Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I want Cloth and I want Culture: Now Now Now

Believe it or not, dear reader, as well as scruffy student and blogger extrordinaire I also have a day job or two. Sometimes this means editing 'How to' guides, and sometimes it means writing trashy celebrity gossip. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get to do something pretty cool. Monday night was one of those times.

Monday was the opening of the Cloth and Culture Now exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre Gallery (UEA, Norwich) and feeling particularly underdressed I toddled along, invite in hand, to write a review of the exhibition for the Educational Centres Association. (Day Job #2) Cloth & Culture NOW investigates the links between contemporary textile practice, strong traditional practice and overlapping global influences. In effect, it bridges the gap between fashion and art, with textiles becoming both beautiful and unwearable.

Now, for all my hidden online bravado, this 'exciting' night was actually a pretty scary one for me. You see, i'm not especially good at conversing with large groups of people I don't know (but don't tell anyone, this will do my potential career as a journalist no good at all!) And the thought of walking into a room full of highbrow artsy people, who all seemed to be arriving in groups, terrified me. In fact I had to stand outside texting fellow blogger Becky who gave me an uplifting pep talk (come on Tor, you can do it!) for a good 5 minutes before I could enter the building.

Once inside, I applied my stern "serious reporter" business face and hiding behind my press pack (which contained £25 worth of free book, thank you very much) I meandered around the groups of people, notebook in hand, scribbling nothing in particular to make myself feel vaguely purposeful.

I soon settled into the crowd though, smiling at everyone with a name badge (they must be important, right?) and chatting to anyone who broke off from the crowd: it's easier to talk to one or two people than 20! Once I had found my groove, I was lucky enough to drink 4 glasses of champagne, eat an entire table full of chip'n'dip, and interview one of the artists exhibiting at the show. Freddie Robins works with knitted textiles as her primary medium, and she kindly let me ask her about her textile influences, and, more crucially, what she was wearing, all for your reading pleasure!

My grainy camera work and the stark Sainsbury Centre lighting does Freddie no favours (Honest!)

Why do you work in the medium you work in? Why do you knit?

Well I studied knitted textiles at university. In the late 70s, knitting was very popular, it was a popular way of making fabrics. I was drawn to it because it was big and because my Godmother, who was like a second mother to me, worked amazingly with textiles. Other kids would get knitted sweaters that they hated but she would always create the most fashionable things for me.

Knitting has a bad reputation. Although 'young and trendy' people are beginning to see knitting as 'cool' again, most peoples perceptions aren't that way, and they still see knitting as an outdated old-fashioned skill. I saw an article in the Guardian which was talking about old age and brain cells dying, and the image they had chosen to illustrate this was someone knitting. To me this uncool low status attached to knitting just makes it ripe for subversion.

In the work you are displaying "The perfects" (Pictured below) why do some of the creations have faces and some not?

In fact, all of the perfects have faces, we just chose to display some of them face downwards rather than upwards. The focus of the work is their niformity: they are all exactly the same. Using a machine that can knit these 'people' in one piece meant there was no wastage.Using hand knitting i can replica the technique of the machine: modifying their faces until i'm happy with them and they are perfect.

Is the idea of avoiding waste, of therefore protecting the Environment something that is important in your work?Of course its something I consider personally and politically, but it's not something I explore in my work. It isn't important to what I do.

So what is important to your work?

I think my work is about conformity. It's about the constant persuit of perfection and the repetition of this. This probably has more to do with me than the work- because i'm a real perfectionist.

Finally, I like your sweater, where is it from?

My sweater and my trousers are both from an amazing boutique in Islington called Labour of Love. The clothes are all chosen by the owner Fran Forcolina, and each piece is individual.

Robin is wearing checked cropped trousers teamed with a knitted black sweater with white bow detail. She accessorises this with black and red stripey socks, a yellow over the body bag, and black ankle shoe boots. With her individual styling and bright red assymetric hair cut it occurs to me that if she ever gave up the knitting, perhaps she could give Vivienne Westwood a run for her money.

Ok, so its not 100% relevant, but I love this picture of Vivienne Westwood soo much I had to put it in!

Certainly, standing next to her I wish I'd worn something more exciting than my oldest jeans and oversized navy blue jacket. But still; for someone that was standing outside the building scared to even go in an hour before, I was pretty pleased with myself for interviewing the best artist exhibiting at the event: scruffy trousers or not! And i'm pleased to say that I am in the group of the enlightened that knows knitting was always cool....

......Handmade sweaters coming your way!

Love Tor x

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