In the SEWNUP project five artists have produced artworks that respond to their investigations into the tension between the beauty, comfort and social identity provided by textiles and clothing products on one hand and either questionable aspects of the product cycle or are assessments of the handmade on the other. In Stage 1 April 2020 three artists Linda Adair, Eloise Maree and Tom Isaacs exhibited and sought audience engagement at Lyttleton Stores.
Due to the Covid-19 limitations on gathering stage one was an exhibition without publicity. It was an incidental art experience to your shopping for food and groceries. One of the works was intended to be seen best from the outside as an incidental experience when getting your exercise.
In November 2020 stage two of the exhibition was held involving the additional artists, the collaborative team of Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig, and the textile artist Tess Rapa. The online catalogue of the exhibition and an essay by Elin Howe about the show was also launched.
List of Artists and Works in Stage One of the Project:
My mother is a quilter. She has been makingquilts for as long as I can remember. She has made numerous quilts for me andother members of my family over the years. There’s one on my bed right now thatmy mother made for my wife and I as a wedding present. It keeps us warm atnight. These quilts are tangible expressions of love and warmth. They are worksof art, but they are also made to be used.
The six quilts I’ve made for this exhibition(with help from my mother) are a way of thinking through my experience ofdepression as well as an expression of my desire for healing whether medical orspiritual. Living with depression can feel deathly – as if you're not reallyalive. Having been depressed for so long, and tracing it back to my childhood,in some ways it feels as though I was stillborn. It’s as if I neversuccessfully came into life in the first place.
My mother belongs to a group of quilters who makesmall quilts for stillborn babies so that their family have something to wrapthe babies in. Inspired by this idea, I decided to make quilts for myself as astillborn baby. In these works, I have combined references to psychoanalysis,medicine, spirituality, religion, and art to speak to themes of depression andhealing, death and resurrection.
Although these works are very personal, I hopethey speak beyond the particulars of my situation. I don’t know if I’m the onlyperson with depression who does this, but I tend to have a pretty pessimisticview of life and I often draw parallels between my experience of depression andthe human condition more generally. In particular, I think these works speak tothe burden of mortality that we all share. As Samuel Beckett wrote in Waitingfor Godot, “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams aninstant, then it's night once more.”
Caducità’s Children connects Eloise’s photographic art practice to the needlepersons’ practice Within putatively innocuous garments past as well as present are chemical toxins purposely used in their manufacture. These toxins can cause illness if not death.
In 1824, Giacomo Leopardi (an Italian philosopher and poet and literary romanticist), wrote Dialogo Della Moda E della Morte (Dialogue Between Fashion and Death). Within Dialogue,fashion’s personification calls out to death’s personification; “don’t you recognise me?” she says, “I’m Fashion, your sister… we are both Caducità’s daughters”. Caducità, which translates as Caducity,means the quality of being transitory or perishable. Even in 1824 Leopardi was well aware that fashion could be fatal.
Within Caducità’s Children, a maker and wearer of textiles and or clothes fashion has been photographed using multiple exposures. The sitter is transitory, perishable (perished?) and cadaverous yet also seductive, just as fashion and its fron tpeople are.
To make her aluminotypes(camera-original, wet plate process positives) Eloise used a silver nitrate sensitising solution. This 7% solution is toxic (it’s corrosive), as are mercury, arsenic, perchloroethylene and other chemicals used historically as well as now to groom fur, dye fabrics, dry clean and more. Eloise’s aluminotypes are suffused with silver nitrate artefacts, a bi or secondary product of the photographic process used. Artefacts are invisible until the final stage of fixing a photograph, just as contaminants are to makers and wearers of textiles and clothes fashion.
 See Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David for a comprehensive analysis.
Enslaved labour – so called Modern Slavery – is instrumental to the global economic paradigm of capitalist consumption. Over the past 30 years, enslavement of vulnerable workers has spread throughout the world in a wide range of products to fit the demands of first world consumption.
The garment industry has become one of the main offenders and Dhaka in Bangladesh is the garment making centre of the world. Fashion businesses from prestige to bargain basement brands have depended on cheap labour and just-in-time supply chains using outsourced labour which is hard to monitor and control. The exploitation and coercion of women and children to work for slave wages is rampant in the garment making industry. As a poet and an artist, I am committed to raising my voice to discuss issues impacting those people without a voice, especially where gender inequities are at play which cause women to suffer. In this work I want to draw people’s attention to the ongoing struggle for transparency in supply chains and compliance to be required of companies sourcing garments from vulnerable people in the poorest nations such as Bangladesh which desperately needs the industry but in safe conditions for living wages.
Behind Closed Doors depicts the collapse of the Rana Plaza Building on 24 April 2013. This was the worst event among many disasters where garment workers were injured or killed due to appalling working conditions in poorly built factories, which lack even adequate fire exits to allow people to escape in an emergency. In recognition of 7th anniversary occurs on 24 April 2020, I have taken an image of the collapsed building and manipulated it, combining it with my drawing of one of the millions of women who continue to work in sweat shops to support their families, just like the 1,132 Bangladeshi women who lost their lives that dreadful day. The heavy steel door framing the work is symbolic of women’s enslavement in an industry where the owners of factories are men who frequently abuse them. Alongside this door is frame of the door from a demolished building, which holds the poem of the same name and signifying that the only way out of enslavement is via the support of first world consumers to call for mandated transparency to comply with Modern Slavery legislation.