A thought-provoking discovery (by Olga Norris)

I can change my mind

I can change my mind

At the weekend I went to an exhibition of mixed fine art, and amongst the few textile technique pieces encountered the work of Miranda Argyle.  Mags Ramsey’s blog also mentioned this artist, and that Argyle’s website directed further to a piece of stitched writing in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This poignant sampler was made in the 19th century but would now pass as a piece of contemporary feminist art.

Miranda Argyle is very interesting on the act of stitching.  I was also intrigued by her statement that ‘Sewn text is rarely used to document.’ because as I have developed my own image-making in textiles I have realised that this is my means of documenting my emotions – a kind of psychological diary, but without words.  I started to think about what difference it made to have to stitch the words, especially slowly in repetition as Argyle does – is this a declaration to oneself? to others? a mantra to persuade or convince oneself? to expunge? 

Tracey Emin: Just remember how it was

Tracey Emin: Just remember how it was

Stitched words are also used by Tracey Emin in many of her autobiographical drawings.  Using written language can be a means of adding a extra dimension, or layer to the meaning – just as rendering in textile itself adds physical depth and more complex possibilities for interpretation to a piece.


15 Responses to “A thought-provoking discovery (by Olga Norris)”

  1. 1 Olga September 12, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    June, do you mean ‘flaneur’? Perhaps as Maria Kalman is one of your favourite creative commentators, you should tell us more -?

  2. 2 june September 12, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Maira Kalman is one of my favorite artists/writers/thinkers — what’s the (French, I think) word for the person who walks around the city, taking note?

    Perhaps someone could do a post just on her work.

  3. 3 Olga September 11, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Thank you Suzanne – I really like that rendering of disenthrall, which looks at the constituent meanings of the word. The push of dissent to eliminate thrall is daring although superficially disenthrall is a mild-seeming concept. She has increased the capability of the graphic presentation by rendering the letters in stitch, and it is ironic that the apparently powerless feminine craft of stitching is what points out the real power in the statement.

  4. 4 Suzanne DeCuir September 10, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Yes, Maira Kalman seems to like to use embroidery now and then, maybe to slow the viewer down, making you think about the words instead of just racing by. If you look at the post about Lincoln at kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/in-love-with-a-lincoln/ you can see at the very end of the post she has embroidered Lincoln’s words about keeping the union together. By changing thread colors, she caused me to look carefully at the work “disenthrall” — my mind kept trying to make it into two words.

  5. 5 Olga September 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Suzanne, there is something about the thrust of the needle, pulling the thread through and over, again and again which is anything but superficial: words with a three dimensional presence. I very much like the stitching of the tribes across the area of what is now the USA – thank you for the link to Maira Kalman’s blog.

  6. 6 Suzanne DeCuir September 5, 2009 at 7:04 am

    There is a certain quiet power in writing that is stitched, Maybe that’s because you are aware of the time spent putting the thoughts on cloth, unlike scribbling something quickly on a whiteboard. In Maira Kalman’s most recent NY Times blog (www.kalman.blogs.nytimes.com) she stitches the names of many of the Indian tribes from America on simple piece of cloth. I have enjoyed so many of these blogs and look forward to more,
    Thanks very much,

  7. 7 Olga August 25, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    June, sorry, I should have made it clear that ‘I can change my mind’ is by Miranda Argyle.
    I know what you mean about wanting to read any lettering/words when faced with them, but in this case when I saw ‘I can change my mind’ – initially without knowing the title – I enjoyed the process of being slowed down while I followed the line of stitching to discern the letters and words. I don’t mind not being able to make sense of words, however, after that initial trying to see if I can. I rather like enigmas.

    I am intrigued by the idea of the art class exercise you describe – rather like creating a personal rebus with its full power dependent on the accompanying words.

    Pat, yes, repetition of stitch to make up the words – then repetition of the words to make up a meaning. The same statement changing and remaining the same. This is one of the wondrous pieces of work which resonates well beyond the initial encounter.

  8. 8 june August 25, 2009 at 8:58 am


    Whose work is “I Can Change My Mind”?

    I find it extraordinarily poignant. Historical referent (white work stitching), universal emotion (tentative, hidden messages brought to the surface, but just barely), rhythm and repetition and subtlety that pulls you in — sublime in its sense of terrifying beauty.

  9. 9 Pat August 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I am daunted by this discovery. By the words. Echoing down the cloth. Give it a power so much more than the single statement can give. Thank you for sharing.

  10. 10 june August 24, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I am intrigued by the thought that stitching (or working) words changes them somehow. I have always been slightly irritated by unreadable text on visual art — I’m the kind of person who reads the phone book if nothing else is available, so words have meaning.

    I know, I know, they can be graphic and visual without any “meaning” in the usual sense of the word, but my left brain trumps my right brain, always, when faced with letters or seeming letters. I love the combo of meaningful letters and visuals (like the Tracey Emin which Olga provides) but non-meaningful letters like snail trails — well, hitherto, I’d prefer snail trails.

    But the idea that the tracing (in stitches or paint or however) of words changes, alters, deepens, reverses, heightens meaning — now there’s something I can understand. After all, when I committed poetry to memory, I often wrote it down. And the writing was an act of enjoyment, like art making.

    Someone told me of an exercise in an art class: the assignment was to paint your morning. The artist painted (I’m making up the example, but it was something like this) a blob of cerulean blue and then wrote below it in pencil: “the first birdsong I heard this AM.” And she put a swirl of brown and wrote: “the smell of coffee.” This was a kind of art I want to make some day.

  11. 11 Olga August 24, 2009 at 8:57 am

    You are right Karen, there is a lighthearted aspect to the top work. It can look like repetitive graffiti – and the words themselves can take on a cheeky grin.

  12. 12 Karoda August 23, 2009 at 8:56 am

    In my own process, my view shifted from text to convey meaning when I realized that text could be used as symbol, shape, or line only, which is what I initially see in Miranda Argyle’s piece you’ve shown. The text functions as light which is definitely is to me is keeps the piece open to playfulness as well as mediatation…two descritions rarely found in one piece, eh?

  13. 13 Olga August 23, 2009 at 5:00 am

    I am always intrigued by how much different ways of rendering words can affect their interpretation – not only different kinds of handwriting, but the use of different materials. Letter cutting in stone, letters made out of sticks or pebbles, words painted on banners, spelled out in neon or in the sand, cut out of newspapers or magazines, …. Somehow the medium carries so much message, and I think that hand stitched lettering speaks of a depth of meaning coming from the stitcher. An emphatic wanting to work out every part of each letter to communicate its meaning. And yes I agree with there being so much energy.

  14. 14 kit August 22, 2009 at 6:05 am

    I agree with Jude that the meditative act of stitching text deepens its meaning in some way, even if only for the maker. The stitching in the piece above has such energy – perhaps because it is not uniform and so carries the energy of the hands that made it.

  15. 15 jude August 22, 2009 at 3:34 am

    the stitching of the word changes it a lot. i always find it curious but i don’t know why. it attracts me somehow. stitching changes the dimension and gives it another thoughtful aspect i think. an extra level of contemplation.

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