Travels in Textiles


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Craft Rally, Sheffield

It was back to my home town of Sheffield yesterday to take part in the Crafts council organised 'Craft Rally'. It was part two, the first part having been held in London a month previously.

I was intrigued by what it would be all about, as I haven't known of or been to an event such as this before. It was un by the maker and curator Helen Carnac, along with Art Quest and Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield, as a way of bringing together craft makers to discuss the situation craft is in today.

The three talkers were Adam Sutherland, director of Grizedale Arts in Cumbria, Rebecca Earley, a London based designer and researcher into eco-friendly methods of textile design and production and Neil Brownsword, a ceramicist, researcher and lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University.

I have followed the work of Rebecca Earley ever since researching for my BA dissertation Can Sustanable Design be Compatible with Fashion?, so for me her talk was the most inspirational. She came across as a very decicated, ambitious person who has achieved a lot through persevering in the competitive, struggling environment that the world of art and design is. Never having any money was particularly one of the struggles I relate to! So it made me feel inspired to carry on with my work after seeing what she'd achieved.

Moreover, she is doing some very important work at a time when climate change is a huge issue, and sustatinability is the key word currently in so many fields. In the early 90s it was discovered that textiles, after the chemical industry, take up the second largest proportion of the world's landfill sites. Later in the 90s, surveys found that designers have 80% input into how much impact the product they are designing will have on the environment. These results were what made Rebecca want to take part in finding out how the design and making of textiles can have less impact on the environment.

Her design work has focussed on making fashion out of old, found fabrics and garments and re-designing and re-making them. In her early work she cut up, stitched and manipulated old clothes, scanned these and heat pressed them onto new fabrics, creating an innovative, contemporary print. She was also one of the first to print on organic cotton and has collaborated with Kate Fletcher, another key figure in pioneering eco fashion design.

TED 'Textiles Environment Design' is one of the projects Rebecca is involved in along with other researchers, teachers and designers of Chelsea college of Art and Design where Rebecca teaches and reads. The main theme she wanted to emphasise in her talk was 'interconnectivity' which is what TED is trying to do - connecting people from all over in different fields to collaborate with ideas in working towards sustainability and environmentally friendly design.

From Neil Brownsword's talk I was drawn to how he is looking back to the booming ceramics industry that Stoke-on-Trent, his home town, once saw. As with so many other craft industries, the steel in Sheffield another example, they have almost completely dissapeared. Obviously now, the main thrust of the industry being in China, India and other Eastern countries. He mentioned the funny directions and turns the design and production of a product takes. An object might have been made in China during the T'ang Dynasty that the designers of Stoke would have taken inspration from. And when there was no industry left in Stoke, the Chinese could be seen taking English Wedgewood designs, for example and making them to sell cheaply.

I could relate an aspect of this to my own research. In India, the handicraft industry is the second largest after the agricultural. A lot more is still happening in this industry because of it being so much bigger than in Britain. However, because of industrialisation, it has seen many ups and downs. There are lots of organisations and people trying to save this industry, to sustain the traditional crafts as well as their artisans livelihoods.

One of my questions arising from the discussions we had following the talks was ' How can makers in the Uk collaborate with Indian artisans to keep a craft going?' This is already happening amongst some universities, organisation and individuals. However I wondered can we not increase the scale of this? There are very few institutions open to rural village artisans in India, the main ones being in cities and aimed at the wealthy elite. Kala Raksha, as I have mentioned in a previous post started the first design school for traditional artisans to learn contemporary design and has created a path for more to follow.

Also, in the UK in my experience, the learning of traditional crafts all over the world is not focussed on in education, neither are traditional methods. Digital technology, machinery and faster production is encouraged to be able to survive in the UK industry.

This rally was an interesting and relavant idea for networking, discusisng current situations and collaborating to overcome probelms and difficulties in craft. It was good to have a platform where, in person we could share ideas and listen to what others are doing to continue these positive ideas and work to keep hand craft going.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A glimpse of some contemporary Arts and Crafts from the Indian Subcontinent

I visited two important exhibitions yesterday, The first was Gup Shup: From Textile to Tote, by Cath Braid and Rolla Khadduri (thanks to a comment on my wall from Hannah!) at Bradford University's Gallery II.
The two curators are partners in an organisation ' Polly&Me' which is a development project working with the embroidery artisans of Chitral, a Province in the Hindu Kush region of North West Pakistan.

For this exhibition they have give the artisans a chance to produce their own work without any of the designers' input. The results are beautiful embroidered illustrations and narratives of a significant part of the artisans' own life. It might be a childhood memory or a particular routine chore or an event. These embroideries were made into fashionable modern leather bags. Some were exhibited as art pieces.

I particularly enjoyed the story of one lady remembering her baby brother being born and having to go out and get some chicken with her father for the chicken soup supper they would be having. As the girl carried the chicken in a bag on her way home, she got separated from her father. A scary looking dog appeared enticed by the tasty smell of the chicken. Frightened, she ran into someone's house where the family living there shooed the dog away and looked after her until it was safe to go home. On arriving home she got a telling off for being late, but let off when hearing of her traumatic journey! They all sat laughing while she told the story over chicken soup with the new baby.

The next exhibition was between Kismet and Karma, South Asian Women Artists Respond to Conflict at the Leeds Art Gallery, an exhibition organised by Shisha, an agency that promotes and supports contemporary South Asian art and craft.

Above image: Elastic Dress, Anoli Perera, 2010

The artists were addressing contemporary issues faced by South Asian women. The above image is a huge installation of a dress made from knots of elastic. It stretches and clings to fit any body shape. Perera is dealing here with issues of women's body image and how it is perceived in contemporary society.

I enjoyed Tayeba Begum Lipi's work. She explores female identity in post colonial, modern South Asia through portraiture work and iconography. One of her pieces was a collaborative painting with a group of women from a Bangladeshi village community who traditionally tattoo themselves as a part of signifying each others' identity. It was a painting of a females's back decorated in these traditional tattoo patterns.