innocence, a child's identification with the hero, both fictional hero and human child reduced to "doll" parts.

Against the furthest wall, at mantle level, were several shelves containing images obviously painted from family photographs encased in resin, almost as an attempt to preserve the images. The simplicity of this group display was given a huge amount of power after watching the longer video behind the wall, in a separate room.

An almost architecturally sterile cgi video of a house walk-through with a difference. There were a few personal pointers within the rooms: a paper bag on the floor in the kitchen, a fridge magnet of a family photo, Persian designs on furniture upholstery. Ominously though, something was intruding from the outside world -- via radio and tv -- forms and shapes were enveloping the architecture. Most of the soundtrack to the video walk-through is droning and eerie, but then towards the end there is voice-over and subtitles translating the speech of Al-Sabah's Grandmother. Full of sorrow for her dispersed family, as her children and their families leave the dangers of Iraq for various countries, she burns all family photos. Home is no longer home.

Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset is a powerful exhibiton and I think personally momentous work for Bassam Al-Sabah that allows me to empathise with experiences so far removed from the safety of my own.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Summer - potato bake!

I got this delicious, nutritious and easy to make recipe a few weeks ago, after being introduced to it at a friends' summer party - already I have made it three times! Since it is definitely summer now, this is a wonderful companion to an al fresco meal; with roast chicken and salad were my introduction, but I have eaten it's on its own as a full meal.

The ingredients are simple: boiled potatoes (4-5 medium), 1 egg, 1/2 pint milk, grated cheese (at least a cup -- I love cheese so I didn't bother to measure!), ground pepper and nutmeg, some butter.

After greasing the dish with butter, slice and spread the boiled potatoes.

In a separate dish whisk an egg with the milk and add most of the cheese. Stir and then spoon over the potatoes.

Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese, pepper and nutmeg on top. Add a couple of knobs of butter before putting in the oven.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 180C for about half an hour. I cover for the first 20 mins and remove the tin foil for the last bit of baking in order to brown and crisp the cheese a bit. The first time I made this I added some chopped onion; it was tasty enough (I like onion) but not necessary as there is plenty of flavour in this dish. In fact, having made it twice without onion, I will stick with the original onion-less recipe that I was given. Happy summer!

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Catalan platter - willow weaving workshop

One evening last week I attended a Catalan platter willow weaving workshop at Signal Arts Centre, offered by expert basket maker Aoife Patterson. The sheafs of many-hued willow wands smelled great in the large gallery where we'd be working. After a brief explanation and demonstration, those attending dived right in to the making, as Aoife then made her way around the room individually helping everyone out (a small group). Making the Catalan platter is very much associated with a full body experience! To begin with, you must use your torso to help form a circle or oval upon which all the weaving takes place, determining the general shape of your platter. Two wands are used for this base, and as you can see in the picture below, the wands are slightly heavier than the weaving wands.

 Again your own body is crucial to making the platter. Central rods are held in place by a temporary weave of lightweight willow and then the actual weaving begins. I chose rods of a light brownish-red hue to be alternated with green rods that will turn almost black with time. Kneeling on one half of my frame, I wove the rods to almost the top of the frame. I then turned it around to begin the process again,  making sure to remove the temporary weaves first.

Nearly finishing the platter, the middle rods are brought together. A very flexible, thinner piece of willow is manoevred into the platter, brought up one side and wrapped a few times around what is now the handle, and tucked into itself.

My platter has both a long and a short handle, but the tying together process is the same.

The final finish to the platter is the trimming with sharp secaturs. This can either be done by eye or using chalk to make cut lines, but the amount cut totally depends on preference.

The Catalan platter can be used as a serving dish. either by placing a smaller plate upon it or by putting items, such as bread or whole fruit, directly on the willow weave, which is very strong.

A slight curve in the platter is natural to the process and differentiates the top from the bottom of the platter, but this curve can also be more pronounced by gentle upward movements in the early stages (when one is kneeling on the platter).

Wednesday 9 May 2018

more ceramic bowls!

I was extremely pleased with the recent two nesting bowls in white clay; they turned out the way I had hoped! 

The interior glaze, though black is more of a midnight blue (perfect for the smaller "galaxy" bowl with its white speckles) and the exterior, where I had wiped the glaze leaving its residue in the texture lines, mostly glazed as a matt black. The gold provides exquisite highlights.

 I was so pleased, in fact, that I thought I would try three nesting bowls! I got the three bowls made from white clay slabs and clay rolled out during the weekly ceramic workshop for the "feet". However, the clay was not leather-hard enough for me to do the foot process yet, so I took the bowls home for the weekend to babysit them.

The clay I had rolled for the feet was ready to work with in a couple of days, so even though the bowls were still a bit soft, I knew I had to do them. Removing them from their pudding bowl formers was the hairy part, but one by one I persevered. I started with the smallest bowl, so that I could rest the upended medium bowl on the pudding bowl former (the rims of all the bowls are not uniform, so the clay bowl has to be raised somewhat).

This picture is of the small and medium bowls after their feet have been attached. 

 The largest bowl was the trickiest I think, as I had to use several bowl formers to raise it from the table. Please note that cling film must be draped over the formers so that the inside of the clay bowl doesn't stick to them.

For these bowls the feet were made with a flat piece of clay forming a circle. The foot is attached by scoring and applying vinegar to both the foot and the adjacent surface of the bowl. Where I have joined the foot to itself, I also scored and applied vinegar.

 The three bowls are now ready for bisque firing. In order to bring them back to the workshop, I have to wrap them carefully as they are very fragile in this pre-firing state.

Wednesday 2 May 2018

sausage, bread & potato stuffing

It had been many years since I indulged, but I had a hankering for rolled stuffed pork last week. My local butchers are great and they make their own stuffing, taking time to roll the pork and wrap it with pork skin as I wait and chat with the brothers (a family butcher). However, though the dinner was delicious, the verdict from my family was that the stuffing was not as good as my own, passed down to me by my Mum, and passed to her by her father.

I have heard of sage stuffing, sausage stuffing, bread stuffing and potato stuffing. This recipe (if recipe you call it, as everything is just eyeballed) combines everything and is so good! I usually use about 4 large potatoes (boiled & mashed), 2-3 chopped onions, several cups of breadcrumbs, 4 cooked & chopped sausages, 4 slices cooked & chopped bacon, lots of pepper, lots of sage (if you have fresh dried, crumble a bunch in your hands). Add some salt and/or poultry seasoning if you like. The stuffing should have a wonderful aroma when mixed all together, even before it is cooked.

Though universal health recommendations are against actually stuffing your bird, I really can't imagine not doing this. Just make sure you weigh the stuffing before putting it in the bird (or pork) and take into account this extra weight when calculating the cooking time. If you don't want to stuff the meat you are using, put the stuffing in an oiled oven dish and add broth/turkey juice while cooking. I do this with leftover stuffing if I've made too much.

Oh yes, this stuffing is delicious! When cooked in a dish there are more crusty parts on the outside, but nothing beats the flavour of the stuffing as it is meant to be. In smaller amounts this is also a great stuffing for chicken. Enjoy!