My work as a textile artist,(working in woven tapestry) and printmaker and painter, can be found at: http://www.jacywall.co.uk
I am not by nature someone who documents anything other than my finished pieces of work. To my surprise, I am finding that I am hugely enjoying making this record of all the practical and thought processes of making work for this project. I am not doing it as a conventional blog – it feels like an ongoing narrative, so am adding new bits to the bottom of the page, not the top. I know this means scrolling down to find the newest developments, but, you know, mending, weaving, making things by hand, all take time and patience. So I’m afraid so does this page by comparison to most blogs, tweets and instant online hits!
My work around mending so far has explored in the first place the visual aesthetic of the mending of textiles.The work is about fragility and loss as well as regeneration.
This blog will follow how things develop for me over the next year until the exhibition of our commissioned pieces next September. I have never really tried documenting the meanders of thought and process before. Here goes…..
My starting point for my commission will be items from two different museum collections. The first is a child’s dress in the Whitworth Museum collection in Manchester from an ancient Egyptian tomb. It has been extensively mended, firstly with very skilful decorative darning, and then subsequently with much cruder, hasty stitching. The child, probably not more than about 3 years old, died and was buried wearing this dress. The remains of the child disintegrated, the dress, in the dry atmosphere of the tomb, has not.
The second item is an Iron Age sword from Salisbury Museum. The scabard has been broken and mended in several places, and in the process re-made slightly smaller than it was originally. Therefore the sword that was still in the scabard was either re-ground to fit, or is a second one. The object overall would have been one denoting high status, and probably more about ceremony than battle. It must therefore have been invested with great symbolism for the scabard, which is decorated, to have been repaired and handed down, maybe for many generations.
These two objects present a wonderful contrast, the feminine and the masculine, loss,
continuity. A broken scabard, an empty dress, both mended, both worked upon in order to
endure. Both are nearly two thousand years old.
(November 2nd I realise I havent written about how I came across these wonderful things in two very different museums. I will do so in due course. I think how each of us have built relationships with museums is an important part of the project. Oh dear, probably needs a separate page….)
September 21st 2012 The surface of the scabard immediately puts me in mind of ceramics.(The sword is very corroded). So today I have started playing with some paperclay. I have no clear idea how this is going to work, but just wonder whether I can get small ceramic pieces to work with/within textiles, to give the contrast of surface quality. My neighbour, Amanda Popham, ceramicist extraordinaire, has been wonderfully encouraging about the idea, and says she has a small kiln I can use. I did do some work with paperclay during my Printmaking MA at UWE over ten years ago, and really enjoyed it. You can pin it and mould it, and leave in the pins which melt in the firing….great stuff. And my partner, painter Brian Rice, who has rebuilt and mended our very ancient house over the last 30 years, has produced jars of very old copper and iron nails. So today I have started playing, feeling like a small child kneading pastry and fiddling with bits till they turn grey. Wonder how Jenni is getting on with her china leg for her doll at Priests House museum. She said the first try has shrunk too much. Strange we are both trying to work with ceramic never having really done it before. Pity Paul is so far away in Cumbria! We need mentoring.
October 3rd Jenni, Guy and myself are meeting with Rich Hyde, who has designed this website, for a tutoring session about using it fully. Paul is in Australia and New Zealand on various ceramic related missions, but also talking with curators about stapled china….I will be meeting Lisa for the first time on Friday. She has come in as our Early Career artist from an open call for submissions.
October 10th I am strangely pleased with these fragments of clay I have made – they haven’t been glazed/oxided or fired yet, and are just test pieces. I have no idea whether they might work with textiles or not. Have to wait until early November before Amanda has time to fire them for me. Quite where my mix of darning, archaeology, rivets, long dead child and broken swords are taking me I have no idea yet. As always, one has to trust to one’s own experience, skill (however limited) and patience.
November 1st Really moved by Sara’s post in ‘Mending Stories’ about her daughter’s soft toy, Patsy. It strikes a strong chord, in two senses. First in that I had a similar doll, Didi, who,as my constant companion,became worn and ragged and had to be given ‘a new skin’ from time to time. The responsibility on my mother to remake her ‘right’ was very great. Didi was my alter ego, no doubt about it, and to lose the essence of Didi was to lose a part of myself. But there is no doubt that she evolved subtly over the years, as of course did I. What you see here is Didi as she is today. I have not yet posted a photograph of myself as I am now, so not sure how close the resemblance may be! But, of more relevance to the project than this personal connection, I have been reflecting on power objects. Guy has found himself also drawn to objects that have been mended, and yet retain, to the owner/culture from which they come, the power and status they held whilst new. The same goes for the Fovant Sword I am working with (above). This, I am assured by the Director of Salisbury Museum, was a status object, passed on from generation to generation, never mind that the scabard shows so many mends and adaptations. The power it represents remains. The same of course goes for dolls (must be huge amount of anthropological work on the power of dolls) whether for individual children, or whole cultures. I can’t resist including more remarkable dolls, recent car boot finds, that to me have enormous presence, although I know nothing of their histories.
Meanwhile, work does continue on my commissions. Still thinking two pieces. Hope to be firing the strange clay samples in the next week or so, so will be messing around with slips and oxides for the next few days….wonderfully in the dark about what may happen!
I have done quite a bit of travelling, by coach, recently, and taking a leaf from Jenni’s book, have been jotting down thoughts on the way (although not actually MAKING!) Some I think I will keep for the Mending Forum page, as they are general things about mending, rather than about my personal work for this commission. I have now done a second firing of my 30 odd scraps of paperclay – or rather Amanda Popham has fired them for me…
I am pleased with some of the surfaces, and am now playing with them on some scraps of black tapestry, and things are just beginning to happen. These pieces are in response to the broken sword scabard
.I have also woven a small blue piece about the Egyptian dress. The blue is wrong, but I just needed to work out how to make a fold in the centre of a piece, to see if a rather minimal response idea might work.
I have been thinking on my bus journeys about what the connections between these two pieces might be. One all about darning, textile, a practical everyday dress for a child, the other a high status object in metal, worn as a badge indicating position and power.
Both things are worn around or on the body. Both things have been valued, albeit for different reasons. Neither of them have been mended in a way that tries to disguise or deny the existence of the mends. Both describe adaptation to loss or damage. Not sure how this helps me, but I just guess one has to keep observing and thinking whilst making, and things eventually do come together.
December 11th Met Jenni by chance yesterday, and chatted in a Langport cafe, in the company of her latest doll find in a charity shop. I so admire her (Jenni’s, not the doll’s) ability to just keep making and seeing where it takes her. Literally, A Journey. I get nervous when things aren’t going where I think they should. It is partly why I have been making small improvised pieces recently (am going to put some more of these onto the gallery at top of this page today), so that I have to follow my nose and not a preconceived idea, just using yarn I have to hand, dyed years ago for other projects, and not planning anything much. This has meant piecing things together, making new bits, discarding them, making more, finding a small piece made a year ago that is a perfect (or charmingly imperfect) insert to pull something together. However, today I have started dyeing yarn specifically for one of my commissioned pieces, to do with the Egyptian blue dress. I don’t want to recreate the dress in any way, I just have a particular response to it that I want to make, and the blue will have to be just right. Have dyed 4 skeins, but I think will have to let them dry, and then weave up a small piece – colours work differently when woven. This will be a slow process. And what is in my head may not work, but it will take me to something that will.
The blue is a good start. Still playing with my ceramic pieces, and still excited by them – but no idea quite how they will be resolved. This twice fired piece with its embedded needle is interesting.
January 15th 2013
I have been having to attend to all sorts of other things, but have today completed putting on a warp for a tapestry.It’s a while since I have put on a fairly large one, and also I have been doing it ‘navajo’ style, with a bar across the back so I can weave a longer length than the size of my tapestry loom would normally allow. It isnt exactly complicated to do, but if you lose the rhythm of the winding, one false move can blow the whole way the warp works. The whole nature of my weaving work for the past ten years or so has been exploring working with and around imperfections and mistakes; mending, adapting, improvising. But getting the warp right is one thing that cannot be fudged or adapted. It has to be right. Hmm, so sometimes mending just won’t do!
So this is the beginning of my ‘soft’ mending piece. As always with starting a new tapestry it is a leap of faith, as it takes a very very long time to do. My work tends to be very simple, and therefore no need for a scale drawing to work to, in fact I prefer not to have one. But it does mean I just have an idea in my head, and no real way of assessing whether it will work.
Meanwhile, I still have plans for my ‘hard’ mending pieces. I have made a small object already, and once this tapestry is underway (and various other things that I have to attend to outside of this project are done) I will be making more paperclay pieces. There is something wonderfully archaeological about them, and I like that fact that most information, in particular dating information, from an archaeological site comes from pieces of broken ceramic. Have been looking again at the paperclay pieces I made whilst at UWE doing my printmaking M.A ten years ago (see below). We did a short workshop about paperclay, because you can print on it. I was more interested in pinning it….
I have been thinking a lot about the museum links with the project. Like Guy, I do find myself interpreting my two objects, the dress and the sword, in what could be accused of being in a romantic fashion. But I think it is the suggestion of the stories these things evoke, often because of the mending, that makes them so powerful, and bringing the imagination into play is what makes us human. I spent some time last week in the V&A, mainly looking at a lot of the fantastic photography they have in various small shows at the moment, but also spent time in the ceramics department. Must get in touch with the curators and see if I can get behind the scenes there.
Yesterday I looked again through a book of photographs by French photographer Sophie Ristelhueber that I bought last year. Much of her work is about damage, and landscapes accommodating damage. This one jumped out at me even more than previously. The vulnerability of the torn hole in the wall, blocked up by an equally vulnerable mattress. Exactly the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ mending, materially and I guess emotionally, that I am working with with my child’s dress and my sword. And, of course, it’s simply a great photo.
February 14th 2013
Valentine’s Day – guess I should be thinking about mending broken hearts……
Two days ago Christine (Fletcher-Jones, my co-curator) and I visited Jenni and Guy in their studios – and Christine went on to visit Lisa. We wanted to get a sense of what everyone is up to and if they are happy and getting on OK. Not for nothing is this project called The Journey. It was very exciting to see how everyone has immersed themselves in the subject, and in their respective museums and objects. We have all also found that working on this has opened up innumerable possibilities and ways forward, potentially far beyond this project. Most importantly for me during the day, (as artist rather than curator), a chance remark of Christine’s has made me see something very obvious. She remarked how both the dress and the sword scabard are connected to ritual – the dress to a funeral, and the sword, as a high status object rather than a usable weapon, to ceremonies, of a kind now lost in time.This in turn, I don’t know why, made me observe that both items are protective, outer layers, both are mended, both have survived whereas the important things they contained have not. The child died, the sword itself corroded away. This I think is the kind of connection I have been looking for. Can’t believe it’s taken me so long.
Big gap. But apart from Life interfering with progress over the last 6 weeks, I have been weaving, and this is slow. The ideas are kind of in place, I just need to construct the piece, and then wrestle with it once off the loom. But am half way through the weaving bit. The cardboard won’t stay! As for what happens to the unwoven sections, well that’s a secret in my head, although I know that once I start working on that things may change.
April 3rd Went to see ‘Stitching and Thinking:Mending at the Museum’ at Bristol Museum yesterday. Some exquisite textile work, and some very interesting thoughts around the mending samplers and other museum objects, and the artists’ work, to be found in the catalogue. Show finishes this Saturday unfortunately, but catalogue may still be available.
May 1st Spent last Friday evening and all Saturday at Select 2013, Stroud International Textile Festival. What a great day, catching up with so many people, some of whom I havent seen for years, such as Anne Jackson, Jan Truman and Jilly Edwards. Jenni Dutton gave a very moving talk with Ingrid Hessling about their show ‘Mother Love’. Anne Jackson spoke in depth about her practice and her current work around witches. Day ended with myself talking about my work, and how I have arrived at initiating this project. Was so pleased that many people have responded so positively to the ‘broadening out’ of the mending theme.
Meanwhile, I keep weaving inbetween everything else going on. The tapestry grows – it is a strange stage, in that it is just about making, and at this point not really developing the idea. I am PRAYING that my ‘fold’ idea (see blue sample from November 24th – blimey, seems an age ago….) will work on this larger version, and that my idea of ‘mended containers’ will come across. I simply cannot know whilst it is still under tension on the loom. So the real work will start when I get the tapestry cut off the loom, and I start folding, stitching, and making the ceramic pieces that I hope will become incorporated. It is all a leap of faith.
Was hoping to go to a ‘Textile Matters’ day on Friday at Bath Spa, a really impressive list of curators talking about textile collections – sadly has had to be cancelled, not sure why, but will hopefully happen in the autumn. Although I am deep into what I am making, and the pieces that have sparked it off, I feel slightly cut off from my original thoughts about mending and museums, and am looking forward to picking up on that again. Will write a post about it when I get a minute.
May 15th Important Day! Cut the big tapestry off the loom. Will take a photo, but it will be obscure, things much too raw still to make public!
I am in regular e-mail contact with a filmaker friend, currently working in Sicily (yes, where it is hot and sunny). It occurred to me that the way I work with tapestry now makes this stage of making akin to editing a film, adding, taking away, and physically cutting into it sometimes. Make or break time. I am planning folding and tucking and using ceramic, which I have never done before, so it’s an exciting but also scary time ahead. I am beginning to make things much more 3D. I suppose this is a logical move after all the work (some of it above) that is about piecing and layering. Apart from the tapestry I have the beginnings of a group of freestanding 3D pieces; never tried that before.
Meanwhile, a printmaking friend gave me this wonderful Dresden cup yesterday. She had tried selling it, but said it had a chip. She hadnt noticed the fantastic bit of stapling on the handle! I fell instantly in love, and so now it is mine. I owe her lunch.
I have been going through my note/sketchbook for this project. I am not really a sketchbook person, but Jenni Dutton bullied me into it. She keep books and books about everything she does and sees and thinks. I do find it interesting some of the thoughts I have jotted down: ‘No loss implied by a mend…’ This main tapestry I am making is actually all about loss and fragile attempts at mending it. But I DO aim to make other small pieces that will be about life lived joyfully mended.
June 5th I have been playing again with paperclay, and quietly weaving bits to add to the main tapestry. But today went to collect the pieces of paperclay from my wonderful neighbour, Amanda Popham, who has fired them for me. Rows of distressed black fragments – fantastic! They have only been fired once, but have achieved the kind of matt black I have been wanting – not too metallic, but not overly matt. Initial playing with them makes me think they will, possibly, work with the tapestry, which is really exciting. A lot of piecing, sewing and trying out to do now. Actually the pieces shown here are unlikely to go on the main tapestry, but I will use them on smaller ideas I have. The main tapestry is very much a case of less is more, so the pieces are plain, and shaped.
June 6th I was thinking about the process of making an entirely new piece of work as I raked the grass cuttings from lawn in the sunshine just now. Had just come off the phone from a conversation with Guy (Martin), and we were agreeing that one doesnt really know whether a piece is any good or not until it is up and in a new context. Whilst still in the studio it is so hard to tell. I think what it is is that one has to build a relationship with the work, just like with friends and lovers, deciding where one can be spontaneous, where considered, where it’s possible to compromise, and where not. Although I have been working on the main tapestry for this commission for months, it is only now that the relationship starts to get interesting and risky. I am committed now, the bulk of it is there in front of me, and now I have to make it work, or decide to throw it in the bin. And, of course, along the way, there are likely to be many repairs to things that perhaps aren’t working, repairs that one just hopes make the piece more honest and more beautiful, and not just damaged and stuck back together wrong…….
June 19th Well, yes, the wrestling is still underway, stitching, unstitching, reassembling. I wonder now why I was so determined to work with loss, sweeping away all the furiously lively darning on that dress, and the proud workmanship on the sword scabard, and instead mourn what both these things once contained. I guess that was my mood when I started months and months ago. And I guess also it is a necessary first emotion. Hopefully the piece will retain the sense of strength implicit in both items though. Just hope I will have time to make the smaller things I have in mind that will celebrate the life still within these ancient things. One thing is for sure, working on this project has moved me beyond responding to mending simply as loving the visual intervention, and the implication of a life lived, and wondering about other aspects as well. Not very coherent that, but it will become so I guess! Am trying to write about the work for the catalogue now, and so having to condense my thoughts into 250 words. Hmmm!
July10th When I gave a talk about my work at Stroud International Textile Festival this year, I talked about a tapestry that I had exhibited there five years before, and which I was never happy with. I subsequently cut it up and re-made it. As my audience was mostly weavers, there was an audible gasp of horror as I said this, as they all know that the moment you put scissors to tapestry it immediately starts to disintegrate. However, I successfully secured the pieces, stitched them and added to them, (the result, ‘Dark Banner’ is on my website). So I am much less afraid of cutting up bits of woven tapestry. Here’s some I scissored earlier…..and are now on my main piece for the show.
August 14th 2013 All the work is now finished. We met at Walford Mill last week to photograph everything for the catalogue. An extraordinary day, with such an incredible range of work, ideas, interpretations being unloaded, photographed and then packed away again. I keep trying to visualise what the show will be like with it all in one place, and it is hard to do. We will also of course have the 8 pieces from ‘supporting artists’, who were not commissioned, but who were making work already that we felt had affinity with mending. AND there will be the stop frame animations that Joe Stevens has made with two Dorset schools, plus a film made about the Junk Band project. I am absolutely exhausted, and don’t want to think about mending every again….!!! I know I will, that it will continue to be part of my work, but I am sure that as a result of having worked alongside this fantastic team, my thinking will have evolved and moved into new areas. Very exciting. See you all September 14th!