19th June 2019: Mapping my practice so far

I have been struggling to think about my research and how I want to focus it. I decided to shift my approach and look at what I have done so far and see where that might be heading to. Today I asked myself a very simple question – what have you done?

My first answer – taking a lot of photographs. This makes me think of how this research is a slow piecing together a fragments – poetic, maybe an interesting conceptual avenue, but it’s not screaming at me right now.

I’ve done a bit of drawing and tried different approaches to it. I’ve begun to document the patterns systemically and I’m starting to see similarities. I tried mapping stitch path in an attempt to abstract the tacit process – I’m inclined to question the usefulness of this, if I’m doing it to base possible computer models on, there must be a more efficient way, and what exactly is the point? These drawings, together with my initial material testing samples, have highlighted two key things though – I realised that the technique of Blackwork is far more complex than I had anticipated and, possibly more importantly, I realised it is impossible to create a perfect copy (leaving aside the question of whether that should even be the aim).

So, the notion of reconstruction is becoming one of interpretation. And the question becomes – what and how you are going to interpret?

My response to this seems to be falling into three interrelated themes that are emerging from the studio practice – areas I want to explore and seem to be responding to my initial research aims.

The first is the creation of new works that respond to and are inspired by Blackwork. There is an expectation of completed works, new objects for display, but also a personal desire to explore the forms and aesthetics of the embroideries – I’m aware that this is somewhat unfashionable, but I do believe that aesthetically beautiful work is important, it engages audiences and makes art relatable, and the original purpose of Blackwork was a visually decorative one!

The relatability is also a factor in the second theme I want to explore – the creation of narratives. I was stuck at the conference last week about the primacy of narrative for heritage organisations, crafting relatable reference points to elicit an emotional response. There is also something here about trying to give the audience agency, and I think digital technologies could be used here as they are inherently interactive. I was also struck by the acceptance of using replicas or creating fictions to tell the truth, how often an original object may not tell the right story (because of its condition) but this may also be a strategy for providing access without giving access, balancing the needs of display and presentation.

The third theme is about embodied experience. I have been thinking about this a lot in terms of the various acts of making but I’ve extended this idea in my brief research into portraiture and time at the conference. I feel I need to explore the material and experiential context, look at re-enactment. I think this will build narratives and generate new work. The stylistics chronology I put together has really got me thinking about what and how we define Blackwork and about the fact that this technique was used to decorate clothes – dress is an embodied human experience, clothing is a social signifier.

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