I was talking to my mother on the phone yesterday and she was asking me about the piece I had made about my home town. I can only think that she was referring to this panel, made as part of the autobiographical and geographical element of the Body Shop quilt. The whole piece is about geographies, and what I have rather pretentiously called geographies of the heart. My argument in the work is that organisations have no objective, material existence. They exist through other things: structures, people, documents, information, brand, culture, all sorts of things, but nothing is an organisation. Therefore it is possible for an organisation to exist in its customers and for its customers to have a ‘truer’ version of it than the company itself. Of course. things move on, nothing remains the same, the company is whatever it is in the now, but it is also the case that there was an Ur-company, the original company set up by the founder which has been lost and which exists only in the hearts and minds of its customers. Again, this is a bit sticky for me as I am not really a customer of the Body Shop anymore, as I have more or less defected to Eve Lom, the glamorous, sophisticated Hungarian. But, as a young woman growing up in Nottingham, I fully bought into Anita Roddick’s vision of trade not aid, recycle, refill, reuse, against animal testing and so on. All those radical values. So this panel is about those early years when I fell in love with her and the company and the products and the shops. And I was living at the time in my home town, Nottingham.
In making the panel I knew that I wanted to use lace as that is the industry probably still most associated with Nottingham, machine-made lace. And I knew that I wanted to use the oak leaves for the Major Oak associated with Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood (I think I am about to start a piece of work on Robin Hood, narrative and geographical specificity and embodiedness, but that remains to be seen!). That was all I knew: lace and oak leaves. The oak leaves were already stitched onto a really gorgeous piece of silk furnishing fabric which had come via my mother from Graham, who has already been mentioned in this blog, but, who, new readers start here, makes very expensive curtain treatments and gives away the off-cuts. The fabric is always top of the range like the crisp, heavy cream silk with the oak leaves that features in this quilt.
The oak leaf fabric can be seen in the top left-hand corner of this panel. But I was a bit surprised that the lace element turned out quite so much like the standing stones somewhere like Avebury. Avebury is a stone circle in Wiltshire, not as well-known as Stonehenge, but definitely the site that I prefer. I think it’s interesting that these stone circles should insinuate themselves into the work. Living in the West Country we come into contact with stone circles and burial chambers quite a bit and I have always been fascinated by them. So even in thinking about my adolescence, my grown-up life in Bristol can’t be left behind. You can’t ever totally go back.
The megaliths were all made of Nottingham lace, that is, machine made, synthetic fibre lace. In this case, it is lace from the hosiery or lingerie industry, which is also a large part of Nottingham’s industrial heritage. My mother gave me the white lace which is elastic and used to keep up hold-up stockings. I really like it because it takes transfer dye quite so well. I loved the moody grey piece in the background.
This final detail photograph doesn’t tell us much at all about Nottingham. It was made on my embellisher, and the only connection with Nottingham is that I had my first go on an embellisher at my mother’s, who still lives there. I have a love-hate relationship with my embellisher, and regularly break the expensive needles. I also find it rather deskilling, as absolutely anyone can get fantastic results on it, so you no longer need any skill to produce something stunning. Which, in a funny way, does bring me back to Nottingham and another part of my cultural heritage, the Luddites.
The Luddites were a 19C movement of workers who rebelled against the introduction of new textile machines which would put them out of work by replacing their skilled labour. They have become a term of abuse for people who are considered to be anti-technology in general, but originally they wanted to protect their skills and their livelihood, and I would be proud to call myself a luddite.
So, possibly this panel is even more soaked in the spirit of Nottingham than I thought!