My Life is but a Weaving: Exhibitions

Once the workshops finished in September 2016 Katy Beinart  worked on an installation of the textiles for exhibition. This exhibition drew together the pieces made by the participants during our seven workshops at St Thomas’ Church Hall and interviews conducted with each of the participants by the Making Suburban Faith researcher Dr Nazneen Ahmed which explored both their biography of faith and fabric and their reflections on being part of the textiles project.

In putting together the installation Katy sought to produce a piece which would both showcase the individual pieces and bring them together through one collective textile piece. The installation was also developed as a site specific piece which meant that it changed and adapted to each venue at which it was exhibited. The name for the piece came from one of the poems selected by one of the participants for her contribution, the anonymous poem ‘My life is but a weaving, between my Lord and me’.

My Life is but a Weaving Exhibition: St Thomas the Apostle Church, Hanwell, 19-25th April 2017

We were keen to exhibit the installation for the first time in Ealing where it could be seen by the participants and their friends and families. Since we had met for our workshops at the church hall of St Thomas’ Church when an opportunity emerged to exhibit the installation in the church this seemed a fitting first location. The installation was set up at the east end of the church at the far end of the nave adjoining the font. The central focus of the installation was the map of Ealing which was made up of the lines of prayer and poems contributed by the participants with some pieces of embroidery mounted directly onto the main dark blue velvet cloth. The cloth was installed on a low table which was surrounded by prayer mats (from West Ealing Islamic Centre) and kneelers from St Thomas’ Church. The individual pieces made at the workshop were mounted inside books, which were recycled photograph and stamp albums, and placed on wooden prayer stands. The installation thus foregrounded the theme of prayer, inviting visitors to kneel and engage with individual pieces. As Katy explains: ‘the intention of the exhibition was to bring together the individual pieces and also represent the relationships that were formed through the making of the pieces. The table represents the shared space of the table we worked around and the hospitality the group provided to one another, whether in cups of tea, emotional support or spiritual support. This is a link between the domestic, everyday realm of making and the enchanted realm it linked to for the participants.

The poems and prayers became lines on the map, a geographical emblem of locality, while other pieces became more hidden in the albums. For me this also recognised the intimacy of the space we created where many words were shared, some of them more private and others more public. ….’

Mounted on easels were three boards which gave a context to the wider project, the workshops and provided images of the participants.
Visitors to the exhibition were invited to also write and contribute their own prayers which were attached to the exhibit on the threads running down from each side of the table.

Exhibiting the installation at St Thomas’ Church provided an effective way to engage a range of audiences to see the installation. This included some of the groups which meet at the Church hall such as the ‘Pop-In’ social group and the Asian Womens’ Sangham group. A number of other local groups arranged visits to the installation including the Hounslow Friends of Faith and pupils from the neighbouring Elthorne Park School.

Participants Arda, Rose, Betty and Eileen visiting the exhibition

My Life is but a Weaving Exhibition, 12-14th May, Phoenix Studio, Brighton

Katy developed a second version of the installation to be shown at the Open Studio weekend where she works at Phoenix Studios in Brighton. For this exhibition Katy chose to rework the main textile piece as a map by mounting it vertically on the wall of the studio.
She explains that ‘I was interested in how hanging the communal piece on the wall would change the way it was viewed. It became less domestic and more of an image, which was read in multiple ways by visitors to the exhibition.’

Photo: Katy Beinart

The individual pieces of embroidery were exhibited both on a low table in the centre of the studio and on a side board and bureau suggesting connections with the more domestic spaces within which embroidery is often made. The exhibit retained the prayer mats and kneelers which were arranged along the edge of the map. We also reproduced alongside each piece a quote from our interviews with the participants in which they explained their design.

Photo: Katy Beinart

Exhibiting the work in Katy’s studio also allowed her to contextualise the work she had done for the Fabric of Faith project with some of her previous work mapping migration journeys including a community project in Brixton.

‘My work ‘Pattern Language‘ combined story, journey and trace, remapping the stories through translated patterns made into lace work. This inspired the use of thread and trace to map journeys and stories, as a starting point for the project in Ealing. The idea of a textile map which both reveals and hides is a part of both these project. As the threads are knotted and stitched, stories are told. The knot or stich acts as a maker and holder of memory, but what appears is only a part of the story.’ (Katy Beinart)

Image: Pattern Language, 2012 (Katy Beinart)

Over the course of the Open House weekend a great range of fellow artists and members of the public visited the exhibition and engaged with the piece and with the wider work of the project. It was particularly interesting to engage visitors in conversation about what connections they made with the exhibit with links made both to childhood experience of sampler making or connections with other forms of collective textile making such as quilts.

My Life is but a Weaving: Exhibition at North Cloisters, University College London, 6-7th April, UCL Festival of Culture.

We exhibited My Life is but a Weaving at UCL as part of the UCL’s Festival of Culture. This ‘pop-up’ version of the exhibition also included a public event with a talk about the exhibition and a reception attended by the participants.

For the UCL exhibition we returned to the table top version of the exhibition created at UCL. However in this installation we were able to use the shelves in the North Cloister archive to provide space for exhibiting some of the individual pieces while others were located on the main map itself.

For this installation, Katy had also worked on a second layer to the main textile map. Returning to the first workshop of the project when participants had brought an example of a textile piece to share, Katy had traced individual motifs from each of these pieces. She then designed an outline piece of embroidery, linking these different motifs, which was superimposed on the velvet cloth appearing almost like a constellation. The effect of this additional layer was to connect the contemporary work done for installation with the sewing and textile biographies and histories of the participants which were revealed both in the conversations held during the workshops and in the follow up interviews. As Katy explains: ‘One of the themes that emerged through the project was of the gaps and absences in people’s lives as they had migrated, and lost or left behind both their home, and physical objects they’d made in the past. The ‘constellation’ of past works evoked the words of one of the poems embroidered on our map ‘had I the heavens embroidered cloths‘ by W.B.Yeats and added another layer to the map, of the imagined absences of past work which also brought to mind other absences.’

We will be showing the installation again on 20th September as part of a textiles research study day we are organising at UCL and will also be giving at paper about the project at the SOCREL conference in Leeds 12-14th July 2017.

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