Drawloom (Diagram for an Artwork) (2015)
"An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns - but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth."
Robert Bringhurst: The Elements of Typographic Style 1992
Printmaking, moving image, text and installation by Sarah Gillett, 2015
Since 2013 I have been buying old needlepoint tapestries on the internet.
When they arrive through my letterbox and I unwrap them, I am always surprised by their smell (like old books), their weight (wool is heavy) and their humanness (each one is hand sewn by a person, commonly an older woman, in her home, and each retains something inexpressible of their maker).
These 'kit tapestries' depict idyllic images of rural landscape and bygone country life, and would have taken weeks, months, sometimes years to complete, obediently sewing on top of a printed pattern on the fabric, resulting in a perfect image of a dream life.
I interpret the tapestry as a metaphor for the way we live our lives. We are born into expectation through the experience of those who lived before us. What happens if we disrupt this narrative? See my series Ominous Decorations for my take on this.
To me tapestries are handmade pixelated images. They are anachronistic relics that predate the digital image, being built on a much older matrix – that of the loom and the pattern punch cards based on zeros and ones. I feel like an archeologist digging down into the past to find a Raspberry Pi buried beneath the castle.
The reverse of the tapestries tells a different, very human story, one of labour, mistake and messiness. No one is looking here. It is the thicket, the entangled wires behind the TV, the hours spent reshaping the wilderness into a smooth, sleek lawn.
To escape this fate I cut up the tapestries into small elements – trees, rocks, sky, water and scanned them at great resolution to see just how big I could print them. The largest were 3 metres tall and in keeping with the originals, I printed them onto canvas.
Through this repeated processing of the image and the manipulation of the physical material, the tapestries underwent an 'Alice in Wonderland' transformation. They became strange monuments of landscape, props on a set ready to be walked through, round, between.
They sit in the uncanny valley waiting to be encountered.
Inside a cave, behind a waterfall, looking into a computer (footage shot at an aquarium alongside generated static).
This film was projected onto a small cardboard shape, viewed through and between the large sculpture fragments offering a glimpse into another world beyond – a world within a world within a world.
Drawloom (Diagram for an Artwork) text works
“And this is the sign for asleep,” says Alison, closing her index fingers and thumbs together in front of her eyes. “Go to sleep now my darling.”
She smooths out the duvet cover with her hands, uncreasing the printed astronaut suit, flattening the stars in their cotton void, repositioning the blue Earth from sliding off the side of the bed. She kisses Bill’s hair, feeling his fragile skull millimetres away from her lips. “Night night.”
“Night night Mummy,” he says.
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The dogs in south London are running. One of the big ones slows down as it passes me and I step back as its nose swerves into my crotch, waving my arms as though that would make any difference. If it were really hungry it would just eat me but I get a face full of hot meaty air and it’s a lucky day.