Nobodies is a series of three soft sculptures hanging from meat hooks and chains, which explore ways that cloth and stitch can evoke the abject in art.
The abject is the instinctive feeling of horror ‘to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between self and other’. It is that which inherently disturbs conventional identity and cultural concepts. For my dissertation I have researched the ways Christian Boltanski and Louise Bourgeois use empty second-hand clothing in their work to suggest a physical absence and ultimately, death, the most extreme abjection. Choosing to use cloth in sculpture can powerfully subvert traditional representations of the body.
Image: Nobodies, 2014, installed at Synecdoche, Embassy Tea Gallery, London, June
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Using a series of photo cut-outs from a photo montage book I made my son for his 18th birthday, the idea of ‘body, no body, nobody’ was born. Each photo has a distinctive cut-out shape, framed with a memory of a place or time. For this project I am examining my responses to my only child leaving home and the impact that has had on my life. I have been exploring ways to communicate the mixture of emotions involved in this transition, in terms of identity and purpose, loss and absence, through the visual language of abjection. What is left behind when someone leaves? Although it describes a personal journey, it will inevitably resonate with others.
Nobodies, 2014. installed at Synecdoche, Embassy Tea gallery, London, June
Cloth itself is regarded as a gendered material; Roszika Parker, in her book, The Subversive Stitch, analyses the gender divide between ‘high’ art and feminised craft and proposes that cloth is a signifier of the private, and thus feminine, sphere. There are also femininities associated with discarded clothing, hair and recycled imitation leather linked to dirt and contamination anxiety which add meaning to my choice of materials.
Cloth can also be regarded as an extension of the body, a second skin. There is a merging of the senses of touch and sight associated with cloth. Exploring free machine embroidery as a vehicle for mark making, I have drawn images from the photo cut outs, what is left behind, onto these different materials. Together with a range of other traditional textile processes, I have created a series of poignant skin-like surfaces which blur the visual/tactile divide.
I am aware of the debate surrounding ‘sloppy craft’ and I am interested to see how it develops. High levels of skill in my work is important to me, as is the rich tradition of stitched textiles. However, at times, I feel that my stitched work needs to be rougher, gestural and emotive, in order to communicate a range of other meanings and leave clear evidence of my making. Louise Bourgeois’ needlework has been described as ‘grotesque handiwork’ and the ‘deliberate ferocity of bad sewing’. It is clear that she had the skills to make technically perfect textile work but chose a rougher style, challenging the conventions of stitch. I see this in my practice, as I regard the use of stitch as mark making; my work is far from perfect technically but with it I too hope to subvert the expectations of embroidered textiles.
Cloth as an unconventional medium in fine art also adds to the meaning it conveys. Traditionally, hard, durable materials like stone, marble and bronze have been used for sculpture; the soft, impermanent nature of textiles, however, evokes the human form and its mortality. Researching the sculptural potential of stitch, I have used a range of materials with different rigidities and drape including leather, imitation leather, my son’s old clothing, velvet, hand knitted wool and felt.
It has been thrilling to discover the possibilities of transforming these materials using traditional textile techniques - garment making and embroidery skills, pattern cutting, seams, darts, zips, patchwork, quilting, trapunto and more. Creating a ‘crazy' patchwork with materials with different rigidities, quilted inserts and zips gives me almost limitless possibilities for sculpting. I have also incorporated sculptural knitting and knitted felt into my investigations.