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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

8 November, 2015

Textile Society Conference – Textiles and Architecture

It’s been a while since I posted, but life has been busy.  More on that in a blog later this month.  However…..

The Textile Society 33rd Annual Conference was held at the newly extended Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester this weekend.  The topic was Textiles and Architecture and the speakers included Prof Alice Kettle, Dr Lynn Hulse, Jane Scott, Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor, Sally Freshwater and Prof Lesley Millar MBE.  It was a full day of inspiration, diverse approaches, technical and innovative explorations.  We were also able to take advantage of a current exhibition at the Gallery called Art_Textiles which has its own publication available from the Gallery.

Prof Alice Kettle started the day’s presentations with quotations from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and references to Anni Albers – both guaranteed to grab my attention and get the thinking juices going!!  Taken from The Pliable Plane from 1959, and posing the juxtaposition of architecture (grounded/fixed/permanent) and textiles being not only the antithesis but also complimentary and inter-related, Alice went on to give her definitions of certain terms – walls, curtain walls, etc and to engage us with different approaches in architectural and textiles, including some of my favourite practitioners such as Ann Hamilton, Christo, and Janet Echelman as well as her own work in public buildings and site-specific commissions.

Dr Lynn Hulse presented a very different research project on the embroidered furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters (1899-1922).  This was a fascinating glimpse into the lives and practice of Lady Julia Carew and Lady Jane Cory who produced some amazing and large-scale embroidered panels and countless interior furnishings for the homes in which they lived. These were much more than home furnishings and were rightly regarded as fine art by the society of the day.  Lynn will be publishing a book on the sisters in early 2016.

Jane Scott, a lecturer in textiles in the University of Leeds, is working with humidity and textile properties to create knitted fabrics that have a physical reaction to their environment, moving in animation when exposed to high humidity and moisture and gradually returning to primary states when the humidity or moisture level drops and the fabrics dry out.  It was totally engaging to watch video of the actions of the fabric.  We are so used to external forces working on fabric, such as drapery, movement of the body, wind, but there was something eerily mesmerising to watch the contortions of the fabric under puffs of water spray, reminding me powerfully of the compelling yet repulsive attraction of watching the squirming of a slug after being sprinkled with salt.  We are used to seeing electronics working within textiles (e-textiles) now, but Jane also incorporated wood veneer within her textiles and used knit together with the wood veneer as a responsive architecture to create dimensional pieces which move according to the climate in which they find themselves.

Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor is a weaver after my own heart!  Dealing with multi-layered woven fabric, Lindsey gave detailed cross-section diagrams to a multi-discliplinary audience to express the intricacies of weaving 6-layered fabrics for specific technical requirements in an engineering environment using inelastic yarns and fibres.  As a weaver who uses multiple layers and tubes within tubes myself, this was wonderful brain food!  Our respective end-uses are poles apart but the mental and technical challenges are fairly similar.  Lindsey incorporates the performance characteristics from the woven technical textiles within multilayer multilevel 3D forms into modular forms – think of it as textile ‘vertebra’.  Her work is exciting and has medical as well as engineering applications.  This is weaving as architecture in ways in addition to buildings!

Sally Freshwater is well known for her architectural and site-specific artworks involving the suggestions of sails and other flexible fabrics in sculptural installations.  Looking at translucency and opacity, and looking at various artists who have created large-scale site-specific artwork her talk was more a ‘thinking out loud’ musing of ideas that inspire and promote thinking through her practice.

The final presentation by Prof Lesley Millar was a typically meaty presentation of text, textiles, interior spaces, literary references, and philosophical thinking discussing ‘how the use of textile structures in architecture influence our perception and interpretation, and ultimately our memory, of things experienced’ (taken from the conference abstract).  As ever, it was so jam-packed full of content that I wished for a transcript that I could study with time to absorb all the connections she made.  Using images sourced from exhibitions Lesley has curated in the past, all of which have had a huge impact on how we, in the UK, view and understand textiles as art, including from Textural Space, and Lost in Lace, and also the recent exhibition in Salts Mill, Cloth and Memory, we were taken on a narrative of threads which joined, defined, revealed and concealed interpretations and left us with plenty to think about.

In addition to all this mental stimulation, we were also able to take time over lunch to visit the Art_Textile exhibition.  One of the highlights for me was my first real experience of an Abakan, a large tapestry piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz.  Interestingly, I was also drawn to the shadows created underneath the piece by the positioning of the lighting on both sides of the work.  I was also really pulled in by Anne Wilson‘s delicate stitching of holes on old damask table linens.  They had an ephemeral appeal to me, the tiny stitches of colour like finely ground powder grains, piled on top of each other to give a feeling of brightly coloured growths of decay, ‘blossoming’ on the old fabrics.

At the end of the day, I was left sitting on a crowded train with my brain in overdrive and a contented smile on my face!  Stimulation for mind and soul.  Many congratulations to Sonja Andrew, Dr Brenda King and all those involved in co-ordinating and organising such a stimulating day!

Next year’s conference will be on Saturday 5th November 2016 at the Wellcome Trust, London and is entitled Textile Futures: Technology Materials and Preservation.  It will examine recent advances in textile design, materials and technology, particularly emerging ideas and appraoches that may change the way we design, make, use and preserve textiles in the future.  I urge you to register your interest early : conferences@textilesociety.org.uk

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