‘textus ventilus’ | An introduction to #mylinenstory

‘textus ventilus’ | An introduction to #mylinenstory

I live and work in the Scottish Borders with my husband and young family who are enjoying growing up surrounded by a rich and diverse farmed and natural countryside. We can walk to the banks of the River Tweed within 10 minutes and enjoy its varied ‘states’ of watery ferocity – it is a strong river, and its colour often rich and foreboding. This body of water has become my creative muse as I walk its banks, ‘editing’ the natural world through photography and noting what is in season, what is thriving (or not) and what has changed month to month. My discoveries reveal the subtle and concealed complexities of the rich Eco-system we live alongside.

Sketch Detail from ‘The Banks of a River’ | Maxton, Scottish Borders

The view from our house is of the beautiful Eildon Hills; the changing weather patterns moving over these hills is a continuous inspiration to me with subtle colour changes and gradations of cloud and the dramatic erosion of the view as the fog or rain rolls over the landscape (or driving snow as in recent extreme weather!). I have never seen so many rainbows appear in one location, they are almost daily some weeks! I consider that this repetitive visual prompt has seeped into my work as I reflect on the view. The separations of pigment and solutions I use in my process develop their own patterns on my papers dependent on where they are set up and what the weather and ambient temperature is. It is a constant delight how such subtle changes in environment can create unique and beautiful outcomes in my continuous series of site specific ‘Draw-ing(s)’.

While researching the history of linen manufacturing I came across the reference to the Roman’s term for linen, ‘textus ventilus’ or ‘woven wind’; the poetry of the description is so beautiful and descriptive of the process of growing Flax for linen processing I am using it as a direct reference during this commission.

Maxton Church | Scottish Borders

Over the last few years I have been developing my methods of paper chromatography using real-time scientific methods, revealing ephemeral and ‘alternative truths’ using manufactured and natural dyes, often working at large scale and producing pieces, ‘…with layers of vivid colour that seem to have been drawn up into the paper by some kind of osmosis.’ – Duncan Macmillan, The Scotsman (2016).

I was the invited artist at the 2015 Gayfield Creative Spaces programme demonstrating my ‘live’ process in the basement Bunker space. This exhibition was curated by GRAS Architects, as part of the British Council Maker Library residency at Gayfield Creative Spaces. I can quite confidently say it was here, when I met Dr. John Ennis who was developing Gayfield as a creative hub and centre of excellence showcasing contemporary art and design, that #mylinenstory begins!

While I set up my work in the space John was very interested in how I used the structure of the existing building as part of the installation hanging the oversized and abstract materials of the ‘abstract book’ off the steel beams to make the work. As the work developed in the Bunker space, we chatted about how exciting it would be to transfer my ‘outcomes’ onto fabric. The idea of making the work more permanent (as I have accepted the pigments do degrade in UV light) and the possibilities with scaling my images has been bubbling away in my mind ever since. It is now, with the support of the 2018 Gayfield Projects commission that I have the opportunity to develop these ideas further and test the work in another way.

‘Redcurrant’ detail from p15 ‘N(NO3) mg/l 0.435’ | ‘The Banks of a River, 2016’

In the time between the exhibition at Gayfield (2015) and while working on my MA in Contemporary Art Practice (2016) I started to distill my own natural ‘site-specific’ solutions, separating dye/ pigments from small amounts of natural materials collected while out walking the banks of The River Tweed. My family is familiar with these ‘collecting walks’ as we set off with the dog and I have a small bag and garden clippers in my pocket! It is a different way of walking when doing this and my pace slows right down to allow for detailed inspections and identification. There are gentle rules to abide by e.g. only things in abundance are sampled, (weeds are my favourite to collect) and flowers/ plant material from our own garden.

After steeping the plant material in River water, the solutions are separated using small absorbent ‘books’ and wrapped and tied to make a ‘month book’ as the example shown at the top of the blog (November 2017), this book block becomes my record of that month. It is really interesting to move from the turquoise, green and blue from grape hyacinth flowers collected in the Spring to the deep berry and hip colours collected in the autumn, capturing the changes in growth and variety.

Details of extractions from samples collected (2016)

The distillation of these natural pigments and the final artist book ‘The Banks of a River, July 2016’ were presented in a laboratory-like set up for my Degree Show, and, with great support from a friend (Eve Hynd of Native Flok) who is a sculptural upholsterer, a chair was covered in book cloth I use for strengthening hand-made book spines, irish linen and fixed with copper nail heads. Once the chair was made I stitched it into the space with giant upholstery needles (only impaling myself once!) to fix it and it became the case for the book rather than a shelf. To ‘read’ the book it has to be removed from the chair which can then be sat on, creating a ‘case’ for the body and a place to quietly absorb the narrative of the view and the artist book.

Irish linen was the perfect covering for the chair, it is clean, bright, strong and soft and page-like in its precision when fixed and folded. On reflection, now that I am hoping to work with light and upholstery weight linen for drapes and furniture this ‘practical’ development in my work and the transition to using fabric to encase a book and the body has been a key learning process to understanding the material of linen and how it is physically worked with.

(2016) Detail of ‘The Duke’s Chair’ in Irish linen with copper nail head trim | upholstery by Eve Hynd of Native Flok

This is where #mylinenstory developed further because, as a result of this work Eve and I decided to look at working with ink and linen but in a more sculptural way in a series of irregular upholstered wall pieces we called ‘Suite’ – this was a very testing time for me working directly onto irish linen with the manufactured inks, the separations were so different to the paper pieces (it was very uncomfortable for a while as odd things happened) as the structure of the two materials and their natural fibres are so different. What was very exciting about this experimental collaboration was that the colours still ‘moved’ but were slower and less defined and the water also caused slight ‘stretches’ or ‘swellings’ in the dried fabric which had to be coaxed into place when being stitched as a piece.

(2017) Test sample on irish linen

When I was awarded the 2018 Gayfield Projects Commission it became clear how really valuable it has been working with Irish linen since the earlier discussions with John. These material experiments are already influencing how I could work on this textile and develop my ideas to produce my paper pieces.

I love the qualities linen has as a material, its ability to feel cool to the touch (‘…a phenomenon which indicates its higher conductivity (the same principle that makes metals feelcold“), how it crushes, creases and wears so nicely creating material memory. The similarities with paper are obvious to me as well, how it can be folded, stitched, creased and printed onto making small changes in its material structure. These subtleties of material are all to be considered and reflected on as I work with linen this year.

Before heading off to Ireland I have taken the time to review what I have been making in the last few years, reflecting on the marks and digital records from the many experiments made site specifically and in the studio. It is some of these images I hope to take to work on with Duncan Neil at Earthed by W M Clark at Upperlands in Northern Ireland to develop work appropriate for manufactured textiles, digitally printed onto Irish linen. I am very excited at the prospect of what is ahead!

Detail from the series of ‘Draw-ing(s) | Backlit & damp (2015)

Please follow my 2018 Gayfield Projects Commission via @textusventilus on instagram for updates about my ‘material journey’ with #linen #ourlinenstories #wovenwind #textusventilus #EarthedbyWMClark