Textiles 1: Ideas and Processes Nina O'Connor

Learning Log

Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – Works that challenge conventional labels


We are asked to collect at least four images of works that challenge conventional labels and write a personal response to each.

Ernesto Neto

Balanço em U, ventre, ponto e linha, 2012 Crochet of polyester and polypropylene rope; plastic balls 400 x 350 x 390 cm.

View of the exhibition “Ernesto Neto, Não tenha medo do seu corpo” at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, 2012

A large installation crossing the boundaries between crochet & sculpture, approximately 4m2 , comprising strong polyester and polypropylene rope crocheted into giant cocoon like hanging pathways suspended from the ceiling with plastic ball-filled pouffes nestled into the base. It is big and strong enough to explore by climbing in and walking through providing an interactive, playful, sensory experience, inviting investigation.   Appears soft and tactile but would polyester and polypropylene rope be so?

Flexible knotted pods in a vibrant palette, orange, pink, yellow, almost fluorescent, each colour flowing into the next as though it were painted on the page. Although vibrant, the lace like structure softens the colour, with darker softer grey/browns filling the squashy pillows contrasting with the lighter webbed surround.

The floor too is covered in concentric circle patterned crochet, unifying the space.  The installation has a pleasing aesthetic with low light, soft contours.  Crochet knots, polyester and polypropylene rope strong and fit for purpose. Unsure of its meaning, to me it seems a calm inviting place to explore, a safe haven, in which to relax or read. Although, imagining it with other visitors exploring would change the dynamic to a playful mood, with squeals, laughter, out of controlled rocking or swaying like a rope bridge. Pathways are tunnel-like, the opening inviting the viewer in and guiding them through the artwork.



Bella May Leonard

Departure Archway, 2013 200 x 260cm Perspex, mixed wires, cords and thread. Hand embroidery

A large, freestanding, perspex archway punctured with holes and brightly stitched with a variety of coloured electrical wire crossing disciplines between sculpture and embroidery. I was initially attracted to the possibility of making holes in a transparent medium for the weaving exercise later in the course, but, the more I looked, the more my eye was drawn in to the intricate patterns of stitch, the spaces in between. The perspex allowing the whole stitch to be seen, both front and back.

The work has a folk aesthetic and from an article by Jo Hall in Embroidery magazine, the embroidery “references traditional patterns while reinventing their application”.

Perspex cut with a laser cutter, hand embroidered with electrical wire

Bella May Leonard has successfully achieved her aim to challenge common perceptions of embroidery with the scale of the arch, perspex ground and electrical wire as thread.

Visually, I am attracted to the playfulness and scale of the structure, I imagine being able to examine the detail of the stitch at eye-level.

It is difficult to comment on the composition as I have only seen photographs of this work, but I feel the space in between the embroidery helps to offset the stitch and the additional unstitched holes reinforce the line of the design.

The Departure Archway appealed to me because it pushes the boundaries of embroidery and takes it beyond people’s usual perception into a new context.






Nick Cave

I might describe Nick Cave’s Soundsuits as crossing disciplines between textiles and sculpture or once they are worn, art, dance & fashion, although from an extract of Jessica Hemmings, Cultural Threads:transnational textiles today

His seductive and deceptively playful pieces pay no attention to the boundaries between fine and applied art, high and low culture, gendered and racial identity, let alone fashion, textiles and craft.

The suits are constructed from an eclectic mix of found materials, cleverly combined, often vibrant, tactile, bizarrely stylish and mesmerising, taking different forms and making sounds when worn.  Each suit is usually inspired by an object, and then other found items are sought to build the idea and the whole suit is evolved in the making. Cave chooses not to sketch out designs.  The pieces take on different guises once worn and in my mind then become performance art.   The suits do not appear to have names, so I have concentrated on a button suit which was inspired by a found chair and is discussed in the interview with Nick Cave at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on youtube included below.

This suit has a chair as the basis of the structure.  The seat has been removed and the chair rests on the shoulders.  A pearlised thigh length top with the drape of a vintage sequinned Frank Usher falls away from the back and seat of the chair, shimmering as the buttons reflect the light, coupled with matching trousers and a pair of slip on shoes.   Extending above the shoulders is a large balloon like transparent capsule punctuated with buttons resulting in a a fantastic, dramatic costume ready to take on any persona the performer desires.

There is a deeper meaning behind the suits which opposes the joyous, party like visual the collection presents.  Nick Cave’s first suit was made in response to the Rodney King incident in 1992 which are said to have triggered the LA riots and the feelings of being devalued and dismissed.  It was constructed of discarded twigs.  It is interesting to note that this was a critical part in the development of the work as the “core understructure of the work is based on found objects or materials”.   In the interview below Nick Cave refers to himself as an artist with a ‘social conscience’ and the ‘surplus and abundance of what we gather’ and how materials can be viewed with re-purpose in mind which is an encouraging stance.  In addition each suit ‘erases gender, race and class’ liberating the wearer and allowing the viewer non-judgemental observation.


Harriet Popham 

Harriet Popham’s fabric, Glastonbury Meadows 2015 80 x 60cm, is a combination of print-making and embroidery.

The Glastonbury Meadows Chair is a beautifully crafted re-upholstered, vintage nursing chair, using Harriet Popham’s hand drawn illustrations as the basis for a screen printed surface design which she then embellishes with freehand machine embroidery.

The artist visits the place she has selected as inspiration and takes photographs to work from later.  She makes lots of drawings which she then scans and pieces digitally before sending the final design to an English fabric manufacturer for printing.

The colour palette is a successful striking combination of fuchsia pink, cyan and white, the detail on the seat is white and pink on a rich cyan background whilst on the chair back, the illustrations are in pink and cyan on a white background. The printed fabric is layered with further illustrations in freehand machine embroidery.   The illustrations are representational but include a playful combination of architecture juxtaposed with plants and animals in varying scales and perspective. There is almost equal balance of illustrative lines and negative space allowing the images to be clearly identified.  The end result is a sumptuous, decorative piece.



Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine November/December 2016 pp28-31

Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine January/February 2017 pp 30 – 35

Hemmings J (2014) Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today Bloomsbury

Selvedge Magazine The Fabric of Life: Carnival Issue 68 Crochet Cocoon pp31-34

Selvedge The Fabric of Your Life The Pop Issue No. 65 Sound and Vision pp33-35


2 thoughts on “Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – Works that challenge conventional labels

  1. Really interesting selection, Nina. The breadth of your research at MMT is really paying dividends here too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Feast for the eyes! Inspiring selection of artists chosen and the boards you’ve made of their works too.

    Liked by 1 person

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