Here is an article I wrote for The Hub Magazine...
Textiles with Memory
Have you ever considered the concept of textiles with memory? Or taken a moment to think about the memories ingrained within the clothes you wear? Maybe an outfit reminds you of an event that took place whilst you were wearing it, or maybe the day or place you bought it? Or perhaps a family heirloom like a rug or a tapestry reminds you of a lost relative?
Silja Puranen, a Finnish artist and winner of 2009’s Nordic Award for Textiles, explores this idea often through her groundbreaking work. Utilizing a harmonious relationship between modern printing techniques and handcrafted traditional textile making, Puranen’s work is always intriguing. Using old fabrics as her foundations she applies layer upon layer of narrative dimensions. Photographic imagery, paint and stitches are arranged layer-by-layer giving a new lease of life to an old textile. Photographic imagery plays a significant part in Puranen’s work capturing; “a specific moment in time, that magical millisecond when time stands still and something significant happens.”
In Siamese Twins (2009), pictured at top, an antique rug is transformed into an art piece that tells a story. New life is given to a textile no longer fit for purpose. A simple antique bedspread is used to great effect in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (2003), pictured above. The damaged textile portrays a previous existence, a past life of wear and tear. The purposefully overlaid painting has a tactile transparency offering a view into the layers – of history – beneath. The pattern of the textile and the signs of damage represent the textile’s history. Her pieces keep memories intact whilst applying new narratives, breathing a new generation of life into a textile.
Textile artist Gail Baxter also explores the concept of ‘textiles with memory’. Her project ‘Records and Memories’ (pictured below)explores hidden codes within textiles through her practice of ‘free lace’. Baxter’s interpretation of lace making breaks away from traditional techniques. She describes her lace work as; “a pattern of constructed holes, random or geometric as the subject requires and constructed in whatever medium is most appropriate”.
Baxter’s MA research is based around archeological records from Christ Church, Spitalfields from 1729-1852. Baxter investigates hidden knowledge within parish records and censuses, playing upon the fact that memories and artifacts can be used to continue a person’s existence after their death.
‘Records and Memories’ is a series of photographs showing Baxter’s lace work at various points of deconstruction. The deconstruction of the lace’s original structure represents the process of decay of the corporeal body. Interestingly the threads retain their memory, even after the piece is completely deconstructed, with the threads’ kinks comprising evidence of their previous existence. The work questions at what point, if any, the lace loses its memories. And thus, at what point, if any, a person ceases to exist.
Carol Quarini’s conceptual textiles incorporate lace and silk paper to investigate the degeneration of memory. Her complex and intricate pieces represent the disconnection of nerves and cell division, among other fascinating biological processes.
Her investigation into memory as well as family and genetics in her pieces ‘Memories are made of this’ and ‘Family Tree’ (2007), pictured above, display; “links between the nerve endings that form our neural network are tenuous and easily broken. As we age the memory becomes cloudy and we grope for memories as if in a fog.”
Quarini’s pieces aim to challenge our perceptions of lace. At first glance the pieces may appear similar to traditional lace work, however up close the pieces tell a different and more intricate story.“She subverts the idea of the industrious, submissive female producing decorative coverings for the home… her net curtains appear conventional, with a traditional lace trim, but closer inspection reveals that the lace has an ‘unhomely’ meaning.”
The works of these three artists promote the historical integrity of textiles. The DNA of textiles is made up of narrative fibres that tell a story, with the warp and weft holding strands of information. These storytelling textiles can be used as historical archives, windows into the past. Apply a “if these walls could talk” principle and imagine the stories waiting to be told!
Newly popularized trends in ‘ecological fairness’ and ‘authenticity’ see a growing importance for all things ethical – which can only be a good thing. It’s all about the quality not the quantity. Savvy consumers are seeking not only value for their money but assurances in a brand’s moral responsibility. In short, it’s not just about the materials anymore; it’s about the story behind them from their creation through to their journey to the consumer and beyond.
Author: Ester Kneen
Images courtesy of the three aforementioned artists