Drawing on personal experience and folkloric myths, Anna Perach uses a traditional craft technique called tufting to create wearable sculptures that come to life during performances in front of a live audience.… A Creative Conversation: Stéphanie Ruth & Anna Perach
Tussar, Chanderi, Kanjeevaram, Bandini, Patola – these are names I would often hear around me while growing up in India, and I remember vividly the accompanied excitement that these words would conjure, and the all-consuming beauty and vibrancy that would follow.… Practice-based: Aninda Varma
Explore Sibande’s alter-ego, the domestic servant Sophie Ntombikayise, who emanates and is entangled by sprawling, supernatural roots of purple fabric…… ‘Always in the Middle’: Unpicking the Fabric of Domesticity with Mary Sibande
My current body of work examines witch trials and witch-persecution, in European history, and as a metaphorical lens through which to explore some of the fears and prejudices of our own time.
I know that the absolute truth of past events is inaccessible. All I am doing is reflecting my own fantasies, attitudes and prejudices, using whatever shards of information I have managed to gather. Sue Rowley writes, in her introduction to ‘Reinventing Textiles: Tradition and Innovation’, that in these times, ‘[t]he authority of history [is] challenged; histories are understood now to be partial, constructed narratives which cannot substantiate a claim to be disinterested, unified or conclusive.’
There is something about a series of flimsy narrative threads being pulled together into a compositional whole, being knotted firmly into place, as it were, that is at the heart of what I am trying to do. The further I progress in researching and making work on this subject, the more I know that I am just grasping at the edges of something. ‘Witch-hunting’ can be viewed from a historical, but also psychological, political, or even theological point of view. I end up working with scraps of folklore, mythology and often legal documentation reflecting the history of witch-persecution, in England and across Europe.
A number of the works in ‘The Witchcraft Series’ commemorate individual women, tried and condemned by English courts in the Early Modern period. The tapestries, made using a hybrid of knotting and woven tapestry technique, illustrate testimonies from witnesses or the accused, and sometimes from their young children. My source material is the trial documentation of these individuals. Does it represent the accounts of the women themselves? These were mostly illiterate, poor women, and their testimonies were recorded by literate, male court officers. The ambiguity of these voices, and the question of whose stories were actually being recounted, is part of what interests me.
I use primary historical text whenever possible. This can involve a kind of archeology, as I try to decipher lines of print in court testimonies, from ancient books, facsimiles or faded photocopies. In her book The Witch in History, Diane Purkiss writes, ‘[w]hich stories sound likely?…Why accuse this woman and not that woman? The fragmentary narratives of witchcraft are already absurd; they are torn even where apparently most whole.’ 
These fragments of narrative are like shards of pottery I have unearthed, which might be pieced together to give an indication of an individual story or larger discourse. Flashes of dramatic storytelling emerge. People accuse each other of making milk curdle, of harming children and consorting with the devil. I respond to these dramas by slowly shaping each letter of a printed phrase, translating it from my design cartoon into warp and weft.
The history of witch-persecution provides numerous examples of humanity’s inhumane behaviour, and I’m making these pieces at a time when widespread peace and prosperity feel less than assured. Incidents of hate-crime are being widely reported, and outsiders are being treated with hostility and aggression. The willingness to turn on the “other” when times were difficult was a fundamental aspect of historic witch-persecution, and the shadows of such events fall directly over contemporary discourse. The sense of powerlessness, uncertainty and fear arouses echoes of the past.
Why I should then feel compelled to create something visually arresting, even sometimes beautiful, reflecting on brutality, fear, oppression and negative aspects of human history, is another question. I do believe that textiles can provide a powerful means of drawing the viewer in, with seductive materials, colour and composition, perhaps encouraging them to pause and read a deeper meaning into what is being presented.
I also sometimes introduce references to modern science, as a comment on the way it is depicted as strange, dark and sinister ‘witchcraft’ in modern-day thinking.
My work has always been concerned with breaking out of the convention which associates textiles and woven tapestry with a sense of cosiness and comfort, the domestic and the ‘feminine’. From the beginning of my career I have made work which introduced elements of irony, or made the viewer think about the issues I was raising, while also presenting an object which was visually arresting.
My current practice also includes writing, curating and public speaking.
Text revised from ‘The Witchcraft Series: I’ll just leave this here…’ in A. Jackson, Witch, Hexe, Sorciere: Works from the Witchcraft Series (2017)
 S. Rowley, ‘Craft, Creativity and Critical Practice’ in Reinventing Textiles, Vol. 1: Tradition and Innovation (Bristol: Telos Art Publishing, 199), p. 6.
 D. Purkiss, The Witch in History (London: Routledge, 1966), p. 62.
by Anne Jackson
Follow Anne on Facebook (Anne Jackson: The Witchcraft Series) and @knotgirl1 #CertaineWytches on twitter)
A Doorway In
As I settled into my new routine, I began to explore the country, visiting Loch Lomond and the Hebrides, the Highlands and Orkney. While I felt such joy in each new place, I still had trouble connecting to the place-specific energy of the land. And so, I developed A Doorway In as a way to reflect upon my relation to this new place and also to experience more deeply the land around me.
My artistic background is primarily dance based. Therefore, I began by finding quiet places to improvise dance. This developed into a regular practice in which I would find small subtle ways to dance in new environments. I noticed that the movement was different in each place because I needed to respond differently to the landscape. This was my doorway into the energy of the land.
When I was not travelling, I began to explore different artforms as doorways inward. I began with my long-time fiber art practice, knitting, spinning and weaving. These are slow and methodical, therefore meditative, artforms and thus provided me with an opportunity to center and ground into my own energy. To this I added a new artform, sculpture. I picked this up in order to give form to the archetypal character, The Figure at the Gate, who stands at the entrance to ritual space and asks the participant to release all things but the true self before entering in. Working with the shaping of the clay and forming a relationship with each statue as my hands worked helped me to enact that letting go. Finally, I turned my focus to the processes of felting using locally sourced wool and naturally dying fabrics.
For the felting, I took inspiration from the waulking traditions of the Hebrides and created large felted wool pieces. For the natural dying, I used recycled materials and food scraps to impart designs and colors. These crafting traditions all felt like ties to the past, using slow processes and materials at hand to create lasting and useful works. Little has changed in the form and function of each tradition and the magic(k) associated with them over centuries of time. The process of creating something with the hands links the crafter with the creation and reflects the inner and outer landscapes experienced by the artist, making them tangible.
Into the felted pieces I incorporated the use of a symbol from Celtic stone carvings, the triskele, a three-armed spiral pattern. The triskele opened yet a deeper doorway into discovery of the land, bringing the practice full circle. One of the many modern mythological associations with the triskele is to the concept of the Three Realms of Celtic myth: Land, Sea and Sky. These are a form of the elements of life, most often seen as Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, also including the Spirit in many traditions. In the case of the Three Realms, they relate more specifically to the landscape of Britain and Ireland which is mountainous and windswept and high cliffs connect the sky and the sea to the land. The process can be used with any symbol but the use of the triskele which has more localized links allowed me to explore in a more connected way. I began to focus my improvisations on the connection to Land, Sea and Sky and I found within that practice my own link to the land and to myself.
After a year of this creative operation linked so closely with my spiritual practice, I began to notice the patterns of the year and the seasons and felt a deeper connection to the new place in which I found myself. The early stages of this project, as it is still ongoing, culminated in an exhibition of examples of work and videos of the improvisations in a gallery setting that I transformed for the purpose of ritual. Now the process continues and is likely to for a long time if not forever. Endlessly changeable, I have found this intention-driven practice of self-discovery through art to be a perfect way to create while looking both outward and inward seeking connection.
A Doorway In is an artistic ritual practice that developed from a long-term project in which my goal was to connect to the land through my spiritual practice of Paganism and magic(k). Having recently moved to Scotland from the United States and from rural to city living, I struggled to find satisfaction in a new and different landscape. As incredibly beautiful and exciting as I found my new surroundings, I had much more difficulty connecting with the unfamiliar land than I expected being that I wanted to live in Scotland for many years particularly for the landscape. Much of my eclectic spiritual practice was derived from the folklore that inhabits the area and I, mistakenly, believed that the transition from my old home to my new would be a simple and straightforward one. How wrong I was.
Christopher Croucher is an artist, dancer, and long-time practicing Pagan currently living and working in Massachusetts in the United States. Having lived in Scotland for an extended period and hoping to do so again, he is a recent graduate of the Master of Letters Program in the pathway of Performance during which he developed for himself the process presented in A Doorway In. With a background in classical and modern dance technique, fiber art and other eclectic media, and particularly in nature-based spirituality, Croucher’s artwork is an amalgam incorporating all of these in varying degrees to create experiences for the viewer. His aim is to make work that acts as a Doorway into…
To see more work and to contact the artist, Christopher can be reached at:
‘Machina Incantatii’ (latin for ‘Spell Machine’) was conceived to explore the question of how digital tools can be used to create and introduce spiritual experiences by emulating a magical ritual of spell writing. Creation of individualised texts can inspire users to explore their thoughts and find answers within themselves through interpreting the short texts. By associating the output with a request by the user to the machine, trying to find meaning in the relation of the output to the input, it can help the user to find an answer to what they are looking for. Written words can make up things and thus create new meanings and thoughts.
‘Machina Incantatii’ is a wall hanging made of conductive yarns and fabrics that combines physical and representational materials into an interface for a magical ritual. Each individual is encouraged to select one element and one planet for their personal incantation by touching the conductive patches on the cloth. Based on the assigned powers of the selected items, the digital shrine generates a spell.
A combination of ‘old’ periodic alignments (the stars) with ‘new’ periodic alignments (the Markov Chain) leads to a poetic generation of texts. The outcomes are unique and personal non-linear verses. The Markov Chain is a statistical model often used in natural language processing (the automatic generation of texts), where sentences are generated word for word. The sequence is based on the likelihood of all possible words which could follow each previous word. All possible words are based on existing texts which have been written for and assigned to each planet and element.
The work was knitted and stitched from different fabrics, threads and e-textiles. E-textiles are able to conduct electricity while having all properties and form of normal fabrics. To use soft materials for the interface and crafting it by hand was chosen to present a contrast to stereotypical images of mass-produced technology being cold, rigid and slick. Soft and textured surfaces are inviting to be touched. The physical activity of having to move the arms to reach out to the selected patches, which is necessary due to the size of the wall hanging in relation to a human, can be observed as ritualistic movements.
Similarly to the Markov Chain which stitches word for word to form a poem, the fabric is embroidered and stitched together, layering different fragments of information. Conductive yarns hold the piece together and thus its visual information, textiles, the user’s choice and the algorithm. Information flows through the piece, which is reassembled into new information through the algorithm and the output is displayed as the magic spell back to the user.
Anna Nolda Nagele is an experience designer and PhD candidate in Media and Arts Technology at Queen Mary University London, where she is researching human-machine communication and the identities of digital subjects through storytelling. Her practice evolves around the creation of narratives in new media that imagine different realities. Most recently she has worked on an Audio Augmented Reality experience research project for BBC R&D; and on the development of wearable technology for female intimacy and sensuality. Anna exhibited projects at Ars Electronica Festival 2019 (Linz, Austria) and Cuntemporary EcoFutures Festival 2019 (London, UK). She graduated from the MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins in 2016 with a thesis on storytelling for change.
Back in 2013, when it was announced that Hull would be the UK City of Culture in 2017, an Arts Editor at the Times tweeted ‘Hull for UK City of Culture 2017. *blank*’, adding, by way of an explanation, that they knew ‘nothing about Hull…nothing at all’. This attitude is, of course, typical of London-centric arts media, but it also speaks of a wider cultural contempt for a post-industrial Northern city that has struggled to find a place and an identity in the twenty-first century. Battling deprivation, economic decline and austerity, Hull has suffered from a lack of opportunities, hope, and vision. The City of Culture year gave its reputation a much-needed boost, as well as an injection of cash and a 365-day diverse programme of events that inspired confidence and creativity throughout the city. Yet some local artists criticised the organisers for focussing too much on big budget spectacles that brought in artists from outside the city and not enough on supporting long-established grassroots arts and culture organisations. Although the media might not know it, Hull has long been a creative city with a distinct voice. Poet Philip Larkin, a resident of Hull for thirty years, summed it up as a ‘a city that is in the world yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance’.
Hull-based artist Ella Dorton’s fabric portraits creatively capture the unique spirit of the city’s residents, giving a voice to those who have been left behind by society and, indeed, by the City of Culture year. Using recycled textiles and a collage-based technique, Dorton pieces together images of people in their homes, captured as they sit on the sofa discussing their life stories, dreams, and fears. Through the use of discarded textiles and the depiction of marginalised, working-class people, Dorton challenges the conventions of portraiture; her work disrupts the gallery and picks at the boundaries between art and craft, private and public space.
For her recent exhibition ‘Journey to the Centre of the Couch (Couches & Other Good Ideas)’, she transformed the Humber Street Gallery into a living room: the stitched fabric scenes were hung to form a long circular wall, creating an intimate space which invited the viewer to get close to Dorton’s subjects and their stories. Cushions and lamps enhanced this atmosphere; Dorton wanted visitors to ‘relax, sit down, and feel at home’. Dorton is skilled at connecting domestic scenes to larger narratives of social inequality, late capitalism and ecological crisis. Her subjects voice their own sense of being implicated in challenges faced by the wider world, with one woman, a recovering heroin addict, explaining that ‘I can relate to the destruction of the planet because of my own destruction of my own body’. Many of Dorton’s subjects express ‘[grief] at the state of the planet’, fear, and depression but there is also a clear sense of hope, recovery, and care running throughout the work.
Building community is at the heart of Dorton’s practice: she is a founder of Ground, an artist-run workshop and community space, and works on a number of community arts initiatives, including Mad Pride (2017), a project that aimed to ‘talk about how mad our world really is, about all the inequality and injustice, greed and violence, and how all this madness so often makes us unwell’ and ‘bring people together so we can help one another better navigate all this madness and build together a more beautiful world’.
I caught up with Ella to find out more about her practice, methods, and motivation…
Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
My name is Ella Dorton, I’m 28, from Hull. I’m a care-worker, and I co-run ‘Ground’- a community arts and activist space in Hull, with a bunch of friends. I am also an artist!
Tell us a bit about ‘Journey into the Centre of the Couch (Couches and Other Good Ideas)’, your current exhibition at Humber St Gallery – how did it come about? What inspired you to create this show?
In previous years, I’d been making large fabric portraits of people in my community, as well as fictional dystopian scenes of Hull flooded, an ocean of plastic etc. When Humber street gallery asked me to make some art for a show, I had an idea to combine these two ideas: I wanted to make portraits of people in Hull, and somehow incorporate some fantasy, slipping in bits of our conversations together and ideas they had about the world, in picture or word form. I found my sitters just by asking or being asked, often through Ground and ORTs (a sewing group for vulnerable women).
I started with a woman called Cassie, who comes to Ground. I went to her house a few times, and we drank tea together, ate a bit, and I drew her and wrote down snippets of conversation we had. Cassie wanted her life describing with 4 animals, which represent different parts in her life: adventuring, her victorious battle with heroin, losing her son. Other people were less pictorial and conversations were directly stitched or painted onto the work.
Climate change is on my mind, and I have been trying to figure out a way to talk about it through my art for a while. I didn’t expect that it would come out so naturally in many of the conversations I had with people I drew, so the work inevitably became a lot about that, as well as other subjects: motherhood, homelessness, addiction.
I planned to make 6 of these portraits, and sew them into a circular room that you could relax, sit down and feel at home in [the gallery].
The use of old bedsheets and scraps of material is so effective, what motivated you to use these textiles?
The fabric is all used. I like the aesthetic of using worn fabric; when someone gives you a pile of clothes there are loads of colours and patterns in there that I might not have chosen myself, which pushes the work in different directions and gives me a big range to choose from. The worn-out-ness of the fabric matches the worn-out-ness of peoples’ homes and lives. I like to recognise bits in the work….there’s my dad’s shirt, there’s Sally’s scarf, a bit of so-and-so’s sweaty shirt armpit there – and I think other people enjoy this too.
It’s important to me to make art out of scrap instead of buying new stuff. The fabric industry causes something like 10% of all greenhouse gases, the making, washing and disposing of it, as well as loads of other harmful effects on the environment, and the people that make it.
It also means, of course, that making the art is virtually free (except for glue, thread, and machine upkeep), meaning I can sustain myself on a low wage.
What drew you to the concept of home and the everyday? Do you view the domestic as an inherently political space?
I like drawing people in their own homes: the home is an extension of someone’s personality, and you can get to know a person through their stuff, their taste in décor, their messiness. In the home, people are in their own habitat, their own territory, and are often more relaxed and up for chatting. They can also seem more vulnerable and exposed, depending on the person and how they feel having someone coming into their space. I make good friends this way.
I find a lot of beauty in the mundane, and enjoy drawing people doing everyday tasks, eating, cleaning, sleeping – we all do these things (or we should), yet we do them so differently.
I love the way you stitched the voices of the community into the fabric. How important are issues of class and community in your practice?
I was brought up on North Bransholme, which is a council estate in North Hull. It had a bad reputation but it was a great place to grow up, because there was a lot of green space and not many cars. My parents are middle class from the South, and when I was younger I felt embarrassed of that, not wanting to be seen as ‘posh’ (there’s a lot of reverse snobbery going on). I’ve always found class a massively interesting and difficult subject to talk about, I find the diversity in people’s taste and culture in the UK a wonderful and interesting thing. However, I have seen pretty horrendous poverty in Hull, and a whole host of social issues that arise from that poverty and startling inequality. I’m trying to find a way to talk about it through art. The way I’m doing so at the moment is by talking to people and sharing peoples’ stories and ideas about the world. I started by asking my neighbours if I could go round and draw them, as a way of getting to know them and feeling part of a community. People usually seem to quite like being drawn, being seen as ‘art-worthy’ and interesting when often they don’t think they are. It’s exciting to be able to make and show work about these people and their ideas.
Finally, could you describe the work of Ground and what it means to you to be a part of an arts collective & community space?
I set up Ground with some friends about 4 years ago, we really didn’t know what we were doing. We found out about a building that hadn’t been in use for a good 5 years and needed a lot of attention, and we loved it back to life. Thankfully, a lot of people were up for helping us out, and a pretty solid community around Ground grew.
It’s situated on Beverley road, which is the main street into and through Hull, a street drinking hot-spot. Ground is opposite a methadone dispensary unit and a giant mattress shop, and next door to a Kurdish shisha bar. It’s an unusual place to have a gallery but we like that as we get a lot of different people through the door.
Ground is a space for art and activism, we run workshops, gigs, exhibitions, talks, and have studios upstairs. I love being part of an arts collective but it’s been hard work, it’s emotionally demanding and the organisational and admin stuff can be heavy at times. The best thing about it is teasing art out of people who think they can’t draw or make things, and collaborating together – the walls and ceilings are jam packed with peoples’ art and words.
Interview by Lottie Whalen
The embroidery works of Lithuanian artist Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė takes texture to a new level. She takes metal as her starting point – buckets, spades, even cars – and stitches into them. Challenging the domestic association with embroidery, these found objects are placed into the public realm. The kitsch cosiness that Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė associates with cross-stitching is given a twist as she pokes through metal gives new life to discarded objects. She draws on a post-Soviet landscape in Lithuania in her work, as she writes on her website “in the postwar years, our grandmothers stitched tablecloths in the villages, and the paths were so decorated, and in the Soviet era, our mothers made crossed cushions and napkins through household lessons”. This intergenerational skill-sharing is then developed in her practice, to question sentimentality and access to embroidery practices. She doesn’t want to make “private kitsch for private interiors” but rather expose the work, patience and mindfulness that goes into the cross-stitch practice. Taking the floral designs from hobby magazines, these “popular culture citations” make us look back at the origins of the techniques. These established traditions recontextualise the objects they adorn – whether that’s on broken gun shells or metal spoons. Imbued with new use, these forgotten objects might tap into a nostalgic aesthetic but actually point us towards history in a new way.
Words: Jade French
All photos: Modestas Ežerskis.
Olivia Domingos on combining textiles and simple messages to create an intervention… Living in a city can be tough – the constant rushing around sometimes tipping into anxiety. What if, whilst you were staring at the back of someone’s head on the bus, you were asked ‘Are You Okay?’. Would that help? Would it remind you to take a little more time to practice self-care? Jade French caught up with Olivia to explore this and some of her other work too…