Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tracey Emin - Love, Writing, and Sewing


Tracey Emin, too, is a woman obsessed with love. Evidence of this can be found in the titles of her two most recent exhibitions, Those Who Suffer Love and Love Is What You Want. Her neons blaze scrawled love notes, her monoprints beg for “more love”, her blankets whisper, in huge letters, sweet nothings.

For You

More Love

International Woman

Emin has said of love that it "rarely comes easily and if it does, it usually goes quite quickly". Her work constantly touches on intimacy, as in Everyone I Have Ever Slept With. It's a common misconception that the names appliqued on the interior of this tent were those of everyone Emin had ever had sex with. In fact, they were literally the names of everyone she had ever slept beside. 

Interior, Everyone I've Ever Slept With 1963 - 1995


Writing underpins Emin's artistic practise. She has said that she is "not known as a text-based artist", but "should be really". She pushes the boundaries between writing as visual art and visual art as writing. Melanie McGrath said of Emin that “She is above all a storyteller and her stories are embroidered, both literally and metaphorically”. 

Emin is indeed a consummate storyteller; revealing tell-alls are sprawled across her confessional, autobiographical blankets, ranging in size from five-inch-high appliqued letters to tiny scrawled passages on paper; her monoprints are written in her own naive, chaotic scrawl; her neon installations are recognisably “written” in Emin’s own handwriting.

Appropriately for work of such a universal appeal, the unrefined, unpolished aesthetic of Emin’s text connects her audience more immediately with her art. Emin cuts and appliqués felt letters onto her blankets by hand.This personal approach suits Emin’s often chaotic, brutal and autobiographical subject matter.

Some of her monoprints are solely text, featuring stream-of-consciousness phrases which appear to have the authentic and emotional “voice” of the artist, and a confessional, diaristic tone.


One of Emin’s most common artistic formats is the quilt-like blanket. The creation of blankets or wall hangings like Emin’s has traditionally been a woman’s craft pastime. However, rather than meticulously piece together a network of twee fabric patches to create a quilt (as prior generations of crafting women have done), Emin hand-appliques unsophisticated letters and loud, mismatched fabrics onto her blankets. Critics have argued that Emin reappropriates traditionally feminine arts and crafts for feminist purposes, creating a savage, imperfect female aesthetic in chintzy, feminine media.

Emin has said that, through her embroideries, "the line I draw is accentuated and extreme, which complements the way that I think." She has also said that she does not use embroidery "like a craft, but like high art".

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Joetta Maue

Joetta Maue explores familial love through her textile art. She embroiders intimate scenes of herself, her husband and infant son sleeping together. She posits the bed as the site of love, between husband and wife, and mother and son. These pieces are large in scale (life size) but simultaneously incredibly intimate; insights into a private life lived together.

With My Boys

My Love

Him and You

In her project Waking With You, Maue documented daily her emotions on waking, as well as the bed itself in photographic format. The "You" of the project's title refers to her husband; the posts on the project's blog concerning him are incredibly touching. In one, she writes "I thought how unbelievable it was that I woke with you everyday of my life and have been for 10 years... and you still take my breath away". The project culminated in an exhibition at the Elizabeth A Beland Gallery in Massachusetts, the centre piece of which was a hand stitched self portrait bed installation, shown below.

Waking With You

In addition to her figurative pieces, Maue also creates text-based works on found antique linens. Many of these also focus on love; familial love (once again), romantic love, and the loss of love.

Breaks My Heart
A Fragile Heart



Maue has said of her work that "By using found, used linens that have been hand made by women of the past I am able to connect my everyday experience with that of my heritage. I pay homage to the women that have come before me and connect to the lineage that I have with them in the domestic, everyday sphere of life." Through embroidering onto found linens and those handed down to me by my grandmother, I also hope to connect to this lineage.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Interview With Iviva Olenick

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist who refers to her work as "narrative embroidery". She works on a small scale, juxtaposing image and text. In her project Were I So Besotted, Olenick hand-embroiders anecdotes from her experiences of dating in the 21st Century. Her small-scale embroideries form a hand-stitched blog. This embroidered blog is accompanied and documented by the Were I So Besotted weblog. Here she offers an insight into her creative process, and muses on "finding love in a chaotic, distracting urban environment".

Embroideries from Were I So Besotted

Pieced Together

Love Fire


Iviva's other project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. Rather than telling her own personal tales of love, in The Brooklyn Love Exchange Iviva collects love stories from Brooklynite friends, acquaintances and strangers, in an attempt to map love in the borough.

Embroideries from The Brooklyn Love Exchange

Prospect Heights - "It Wasn't Love At First Sight"

Cobble Hill

Brooklyn is "that" girl...

Iviva kindly agreed to answer some questions on her practise for me.

Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering in 2002-2003. At that time, there was an amazing quilt exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama." I had also recently broken up with a boyfriend, and possibly for comfort, started stitching on things I had at home. The third influence was a quilt-making class: I took a 3-hour workshop at the Brooklyn Museum, and finished a very small quilt completely by hand. After that, I was more or less hooked on hand sewing.

Could you tell me a little bit about what drew you to map Brooklyn’s lovelife?
One night about a year ago, I was walking home from an art opening in Brooklyn featuring the paintings of my then love interest. On the way, I passed a number of spots, bars and restaurants, where I had been on dates with other men. I also walked past the apartment of a former boyfriend. That's when it occurred to me that the borough itself was a map of my romantic life, and quite possibly could be for others, too.

I find it interesting that the name of your current project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. What do you feel is being exchanged in this process?
When people are in love, they exchange all kinds of information and energy through touch, through speech, gestures, behavior. More specifically for this project, I receive stories, and in exchange, I embroider them. The stories are a gift, in my opinion, as is the freedom to reinterpret them.

You call your work “narrative embroidery”. Why do you choose to render the stories you collect in stitch rather than another medium?
Sometimes, I feel as though I draw with thread. Occasionally, I feel as though I paint with thread. Intuitively, this medium feels right to me. I now think with my needle and thread. I was at a friend's studio once, and she had built an installation of a tree from paper and cardboard. She asked visitors to draw on a leaf of the tree. She handed me a pencil, and it felt like a foreign object. I was momentarily lost without my needle and thread.

Do you think there is a similarity between writing and embroidery? Do you think writing translates particularly well to stitch, and why?
I think writing and embroidery compliment each other, but I don't think they are necessarily similar. Embroidery is a physical act; writing is more of an intellectual act. I like the tenderness and intimacy in prose stitched by hand. It's emotive and immediate.

Do you have a background in writing as well as fibre art?
My formal training is in French Literature and Psychology. I went back to school 6 years ago to study textile design. Embroidery was not included. Weaving and designing prints for fashion were the focus. I found embroidery on my own.

I’ve read that you refer to the text in your pieces as “post its”. Are these extracts from longer pieces of writing?
I call some of my pieces "post-its" because of the size of the final piece. They are not formal excerpts of longer pieces of writing. I sometimes think in catch phrases. We do live in a digital world, where speed is valued. I like the idea of packing a lot of punch in a few sentences or a single sentence or phrase. It seems appropriate for our shortened attention spans.

Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
The fabrics I sew on gain more sentimental value through making the embroidery. Like you, I have a fair amount of my grandmother's linens. I have not been able to sew on them because I want to try to preserve them as she last used them. It's in fact harder for me to sew on items that already have sentimental value. Those tend to be tucked safely away in a drawer.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Trail of Thread

Last year my housemates were very amused by the fact that wherever I went in the house, a trail of embroidery thread followed.

Aside from a brief stint during GCSE Textiles, I began embroidering in earnest whilst recovering from a period of illness. This afforded me a lot of time to fill, and to occupy me my dad bought me a couple of craft kits, one of which was a set of make-your-own hand puppets. Sewing the simple tiger template together re-introduced me to the methodical, repetitive and (helpfully) time-consuming process of embroidery.

Encouraged by the simple yet impactful cross-stitched confessional texts of Scarlett Barry, I began cross-stitching my own writing. As a writer, text is obviously my most important medium, and I was pleased with the crisp, regular appearance of cross stitched text. Cross stitch is a craft which both my grandmothers engage in, and so I feel it has been handed down to me.

Scarlett Barry's confessional cross stitch

My own cross-stitched writing

I also began experimenting with standard hand embroidery, coupling one-liners, misheard phrases and puns, with detailed hand-stitched illustrations. This embroidery followed in the tradition of samplers with their combination of image and text. The naivety of my first attempts at hand embroidery is also reminiscent of these samplers, which were often undertaken by very young children.

One of my first attempts at hand embroidery

For this project I will be using the medium of embroidery to explore themes of love and loss. I will embroider onto linens handed down to me from my grandmother, in turn handed down to her from my great grandmother, to emphasise the domestic and feminine associations of the craft, as well as the notion that it is a craft handed down from mother to daughter.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Poesie Grenadine/The Cure for Love

Poesie Grenadine
I first encountered the phrase “poésie grenadine” in a French text book. In fact the full phrase was “la poésie du coleur grenadine”. From what I can recall it pertained to the cloyingly saccharine writing which can arise from teenage romance; the poetic equivalent of purple prose.
It has since become my online alias. This is apt as I write primarily about love and loss (and other “little l’s”); knowingly, willingly or not, I’m sure I often stumble into “poésie grenadine”.

The Cure for Love
The Cure for Love was originally the title of a community arts project to be run by the Plymouth based social arts company Effervescent. The project would culminate in an artwork made in collaboration with young and older members of the Plymouth community, on the subject of “love and loss, the things you want to forget, and how to get over a broken heart”. The plan was for me to join Effervescent in devising and running the project as part of my Contextual Enquiry Project (CEP). Sadly the project fell through, but the title stuck with me. Now that my writing practise had expanded to include embroidery, I had begun to consider ways in which I could assimilate The Cure for Love into this practise. I decided on embroidering shortened passages from my longer writings on love, complete poems, and found phrases, together with sewn illustrations. Instead of “Knitting a Love Song”, as the 2004 short film suggests, I will sew love poems, labouring (with love) over each stitch.
Originally the embroidery aspect of my CEP was conceived as merely a supplement to the community arts project. Now, however, it can expand into a much wider undertaking.
 When I met with Ellie, the founder of Effervescent, to discuss my involvement with the project, she told me that she was “obsessed with love”. A housemate who writes a column for a gay magazine refers to me in it as “The Hopeless Romantic”; love, therefore, is an obsession I share with Ellie, and with you for the next few months.