Anne von Freyburg: Turning wearables into art

Anne von Freyburg recycles wearable materials to refashion 17th century Dutch paintings. Her mantra is “I paint with materials” and she deftly manipulates fabrics into images by embroidering onto canvas. Celebrating embellishment as a tool of self-expression, these ‘paintings’ use the visual cues of fashion to suggest art is more than just a decorative object.

Anne von Freyburg: Turning wearables into art

Practice-Based: On Smocking, Science and Sex

In a Droplet, 2019

These works employ intricate hand-sewn smocked stitching onto hand-dyed fabric as a means to create structures and surfaces that are simultaneously decorative, organic and abject. Although they exist as individual sculptural pieces, they also function as interchangeable elements within larger installations that play with the idea of queer ecologies. As humans, we tend to oversimplify the complex and concentrate on the ways in which other organisms are similar to us, focusing on familiar mammals and birds that, superficially, conform toour notions of what is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’. However, the natural world presents diverse, non-binary lifestyles with organisms possessing the ability to changegenders (or without genderat all) far more frequently than we imagine. And if you’re wondering about the sex, that’s just as varied…

Once You’ve Seen One, 2019

My work examines systems and relationships, exploring unusual or unexpected pairings of partners as a means to reference the queerness of the natural world – that actually nature is far less binary than we might imagine.

Embroidery and sewing are particularly intriguing to me because oftheshifting perceptions throughout history regarding their use and cultural status. In particular, smocking was originally linked to clothing for labourers (often male) and yet is more commonplace in female or so-called ‘effeminate’ clothing today.

It is intriguing that within the contemporary art world there remains a sense of caution about work being perceived as decorative, perhaps compounded by anxieties that craft might detract or distract from the conceptual. It feels particularly problematic that we frequently continue to judge aesthetics on the polarised intellectual views concerning art and craft originating in the 16th Century and perpetuated by (predominantly white, cis, straight male) writers and philosophers since the 1940s. If the function of contemporary art is to reflect and critically examine culture then we should be queering assumptions regarding gendered materials and approaches to making.

Trembling, 2020

Artist Statement 

I am curious about the changing nature of the relationships we have with our bodies, other organisms and the environment. This often focuses on the human impulse to change, control and manage everything. It is the consequences of our actions and how we manage to accommodate the unexpected and, sometimes, unwelcome results that particularly attract my attention.

Although my work has strong visual references, I am equally interested in the implied tactile ones, intentionally creating surfaces that arouse curiosity and the temptation to touch. I am fascinated by the notion that the tension created by anticipation to explore through touching might be more compelling than the reality of the action.

My approach to making frequently borrows from scientific methodologies and an interest in the origins of materials founded on the notion that even manufactured materials are fundamentally organic. Recycling and repurposing work has become a recurring part of my practice, with sculptural elements continuing to evolve and form new relationships.

I am fascinated by how we perceive the natural world and use concepts of ‘natural’ as filters to critically examine human activities. My work aligns art and science through a shared purpose of describing human experience, whilst unhinging certainty and disturbing the familiar.

Words: Matt Gale (he/him)

More of Matt’s work can be found here

About the Artist

Matt Gale lives and works in Birmingham. He has shown at various institutions throughout the UK, most recently at the Coventry Biennial exhibition at The Row. Before studying and pursuing a career in the arts, Matt studied a BSc in Zoology and his fascination with the natural world continues to inspire him. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton.

Practice-Based: Quilting the Lesbian Archive, Sarah-Joy Ford

I stand in cold stacks. My hands run over the pale green boxes scored with pencil marks. I rummage. A syllabus, a letter and tangled endings. An under-stairs cupboard filled with pornography. S&M dyke night flyers with tea in the living room. Email trails: reaching out, and toward something…

My PhD research at Manchester School of Art is titled Quilting the Lesbian Archive. Yet, unlike the USA, there is no dedicated Lesbian Archive in the UK. The project has therefore led me on all kinds of adventures in the search for archival fragments; from institutions such as The Women’s Library (London School of Economics), to community focused museums (Glasgow Women’s Library), and into the homes and email inboxes of women who created – and still are creating – lesbian history, including Phyllis Christopher, Karen Fisch, Annie Sprinkle and Susie Bright. Quilting gives me a thrifty strategy for approaching this archive; gathering fragments, re-arranging with tender inquisitiveness, and forming a new arrangement that might offer a different ways of knowing the familiar.[1]

Quilts have long been a powerful tool for women’s expression; a visual language within the home as well as creating networks of female connection through friendship quilts, quilting bees and even through public politics – such as the anti-slavery and temperance movements in the USA. Quilts however, have been marginalised as an artform and dismissed as an amateur pastime for women, used to keep idle hands busy in domestic spaces.[2] Since the 1960s feminist artists have used the needle in order to subvert and challenge temporal-spatial restrictions placed on women through the gendered division of private and public space, and the repetitive labours of domesticity and maternity. One only has to look to the work of people like Faith Ringgold, Harmony Hammond and Judy Chicago for this to become apparent.[3]

Rooted in this history of gendered marginalisation, quilts can also be a powerful material language for disrupting discrimination, erasure and marginalisation; such as in the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Such themes still prevail in the work of other contemporary queer artists too, such as Aaron McIntosh, Josh Faught and Jeffrey Gibson who all continue to draw on the powerful politics of quilting.

Lucy Lippard famously argued that quilts were the prime visual metaphor for women’s lives; as a ‘diary of touch’ reflecting the repetitive and compulsive behaviours that are necessary for housekeeping and invoking over decoration and ‘female fussiness’.[4] The quilts that emerge in this project are also a ‘diary of touch’; acting record of encounters in the archive. They are cut and stitched into my own fussy, femme aesthetic that indulges in rich pink hues, satins, sequins and dense decorative embroideries.

The loving attention and protective qualities of the quilt offer a reparative site for investing in lesbian archives inherently bound to a history of injury and marginalisation. In their cumulative nature, quilts often have no centre defying conventional rules for formal, painterly arrangements – this non-linear, materially driven form can offer a site for exploring the unruly experiences of the lesbian bodies, temporalities and affects. Although quilts have traditionally celebrated the milestones of a heteronormative life – birth, marriage, children, death – this project subverts this tradition and proposes the quilt as a space collapsing linear time and encountering the unexpected affects of the Lesbian Archive.

Words:Sarah-Joy Ford (she/her)

More of Sarah’s work can be found here

About the Artist

Sarah-Joy Ford is an Artist, PGR and Associate Lecturer at Manchester School of Art. Exhibitions include Banner Culture, British Textile Biennale (Blackburn), Queen, COLLAR (Manchester) and Weaving Europe: The World as Mediation, Shelly Residence (Paphos). Projects include Cut Cloth: Contemporary Textiles and Feminism, The Portico Library (Manchester) and Hard Craft, Vane Gallery (Newcastle).  Her work has been commissioned by The Yorkshire Year of the TextilesProcessions: a hundred years of suffrage and Beyond the Binary at The Pitt Rivers Museum. Her AHRC funded PHD research examines quilting as a methodology for re-visioning lesbian archive materials.

All images are of installation work ‘Time Binds’ exhibited at Proximity, Paradise Works, Manchester, 2019. Artwork by Sarah-Joy Ford, Photography by Anya Stewart-Maggs.

[1] Lindstrom, K., & Stahl, A. (2016). Patchworking ways of knowing. In J. Jeffreys, D. Wood Conroy, & H. Clark (Eds.), The Handbook of Textile Culture(pp. 65–78). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

[2] Arther, E. (2012). Fiber Art and the Hierarchy of Art and Craft, 1960-80. In J. Hemmings (Ed.), The Textile Reader(pp. 210–223). London: Berg.

Fyre, S. (2013). Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

[3] Parker, R. (1984). The Subversive Stitch(2nd ed.). London: IB Tauris. 

[4] Lippard, L. (1983). Up, Down and Across: A New Frame for New Quilts,. In C. Robinson (Ed.), The Artist and the Quilt. New York: Knopf.

“JE EST UN AUTRE” by Violetta Liszka

Inspired by Arthur Rimbaud’s famous quote, ‘Je est un autre’, which translates to mean ‘I am another’, Violetta Liszka’s project harnesses wire sculpture, photography and poetry to explore the boundaries between human interiority and the exterior forces that shape emotional and bodily experience.

Stained body. A body that was cut, bruised, complicated.
Fluid and mobile.
Trying to keep head in the air so I could breathe.
Forming itself to the shape of the container that traps it.
I was contained water.
My spirit, like oil cut into water.
Yearning for connection
And wholeness.

Violetta Liszka was born in Krakow, Poland. Working first as a physiotherapist before embarking on a BA (Hons) and MA in Photography at the University of Brighton, pursuing interests in art and Judaism. Liszka has had art exhibits in London, Brighton, Southhampton, Berlin, Toronto, New York and Krakow, and is currently pursuing an MA in Jewish History and Culture at the University of Southhampton.

Nude Me: Enam Gbewonyo

Enam Gbewonyo, Christies Lates Nude Me Part II performance 1, © SMD Photography.jpg

Artist, curator and founder of the Black British Female Artist Collective, Enam Gbewonyo is an exciting talent in fibre art; working at the boundaries between craft and fine art, her multimedia practice weaves new narratives of identity and belonging that counter stereotypes of race and gender. Having previously worked as a knitwear designer in New York, Enam has a clear understanding of how closely textiles are entwined with our daily lives and the power they exert over our sense of self. We first met Enam when she delivered a paper on ‘Yarn, Power and Patriarchy: An Exercise in Unravelling the Seams of Oppression’ at our November 2018 symposium Modernism: Making, Place, and Protest. Enam’s panel, which also included ICON editor Priya Khanchandani and curator Claire Mead, was a highlight of the day, but her talk particularly stood out: not only for the fascinating ways in which she connected traditional Ghanaian weaving practices with her own process of making, but also for how she passionately and persuasively articulated her belief in craft’s power to undo systems of patriarchy. It is no surprise that, since then, Enam’s work has begun to attract serious attention: in 2019, she has performed at the Henry Moore Institute, the Venice Biennale, and at Christie’s, London, joined MTArt Agency, and exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum and New Ashgate Gallery (amongst others).

Enam Gbewonyo, Venice Nude Me Performance 11 © Michal Murawski

Nude Me/Under the Skin: the Awakening of Black Women’s Visibility One Pantyhose at a Time, performed at the Venice Biennial and Christie’s in 2019, is a powerful piece of performance art that mixes ballet and textiles to uncover and unravel the binds that have constricted black female subjectivity. Gbewonyo uses tights to tell stories of identity, alienation, and becoming, connecting with the experiences of her mother, an NHS nurse forced to wear thick tights that clashed with her natural skin tone. Her art highlights the way that tights have functioned as a protective material for white Western women, whilst reinforcing a sense of marginalisation for women of colour; incorporating seedy advertising images, she also shows how they have been used to objectify the female body. Nude Me/Under the Skin enacts a rejection of hosiery’s suffocating hold, as Gbewonyo unbinds the tights that tie her body and transfers them to a mirror frame: the artist emerges through the mirror, uncompromising and emboldened.

Last Autumn, Gbewonyo’s work was on show as part of Gossamer, an exhibition at Margate’s Carl Freedman gallery that brought together 22 artists working with the medium of tights and stockings. Sitting alongside some of 20th century art’s biggest names, including Man Ray, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Lucas, Gbewonyo’s work stood out as a strikingly fresh use of nylons as an artistic medium. The tangled tights stretched out across gilt frames raise questions about the intersection of fine art and craft, as well as the politics of display, objectification, and subjugation of bodies in racist and sexist modern cultural narratives.

Enam Gbewonyo, Christies Lates Nude Me Part II performance 4, © SMD Photography lowres.jpeg

On 15th April 2020, Gbewonyo will perform a new work –  ‘The Unbinding: A Restorative Act in Two Halves’ – as part of Two Temple Place’s current exhibition Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles. Created in response to Alice Kettle’s ‘Three Caryatids’, Gbewonyo’s performance promises to be ‘both an ode to and healing restoration of the female form’s fluidity, power and softness’. We guarantee you won’t want to miss it – register for a free ticket here!

Find out more about Enam Gbewonyo over on her website