Exploring materiality with A Visible THREAD

Thank you so much to everyone who came to our opening event for A Visible THREAD on Saturday.  It was wonderful to talk to the artists and see their work all together for the first time at ACEarts. If you couldn’t make it, here are some of my thoughts on the exhibition.

The exhibition is an inspiring, intelligent yet playful exploration of materials, textures and ideas, through the diverse practices of the artists that make up seam collective.

All the seam artists are working towards making their practices sustainable. Jane Colquhoun, Joy Merron, Lou Baker, Lydia Needle and Oliver Bliss have rescued and used materials that most consider rubbish, and which are leftover and dumped.

Colquhoun works with orts, snips of thread, an acronym for ‘Old Random Threads’. In Cut from the same cloth – Mothers, dOrters, GrandOrters she has created a series of scrap and ort-filled figures, that are portraits of members of her family. The figures are captivating; I want to know who would be described with a shell hat or a lobster tail and I think I want to meet them…

Merron works with used tea bags to coil impossible vessels, sometimes with ceramic spouts in collaboration with ceramic artist Gill Bliss. With this rescue and reworking, somehow her vessels have been imbued with life, communicating different emotions from joy to an indescribable tenderness.

With Transitional objects Baker invites us to touch and interact with her soft sculptures – to sit and receive a hug. The sculptures are playfully abstracted body parts, but they also have a dark side, being made in part from the intimate clothing, sheets and towels of her deceased parents. They invite you to think about our cultural attitudes to bodies, intimacy and ageing.

‘Legacy’ detail, Lydia Needle

Needle intrigues us with six white cubes, entirely made from unwearable used clothing. Needle is a magician; I can’t work out how they are made. It is not until you lift them up that you understand what they represent – I urge you to do so!

To see Bliss’s work Queer Words are Fruit and Reeds you have to peer into a shrouded space. His soft sculpture, made from unusable used textiles and UV threads, is lit by blacklight and it is discombobulating; the two figures seem to float in space, rather like using a stereoscope (3-D picture viewer). Bliss is exploring the myth of the love between two youths Kalamos and Karpos, at the point where Kalamos is losing Karpos to the embrace of the river. In his grief Kalamos commits suicide and he is turned into the water reed Calamus, and Karpos grows up as the fruit of the earth. Bliss is interested in the visible threads of narratives conveyed through history as they become altered, preserved or erased, in this case the Greek myth, Walt Whitman’s Calamus poems which in turn inspired David Hockney’s painting We two boys together clinging.

Helen MacRitchie, Linda Row and Nina Gronw-Lewis have all been extending their practice to work with new and contrasting materials.

Two works by Helen MacRitchie ‘Walnut Connections’ on the left and ‘Can you Crack the Walnut?’ on the right

MacRitchie gives us a visual riddle to solve, riffing on the properties of walnuts. Walnut dye, and walnuts being good for the brain – not just an ‘old wives’ tale’ based on their similar shape. MacRitchie continues to work with wool but playfully uses old printing trays to set up the puzzle. Can you solve it?

Hand-spun flax brings a wonderful wabi-sabi quality to Row’s jacket made from organic denim and embroidered with the flax. The strong zigzag lines of the jacket contrast with the stripes of irregular, softer, hairy, organic flax that also gives body to the arms emphasizing their interesting shape.

‘Flaxed Jacket’ Linda Row

‘Gatherings’ detail, Nina Gronw-Lewis

Gronw-Lewis has created a series of figures, combinations of elemental materials – fired clay and thread.  Maybe they are talismans, amulets based on mythical figures, or maybe pieces in a complicated life or death board game? I want to pick them up, they would fit nicely in my hand, but I don’t (they are not part of the touchable works). The contrasts call to me, and excite both my visual and tactile senses.

There is more! Do go and see the exhibition for yourselves, and let us know what you think.  A Visible THREAD is on at ACEarts, Somerton until 24 December 2022, open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm, free to view. Read more about A Visible THREAD exhibition, and our thoughts behind A Visible THREAD in Making thread visible.

Penny Wheeler

Images by Lou Baker, Helen MacRitchie, Penny Wheeler and Richard Jeffery.