Saturday, 23 May 2015

Obscure objects of desire: what makes stitchers tick

At the recent AGM of Prism - the textiles group to which I belong and whose show, Lines of Communication, is currently at the Hoxton Arches gallery until May 31 - members were invited to bring along and talk about "an item or object that reflects your practice". What an intriguing exercise, and how fascinating on the day to receive a tantalising glimpse into the motivations and inspirations of fellow exhibitors through these objects:  beach stones, a vintage smock, kitchen knife, length of undeveloped black-and-white film, a pair of small antique shoe lasts...

My contribution was a sheep's skull with red tinsel in its eye sockets (above). And here is what I spoke about:

Greek Shrine III (detail) 1999

"I love Greece. I have been to the mainland and its many islands some 12 to 15 times since the late 1970s, and each time I fall in love with it all over again. I have just come back from a fortnight on the island of Lesvos after a gap of six years and it struck me forcibly that – at the risk of sounding overdramatic – Greece in springtime is my spiritual home.

"The country, its people and its cultures have had an enormous influence on my creative work, having directly inspired four quilts on the theme of Greek shrines, the first nearly 20 years ago, and the installation piece for my Opus degree show in 2011, which featured the same sheep's skull. I thought then I had come to the end of this theme, but I now know I have much, much more to explore.

Detail of my degree show installation, 2011,
looking at layers of religion, myth and superstition

"How does a horned sheep’s skull with tinsel in its eye sockets sum up my love for and fascination with Greece? Put simply, because I have often seen sheep or goat skulls hung on farm fences and gates, sometimes decorated with beads or flowers, with tinsel or, as I saw on this trip, painted bright yellow (below). 

Sheep skulls hung on farm fences and gates as amulets, Lesvos, May 2015

"Sheila Paine, in her inspiring book Amulets, suggests that this is for the protection of a house or property, to guard crops and to ward off the evil eye. Red is a particularly powerful amulet. Like the ubiquitous shrines and small chapels scattered liberally across the Greek countryside, they show that alongside, or underneath the surface of, Christianity are still powerful beliefs in something older and more pagan.

Small chapel built into a cave, Lesvos, May 2015

"This sheep’s skull epitomises some of the qualities I try to put in my own work: attractive; repellent; beautiful; unsettling; kitsch; morbid; mysterious; symbolic.

"And did I mention that I love Greece?"

1 comment:

  1. Great post Valerie, even though I heard you deliver it in person. Look forward to seeing more work inspired by Greece.