I’ve just completed a residency with Willoughby Historical Society at the invitation of Willoughby Council as part of their Visual Arts Biennial (a new initiative incorporated within their Emerge spring festival). The biennial’s theme is Imagining Place, and I was asked to look at their collection with a particular emphasis on their lace and embroidery. After several month’s work the exhibition Placemarking is now in full swing (so please drop by before Sunday 27th September and have a look if you’re in the area – details are at the end of this post).
I’d like to show you some of my process and describe how I approached the residency as I’m always interested in the working methods of other artists, and I thought you might be too.
The museum is tiny, in a 1912-built cottage, and I was allocated one room to exhibit in. My practice often focuses on personal attachment to objects and clothing, and the influences of time on them, so this criteria seemed a good match for my work.
Most of the garments are beautiful of course, but some are stained and torn (my personal favourites as I love the mending and the fact that the clothes were important or otherwise valued by their wearers). I felt incredibly privileged to be allowed to handle these precious things. I photographed some of the collection in close-up, focusing on beautiful details while allowing other parts of the image to fade away. Some garments were photographed underwater and some piled up with sunlight filtering through. These images were then cropped to square format with additional focusing on particular details.
Vintage lace and embroidered blouses, bodices and children’s dresses drying
I photographed documents and early 20th century local subdivision maps, further exploring links to place, with the intention of making ‘wordlace’ by manipulating the images. Wanting to activate the space more I had silk georgette digitally printed with these images to make a vintage gown that would be lit from underneath, illuminating the overlapping images in a lace-like way. But first I had to make up a toile of the dress (after getting my hands on a gorgeous reproduction 1930s gown pattern form the UK) as georgette is notoriously slippery and difficult to handle. I’m so glad I did……
The toile for the vintage dress
Checking the drape of the finished fabric
Cutting the georgette was extremely tricky and slow as matching the print at the seams wherever possible was important. The assembly took about eight times as long as the toile because of the pattern matching and slipperiness of the fabric. But once on the stand I was really pleased with it – all flowy and light and transparent.
Cutting the digitally printed silk georgette
The almost completed 1930s evening dress
Installation in the museum went smoothly although the lighting was pretty tricky as the museum’s lights were unsuitable, and permanent attachment of equipment wasn’t allowed, so numerous other alternatives had to be tried out before settling on a satisfactory source.
Installing the photographs
Installing the dress
One of the old mangles was moved to the museum’s front verandah and set up with sheets overflowing into the trees in its front yard: a bit of fun to attract attention to the museum and the biennial generally (although the configuration of sheets has since changed, draping down the large tree at the front rather than over the pathway).
The old mangle on the front verandah
The museum entry
Professional photographs of the installation and a selection of final photographic images will be coming soon, as will photos of my workshops associated with the exhibition. I’d love to know what you think. Are you a bit textile-intoxicated like me?