Embroidery: interventions and alterations
This work was one of a number made using antique samplers, for a project run by the Embroiders Guild (Stitch, 2003). In this I unpicked some of the sewing on the samplers, and put on my own text, in some cases using the unpicked thread, creating a dialogue between myself and the sampler-maker.
The following text includes material written in 2003 and 2012:
The work I am currently making does have a number of layers. There is the process of text moving across time, using the sampler as a way of conversing, or attempting and failing to converse, with the past. There is the exploration of the nature of the sampler itself, as a display of skills and as an advertising medium, advertising the skills acquired through the process of making, and advertising the self. There is something about the nature of text as mark, a process of insertion that is inherent in sewing, of a thread running through a matrix, of time and culture. And there is the basic fact that I am alive and the person who made the original work is probably not; sewing is about time (think of the Fates sewing in Greek mythology); and because most text is now applied extremely fast, the work is an exploration of slowness, and the paradox of a risk planned.
Working on site-specific projects such as Touch (2000) at Wolverhampton, and Mr & Mrs Walker have moved (1998) at Kettle's Yard, depended on a full engagement with the site/object in order to make work that would say something meaningful and stimulating. That engagement, the digging into the nature of the subject, necessarily affects the place, and changes it for the artist and the viewer. For me, the process of living at Kettle's Yard removed some of the delight, spoiled the idyll if you like. Touching the surface of the painting in Touch brought to the forefront the "thing" of the painting, as it was meant to, disrupting the illusion of three-dimensionality.
But these interventions can be undone, forgotten, ignored. They do not leave a lasting mark that removes and replaces part of the object. The altered samplers, the engraved, burned, pinned or written-on natural or historical objects do, and the alteration is both the content and the medium of the artwork. These works are made with a considerable amount of thought beforehand. In the introduction to the Samplers works, and the interview with Lucy Chapman I discussed how acts of creative destruction have been established within the history of western art over the past 100 years, and arguably outside "high art" for millennia before that, in the use of fossils for decoration, the idea of the palimpsest, and the recycling of building materials. In the late twentieth century this became an accepted process of fine art.
As an artist I irrevocably change the world with every mark I make, just as I do as a human being every time I switch on a light, or flush my toilet, or buy a chicken sandwich. My being able to carve text onto a commercially mined fossil, or write on a shop-bought quail's egg, or alter the text on an auctioned sampler, tells us something about how we have conspired to parcel the world up into commodities of varying status. But more importantly for me it allows me to raise and discuss questions about what we project onto these objects; this alone for me provides justification for the work.
There is a clear dimension of discomfort in the altered samplers in that these were originally made by young girls, and my intervention is that of a middle-aged man. I feel it is important to make explicit the awareness of this.
Festivals of Britain
Your Advert Here
Little Bo-Peep 1 (Romney Marsh)
Little Bo-Peep 2 (Romney Marsh)
Name & Address
I Don't See As Clearly
As If (photo by Sussie Ahlberg)