Tag Archives: textiles

Morley Threads @ Backlit

Backlit's current premises Alfred House as a factory (1)

In the late 19th century, a wool factory in Alfred House, Nottingham, became an asset of the largest wool manufacturing company in the world. Now the premises are an artist-led studio space.

On the face of it, artists have plenty in common with textile workers. Low pay, hazardous conditions (albeit psychologically speaking) and, in the case of Backlit, here in Nottingham, a union.

The Morley Union is comprised of photographers, writers and historians who have gathered in retrospective support of one of the better employers these shores have ever seen: Samuel Morley.

It was Morley who owned the factory in Alfred House. And now Alfred House is set to be the venue for Backlit’s exhibition, and a programme of talks which seeks to celebrate the former boss.

It has really come to something, that we might hero a 19th century capitalist. Morley was also a media tycoon. He cut the cover price of the liberal Daily News and turned round its fortunes.

Backlit promises the chance to relive the noise and sweat of the industrial plant, which must still haunt their white-walled exhibition space and paint-splattered workshops.

The Union have pulled together an archive of artefacts, oral histories and even video interviews which will recall experience of workers from a time when Nottingham was a textiles capital.

But if you’re still wondering what conditions were like, if mere words won’t do, local digital design studio Hot Knife has developed a playable VR tour of the former factory.

Meanwhile a photographic exhibition will gather images from buildings and monuments related to Morley. And a youth oriented fashion show may inspire you about the future of textiles in Nottingham.

Morley was a genuine philanthropist: a decent, responsible boss, rather than a glittering habitué of the fundraising gala. He was also an abolitionist at a time when this was to stick your neck out.

In 1999 the UK saw an introduction of the minimum wage: £3.60 an hour. The current rate is £6.70. Small wonder there are campaigns for the living wage of £8.25 for 60 minutes of menial pain.

No matter how philanthropic company chairmen might feel themselves to be, most are answerable to a board of shareholders. Dutifully, they overlook their workers’ needs, in the name of profit.

But this is not a lesson in capitalism, but a postscript to the life of a man who combined his wealth with a healthy set of ideals. Any plutocrats reading criticismism, please take note.

Morley Threads runs weekends only (between 21st and 29th November) at Backlit Gallery, Nottingham. For directions, opening times, and a full programme of events see their site.

Brent Wadden, Alignment #53 (2015)

wadden

There’s a great warmth that comes from the ragged, woolly presence of Brent Wadden’s large (two by two and a half metres) woven work. You might even say its tactile qualities are cosy.

But the design is less comfortable: irregular, patched together in haste, an austere black and white. He doesn’t use much technology, but Wadden has borrowed the look of a glitchy piece of software.

Software and soft furnishings; weaving and, as has been often pointed out, coding. There is a correspondence between this ancient form of craft and the digital times we live in.

In the critical theory of weaving* we find this: “Freud believed weaving and plaiting to be the only technique ever invented by women (no small invention if it leads to computers).”

(Had Freud lived to see the arrival of abstract expressionism, he might have been agog to find, in thirtysomething Wadden, a male artist with such a feminine take on a macho genre.)

But as anyone could tell you, having seen the Viennese psychologist’s famous couch, Freud was not averse to making you comfy with a rug or two, a cushion or three.

There’s something about the welcome in his consulting room which finds an echo in the work under discussion. This dense piece of stitching allows the viewer to unravel a little.

Or at least to grow absorbed in the varying yarns and shades of the panels which make up the whole. This was at least as absorbing as a neurotic monologue about my mother might have been.

But unlikely as it seems, weaving is also widely political. Caroline Rooney’s theoretical essay on weaving also mentions The Statesman by Plato, where weaving is a metaphor for good government.

And so as s/he, “weaves the good and serviceable threads together to produce the unified, harmonious social fabric”, the ideal head of state is, of course, closer to a mill worker than a banker.

Brent Wadden: How Long is Now? can be seen at Pace, London, until 31 October 2015.

*Deconstruction and Weaving, Caroline Rooney, from Deconstructions: A User’s Guide, ed. Nicholas Royle