Felt as memory

Last week I installed a new piece of work, Wherever you go, there you are: Caveskin, as part of the exhibition Hollow Chambers, on show at the Crypt Gallery near Euston. This post looks at how making and installing it became part of the process of working out what it is or could be.

Caveskin, 2019: wool fibre, thread, fabric; c 3m x3m; installed at The Crypt Gallery, London NW1. Photograph © andrewyoungson.com

When I saw the call out for this exhibition, I didn’t think I had anything to say about caves. But I after I had heard a talk about cave art and how it developed, it struck me that this would be an opportunity to realise an idea that I had had drifting about my mind for several years: making a portable personal space. This idea encompasses a number of interests:

  • the idea that textiles may be the forerunner of architecture, the first attempt to demarcate space
  • the universal human need for personal space, for a home
  • the value of being able to take your space, your home, with you
  • the possibility of that portable space carrying your memories.

And making a space from felt brings with it also associations of comfort, of nature, of our relationship with and dependence on animals.

My plan was to make an unstructured piece and use the structure of the spaces in The Crypt themselves to create form. But it would need to be … quite large. Which means making a lot of prefelts, finding somewhere to lay them out and assemble the work (thank you Ruth!), and then working out how to wrangle the piece so I could actually work on it a bit at a time.

Installation in the crypt was complicated by having to use only the fixings already there, although I could also velcro the work to the walls (damp permitting). What I ended up with was more of an alcove than a cave but that made me reconsider what the work was about and what form it could take.

It was never part of the plan to give it internal structure: partly because I didn’t have time to achieve that but more importantly because that seemed incompatible with making it portable, which was and is central to my intentions. It became more of a hanging-with-form, like the inner skin of a cave. And that fits with the idea that you might carry a portable space with you and install it wherever you happen to be. And then take it down again.

The idea of a skin evokes also the idea of something that surrounds you that you can shed, losing your skin, leaving it behind. To me, this reflects the dual function of an object imbued with memory: you can take it with you, so you don’t forget, but you can also leave it behind, you can deposit it somewhere when you no longer need it. When I was talking about this piece at a meeting of HB Drawing, and describing how I make felt, Andrew Youngson drew a parallel with the making and remaking of memory in the present: remembering as transformation – felt as a process of transformation.

So now I’m thinking that perhaps the piece I was working on last November, the one that ‘failed’, might be reimagined as another skin – another cloth of memory to be spread around/above/under you. One that could be taken out of storage, used and then put back. Like re-reading an old diary, re-living an experience, re-entering a space.


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