Thinking about narrative

Threads of Identity 1, 2011
Threads of Identity 1, 2011

This is the first finished panel of my Laura Ashley/Threads of Identity project.  The project is an example of what Laurel Richardson might call ‘Creative Analytic Practice’ or CAP.  I like CAP because it combines the creative – usually writing in Richardson’s case, with the analytic.  This is about something, it investigates something, it holds an inquiring position.  This project is slightly different for me because it is creative.  It isn’t based on any form of data such as what someone said in an interview or what I read in a published source.  This is a project which I would like to make a different kind of inquiry; one based on imagination.

Imagination is usually seen as a bad thing in research.  There must be no whiff that we are making things up.  That would invalidate the whole enterprise and expose us to ridicule and charges of something bordering on fraud.  But imagination is a really valid component in research.  Imagination and intuition play a huge part in how we find things out and then what we make of them.  This project is just foregrounding the method.

So, my research design here is to take fragments of cloth and juxtapose them (back to Benjamin and his montage techniques which I blogged about earlier this year).  From this some sort of narrative will emerge.  I have no idea what will happen when I start.  I chose the pieces of fabric, inspired by the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London, by colour.  Here they are all lovely slightly sooty shades of blue.  Then I stand back and see what I have.  I love what happens in this process.  It is like alchemy.

I started with a scrap of Laura Ashley fabric given to me by one of my quilting friends, Alison, and built out from there.  But what seems to have emerged from there is a story which goes from left to right like book might.  I think there is a story of rags to riches.  The piece is far more sumptuous on the right hand side.  The snake down the middle seems to suggest a turning point.  Things were never the same after the woman encountered the snake.  Her identity changed forever, and her material life changed for the better.

I would love people to look at this piece and make up their own narrative from the elements I provide as a prompt.  I will post a larger picture and would welcome any imagined life-stories people would like to post.

So the aim of this as a research method, which I acknowledge is experimental, and never likely to be mainstream, is to draw attention to our sensemaking processes, and the way that we make sense of our world by constructing stories.  Laura Ashley, in this project is just the stepping off point.  Or maybe she is the muse, but that’s a whole other project.

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