Sunday 29 October 2023

British Textile Biennial - Lancashire 2023 - Part 2

#End_of_empire - Eva Sajovic

#End_of_empire - Eva Sajovic

#End_of_empire - Eva Sajovic
Inside Column, Knitted Words, My Word, Yarns

This is Part 2 of my run through of the British Textile Biennial and I'm starting with Eva Sajovic's #End_of_Empire exhibition at Nelson Technology Centre.  This exhibition was recommended to me at one of the other exhibitions I visited and I didn't think I'd be able to fit it in but I'm so glad I did.  The exhibition comprised a number of machine knitted doric columns with imagery taken from the Parthenon.  You can walk inside the columns and trigger a soundscape which was achieved in collaboration with musician and artist, Nicola Privato. Sajovic's work looks at colonialism, the role of the artist in envisaging alternative futures, and the use of artificial intelligence.  Here the imagery of imposing stone in phallic form is reimagined as soft textiles suggesting an alternative feminine future.  The work has also been achieved by involving the local community, as well as working with  Nicola Privato, in developing the imagery and sounds in relation to project prompts.  

Sajovic combines old and new technology in her work.  A knitting machine from the 60s and 70s has been hacked to connect to a computer which will translate the pixels of imagery into knitting stitches and she uses AI to develop the soundscape.  In using and developing AI in her work and bringing it to an audience she hopes to promote better understanding of AI and the need to develop rules/ways to contain it for a better future.

Another aspect of the exhibition was to ask visitors to think of words that came to mind while looking round.  Then, under the guidance of Beth Claxton, who also helped to knit the columns, those visitors were able to knit their word on the knitting machine and take it away with them.  This was achieved by the participant handwriting the word which was photographed and imported into Photoshop where it could be edited to make it clearer.  Next it was imported into a program that would convert it to a knitting pattern for the knitting machine based on the pixels making up the word.  The participant could choose colours from the wool available to generate their word.  It was all done amazingly quickly and Beth made the process seem very easy.  I chose the word "Surprise" which I was able to take away as a reminder of this amazing exhibition.

Christine Borland - Projection Cloth

Christine Borland's exhibition had 2 elements to it.  Firstly she had woven a projection cloth made of fustian - a fabric with a cotton warp and a linen weft, historically associated with Lancashire.  The flax for the project was grown by Borland and others.  The cotton came from Malawi.  Borland hand wove the fustian in the Cruck Barn at Pendle Heritage Centre on a loom built into the barn's structure.  This was then used as a screen onto which 4 films were projected that detailed the process of growing and spinning the flax and the cotton.  Unfortunately I didn't have time to watch all of these but you can access the narrative of the films here. Links to witchcraft through the textile practices of spinning and weaving and imagery of old hags as witches resonate with the local area where 10 women and 1 man were hanged for witchcraft in 1612.

You can listen to the Cloth Cultures podcast where Eva Sajovic and Christine Borland talk to writer, broadcaster and fashion historian, Amber Butchart, about their work here.

Back at Blackburn Cathedral, Material Memory was a very moving exhibition about textile items that resonated with members of the public and had been loaned by them.  They included items of celebration, tradition, sport, music, handicraft and more.  It was fascinating selection of memories held in cloth.  Here is a small but wide ranging sample of them with a brief description explaining their meaning...

Caroline Eccles - Embroidery Journal 2022

Caroline Eccles embroidered an ikon to represent each day in 2022.

Blackburn Rovers Football Shirt Selection - The Robinson Family
1980s to 2023

The Robinson family have a vast collection of Blackburn Rovers Football shirts which hold many memories from away games in Manchester to trips to Everton where the whole family were given match worn shirts.  They include shirts worn by legends Alan Shearer and Graham Le Saux.

Knitted Armadillo - Janet Ross - 1980s

Janet Ross was a keen knitter from the 1980s onwards when she bought a Patricia Roberts pattern book containing an armadillo pattern.  Twenty five years later she knitted this Armadillo to keep busy and stay positive whilst having chemotherapy for a cancer diagnosis.  She used up lots of scraps from her former knitting projects.

Embellished Bridal Outfit - Zara Saghir - 1992

This was Zara Saghir's mother's (Ghazala Khatoon's) wedding dress.  Ghazala had an arranged marriage and travelled to a small village in Azad Kashmir to marry Zara's father, Saghir Hussein.  Her pink wedding dress, unlike the traditional red bridal attire caused quite a stir and she remembers feeling like a film star on her wedding day.

New Order Blackburn Banner - Mark Tennant

This banner connects to Blackburn's acid house music scene of the late 80s and early 90s.  Factory records held a weekly Hacienda club night with a Hacienda Blackburn banner hanging outside the venue.  This banner fell into Mark Tennant's hands and as a fan of New Order, whose sound was a big part of the Blackburn and Manchester club scene, he repurposed it to say New Order Blackburn.  The banner had many outings.  This particular banner is the third reincarnation of the original as Mark continues his love of Blackburn's musical legacy.

Ghanaian Kente Cloth - Joyce Addai-Davis 2007

Owning a Ghanaian Kente cloth is a privilege showing a respect for family heritage and wealth. Joyce's grandma bought her Kente cloth in 1962 to mark her coming of age and the birth of her first child.  Sixteen years ago Joyce bought her own Kente cloth from the same town, Bonwire, Ghana that her Grandma's came from to honour her family tradition.  She keeps hers in its original condition.

Dressing Gown - Pat Flemming - 1940s

Pat Flemming's mother made this embroidered dressing gown in the 1940s.  Sadly Pat's mother died when Pat was 21.

The other exhibition in the Cathedral was Common Threads.  These embroidered panels were stitched by three groups of women in Pendle, Burnley and Karachi introduced by textile artist, Alice Kettle, who has a long-standing relationship with the Ra’ana Liaquat Craftsmen’s Colony (RLCC) in Karachi where local women produce beautiful up-cycled products.  During the pandemic Alice Kettle met with RLCC online to stitch images of home and belonging.  She then arranged for Lancashire women from the South Asian diaspora to meet with those from Karachi online to share stories from home.  Participants from Community Arts by ZK in Pendle and the Bangladesh Welfare Association in Burnley then worked with artist Rabia Sharif to stitch their stories too...

Common Threads

Common Threads - detail

Common Threads

Common Threads - detail

Ibukun Baldwin's Funufactury at Prism Contemporary in Blackburn was a denim fest.  Using waste from the denim line at the Cookson & Clegg factory in Blackburn, Baldwin created a denim room populated by some Funfacturers who embody a joyful making spirit and encourage you to stitch and fix and add to the denim environment.  Two Afghan women refugees - Palwasha and Razma were hired to assist her.  

Ibukun Baldwin - Funufacturer

Ibukun Baldwin - Funufactury

Ibukun Baldwin - Funufactury

Baldwin is also the founder of the fashion brand Bukky Baldwin Ltd who provide training and work experience for marginalised groups.  These people may not have the qualifications and language skills needed for other areas of employment but have the creativity and skills that are needed in Baldwin's company.

You can listen to the Cloth Cultures podcast where Ibukun Baldwin talks to writer, broadcaster and fashion historian, Amber Butchart, about her work here.

Moving on to Queen Street Mill Textile Museum, Burnley, we have Threadbare Narratives by Madhu.  Threadbare Narratives alludes to the dark history of the Lancashire cotton industry.  This exhibition is the culmination of a year long project where Madhu has visited museums in Lancashire, London and Manchester to see Kalamkari textiles and Chintz from South India looking at the block printing and natural dyeing that defines them.

Indian Chintz was a popular clothing choice in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The British wanted to capture these markets using the Lancashire skills in spinning and weaving.  As a result in the 1700s the Calico Acts were passed which effectively banned the import of most cotton goods into England.  Raw cotton was imported to Britain to kickstart the mechanised cotton manufacturing industry here.  The result was the collapse of India's overseas markets, and a slow loss of skills and heritage there.

Entangled - Madhu
Indian handloon & Khadi cotton dyed with Cutch and yarn from Queen St Mill

Madhu has made small talismanic pieces using hand stitch and Khadi cotton from India and calico and discarded threads from Queen Street Mill bringing together the entangled histories of Britain and India

Various Pieces - Madhu

Khadi is a handwoven cotton.  It's production was championed by Mahatma Gandhi in a bid for independence from British rule, self-sufficiency and national pride. This material is of personal significance to Madhu, in memory of her father who was an ardent Gandhian and chose Khadi and handloom cottons for his clothing.

The final exhibition that I am going to talk about here is Litmus by Natalie Linney also at Queen Street Mill Textile Museum.  The pieces exhibited were created during an artist residency earlier this year working with the Cottonpolis Collective (for details of this from the BTB website see below) and the Geography Laboratories. The exhibition consists of a series of large textile pieces that have been buried, suspended and submerged at 6 sites across Greater Manchester that were important to the cotton industry.  The cotton used in this exhibition was woven at the National Trust's Quarry Bank Mill with raw cotton imported from Louisiana, USA.  The fabric has been marked by microbial action and contaminants at the six sites as well as being dyed or stained by the earth and plant matter there.  The team have begun to stitch into the fabric to explore ideas of repair and connection.  There is an accompanying soundscape created by ZOIR which reflects the natural environment and industrial machinery at the selected sites.

The burying and unearthing of cotton to determine soil health is associated with the Shirley Institute, a centre for cotton research in Manchester.  The resulting amount of cellulose decomposition can be an indicator of processes going on in the soil.  It is also a metaphor for revealing troubling histories hidden from view.

Litmus - Natalie Linney

Litmus - Natalie Linney

Litmus (detail with stitching) - Natalie Linney

This exhibition was in the Weaving Shed where the number of looms was phenomenal.  You can glimpse them in the images above.  The noise must have been deafening!

The Cottonopolis Collective (Info from BTB website)

As the global epicentre of cotton production in the nineteenth century, Manchester became known as ‘Cottonopolis’. Though often celebrated as a city of innovation, Manchester’s cotton industry had far-reaching and problematic impacts. Manchester and towns across Lancashire were key hubs in the expansion of the United Kingdom’s colonial aspirations.

The Cottonopolis Collective is led by Dr Aditya Ramesh and Prof. Alison Browne at The University of Manchester. It brings together historians, human and physical geographers, social and environmental scientists, cultural organisations and artists to interrogate Manchester’s legacies as the first industrialising city. This research questions the expansion of global cotton markets through environmental science, which ultimately provided the cultural and scientific authority that underpinned colonial expansion, frontier agriculture, and colonial urbanisation across the globe.

Delving into the social and environmental histories of cotton unsettles the celebration of Manchester as a city of science and innovation. It begins to untangle the many ways that industrial Manchester impacted people and environments both near and far, as well as questioning the environmental knowledges it created.

You only have until 29 October to see these exhibitions. Do go if you can.  

My final blogpost about the British Textile Biennial will be about the Fragments Of Our Time Exhibition at the Whitaker Gallery in Rawtenstall but you have until 10 December 2023 to see that.

Saturday 28 October 2023

British Textile Biennial - Lancashire 2023 - Part 1

Victoria Udondian - Ofong Ufok

Fast fashion is not a new concept to the Lancashire textile industry.  The Industrial Revolution provided the technology and momentum to utilise human and natural resources from across the globe in a ruthless cycle of labour, manufacture and trade.  The colonial links that facilitated that industry still persist in ways revealed by the British Textile Biennial exhibitions particularly those which focus on the effects of fast fashion and the mountains of fashion waste that is exported to the Global South. Many of the exhibitions are held in buildings that had a key role in the Lancashire textile industry.

Poem by Hollie McNish

Fashion Revolution is the world's largest fashion activism movement.  Made up of producers, retailers, designers, academics, business leaders, policy makers, writers and fashion lovers, it aims to investigate human and environmental issues and concerns that exist within the fashion industry. With an exhibition of posters at  Helmshore Mills Textile Museum I learnt that the Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the largest landfill sites for fashion waste in the world. This clothing arrives through the Pacific port of Iquique in northern Chile mostly from the USA, UK and Europe. This phenomenon is known as waste colonialism where wealthy nations export their waste and pollution to poorer nations who rarely have the capacity to deal with it adequately.  This has led Fashion Revolution Chile to campaign with the slogan #DondeTerminaMiRopa (Where Do My Clothes End Up?) to encourage consumers to pressure brands to be more responsible about their levels of production and to get policies to stop clothing waste from adversely impacting local communities.  

Poems were also displayed indicating attitudes to fashion for example the poem by Hollie McNish (see above) which encourages you to consider fashion workers' employment conditions and the industy's environmetal impact and how if these issues aren't dealt with as they should be then you can't consider your clothes to be beautiful whatever they look like.

Disposable by Wilson Oryema

The poem above by Wilson Oryema highlights the throwaway attitude to modern fashion and the fact it is so cheap there's no incentive to repair it and once discarded it is taken to the other side of the world hopefully to be forgotten about although Wilson also talks about it returning to smother him.

Statistics are quoted showing that the number of garments produced annually has more than doubled since 2000 with an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste discarded annually much of which ends up in Africa and South America damaging ecosystems and communities.

Boots from Soft Acid by Tenant of Culture (Hendrickje Schimmel)

Also at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, in the Soft Acid exhibition, Tenant of Culture, aka Hendrickje Schimmel, was repurposing discarded fashion materials into new items and sculptures to highlight the waste and pollution at various stages of production, distribution and consumption in the fashion industry (see above and below)...

Denim Sculpture Highlighting the Use of Toxic Dyes - Tenant of Culture

At the Exchange in Blackburn, Nest Collective were showing a film - Return to Sender - within a structure made of textile waste.  In it they discussed how the textile waste from the Global North was still following past colonial connections from Europe to Africa destroying any indigenous textile industry and creating mountains of waste, creating a landfill problem.  A number of African countries had wanted to stop receiving this waste and to develop their own local textile industries but the USA threatened to rescind various favourable trade agreements if they did so meaning that, apart from Rwanda, the other African countries were unable to afford to do this because of the overall affect it would have on their economies. Nest Collective also discussed how the people in Africa buying this clothing did so because they couldn't afford anything else.  The type of clothing for sale could also be considered a form of colonial oppression as it is seen as "Dead White Men's Clothes".  This is what secondhand clothing from the Global North is referred to in Africa because why would they be getting rid of wearable clothes unless they were dead.

Nest Collective Film Studio

I choose to get a significant amount of my clothing from charity shops and online second hand clothing sites such as Vinted and Ebay but I don't have to do this and it made me consider how differently I might feel if this were a necessity rather than a choice.  There was much food for thought here.

Dead White Man - Jeremy Hutchison

The Nest Collective film linked nicely to the Dead White Man exhibition by Jeremy Hutchison at Tony's Ballroom, Blackburn.  Hutchison constructed a series of wearable sculptures from secondhand clothes and was filmed wearing them - performing the Dead White Man - in Senegal and London.  Hutchison had also worked with schools and community groups - largely young people - to create a horde of miniature zombies from secondhand clothes.  We are told that 75% of UK secondhand clothes donations are shipped to Africa and as 40% are worthless it creates a toxic landfill problem.  The Global North is using the Global South as a waste management solution that it is not equipped to deal with.

Dead White Man (Effigies) - Jeremy Hutchison & the Community

You can listen to the Cloth Cultures podcast where Sonny Dolat of the Nest Collective and Jeremy Hutchison talk to writer, broadcaster and fashion historian, Amber Butchart, about textile waste imperialism here.

Victoria Udondian - Ofong Ufok (detail)

Also on display at the Exchange was Victoria Udondian's Ofong Ufok (Cloth House) which is a monumental sculpture of secondhand clothing (see top image). It was made in conjunction with refugee and immigrant women who come together at Stitch Buffalo, a textile centre in New York, where these women can find economic empowerment through handicraft.  Making this piece allowed Victoria to bear witness to the women's stories and give them recognition.  One woman told Victoria "How can I be nobody and tell you my story." 

Ofong Ufok took about 3000 hours to complete over 5-6 months.  It also allowed Udondian to reflect on how most fast fashion is made in the Global South in repressive conditions and, when finished with, is exported back to the Global South, much of it ending up in landfill.  Udondian, who comes from Nigeria, has seen the environmental impact of this first hand.

You can listen to the Cloth Cultures podcast where Victoria Udondian talks to Amber Butchart about her work here.

Equilibrium Wind - Thierry Oussou

The Exchange in Blackburn was built in 1865 to sell raw cotton picked by enslaved Africans from plantations across the Atlantic, to Lancashire mill owners. Here on display is Thierry Oussou's Equilibrium Wind.  On the table in front of the flag, designed by Oussou in the red and green colours of the Benin flag, is raw cotton from Oussou's Benin plantation where he offers his workers better conditions than the bigger plantations in his country.  Benin is the biggest producer of cotton in Africa and most goes to Bangladesh for the fast fashion industry.  Oussou wants us to reflect on the complicated relationships that have existed and still exist in the textile industry and how that continues to affect both people and the environment. 

Sample of Penistone Cloth

In Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery was a small sample of Penistone cloth which is a coarse, cheap, woollen cloth dyed with indigo and woven in West Yorkshire.  It is believed to be the only surviving sample of British made slave cloth. This sample was found in Derbyshire hidden amongst letters and accounts and was only identified by its original 18th Century label. We are told this was supplied to a slave owner in England as a sample for 410 yards of material he purchased to clothe the community of enslaved African people held at Turner’s Hall, Saint Andrew Parish, Barbados.

It remains a link between the millions of enslaved people in colonial plantations who were clothed in such textiles and the handloom weavers who made their living producing it. 

The Biennial tells us that the Lancashire textile industry was "the manufacturing hub connecting the profits of the enslavers, colonisers, and industrialists with the experiences of local textile workers, African captives whose lives were exchanged for British-made goods, Indigenous Americans massacred and marched from their homes to make way for cotton plantations, and South Asian spinners and weavers forced into poverty by colonial laws".

You only have until 29 October to see these exhibitions.  Do go if you can and do consider what you can contribute to a Fashion Revolution - #lovedclotheslast (coined by Orsola de Castro - cofounder and creative director of Fashion Revolution). So go ahead - rewear and repair!