Friday, 14 October 2011

Family, fabric and stitch

Hi Leah,

Your query regarded work that focused on family cultures, with an interest in stitch. The ideas I’m going to put here look at the two strands. I’m also going to look at fabric as a container of memory, as I think family memories are often embedded in specific fabrics. If you think I’ve gone off on a tangent, don’t worry – take what is meaningful to you, and hopefully some of these artists might spark off further ideas for your own work. Firstly, Ewa Kuryluk, who’s an interesting multi-media artist, who has written a book called The Fabric of Memory. She says that her "work is about images which memory projects onto fabric and which the fabric's folding transforms."
Ewa Kuryluk
Similarly, Rachel Dickson, a graduate from the RCA, and lecturer at Ulster, describes her work as being “concerned withe ideas of memory and circumstance: how we carry our experiences with us, wearing mnoments in time, stained by involvement, sewn into the fabric of our lives' intimate garments, marked and stained, secrets, memories, exposed patterns and construction becoming integral to the recollection, garments too fragile to wear..."

Rachel Dickson
Betty Pepper, a jewellery designer, has produced many pieces that are constructed from fragments of memory, such as The Necklace that Smelled of Yesterday.

The Tate in Liverpool did a relatively small exhibition called Fabric of memory that was concerned with how personal histories can be captured by objects. The curator got locals to lend handmade textiles such as items of clothing, made by, and received from a family member during childhood, with a commentary on its history. (this has been taken from the Tate website) The Fabric of Memory (Tate)
Clothes are inseparable from memory and family events – this is summed up in
Justine Picardie’s : My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes My Mother's Wedding Dress

Jane McKeating made an embroidered book after her husband left her after decades of living together: How to Sleep in Half a Bed.

A sad use of fabric is the way that mother’s struggling in poverty in the 19thC used to cut a couple of strips of fabric from their baby’s blanket or theirs or their baby’s garment, and place one piece in the record book when they were forced to hand their baby over to a Foundling hospital, and keep the other. If or when they managed to get on their feet, they would return to the hospital, and their piece of fabric would be matched to their child, so that they could be reclaimed. Most of them never were.

Foundling Hospital Fabric Swatches
More macabre, in Mexico, there is the family Day of the Dead celebrations where they honour not only family members who have died, but also their pets, with art, flowers and fruit. From a textiles point of view, they make beautiful cut mats, called petate, that they roll the bodies up in before cremation.
Mexican Petate

On family textiles, the thing that brings families and stitch together is the tradition of quilting. This is particularly strong in America where they have quilting bees. If you’ve not seen it, watch the film, How to Make and American Quilt, which uses the putting together of the quilt as a vehicle to explore the lives, losses and loves in the generations of family and friends creating it. The film is better than the book. How to Make an American Quilt 
There is a lot on the web about families who have made quilts, sometimes over several generations, such as this site that starts with the work of five generations, but then goes on to show the work of other families.

Quilt making and textiles can be very therapeutic. Wendy Golden-Levitt uses textiles as a means of helping children through emotional pain. The following link will take you to an article on her approach. It’s a bit ‘alternative’ in the way she talks about her work – hippy dippy – but the spirit behind it is sound and interesting.Textile Therapy
Photo Therapy (see a previous blog entry for full details) often uses family photo albums, and the client talks about the bonded groups within the pictures. Often you will see certain family members ALWAYS with the same child, or perhaps a child always out on a limb on their own. You can tell a lot about family relationships from family photos.

And then, of course, there are the artists and photographers who have used their families as subjects. Family portraits, whether photographic or on canvas, can also be stitched into, or have fabric added applique/collage style to bring meaning and memory.

I’ll simply list these, as I sense this is not the way your work is developing:
Melanie Manchot photographed her mother naked as she aged. Look at you loving me, from 1995-2001

Sally Mann famously shot her children naked and continued to photograph them as they developed into adults.
Sally Mann
Tracy Emin: Her life, family and friends are often worked in stitch in her applique pieces

Victorian artists often depicted families in their narrative paintings, such as Last Day in the Old Home by Martineau
Renoir painted his wife and girls many, many times.
You can find some rather stiff 17thC Dutch paintings of families, such as the van der Dussen family by Hendrick Conelisz Van Vliet.
Munch painted his sister, as he was frightened of being sexually attracted to a model – with insanity and sickness in the family, he didn’t want to continue the suffering by marrying and having children
Schiele painted his sisters, sometimes naked, leading to charges of incest, but he also painted his longed for family – unfortunately he and his wife both died of flu before the baby was born.
Matisse painted his wife
Whistler painted his mother
Boccioni the Futurist did a number of paintings of his mother, starting with a lively fairly realistic one, but evolving into a more abstract and scary image.
Paula Rego: ‘The Family’ (Above)
Picasso did a number of paintings of his children
Lucien Freud
Stanley Spencer

If I think of anything else, I'll add another post.....

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