Making thread visible

John Berger suggests that art is:

‘an affirmation of the visible which surrounds us and which continually appears and disappears.’

Berger, J. (2020) Steps towards a small theory of the visible London: Penguin p80.

Thread, as cloth, surrounds us and accompanies us from the moment we’re born till the day we die. It’s like a second skin. Yet, precisely because of these close connections, it becomes almost invisible to us. Despite a recent upsurge in interest in craft and making, textiles is still almost invisible in the world of art too. In 1984, the feminist theorist, Rozsika Parker, wrote that cloth itself is a gendered material; in her book The Subversive Stitch, she analyses the gender divide between ‘high’ art and feminised craft. She proposed that cloth is a signifier of the private, and thus feminine, sphere. Rooted in craft techniques, work made with thread was then generally seen as ‘women’s work’, overlooked or disregarded by the contemporary art scene. Now, nearly 40 years later, it seems that thread is still barely visible as a medium in fine art.

seam collective are interested in exploring ways to make thread visible, initially through this research residency, as we plan for our touring exhibition, A Visible THREAD, due to open in November 2022.

The threads we hope to make visible are:

  • Thread and experimentation – Textiles are often expected to be private, perfect, decorative, safe, and benign. We’re interested in experimenting with ways that we can subvert these expectations, by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones, making work in a public setting and relinquishing control through participation. 
  • Thread as connection – Weaving, knitting and stitch all use thread to make connections. We will use these processes, and others, to explore ways to engage our audiences, both in person and virtually. Working in a shared space, in person, is a unique opportunity for seam to try out our ideas together, integrate our four new members, and enrich both our individual and group practices.
  • Thread as conversation – Making together, side-by-side, can promote in-depth conversation. We will work in the space, individually, in pairs or small groups, inviting our audiences to become part of the conversation, as they make with us.
  • Thread as thought – We each have our own particular research questions underpinning our individual practices, including practice-led, thinking through making; inspiration in our earlier works, the work of other artists or from the world around us; and the more theoretical. We will make these threads of research visible in the space, as a growing and changing installation of samples, images and text.
  • Thread and sustainability – As a group and as individuals we’re challenging ourselves about sustainability in our practices and in our lives. We’re working towards circular design, as defined by Katie Treggiden as ‘waste less, repair more and think like nature’. This will be implicit in the work we create during the residency.

We will transform the gallery into a lively, welcoming, dynamic and thought-provoking exhibition and test space, which will change as time passes. We will share our skills, knowledge and personalities with one another and with our visitors, encouraging each person to use their unique perspective and diverse range of textile disciplines to follow their chosen thread, wherever it may lead them.