Making and constituting

I’ve been thinking some more about the parallels between the construction and re-construction of memory and the process of making felt. (Well, someone’s got to do it …)

I had a look back through the notebook where I try to work out what’s important for me from what I’ve been reading and I came across a comparison Tim Ingold makes in his book The Life of Lines. He talks about the way a skyscraper is a construction dropped on top of a foundation, whereas a mountain is a fold in the ground: it is both a feature and part of the ground itself. I had noted that there was a parallel with memory being not the idea of an event dropped onto the blank page of your life, but rather an event that became part of the structure of your life. And now I think there is also a parallel with the making of felt compared with other textiles.

Ingold talks about a textile

whose surface is not the same as the threads of which it is composed but it is constituted by them

Caveskin, 2019: detail from reverse

so the ground is not the same as the materials of which is is made, but it is composed of them. I take it he is thinking of a woven textile, but the same idea can be applied to a felted textile: it is constituted by wool fibres and sometimes also threads and fabric, but its surface is not the same as those things. In fact, the distinction between the materials of which the surface is composed and the nature of the surface itself seems stronger for felt than for other textiles.

Ingold goes on to discuss his concept of ‘weather-world’ (which I’m not going into here) and that leads on to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘smooth space’. If I’ve understood the basic idea, they posit a contrast between striated space which has a layout and smooth space which does not. Striated space is the territory of the sedentary where everything has a fixed place; and smooth space is the territory of nomads who create a meshwork of trails as they move through the world in a way that is not pre-determined. Ingold then says, in a sentence that leapt off the page at me, that Deleuze and Guattari ‘take the exemplary material of smooth space to be felt.’

Twenty-five years ago this was all rice paddy, Shanghai, 2019: detail

Yes! Felt is the ultimate meshwork: made by the entangling of fibres in an indeterminate way, where, in contrast to say weaving, each fibre does not have a fixed or determined place. And felt is the ultimate nomadic cloth, used even today to make habitations such as the gers of Mongolian nomadic sheep, goat and yak herders.

The artist who taught me to make felt, Jeanette Appleton, sometimes claims that ‘felt makes itself’. I think Ingold, Deleuze and Guattari would agree: felt is made as fibres work their way together. You don’t have to have a plan for it; in the right conditions it will happen. Just as the nomad’s wanderings are constituted by actually doing the wandering.

And memory is constituted by remembering. Perception captures aspects of our experiences but it is only when we recreate them that they become memories. The human ability to create and recreate memory inscribes and strengthens a network of neural connections into the very structure of our brain.

But memory isn’t a warehouse or filing cabinet with each memory in its fixed place. Rather it is a network of connections which can be routed and re-routed throughout our lives. It is a smooth space. An entangled space. A felted space.

Between Heaven and Earth (Laos), 2016: detail

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