Nostalgia & Renewal Symposia

Two linked study days are planned at the Winchester School of Art, England and the Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland around the themes of nostalgia, followed by renewal, in June and July. The two events are inspired, in part, by the three-day conference In the Loop, held in the summer of 2008, which explored contemporary knitting practice from a number of disciplinary perspectives. The experience of organising In the Loop led us to the theme of nostalgia, an inevitable but complex contributor to the surge of popularity that knitting is currently enjoying. Keen to break the conventional pattern of conferences, two smaller events of a more experimental nature – nostalgia & renewal – are now on the calendar.

Several issues are guiding the planning of these events. The first has to do with how we talk about textiles, the second is the current economic crisis. At a recent seminar organised by Lesley Millar to coincide with the exhibition Deconocida: Unknown I, along with all participants, was asked to stitch a nametag for one of the women who have died in the lawless Mexican boarder town of Juarez. I found stitching while thinking occupied the audience in a way I had not seen before and have begun to wonder why, at conferences, we allow ourselves to become so separate from the material we are discussing?

One objective of the Nostalgia & Renewal Symposia is to explore alternative approaches to how we talk about textiles. This may involve greater contact with the materials themselves. But it may also involve dynamic conversations, rather than scripted lectures, when exploring new ideas or any other suggestions that deserve a testing ground. Each speaker at the two events has been invited to reconsider the manner in which they communicate their ideas and use the events to trial new ideas. Many research budgets are looking a little thin on the ground in the current economic climate, but that need not be an excuse to stop talking. At both events speakers will be making contributions via the Internet. This system is far from ideal, but it does bypass the need for international airline tickets and years of planning before the conversation can start. Textile and craft has never enjoyed lavish financial support. I suggest that this may put us in a strong position currently to continue deploying creative thinking to the research challenges at hand.

Finally, the poetic nature of the two themes – nostalgia & renewal – has allowed us to invite an interdisciplinary group of speakers and, I hope, will interest an interdisciplinary audience. While it is difficult to conceal the central role textiles occupy in the research of many participants, it is our hope that a more eclectic conversation will suggest new ways we might approach textile research in future.

Dr Jessica Hemmings, Associate Director of the Centre for Visual & Cultural Studies, Edinburgh College of Art

For more information, see previous notice.

Meandering with intent

Reading through The Journal of Modern Craft, 2.1, I was struck by the re-appearing emphasis on polyphonetic thinking, ambivalence and dialogical dynamics in many of the essays. Tom Crook’s essay employed Bakhtin’s idea of the dialogical as a methodology for historical material. Within studio practice itself, Alison Britton says in response to Hans Coper that as students in the 70s they were most attracted to his offer of a space which allowed for “the focus on ambiguity, the intrigue of the phantom pitch, which proposed that ideas could be pursued with uncertainty, within craft”. Ideas like this make me much more relaxed to add my own voice to the mix. I plan to approach the theme of my blog ‘Traditional craft: manufactured nostalgia or grass-roots resistance?’ by meandering with intent and will chaff with enthusiasm against the troubling notion of modernity in contemporary studio crafts practice.

In our contemporary culture we might regard any attempt to re-connect with a personal or cultural point of origin as nostalgic; we find ourselves much more in a world of shifting, flexible frameworks in which our origins, bonds, traditions, our sentiments and dreams, exist alongside other stories, other fragments of memory and traces of time. In such a world a creative practitioner, providing he or she is curious and sufficiently interested, might become a voyager, a person on a journey wandering or more likely meandering through the world of appearances, ideas, theories and histories. The abandonment of a carefully constructed cultural identity might become identity itself as much as making might become heterogeneous, counter-historical and hybrid.

On the other side of the spectrum we find utopian ideals, the hope for a ‘better’ world, and the passionate investment in the idea that objects have invested meaning. We find crafts objects of indefinable origin on sale everywhere, permeating crafts markets, mail order catalogues, department stores, fashion and gifts shops. Even in the face of the pressure to desire only what others possess and thus to succumb to what Jean Baudrillard has termed a culture of profound monotony[1],we want to distinguish ourselves as individuals. One way to attempt this is through the acquisition of objects, which via their symbolic assimilation mark us as individuals. Consumption is in this respect not only understood as acquisition, but as expression as well.

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

While seeming individualistic, consumption responds to the aspirations of the group and can be recognised as such. Baudrillard suggests that in an idealist-consumerist society, the lived and conflictual human relations are substituted with personalised relations to objects. The criticism of psychological regression implied in this suggestion does not make Baudrillard very popular with people who invest objects with deep affection and devotion, like most crafts people inevitably do.

He does, however, seem to neglect that there exists an interesting dichotomy between crafts commodity on the one hand and conceptually focused one-off crafts work generated by self-motivated studio practice on the other. Most crafts practitioners, whose studio practice I am familiar with, engage with the tension between the functionality of the object, its status as a consumer good, and a more ideas-based artistic agenda at the same time. This is never a simplistic equation, and it gets even more complicated, and indeed interesting, when makers start to simulate the visual appearance of banal crafts kitsch, sometimes using advanced technology together with the hand-made, and in an artistic somersault re-create the tired and clichéd object as an object filled with fresh meaning.

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

[1] Baudrillard, Jean “The System of Objects” in Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Poster, Mark (ed.), Oxford: Polity Press, 1988

Nostalgia & Renewal Symposia


June 26 & July 24, 2009

nos· tal· gi· a

1. responsible for the resurgence of interest in knitting debated at In the Loop: Knitting Past, Present & Future, a conference held at the Winchester School of Art in 2008 and recorded in the University of Southampton Knitting Archive[1]

2. apparent in such diverse territories as archaeology and tourism[2]

3. explorations of memory and material in new media[3]

4. Jamaican photographic archives and the study of dress[4]

5. red shoes[5]

6. authenticity and craft[6]

re· new· al

1. state of mind that believes creative textile practice can emerge from the current economic crisis with renewed authority and conviction

2. evident in the renewed social conscience of contemporary craft[7]

3. synthetic hair sculptures and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, New Orleans[8]

4. creative process and the zeitgeist[9]

5. the curious phenomenon of manias[10] old and new

Nostalgia & renewal are defined by Jessica Hemmings and Linda Newington with shameless attention to their mutual interest in alternative approaches to the research of textiles. Further expanded definitions of the terms and their relevance to textile research will be debated at the following events:

June 26 @ Textile Conservation Centre, Winchester (nostalgia)

For bookings please contact Judith Horgan 02380 596986 / [email protected]

July 24 @ Edinburgh College of Art (renewal)

For bookings please contact Jessica Hemmings 0131 221 6199 / [email protected]

Cost £35 per day includes lunch. Concessions available £20 per day.

[1] Linda Newington, Head of Faculty Services in conversation with Tim Wildschut School of Psychology, University of Southampton

[2] Angela McClanahan, Lecturer in Visual & Material Culture, Edinburgh College of Art

[3] Clio Padovani, Textile Artist in conversation with Dr Jessica Hemmings, Associate Director of the Centre for Visual and Cultural Studies, Edinburgh College of Art

[4] Carol Tulloch, TrAIN Senior Research Fellow Black Visual Culture, University of Arts London

[5] Hilary Davidson, Costume Curator, Museum of London (tbc)

[6] Kevin Murray, online editor of the Journal of Modern Craft (via skype)

[7] Deirdre Nelson, Textile Artist

[8] Loren Schwerd, Artist (via skype)

[9] Michelle Anderson Binczak, Editor of Bloom magazine

[10] Elizabeth Kramer, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, University of Newcastle