Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Nottingham Lace - part 1

As a result of taking part in the Interlace conference in Nottingham, at the end of last year I was very kindly invited to run a one day workshop with the Centre for Advanced Textiles Research Group at Nottingham and Trent University.

The idea was to create a space where academic staff, technicians, and students could take time out from their usual daily responsibilities and routines in order to share, to create new work together and I hoped have some fun along the way too.

Given the importance of textiles to Nottingham, particularly the lace industry, I asked each participant to bring along a textile object related to the city. We had a fantastic selection of objects, including parts of a lace machine, wages ledgers, note books from a hand-frame knitter, a bearded needle, images of possibly the last Schiffli machine in production in Nottinghamshire, photos of closed lace centres and soon to be demolished factories and buildings, place names, pieces of lace and cloth made in Nottingham (several by participants), punch tapes, technical drawings and nursery rhymes about lace making.

As we talked about each object, several recurring themes came to the surface. Change, closure and loss featured heavily: mourning the decline of an industry, of old machines and buildings, the recognition of changes in industrial textile processes and the re-location of production and what that means to a place and its people. But also there was a great sense of joy and pride in the city, in technology, in the architecture of industry and commerce, in technological development, in the processes of making, and in the lives, skills and knowledge of the people involved in cloth production. And perhaps most of all the power of textiles to connect different people.

Following the format of previous sampler-cultureclash workshops, to get people to start working together, we then created a series of collective written pieces. Each person wrote a sentence about their object, then passed it onto the next person. That person then wrote another sentence about their object, using the last word of the previous sentence as the first word. This process continued until everyone had contributed to each piece. We recorded each poem, through the spoken word and song, hence turning the written word into sound.

Then, each person selected a word from their collective poem and drew this in pixel form onto a strip of grid paper and punched out holes so we could play it through a piano-player.

Here's a sample of my favourite sections. Each section has been looped in order to introduce repetition.

And here's one of the poems read by Tom Fisher combined with a looped sample from the pixel drawing piano-player piece. I love the way that Tom brings a series of seemingly disconnected lines alive through the rhythm in his reading. In thirteen lines this piece manages to encapsulate many of the themes we'd discussed earlier in the day, whilst also taking us into the realms of fantasy: will we ever discover what the needle was hiding behind its beard?

In the next post I'll cover the afternoon session of the workshop, where we camped down in the embroidery machine workshop; making, playing, and recording stitches, machines and sounds.

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