Jill Carter’s Dreams, Masks and Mirrors at the RWA, Bristol

Costume dolls at Dreams, Masks and Mirrors, with the permission of the artist
Costume dolls at Dreams, Masks and Mirrors, with the permission of the artist


This is a slightly different post because it isn’t about quilting until the end.  But it is about creativity and collaboration and making art.

On Tuesday afternoon I went to the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) with a group of writers from the University of Bristol to a writing workshop with Jill Carter.  Jill describes herself as a social engagement artist because her work responds to what she describes as real situations such as communities characterised by lack of aspiration, low life chances, poor housing and so on.  She also works with people with dementia.  She takes her collections out into the community and invites people to have conversations with her and to interact with the objects she takes with her.  Her website is http://homepage.mac.com/jill_carter/.

We share a fascination with dolls, and she is particularly taken with old costume dolls.  I once bought a whole suitcase full of costume dolls which had clearly been someone’s beloved collection.  I couldn’t bear to think of them going into landfill and so I think I paid £20 max for the lot, including the suitcase.  They have been lurking in a drawer in my office ever since.  When Jill came in to talk to us about ARCIO,our research centre  in my department, I showed her the dolls and she remembered them and asked me if she could borrow them for her show.  So they ended up in the case in the photo at the top of the post.  As a trade Jill ran a writing workshop for us.

We met in the gallery and wrote in response to Jill’s evocative and enigmatic black and white photos and the objects in her collections.  I found it quite hard to get going as I had gone straight from work, and so I ended up with a list of first lines for stories which I didn’t have the energy to write.  Here is what I wrote with the photo I was writing about.


Jill Carter, photo in Dreams, Masks and Mirrors, with the permission of the artist
Jill Carter, photo in Dreams, Masks and Mirrors, with the permission of the artist


What would happen if a rabbit brought my my mail?

  • In string theory, many worlds theory, it is more than possible that there is a world in which a rabbit brings my mail.
  • Opening the door one morning, I am surprised to find a six-foot white rabbit, possibly called Harvey, working for the Royal Mail, and holding my latest parcel from Amazon.
  • I wonder what combination of circumstances led the Head of Human Resources to employ a giant rabbit as a postman.  Surely a category error.  Surely diversity gone mad.
  • One morning, Roger awoke to find himself with a rabbit’s head and a postman’s uniform.  ‘Drat,’ he thought, ‘I’ve never suited a polo shirt.’
  • Royal Mail, email, snail mail, rabbit mail.  The Acme Kitchenware Company had tried it all.
  • There is terror in the rabbit’s eyes.  The parcel he is holding smells of burnt almonds.
  • These were dark days at the sorting office.  Recently they had been employing anyone.  Now they were even taking on rabbits.

Jill also gave us cards to write on instead of paper, and I found a rabbit on her tray of objects.  I produced this:

Rabbit writing
Rabbit writing


The idea of using stiff cards to write on was really interesting as it encouraged us to think about producing a different kind of text: text as artefact, text as display, performative text in another guise.  I have been thinking a lot about Eve Sedgwick and her classes with her students making artists’ books as a way of disrupting or questioning texts, what she would probably describe as ‘queering’ the text, making us question its status and norms, what we expect from ‘text’.  It’s an area I would love to do more work on – if only I had some post-grad students who were interested in doing it.  Perhaps I could persuade the writing group I went with to take it further.


Thimble writing at the RWA


As ever with my writing group, the quality of writing was phenomenal, and ranged from the quietly terrifying just this side of ghost stories, to poetry, to jazzy word play, to sign language jokes, to elegy, to humour.  It was a delight to listen.

After the first round, we read our writing to each other and then did a round of very quick writing with the prompt, ‘Reveal/conceal’.  I found myself writing about textiles and research:

The blast of a hot air gun melts the fabric, plasticises the organza they use to make the drapes that float at the windows of a thousand well-appointed starter home show houses.  The fluid and shiny becomes hard and dense, curls back on itself, crisp and fluted along its edges.

Underneath, another layer.  Potentially denser, less transitory.  More permanent.  It would be nice if we could peel back and find something good and true and solid  and not another layer of holes and fissures and sutures and ruptures.  It would be lovely to find the smooth and intact not more fragments and layers.  It would be nice.

This is to do with De Certeau’s ideas of knowledge and what we can realistically discover through research.  I expect I will blog about this at some point as I think that contemporary textile practice is a very good representation of the process De Certeau describes.  For now, thanks to Jill and Jo and Jacky and Margaret and Louise and Malcolm who wrote with me.


Thimble writing
Thimble writing

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