Friday, April 22, 2011

'The Mill: City of Dreams' @ Drummond Mill, Bradford

Last Saturday I had the privilege of seeing the final performance of 'The Mill: City of Dreams' by Freedom Studios a wonderful 'promanade' play at Drummonds Mill in Bradford. The play was the culmination of a significant oral history project, collecting the stories and reminiscences of the mill workers of Bradford that came from all over the world on the promise of a better life.

It was without a doubt the most powerful piece of theatre I've ever seen. Admittedly, I'm probably the dream audience: if its got anything to do with weaving, then the likelihood is I'm going to enjoy it. However, I do also have a short patience threshold, particularly with drama, whether it be a film, TV or theatre: if the dialogue or plot is poor, then I'm unforgiving.

Without realising it, my partner and I had the ideal prelude to the play. We arrived in Bradford mid afternoon, and decided after checking into a shiny new hotel that we'd have a wander around the city and soak up the atmosphere. Despite being impressed by the National Media Museum and admiring the many listed buildings that litter the centre, we were also overwhelmed by the number of empty shops, and just how quiet it was for a Saturday afternoon in contrast to the crowded streets our home city of Cardiff. This was clearly a city suffering the loss of industry.

The Mill: City of Dreams, opens with a property developer revealing his plans to develop the empty mill into luxurious flats and leisure facilities. A power cut forces him to leave and go rebuke employees. Then, Frank, our guide for the evening wanders in. We learn that Frank, now the caretaker of the abandoned building worked at Drummonds Mill for all his working life primarily as an 'overlooker' keeping an eye on the burling and mending department. And thus he leads on a journey around the mill and of his memories.

The first door we're led through is opened to the deafening sound of looms clanking and whirring..... but the vast space is empty but for threads stretched between iron columns and figures punctuating the space. As when I visit any mill, the evocative sound of weaving on a grand scale made my stomach do a back flip, but the visual contrast was profound.
Aside from Frank, the play focuses on three characters: Maria from Italy, Petro from the Ukraine and Yakub from Pakistan. We are introduced to the stories that lead them to Bradford: necessity, hope, escape. And thus we follow them through there new lives at the mill from its prosperity to ultimate decline.

The walk through structure is inspired: I can't imagine that it could possibly have had the same impact on a stage with the audience sitting comfortably. The sound, lighting and set designers have all done a fantastic job defining and structuring the space, as well as ensuring all the senses are assaulted (in a good way!) 

There really wasn't one element of the whole play that I could criticise. The writing was intelligent, eloquent and pertinent. One scene that will always stay with me sees the various mill workers borrowing suits and jewellery to pose for photographs at the infamous Belle Vue Photography Studio. These photographs would be sent to relatives all over the world to try and convey a positive picture of prosperity. Yakub stands proudly in his smart suit and gentlemanly umbrella, then gets undressed and walks across the room putting on a hoodie, into an imagined pool hall. He's transformed into his son who talks about failing his father: he was the hope for a better future and he 'f**ked it up'. The complicated jumble of contemporary 'issues' surrounding second generation immigration, identity, expectation, belonging, youth, deprivation, aspiration etc are summed up perfectly in this scene.

The temptation is strong to carry on trying to describe the rest of the play to you..... but I clearly couldn't do it justice. Unfortunately there wasn't an optimistic 'happily ever after' ending.... but the resilience and unquestioning work ethic that shines throughout the play gives hope for the future....
Its a real shame that the play has now finished - I could have watched it again and again. I understand that it was a sold out run, and the reviews in the national press have all been excellent. It clearly hit a nerve. I urge you to look through The Mill: City of Dreams website and watch the various trailers for the play so you can get a sense for what it was like.

Many congratulations to all involved in this outstanding production - I look forward with enthusiasm to seeing future performances by this brilliant theatre company.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Christine Elliott Grey

In the beginning, 2006

Final word of a woven text piece 'in the beginning was the waeve' as exhibited at New Hall, Cambridge.
36cm x 210cm. Cotton, hemp, wood

Untitled, 2006

Woven word.
40cm x 50cm. Woollen warp, elasticated thread

Untitled, 2006

Vintage wooden window frame warped up and woven.
82cm x 62cm x 16cm. Wooden frame, fishing line, cellophane

Untitled, 2007

Woven word.
28cm x 42 cm Wool
 Text and textiles are bound together by their etymology: both words derive from the Latin 'texere' meaning 'to weave'. The parallels between how we construct a textile and construct a text have long captured my imagination, so it's always a delight when I find work that is exploring this principle. Christine Elliott Grey is one such artist whose work I long to see more of.  I first became aware of her work as it was part of the 'Marking Space' exhibition and symposium culminating the CIRIC project at Swansea Metropolitan University.

Warp threads are bound around a frame, or otherwise off-loom, and the choosen word/s are carefully woven in a tapestry / discontinous weft form, although much of the warp is left unwoven. The tension between the woven and unwoven is as poetic as the words theselves in my view.

I'm very much hoping I will get a chance to travel to see a forthcoming exhibition of her work at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre, 38 Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8DT Tel: 01223 577553. The exhibition is on from the 24 May - 4 July 2011 and Christine is giving a talk about the work Saturday 28 May at 7 30, as part of a Cultural Exchange evening. 

In her own words:

The work is about the dynamic between language and the real. It questions the assumption that language is transparent rather than a well-worn local system that organises and structures perceptions down historical pathways.

Sub-texts, secondary thoughts, the underlying, refer to family, memory, the quotidian, the everyday, unless site specific.

April 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Anastasia Azure

Sculpture by Anastasia Azure

Sculpture by Anastasia Azure

Sculpture by Anastasia Azure
Brooch by Anastasia Azure

Bracelet by Anastasia Azure

Such are the joys of googling away the day, I came across these wonderful woven sculptures and items of jewellery by Anastasia Azure. Multi-layered, multi dimensional and multi-faceted, I long to see this work in the flesh! The sculptures in particular look hypnotic and so precisely woven - the photographs certainly don't reveal the fabrics beginning and end.

In her own words:

Anastasia Azure is the originator of Dimensional-Weave™ which combines ancient weaving, traditional metalsmithing and contemporary materials. She creates sculpture and jewelry, hand-woven on a floor loom with metals and plastics. Her forms are inspired by the elegance of geometry.
She dedicated a three-year residency, at the Appalachian Center for Craft, to the research and development of Dimensional-Weave™. Presently, she resides in Providence, RI where she is completing her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design.
First introduced to jewelry fabrication at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, she continued more rigorous training at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, San Francisco, graduating in 2001. While earning her BFA in 2005 from California College of the Arts, she discovered weaving’s immense importance to her life’s work.
Her art has won many awards, most recently the 2010 Niche Award for Handwoven Fibers. One of her sculptural bracelets is featured on the cover of 500 Plastic Jewelry Designs published by Lark Books. Her artwork is published and exhibited nationally as well as internationally.

The Mill: City of Dreams

Browsing the BBC News website, my attention was caught by the headline: 'Mill weaves tale of faded dreams'. I won't retell the BBC report as you can click and discover it yourself. But how wonderful does this project sound?! The Mill: City of Dreams is a play based in the old Drummonds Mill in Bradford (UK). A huge amount of work has been done collating oral histories from generations of mill workers who came from all over the world searching for a better life. This work has formed the basis of the play..... which regrettably has now sold out :-(  Needless to say I'm gutted as I'd started planning my weekend in Bradford! Sounds like they might need to think about extending its run. In the meantime, there is lots of information and photographs that you can look through on the productions website. And there is a very good review on the Guardian website too.

Would love to hear from any of you that see the play.........and I'll try and supress my envy!

UPDATE: Have managed to get some tickets! Going to see it on the 16th April, so I'll be reporting back after the performance. Can't wait!

UPDATE AGAIN: here are images of the play courtesy of Tim Smith Photos.





Off the loom: woven explorations and applications in art, science & industry, Stroud International Textile Festival, Sunday 8th May, 2011, 11-4.30pm

I’m delighted to announce that I am hosting a forthcoming day of talks as part of the 2011 Stroud International Textile Festival, that will celebrate some of the innovative applications and aesthetic explorations in contemporary weave practice.

With a respectful nod to tradition, the invited speakers are all forging new ground within the fashion, science, furnishings and art spheres taking weave into dynamic new arenas. From e-textiles to art for architectural spaces, each speaker is a pioneer in their discipline and is taking their expertise into unexpected arenas.


Laura Thomas, artist, curator and design consultant. Well known for her trademark encapsulation of delicate textile structures in acrylic resin, recent significant commissions include a Museumaker project to design a triptych window for The Beaney Museum and Art Gallery in Canterbury and a vessel presented to Cricket Australia from the Welsh Assembly Government to commemorate the Ashes being played in Cardiff in 2009. A recipient of a Creative Wales Ambassador Award from the Arts Council of Wales, Laura is currently developing new bodies of work in residence at the Ruthin Craft Centre.

Asha Peta Thompson, is a founding partner of Intelligent Textiles Ltd (ITL)along with Stan Swallow. Asha is an expert in woven technical textiles, specifically electronically active ‘e-textiles’. The ITL patented processes have been applied to many products and principles from heated bedding to iPod connected garments. Recent press coverage has focused on their partnering with the Ministry of Defence to develop embedded technical functionality into military clothing, predominantly as a replacement for conventional cables in soldier systems.

Kirsty McDougall, is one half of Dashing Tweeds, Britain’s latest tweed textile company. Opening up a contemporary arena for a classic quality fabric, Dashing Tweeds has created a range of tweeds for the 21st century, designed by photographer Guy Hills and weaver Kirsty McDougall. Quirky colour palettes, inventive yarn combinations and sophisticated tactile qualities have taken the traditional tweed into uncharted territory, winning them fans across the fashion world. Of particular note is their LumaTwill™ range which is a fusion of technical sportswear with elegant tweed cloth. Light reflective yarns punctuate the woollen checks, so when worn at night it illuminates as light hits the fabric.

Melissa French, artist, designer and coordinator of the Puff & Flock textile collective. Melissa’s practice sees her span the commercial and conceptual sphere. A graduate of the renowned MA Textile Futures at Central St Martins, Melissa has garnered a reputation for work that questions the expected application of woven textiles. Her Urban Upholstery concept takes textiles beyond decoration. This time-based work integrates various metals in her woven fabrics to enable them to endure time and weather whist evolving through natural rusting or oxidising. Inspired by graffiti, urban guerrilla movements and traditional interior textiles and design, Melissa wants to bring an element of beauty, pattern, design and ultimately surprise to the urban landscape.

Ptolemy Mann, artist and architectural colour consultant. Renowned for her impeccable eye for colour, Ptolemy produces striking ikat dyed woven artworks for corporate, commercial and domestic spaces, which have been exhibited and specified all over the world. Working with a UK manufacturer, she has also recently added limited edition mill woven cloth to her repertoire, suitable for cushions, drapes and other applications. Ptolemy is also in demand as an architectural colour consultant, bringing vibrant palette’s to the usually colour-shy world of external facades, as well as devising internal colour schemes for healthcare environments to aid way finding and psychological well being.

Tickets are available from the Stroud International Textiles website:

Cost: £40/£35 (Students/Friends of SIT)

£5.00 for light lunch

There are limited tickets available particularly at the concessionary rate. The last weave symposium I was involved in (warp+weft at the National Wool Museum) ended up with a waiting list of disappointed people, please do book asap!

I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ruth Laskey

Detail of Twill Series (Blue Gray), 2010
Hand-dyed & handwoven linen
21 x 30 inches

Detail of Twill Series (Forest Green/Electric Blue), 2008
Hand-dyed & handwoven linen
23.5 x 14 inches

Detail of Twill Series (Peach) 2010
Hand-dyed & handwoven linen
21 x 30 inches

Detail of Twill Series (Kelly Green/Clear Yellow), 2008
Hand-dyed & handwoven linen
14 x 23.5 inches

Just had another one of those 'wow' moments. I was browsing through my latest copy of FiberArts (which incidentally has lots of inspirational articles about woven textile artists in this issue) and saw an intriguing image on the list of latest awards page: Twill Series (Peach) 2010 by Ruth Laskey who has recently won Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art Award for her hand dyed twill weavings. This led me to her elegant website showcasing her beautiful work that really resonates with me. I love her sparse compositions and refined use of colour exploring simple geometric shapes. The pictures above are all details taken from her website - the actual artworks have much more white space around the shapes.....