‘Strands of Place and Time,’ 11th July-3 November 2019
Gawthorpe Textiles Collection project funded by Arts Council England in partnership with Manchester School of Art, Action Factory and the British Textile Biennial
The Textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall, Padiam, is a cornucopia of the wonderful and the mundane. It is refreshing to find a collection which had as its premise, not just the acquisition of textiles for the sake of satisfying the passions of a collector, but one which was purposefully accumulated with the intention of it becoming a resource for learning. Having worked within the Higher Education sector teaching Embroidery for the last twenty-five years, I have had the good fortune to know how invaluable such a resource can be for engaging students in the craft of Embroidery and showing the potential of this magical language. (The embroidery programme at Manchester had its own teaching archive, which held samples from students dating back from the 1970’s to the present day). Textiles, and especially Embroidery, is brought to life by such resources; they are so much more than silent artefacts.
The archive at Gawthorpe, has a voice, character, age and identity in which we access the maker directly. We can witness their skills, sometimes exquisite and sometime faltering, learn something of their lives and how those lives were lived. They allow us to look backwards in time in order to move forwards into the present, and in the Gawthorpe archive, there is another voice which chatters away too. It is that of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth, whose cataloguing of her collection is a joy to behold. It is anything but impartial. There are withering comments about the quality of certain samples, yet high praise offered for others. It is a mark of her vision and progressive philosophy that she understood that learning is not only realised through encountering the sublime, but is also to be found in the ordinary, the unrealized and occasionally, what she considered to be the profoundly ugly. It is this which became the focus of my response to the collection.
Within this archive are many souvenir postcards from soldiers serving in the trenches during WW1, sent back home to friends and relatives. These items are not unusual or particularly rare, but are in excellent condition. The images on the cards are far from faded and written in gentle script on the back, are voices that speak to their loved ones with fondness and respect. These voices express the hopes and fears of warfare and are remarkable in their tone. Emotion is never given full reign; words are couched in the politeness of the era and horror disguised by civility. Expressions of love are present, though subdued, often veiled in concerns and worries over the general health of those left at home. Though this is often followed by the rather telling plea of, ‘write soon.’
The cards are stitched in silks and remarkably well preserved. The stitching expresses sentiments and images of patriotic spirit. Flags and words mingle together cheering ‘Hurrah for England!’ or making a plea that ‘God be with you till we meet again,’ whilst some assure Mum and Dad that ‘Your Soldier Boy,’ is OK. It is hard to pinpoint what and where the ‘true’ narrative lies in these cards. There is a story to be told, but one disguised and shrouded in the need for secrecy and maintaining a ‘stiff upper lip’. This work speculates as to what the narratives, often expressed in the ‘unsaid’ may be. ‘Stuck up with tape,’ is a short story written and read by Hurlstone in the gallery space in response to the discovery of the postcards at Gawthorpe, and the tales that they tell.
This work, however, is not some attempt at historical re-enactment or an endeavor at resurrection.
The story being told releases the embroidered souvenir card from the context of lives once lived, in order to reveal a poignancy and universality of truth that has resonance to current lives and loves, both lost and found. It pays testament to human vulnerabilities and foibles but also celebrates the thrill of
gossip and chit chat, the yearning for romance and love alongside the complexities of how we come to understand ourselves and others through learning how to sew.
Eyes maybe closed tight, though this does not bring blindness. They flicker with unspoken desires or veil nightmares that will be remembered long after sleep has left. Sleep restores memory but it also makes them too. Eyes may be open, but the body and mind still far from being awake. Eyes maybe closed, but sleep may not be near. A hand reaching out may invite affection or be a request for solitude. And on stirring, smiles can reflect the joy of being alive, of a new day dawned, but also be the preamble for tears. Waking can be full of regrets; the moment that we enter back into a reality that is not wanted. And so we smile at the same time as we cry. Nothing is certain in this state between waking and sleeping; it is the moment when we are the most content or anxious. It is the moment when energy comes to give muster to the day or when strength gives way to weariness, and if we are lucky, helps sleep come.
The work hopes to capture this most illusive contradiction of our existence but also adopts an exclusively gendered representation. It hopes to visualise the often enigmatic existence of men’s emotional lives, framing these small moments of uncertainty and vulnerability with warmth and tenderness.
However, these pictures are no mere facsimiles of a photograph. Enlarged, printed onto fabric and then meticulously stitched using a myriad of ombre threads, the image is veiled and blurred into a richly patterned cloth. These sleeping men appear and disappear, floating somewhere indecipherable between threads. And between those threads lies joy and anguish, terror and pleasure, restlessness and comfort; an invitation to intimacy and a plea to be alone.
‘Imagine?’ confronts viewers with a traditional commemorative image of a school trip to Paris in 1929. Boys beam at the camera; coy, optimistic and excited about crossing boundaries in a bid to expand their lives, loves, experiences and understandings. These boys would soon become soldiers and cross continents with a very different agenda. Few ever came home.
These textile re-presentations encourage the viewer to re-imagine key moments of human passage; be those of desire, fear, mourning or pleasure. Epic in their scale, their translation attempts to locate the heroic in the humble and make us question where and when our own lives maybe shown, told and re-told in the future of our histories.
Risky Resemblances and Imagine
Images in old photographs often disappear beneath a silvered surface; chemicals that washed the paper to make them come into being eventually take them back to a state of faded oblivion. Like aged bodies, they bruise easily until disappearing from view; the stories they tell becoming hushed before falling silent. These works attempt to resist that silencing. Captured onto cloth through digital print and stitch, they release the snapshot from the context of passed private pleasures in order to reveal a poignancy and universality of truth that has resonance to current lives, loves, traumas and tragedies.
‘Risky Resemblances’ depicts two relatives of the artist; brothers bearing an unmistakable familial resemblance. Both went to war and one was killed. The other returned home and was immediately courted by the widow of his brother. They married. A year later, both committed suicide. It was known that the widow had married the resemblance of her husband in a bid to mourn him and find happiness. The brother had married the widow in a bid to assuage the guilt of survival. Both found neither happiness, a means to mourn or a way to love.
This work primarily focuses on the translation and re-contextualisation of a single collection of homosexual fetishist snapshots taken between 1910-1950 by the Englishman, Captain Montague Glover. Combinations of embroidered and digital print methodologies have been utilised to release the snapshot from the context of an individuals private pleasure and reveal the historical poignancy and potential universality of the images when they are read both through lens of history, and significantly, through the medium of cloth and stitch.
New iterations between cloth, image and stitch are realised in this work through epic translations of the domestic snapshot on a scale remote from the original artefact. Images are re-printed at human scale rather than the thumbnail gauge of the original, thereby revealing more acutely the sexual display of the model and the detail inherent to their militarisitc ‘costume’ displayed in their state of dress and (un)dress. These individual scenes of fantasy played out in the single frame are re-worked to read collectively as if occupying a stage set. The erotic pose of the models now plays out not in the private realm, but in a deliberately open arena set for collective, rather than individual perusal.
This deliberately brings into the question fundamental issues of how we engage with the erotic image within a public space, and how the medium of cloth can assist in both re-constructing and de-constructing both the aesthetic, content and context of it. Stitch methodologies are employed to deliberately veil the printed image and break the surface of the cloth. The subjects that gaze out at us become embedded in a surface that forces the viewer to shuffle through a reading of the image against a blur of dominant vertical stitched patternation. The photographic time exposure test strip where images recede and advance is deliberately referenced, thereby bringing to the work, not only the presence of the model, but the fetishist at work in the manufacture of his own photographic pleasures.
However, this work also reveals Hurlstone as the maker as much a fetishist at play as the original photographer. The intensly time consuming and intricate handling of the stitch processes utilised in this work involves an intimacy, contact and knowledge of the image that goes far beyond their intial purpose of charging and stimulating a sexual moment. And this knowledge of the image, bought about through the process of stitching, makes for a relationship with that work that is itself simultaneously sexual and overtly voyeueristic, as much as it is based on any technical and aesthetic judgements relating to the production of the final artefacts. The resulting textile is charged with sexual content in new and unexpected ways and is ultimately meant to question what sexual pleasure is, and where and when it might be located.
‘The End’ Series.
Hurlstone is in love with the movies, or to be precise; old movies. The ones who have handsome stars who go on miraculous journeys and never live in a place quite like the rest of us. They populate far off lands, exotic places or somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t like home. The possibility of an escape to somewhere ‘elsewhere,’ is important. The movies give us the chance to (seemingly) journey through space and time and conjure up different worlds like a magician. We can become who and what we want, develop friendships, desires and romances that in the world of the here and now, might never be possible.
Our expectation in magic of course, is that it will hopefully delight with some alteration of the known and expected order, and ultimately, this work makes an attempt at some type of conjuring act. Stills extracted from old movies are printed onto cloth, layered with translucent chiffons and machine embroidered. Stitching these celluloid frames allows them to exist outside of the flickering and fragile cinematic world from whence they came, and become a static part of the here and now. They can be touched, felt and caressed with no screen interface and more importantly, there is never a point in which these fabric screens give up their mystery, colour or image to reveal just a big piece of hardened white plastic or heavy projection cloth. The work hopes to defy the shared moment of melancholy at the end of film, when the realisation hits that we are still here, in the same seat, in the same reality and that our journey into storyland has come to an end.
Certainly, there is always a terrible sadness which always occurs when the frame eventually sustains itself and proclaims, “The End.” Here, the stories and characters of our encounter do literally disappear, and at this moment, there is a very real sense, however brief, of being horribly deserted and left somehow bereft. “The End,” is emphatic and conclusive. It cuts off our imaginings and almost instructs us to get back from whence we came. It is the point at which most of us will cry, but often the kind of tears that are held back from view or quickly wiped away because snap. We are back in our own reality, back in the room. Dry your eyes.