It is a really beautiful day in Bristol. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. A perfect early spring day. The Christmas roses in the garden are starting to come out. I mention this because one of the things I like to do (and I have simple pleasures) is to take my work into my dining room and photograph it in close up on the very rare occasions when we have strong sunlight. The way the sunlight hits the stitching and forms deep shadows gives me great pleasure, and I think we should take pleasure in our work. Here’s an example:
I think it brings out the texture in the work which sometimes gets lost behind glass. I frame work behind glass as often as I can because I think it is hard to get textiles taken seriously and putting them in a frame and glazing them helps to make them more serious. Here’s another strong sunlight piece:
A couple of years ago I bought a camera which is very unprepossessing and tends to raise a bit of a snigger when it comes out of my bag. The reason I bought it is that it is very good for an amateur photographer like me to take close-ups. I can hover three inches (6cm?) over the surface of the piece and it will still be in focus. The first time I did this I fell totally in love. It is like looking down a microscope and seeing a different world. I literally saw my work differently. I saw a wealth of detail, particularly in the machine stitching which I had no idea was there. It was like scales falling from my eyes. It reminds me of a great story I heard the playwright, Tom Stoppard tell on a talk show years ago. When people gave him their interpretations of his plays he had to say that he was a like a man going through customs and being stopped. On taking off his jacket (this was before increased security at airports, of course), he discovered he had an armful of contraband wristwatches. He couldn’t deny they were there, but he didn’t remember ever putting them on. I feel the same way when people tell me what my quilts are about for them. I can’t and wouldn’t argue, but I don’t remember putting that stuff in. It’s the same with the close-ups – I can’t deny that the stuff is there, but don’t remember consciously inserting it.
Changing tack slightly, probably my greatest intellectual crush of all time is Walter Benjamin. One of the forerunners of critical theory, Jewish intellectual, German, he was hounded to his death by the Nazi regime. Although I don’t understand all of his work, the stuff I get, I really get, and I think he was an absolute genius. He completely understood how mechanical means of reproducing works of art was going to change the way we understand them, interact with them, and use them. He looked at the camera lens and he understood what it meant and how it would change the human condition by changing how we, in the occularcentric (to use the trendy jargon) world see, perceive, use our senses. He said that the artist, looking at a close-up of their work would have a completely different relationship with it. Now, I do not consider myself to be up there with the great artists he was concerned with, but I do think I make art, and I think that my relationship with that art has changed totally since I started seeing it in minute detail. There is a kind of loveliness at that level which I have no real responsibility for, but which I really enjoy.
(For those interested, Benjamin’s 1936 essay in which he discusses these ideas is ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical (Re)production’, and is widely available, including as a slim volume with his essay on Kafka, which is the best thing I have ever read on bureaucracy. In the Penguin Great Ideas series. There is a particularly good website devoted to the study of his work at http://www.wbenjamin.org/walterbenjamin.html