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.

Adejoke Tugbiyele’s Hybrid Forms and Second-Skins

Adejoke Tugbiyele (b.1977, New York, USA) is an award-winning, queer, black artist. Her work often comments on human rights issues around the world, and her own identity as a queer woman of Nigerian descent. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she continues to make artwork and engage in advocacy projects.

Adejoke Tugbiyele, Photo Courtesy of the Artist

Tugbiyele describes her practice as ‘hybrid’; reflected in both her approach to making and the physical forms that manifest in many of her works. On one hand, her practice is multidisciplinary; continuously ‘presenting alternative forms of expression that can be universally understood’. On the other, hybrid forms quite literally appear in a myriad of Tugbiyele’s drawings, sculpture and performance works. She explains: ‘Hybridity frees the mind from the boundaries and limitations of gender and sexuality, and from the human body in general. It takes us into the spiritual realm, where we can begin to imagine new ways of perceiving and being in the world. Hybridity also makes us more aware of the two-spirit nature of humans and therefore the potential ability to tap into different energies, spontaneously’. Sculptures such as ‘Drama’ (2018) play with the juxtapositions between natural and man-made objects, with (often androgynous) ‘bodily’ features such as the use of oil funnels for breasts, or gas pumps for hands, which are interwoven into a contorted, twisting form.

Adejoke Tugbiyele, Drama, 2018. Courtesy of the Artist and Sakhile&Me Gallery.
Adejoke Tugbiyele, Kidnapped, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist and October Gallery

Some of Tugbiyele’s crafted objects enter into a performative practice which, she revealed, often operates as a way to ‘queer dominant spaces and narratives pertaining to race, gender and sexuality’. She further suggests: ‘Through performance the body can engage architecture with movement and begin healthy discourse on how space itself affects our psyche and imagination. Sometimes, the key to collective transformation is going beyond the first-skin of the body, into the second-skin’. Finally, she reminds us, ‘performance is rooted in the idea of transformation across cultures’.

This is perhaps best evident in a performance that took place at Somerset House in 2017 entitled ‘Shifting The Waves’. During this, Tugbiyele performed with the intricately woven work entitled ‘Love Boat 2.0’ (2017) which was bound to her back. In motion, the work comments upon ‘movement as a mode of survival’ and raises questions such as: ‘How are we affected by past and present migrations both physically and psychically, locally and globally? What lessons can the vessel teach us about resilience and courage in the face of threats to mind and body? How can we honor the strength it takes to shift, when transient spaces begin to feel more safe than the home itself?’. When eventually removed from her body, ‘the work is forced to perform as sculpture – the implication is not transient space but rather stillness – at rest, at home’.

Adejoke Tugbiyele, Love Boat 2.0, 2017, Courtesy of the Artist and October Gallery.
Adejoke Tugbiyele, Same Sex 2.0, 2017, Courtesy of the Artist and October Gallery.

As with ‘Love Boat 2.0’ (2017), many of Tugbiyele’s other sculptures are made from palm spines from West African brooms, which are often used across cultures as a symbolic act of cleansing negative energy from society. For example, Tugbiyele recalls that in contemporary Nigerian politics, one finds the waving of traditional brooms a significant symbol during an election period and in African-American culture ‘jumping the broom’ has often been used as a symbolic gesture at traditional wedding ceremonies to celebrate black love – and here, all variations of that.

Solo Performance, EagleBull, The Melrose Gallery

Words: Adejoke Tugbiyele (she/her), Daniel Fountain (he/they)

Tugbiyele is represented by October Gallery and more information about the artist can be found here.

Editorial 7: Crafting the Body

We often automatically refer to an artist’s collection as their ‘body of art’. The physical, bodily processes of crafting go (often literally) hand in hand with artistic creation. These bodily acts can often be therapeutic – we might think of the rhythmic practice of weaving or the soothing feeling of stepping away from screens, quietening our minds as we manually manipulate materials. Craft can impact the body, the physical act of making leaving its mark on the maker, such as the quiet ache of a spine that has been bent over a loom, fingers pricked by needles, skin chapped and cracked from handling clay. This issue feels out the myriad ways in which bodies relate to craft. It reaches into the crevices between creative practice, form and crafting and traces boundaries between interior and exterior. Through exploring a diverse range of embodied craft practices, it considers the corporeal aspects of crafting, of how bodies participate, labour, and speak back in the act of making. 

In a poetic response to artist Alexi Marshall’s ‘The Party’, writer Jess Payn considers how bodies inhabit group spaces and impact on their environments; Bodies sometimes behave differently in crowds, partaking in murmurations of movement, performance, dance, or a jumbled jostle on a busy street – they are repeatedly made and unmade by their environments. Payn’s piece draws out the carnivalesque elements of ‘The Party’, exploring the ways intimacy’s dual promise of intimacy and threat of violence is foregrounded in this scene of communion and cluttered limbs. Making and performing are revealed as inherently embodied, collective acts through which we process the world around us. 

From the way bodies work in social gatherings or intimate encounters, to the ways in which bodies work in capitalist systems – artist Johanna Unzueta states that ‘[h]ands are tools for me’ and her current exhibition, Tools for Life at Modern Art Oxford, unpicks the intrinsic relationship between the body and processes of labour, practice and industry. Cecilia Rosser’s exhibition review reflects on how the industrial is humanised, what craftsmanship means for the individual working body, and how the labour practices craft the labouring body within Unzueta’s body of work. 

Sofia Carreira Wham reviews ‘Threading Forms’, an exhibition curated by Candida Stevens. This exhibition saw live demonstrations of weavers, live machine and hand stitching demonstrations, showing how bodies participate in making, the labour, concentration and rhythm of crafting, stitching and weaving. Whether it’s the politics of labour, or the fundamental human right of freedom of choice over what happens to your body; the body is a political space. Artist Giacinta Frisillo presents ‘the feminine mistake’, reflecting on healthcare and the right to inhabit and have control over one’s own body in a contorted American system that still, forty-seven years after the landmark Roe v. Wade case, is a relentless battle for freedom of choice and power. 

The body is in constant conversation with the world around it. Violetta Liszka works with wire sculptures, photography and poetry to explore the boundaries between human interiority and the exterior forces that shape emotional and bodily experience in her project ‘Je est un autre’. Xuan Ma’s jewellery work also plays with the boundaries of the body, offering playful and intimate glimpses of ‘private views’ of the body. Using geometric shapes and reflective, mirrored surfaces, body parts are shown within the jewellery pieces to highlight these beautiful abstractions. 

Embodied processes of making are at the heart of Enam Gbewonyo’s practice, which opens up a space to both critique racist capitalist discourse and enact processes of healing and renewal. Ahead of Gbewonyo’s performance ‘The Unbinding: a Restorative Act in Two Halves’ – which takes place on 15th April at Two Temple Place as part of the ‘Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles’ exhibition – we take a closer look at the work of this exciting up and coming textile and performance artist. 

Human and non human bodies come together in ethical collective acts of making in the work of Tomas Saraceno, currently on display at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and reviewed for this issue by Jade French; the tiny webbed worlds that are spun by spiders reflect the interconnected natural and man-made structures that our bodies are bound up in, systems and processes that feel increasingly fragile at this moment in time. Saraceno’s work reminds us of not only of our common humanity, but also of our interdependence with the non human and the natural world – as French’s review highlights, ‘the woven patterns that we mimic in craft and making practices are a homage to the biological patterns we pass by and through’. 

We hope you enjoy this collection, reflecting on the physicality of crafting, the work our bodies do, and the power to move and be moved that they hold.