Saturday 29 July 2023

Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress Performance Piece

Jenny Skinner wearing Fragment of a Dress by Hannah Lamb after the performance

In 2022 the Bronte Parsonage Museum commissioned textile artist Hannah Lamb to create a piece for them.  That piece was Fragment of a DressInspired by the museum's collection of small fragments of cloth associated with the Bronte family, especially Charlotte, and knowing that textiles and clothing are imbued with memories of special times in our lives, Hannah collected stories from museum visitors about items of clothing that they held dear. Each story took the form of a hand written note about the item and what it meant to them. Using these personal responses, Hannah and her students and colleagues stitched a series of embroidered panels onto silk organza, which Hannah then incorporated into the finished "Fragment of a Dress" which had a mid 19th century silhouette. It was on display at the Bronte Parsonage until the end of December 2022.

Here are some of the embroidered panels.  I would like to have seen what all the panels said.  I don't know if the panels were just a selection of the stories collected or all of them...


Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress (embroidered panel detail)

Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress (embroidered panel detail

Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress (embroidered panel detail

On the 1 July 2023 in the Spinning Mill attic at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, Hannah & Jenny created a performance piece of the deconstruction of Fragment of a Dress, returning it to fragments.  The Spinning Mill attic is an empty space full of atmosphere...

Spinning Mill attic

Hannah's cyanotype prints of the embroidered skirt were on display and a soundtrack was playing in the background...

Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress Cyanotype

Hannah Lamb - Fragment of a Dress Cyanotype

The dress, worn by Jenny Skinner, was cut into pieces by the audience.  This was achieved by Jenny handing a pair of scissors to each audience member, in turn, to cut a fragment after which Hannah stitched a certificate of authenticity onto each piece with her vintage hand operated sewing machine. Each fragment cutter could keep their fragment as a souvenir. The very first piece was cut by Hannah herself. She cut a sliver through several of the embroidered panels.  This seemed to give "permission" to cut a fragment however you chose.  Some cut slivers and some cut out whole embroidered panels.  These acts of deconstruction were filmed by Lucy Forrester of Proud Fox Studio.

Hannah Lamb's Vintage Sewing Machine

Hannah Lamb's Accoutrements

It was a very interesting performance - watching what people chose to cut and wondering what might become of the pieces.  I thought it was quite an act of faith on Hannah's part to see her beautiful and considered work "destroyed" in front of her (Hannah's use of the term "deconstruction" makes it seem less harsh).  I certainly found the responsibility of cutting into the piece a little unnerving.  I couldn't really concentrate on the soundtrack that was playing at the time and only caught "fragments" of what was being said.  I think it was the stories people had left her about their treasured clothing. 

Jenny Skinner & Hannah Lamb

A further performance happened later in the day.  I went to the first performance.  I particularly wanted to go to this as I hadn't been able to see the dress when it was on display at the Bronte Parsonage Museum.  I wanted to see it "whole" before it was deconstructed. I don't know if it is now completely "gone" or if there is more to fragment.  No doubt we will hear more from Hannah about its progress and I hope we will see the filmed outcome.   

I thought you might like to see the fragment I cut...

Fragment of a Dress: Fragment 3

I hope my fragment will go on to have a new life in something I make.