30th January 2020: finding the shape and trying to see the gaps

A very intense few months trying to put together my RF2 report (hence the lack of journal entries) and, although it’s been extremely difficult, I think I have emerged with a clearer understanding of what I am trying to achieve with this research. I spent some time gathering my thinking together onto index cards so I can see what I have, what is linked and what is missing, but it’s also in a re-arrangeable format which will help as I progress – I’m hoping this flexibility will help me to structure my thesis.

I want to summarise some of the key ideas and themes that are emerging – what Becky calls the ‘gaps’ (NB: the following is simply typed up from my notes – so rather scrappy)

Key points

Artist responses to museum collections

• Museum collections are creative technologies – “…something from which new things can be made”

• Artist responses recontextualise the collection or artefact – creating associations with our own lives

• Museum collections as relational networks of artefacts, intangible associations and documentation – these associations can extend beyond the holdings of a single institutions and can be “latent or potential”

• Artists Inserting works into the collection, becoming part of the history of that collection.

Artist as researcher

What can be revealed through art practice that cannot be revealed through other research approaches?

Twofold:

• ‘the knowledge of the maker’, bringing existing knowledge of materials, techniques, forms etc.

• creative thinking, intuition, experimental approaches and a willingness to fail

Approaches of museums and heritage organisations to replicas, reconstructions and interpretation

• these can take many forms – material, visual, performance and display of process

• replicas, reconstructions and interpretations need to be created with context in mind:

• what are you trying to find out and communicate?

• what is the replica/reconstruction/interpretation for?

• transparency of motivation, process and context – the need for rigorous documentation – this may also reveal what is ‘unknowable’

Physical and digital materiality

• The digital object can be a way of presenting a material object beyond the bounds of geography (its physical location), distance (the experience of viewing in a display case vs the experience of viewing/handling in the archive), information (the ability to access additional information in situ) and time (i.e., reconstruction)

• Must be aware of concerns about technology itself becoming the museum artefact.

• Digital materiality if not just ‘digital objects” and a way of presenting information → it might be a way of conceptualising the materials and processes of textiles (in this specific case Blackwork embroidery) and, conversely, studying textiles might be a way of thinking about ‘the digital’

• There is also something here about modes of making, echoes of collective textile making and the gendering of these materials and processes

NB: this area is rather speculative at this point

History and technique of Blackwork (and what this is revealing to me)

Preliminary study of objects and some other sources has given some initial findings:

• complexity and evolution of technique (Chronology of Blackwork)

• Differences between modern and historic Blackwork

• Pattern fading – a hypothesis: thinking about the notion of Decay and the temporality of the object – might this be a way of conceptualising Blackwork for a contemporary audience?

• Thinking about Ghosts and ‘imaginative reconstruction’ – what might be revealed by studying representations in Portraits and other ancillary sources?

Rough practice plan

Overall structure → a parallel archive of ‘fragments’: small test pieces (embroidery samples, drawings, notes, photos, documentation, research materials etc), responding to the idea of the collection as a relational network and the artist inserting themselves into the collection – non-linear and re-arrangeable (hypertext), the process of exploring.

Object studies:

• material, visual, process/technique (documenting)

• think about ‘accuracy’ – what are you trying to find out?

• need to select the objects (talk to SN) – need to be scanned/photographed?

• may need to visit other archives? (RSN for modern samplers?) – extending the collection ‘network’ – how do these fit into the history and what might that reveal?

Improving embroidery skill – looking at the process and embodied experience of acquiring and refining a skill:

• embark on tuition

• document the process of learning! (video, photo, written reflection, drawings etc.)

Portrait study:

• confirm chronology – perhaps go to see some of the painting?

• make some of the embroidery depicted?

• evaluate the reality/accuracy of representation?

• what happens when we make ‘ghosts’ material?

Ancillary:

• look at contemporaneous literate/guides (if there are any) – what can be gleaned from other sources about the technique, culture, value etc.?

Designs and motifs:

• look at the two identical embroideries – what can these reveal about the skill and creativity of the embroiderer? can I find a common source

• look for similarities in designs, motifs and patterns – does this reveal something about the change in style? how does it compare to other decorative motifs of the period?

• What is the thing with the insects as a motif?? – can this tell us something about the culture (an emerging interest in the natural world)? does it have a resonance with our own (interest in ecology)?

• try stitching some of the designs – think about the creativity of embroidery as a practice

Exploring collective making:

Stitching the same design (T.844-1974 – totally degraded)

• a strategy for bringing a decayed object back to life? not just a single interpretation but many

• highlights what has been lost?

• showing and revealing the creativity of the embroiderer?

• bringing together embroiderers to share skills, building networks, thinking about the act of stitching together

• embroidery as an intervention – stitching in public?

• exhibition? audience feedback?

• Think about how to document this – video, interview, photography etc.

Remaking a large embroidery (Falkland pillow case?), possibly in a period environment?

• another type of collective making experience – trying to work on a single piece together

• intervention in a heritage space?

• Again, think about documentation

Patterns, techniques and structures:

• Thinking about the mathematics of Blackwork patterns and how it’s a form of ‘data encoding’ – could be a way to re-assess the decorative? – still very speculative

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