I am excited to be joining artist Freddie Robins and professor Catherine Harper at the The Matter of Material Symposium at the Turner Contemporary in Margate on Thursday 27th April. Held alongside the exhibition Entangled: Threads & Making, this conference will bring together academic researchers, makers and curators to discuss the role of textiles in contemporary art practice.
Mira Tudor: Every time I visit a museum which reconstructs scenes of lived life, my attention is captured by the textiles on the mannequins. There’s something about fabrics, with their powerful colors or neutral tones, and their different types of fibers, patterns, and weaves, that appeals to me, to my interest in social history. And then there are the individual stories that we imagine when we shop in second hand stores or find discarded textiles somewhere. Joy C Martindale, an artist based in the UK, plays with all these elements, and more, in creating her textile pieces. I had a nice interview with her recently, which I’m happy to share on this blog.
MT: Hi Joy, I have discovered your textile and photo art today on WordPress (https://joycmartindale.com) and it really spoke to me. First of all, the tenuous way in which all these found and assembled textiles hang from tree branches. I find in it an expression of our tenuous connection to nature, envisioned both as something that we are veering away from and something that will outlast us when we fall to the ground. I hope you’ll grant me a short interview, because I’d like to ask you a few questions about your work. First, do you always work with found textiles? Where do you go to look for them?
Joy C Martindale: One day in Autumn 2015 I was at my local beach and I decided to pick up some of the rubbish that was strewn about. My eye was drawn to a small woven scrap of fabric. I thought it was rather anonymous and lovely for that, and it seemed to contain a palpable energy, which I felt it must have gathered over time. I pocketed it and two very short lengths of white rope to take back to my studio. After that I began to head to the beach as often as I could to look for more material. I was surprised that I had never noticed all this fabric lying scattered about along the tideline before. Mainly I began to collect fabrics that I felt drawn to because of their colour, pattern or tactile qualities. Most of the pieces were small shreds but some things were still recognizably a shirt sleeve or a pocket or a section of a bra. Some things I find have obviously been in the sea for years and everything I pick up is dirty, smells awful and has to be washed, but I don’t mind and I feel that I am getting to know each piece through these processes. For a long while I didn’t know what to do with all this stuff that was beginning to amass in my studio but finally I decided to just go for it and I began to experiment with arranging the materials as I would the elements of a painting and sew them together.
From there I began to develop a new body of work. Central to this work in progress is a group of constructed textile pieces, which are made using a range of assemblage techniques including knotting, binding, and wrapping. There were two key factors, which motivated me to work with found materials. Firstly, I was searching for a cheap alternative to painting: not only did my studio tenancy prohibit me from painting, but my toddler daughter was also accompanying me to the studio and I needed to find a way of working that I could pick up and put down again–this wasn’t painting, which I like to approach in an intensive all-out way over many long solitary hours. Secondly I wanted to build a deeper connection to the town I was living in that I had moved to not long before the birth of my daughter: I was looking for purpose and wrestling with feelings of frustration and the desire to break out and move away. The cyclical and ritualistic process of walking along the shore and searching for materials and then working with them provided a way for me to feel both rooted and more free at the same time.
I have always felt a kind of intense passion for textiles and I have previously employed them in my work: whilst I was studying for my degree I experimented with tapestry and during my MA at the Slade I worked with strips of Melton cloth and a giant crochet hook to make large tubular wall hanging pieces. However, I haven’t really worked with them in a sustained way until now. I think I feel more confidently able to own my ideas and to take greater risks than I have done previously.
MT: What happened to painting? Have you tried combining it with your work on textiles?
JCM: I miss painting a lot and I often dream about painting. I am definitely looking forward to the time when I will be able to embrace painting again and I anticipate that at some point I will discover a way to incorporate it into working with textiles or vice versa. Mark making has already found a way in and sometimes I lay pieces of fabric over objects I have collected from the beach and then with coloured fabric pastels I trace their surfaces onto the fabric.
MT: In Call to Return (2014/2016) you spread out and tied a canvas to the branches of some young trees. It strikes me as a wonderful expression of a call to someone who is both a textile artist and a painter, and who was getting over a bout of depression, as you write on your blog. I absolutely love this work. What was the next work you did after this one?
JCM: The first finished work I made after Call To Return (2014/2016) was Here And Now I (2016). This piece took quite a long time come to fruition. For several months I had a vague notion of what I wanted to do: I knew the title and I knew that I wanted to bring together in a performative moment the sea-salvaged fabrics with the trees of my favourite local wood. But I did not resolve the issue of what form the fabric works would take until almost the very last moment. I was still working slowly on a number of pieces that were far from completion when, two days before the deadline I had set myself, I harked upon the idea to make the bundles. I felt that this was the right outcome for the piece and the spontaneous feel of the bundles and the way they were installed in the tree worked strongly together to convey the ideas behind the work.
MT: Thank you, Joy, for this nice interview!
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Call To Return came about in the year following the birth of my daughter when I was getting over post-natal depression. It had been a long, dark and stormy winter, I didn’t have a studio and I was longing to make work again. I felt that the woods offered an escape and a possible way back to being creative.