Friday, 24 August 2012

Cloth & Memory

Many thanks to Alice for inviting me to join her this afternoon at Salts Mill for a seminar to coincide with the current exhibition Cloth & Memory. It was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity to engage in discussion with the gathered participants, the three artists, Bob White, Beverly Ayling-Smith and Carol Quarini, and the curator Lesley Millar.

As well as recommending a visit to the exhibition, which finishes on Monday, I would like to share some notes and observations I made from the seminar and thoughts afterwards... this is a long posting, but I hope you will read and comment because we gain so much from discussions.

Some of the general themes were around the fluid and ambiguous nature of memory, and how cloth responds to this. People spoke of memory as having 'fuzzy edges', of blurring the boundaries between realities and memories. Fugitive memory, ever changing and influenced by our current situation, is often stimulated by sensory resonances, perhaps a familiar scent or tactile sensation. It was notable then that tactile responses underpinned much of the discussion and also the artists varying approaches to the subject matter, both in terms of making the work and in understanding the materiality of memory.

For all artists the use and choice of material was crucial to the artworks, I particularly enjoyed hearing how important this had been in terms of critically engaging with the work. The making was not simply a means to an end but essential to the concepts and how the work communicated. Bob White's choice of calico as a substrate, and the process of creating the paintings before putting them on a stretcher, had allowed him to explore the manner in which calico shrinks and distorts. I think many of us would have loved to see them unstretched, as we are told they were rather like animal skins. Carol spoke about the patience involved in putting thousands of pins into cloth and Beverly discussed the repetitive nature of ironing and waxing small pieces of textile and joining them with stitch. These slow meditative practises proved important in communicating the tactile sensuousness of cloth, which acted as a vessel for powerful emotions; grief, violence, isolation, sensuality... The results became abstract yet unambiguous for the viewer.

Questions were raised about the difference between memory and history, and how this might be translated by the artist. All of the exhibiting artists have worked with metaphor as a means of expressing  general ideas of memory, whereas perhaps a specific event or history might be recorded or documented. I wonder now, could an event be suggested with metaphor and a memory be documented?

If you want to read more about the exhibition do visit the website here. I would also recommend revisiting the exhibition catalogue of Textures of Memory- The Poetics of Cloth; dig it out if you have a copy.


  1. this exhibit looks very rich, and i wish i had visited. the book you cite, textures of memory, sounds rich, indeed, and i will seek it out.

  2. Hannah. Do you have a copy of Textures of Memory? I've been searching online and can't find one. If you do I'd love to borrow it. Happy new year! Alice x



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