Natural Companions: Fibre and Art from the Landscape

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Artwork by Susan Spyker:  “This piece is a weaving on a frame created by a fallen branch. Materials woven include found plant material, plant and rust dyed material, and other fibres that felt in place.” (Susan Spyker)

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Photo Above; The Alchemical Bath by Susan Spyker

“The alchemical bath that fabric and watercolour paper are taking with a mordant made from rusty objects and vinegar left in the sun to create a reaction. The fabric and papers were layered or rolled up with plant materials found in my garden.  There are pictures attached below that showcase the result on watercolour paper.” (Susan Spyker)

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Photo Above by Susan Spyker, The Alchemical Bath results on watercolour paper

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Photo Credit: Cheryl Crichton-Edwards, Wales

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Artwork: Debbie Lyddon, Textile Artist

“A key tenet of the Slow Movement involves a focus on location—local production, local identity and consumption of products from the local area. I like the way that this can be linked to a common working process of artists, that of ‘placeless’, which is all about the relationships that can be made between art and site, bringing the local environment to the fore. Textile artists can bring multiple interpretations to the same site. In my practice, I have made a deliberate decision to e more observant of the things that go on around me in my local community and environment. I have tried to see my location and the places I visit in my daily life as ‘slow stories’. Moments, events,  marks left on a place, the things people did there and do there now, and the materials connected to places can be imbued with a sense of that place” (Locality and Localism by Claire Wellesley-Smith, Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art)

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“A thread now most often means a line of conversation via e-mail or other electronic means, but thread must have been an even more compelling metaphor when most people witnessed or did the women’s work that is spinning. It is a mesmerizing art, the spindle revolving below the strong thread that the fingers twist out of the mass of fibers on an arm or a distaff. The gesture turns the cloudy mass of fiber into lines with which the world can be tied together. Likewise, the spinning wheel turns, cyclical time revolving to draw out the linear line of a thread. The verb to spin first meant just this act of making, then evolved to mean anything turning rapidly, and then it came to mean telling a tale.” (Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby).

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Artwork: Fallen tulip petals after rain sewn on canvas

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Photo: Erosion Bundles, buried and decomposed materials. Photo Credit: ArtClubBlog

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Photo: Beverly Ayling Smith, Absence, http://www.beverlyaylingsmith.com

Stitching is a way to mend, tailor and piece together fragments of experience. Cloth can be considered an intimate overlay that wraps both our bodies and home with layers of a story. As a method of mark making, sewing allows us to tuck into tactile relationships with fabric as a companion to our lives. Instinctive and improvised stitching can embellish clothing and domestic items, so that each becomes an entry in a lived within journal.

Textiles portray a sense of ritual making special everyday places through a quality of adornment and presence. Cloth enriches people, architecture, furniture, and objects with significance. Binding, stitching, knotting, and layering thoughts into a weave of cloth, conjures memory and the passage of time. The drawing of threads through cloth, the mending of frayed edges, and the matting together of fibres are all physical experiences that translate a narrative into material form. Cloth is intimate, another skin, a boundary and a caress. It designates function and also entwines a story. Encouraging the inclusion of fabric and fibre arts within art therapy offers new ways of exploring stories as they are told not only through words, but through the rhythm of going in and out of strands of meaning (Pamela Whitaker, Northern Ireland Group for Art as Therapy Summer School Brochure 2014, Workshop Descriptions).

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Photo: Family Nest inspired by animal architecture. County Louth, Ireland

“Even when the immediate feelings of grief and mourning are passed, we are changed forever; the emotions embedded in the fabric of our lives emerge at different times to stain our emotional states. Melancholia has been described by Julia Kristeva as ‘an abyss of sorrow’. By exploring the expression of melancholia through the representation of loss in cloth…(lies the) question whether it is possible to re-evaluate the term ‘melancholia’ in the light of contemporary ritual and practice using textiles as a metaphor for grief and loss within rituals of mourning.” (Artist, Beverly Ayling Smith)

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Photo: Beverly Ayling Smith, Shroud, www.beverlyaylingsmith.com

“The substance and physicality of fabric…conveys multiplicity, temporality and complexity. Various processes contribute to the somatic history of the fabric and its multiple transformations…As sensuous materials suspended in space, casting shadows on the walls and floors, they confront the viewer differently from different perspectives as they subtly oscillate in response to the atmosphere, becoming ultimately, communicative memories…By creating line as well as openings, and by delineating positive and negative space, the edges frame information – or demarcate the lack of information – caught within, behind, or beyond the edge…The gossamer layers of experience, depending upon our perceptual vantage point, are transient, creating a mutable, translucent skin that keeps quietly changing as we proceed forward in time.” (Rebecca Cross, Artist Statement)

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Some Metaphors Referencing Texture, Fibre and Cloth in Art Therapy: 

Spinning a Tale, A Network of Ideas, Piecing Things Together, Hanging by a Thread, On Pins and Needles, Wear and Tear, Feeling at Loose Ends, Weaving Things Together, Patching Up Relationships, All Sewn Up, Ties that Bind, On the Mend

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Photo: Alice Fox, DIS/rupt Exhibition with the Textile Study Group UK

“What if the poetics of cloth were composed of ‘soft logics’, modes of thought that twist and turn and stretch and fold? And in this movement new encounters were made, beyond the constraint of binaries? The binary offers two possibilities, either/or; soft logics offers multiple possibilities. They are the realm of the and/and, where anything can happen…Soft logics are to think without excluding…And if soft suggests an elastic surface, a tensile quality that yields to pressure this is not a weakness; for ‘an object that gives in is actually stronger than one that resists, because it also permits the opportunity to be oneself in a new way” (Pennina Barnett, Folds, Fragments, Surfaces: Towards a Poetics of Cloth)

Some Functions of Texture, Fibre, Cloth, in Art Therapy: 

Rites of Passage, Heirlooms, Amulets/Charms, Adornment, Comfort, Mending

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Artworks: Transportable Sculpture

“The substance and physicality of fabric…conveys multiplicity, temporality and complexity. Various processes contribute to the somatic history of the fabric and its multiple transformations…As sensuous materials suspended in space, casting shadows on the walls and floors, they confront the viewer differently from different perspectives as they subtly oscillate in response to the atmosphere, becoming ultimately, communicative memories…By creating line as well as openings, and by delineating positive and negative space, the edges frame information – or demarcate the lack of information – caught within, behind, or beyond the edge…The gossamer layers of experience, depending upon our perceptual vantage point, are transient, creating a mutable, translucent skin that keeps quietly changing as we proceed forward in time.” (Rebecca Cross, Artist Statement, http://www.rebeccastextiles.com)

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Photo: An art therapy forest studio, Co. Louth, Ireland

“The expressive potential of the work is not communicated outwardly…but is deeply embedded and embodied, articulated through the awakening of corporeal practices, nuance of gesture, slow repetitive rhythms, and a dense accumulation of subtly modulated surfaces that silently speak of the process of their making…In common with other objects of material culture, I would suggest that it is this embodied non-verbal materiality of the medium that makes textile (and fibre art) a particularly potent vehicle of cultural and artistic expression. Placed in direct proximity to the body, implicated in the practices, rhythms and routines of our everyday experience, and continuously and invisibly negotiating the relationship between self and other, it provides us with what may be a silent yet undoubtedly powerfully convincing testimony” (Maxine Bristow, ‘Continuity of Touch -Textile as Silent Witness’ in The Textile Reader by Jessica Hemmings).

Ann Futterman Collier (2011) believes that weaving, knitting, crochet, needlecrafts, felting, quilting and sewing are all threads of discourse that in essence ‘craft humanity’. Traditionally, these forms of fiber art production have taken place within communities of makers. Conversation, and processes of production have been interwoven within these collectives.

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Photo: Susie Gillespie and Alice Fox, Natural Dyes on Flax, http://www.alicefox.co.uk

Wandering and collecting found objects from nature, within streets, or public places can infuse fibre arts with a journey of discovery. Textile artist Cas Holmes (2010) picks up discarded objects and bundles them as packages, or souvenirs of her travels. These collection of specimens for her art, are disused relics. She makes new meaning from her findings through reassembling them, re-packaging what has been forgotten or thrown away, and re-instating their meaning. She is transforming everyday objects into portable icons, each becoming a talisman to be carried for protection and guidance.

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Photo: A Wishing Tree in Ireland. Fabric attached to symbolic trees with hopes for cures, solutions to problems, and remedies for afflictions.

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Photo: La Ruche d’Art, Saint Henri, Montreal, Embroidery in the garden

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Artwork: Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman, Artist Statement, S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D., http://www.climbingpoetree.com

“Since 2005, we’ve given our audience participants the opportunity to write a part of their story on a six-inches piece of fabric. At every show we distribute cloth of many colors and sharpie markers, and people find some corner of the room to channel their deepest, darkest secrets and highest, brightest dreams. These are headlines from people who don’t own a newspaper, manifestos from people without armies, testimonies from people without tribunals, expressions from people with histories and visions.

People write about fleeing war in their countries, spending time in prison, being raped by their fathers, learning to kill their own people, about foster care, police brutality, and suicide. And they write about being the first in their family to graduate, about how they are falling in love with themselves for the first time in their lives, about surviving sexual violence and starting a women’s support group in their town, about giving birth and changing laws, starting schools and building movements. They draw pictures, and make promises; they write commitments about the things they would die for, and what they are willing to live for.

We sew the squares together as we go, and the tapestry grows bigger and bigger the farther we journey. Every show we unfurl the strips of fabric and ink, and drape them like prayer flags over stages, and prison bars, over blackboards and between trees. It is powerful to carry the stories with us—to have everyone’s strengths and struggles, tragedies and triumphs pulsating around us while we perform. It is powerful for folks to read them, recognize themselves in them, and leave a piece of their story to be stitched together with thousands of others.” (Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman, Artist Statement, S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D., http://www.climbingpoetree.com)