moon landing is a celebration of the mathematical and technical possibilities of weaving and the crossovers of pattern, tone and rhythm found in both music and woven textiles. This immersive installation brings together a large, hand woven artwork and a newly composed musical score for a sextet of strings, echoing the threads on a loom.
Responding to the space, the artwork has been designed to reflect the 5 floors of the Stamp Stair at Somerset House, to sit perfectly within the space. The artwork transcends the building's levels as one continuous length. Visitors can ascend and descend the spiral staircase taking in the full detail of the 16m handwoven piece, and follow how the abstracted blocks of colour constantly shift and alter to reflect the journey of the music. A process led film will document the creative journey as Margo and Helen realise their respective work. This film will be available as a companion to the installation, along with a recording of the music which can be listened to within the space using headphones. Live performances will also take place during both the preview event on 28th February and the private view on the 29 February.
Inspired by the extraordinary and little known story of the women who used their traditions of intricate weaving to create the integrated circuits and memory cores which contributed to the successful 1969 Moon Landing, this collaboration of creative and scientific skill, as well as the universal links between weaving, music and mathematics have informed Helen and Margo’s compositional approach. Over a period of a year, they have worked closely together, gaining insight into each other's practice, exploring the relationship between music and weaving.
Weaving, mathematics and music
There are many links between weaving and music: the warp and weft in textiles versus the horizontal linear melody lines and vertical harmonies seen in a score; the bright colours of sound versus the bright colours of thread; the creation of textures in music and textiles; the visual rhythms seen in a textile to the rhythms seen in a score; the aural rhythms of the loom itself and its translation into music. Helen and Margo are fascinated by the parallels of weaving and music both being built on numerical patterns and structures; the idea of note on / note off and thread lifted / lowered also mirrors the 0 and 1 used in binary code. The pairing of musical instruments in Helen’s work - 2 Violins, 2 Cellos and 2 Harps - additionally echoes this binary code.
Materials and heritage
By scoring for strings to echo the threads on a loom, Helen’s piece also parallels the use of lightweight aluminium on the Apollo 11 module as this is reflected by the metal wound round the strings on the instruments themselves to give increased musical response.
The woven artwork uses 100% British wool throughout the weft along with fine silk threads which stitch the geometric shapes together. Due to the nature of these materials the finished textile is lightweight whilst being visually impactful.
The women who created the circuits on the Apollo 11 spacecraft were from the Navaho nation of North America. The weaving structures used are traditional Huguenot weaves brought to London in 1685.
To echo this, fragments of a Navaho Hoop Dance and French Huguenot melody are woven into Helen’s score alongside rhythms and textures which bubble throughout echoing the weaving of multiple threads and stitches to mirror Margo’s industry on the loom and the women who enabled the moon landing.
Translating sound into textiles
Working in dialogue with Helen, Margo translates music into textiles. The suspended artwork starts with a linear composition reminiscent of the erratic sound of the ‘Col Legno’ - the clattering of bows at the beginning of the music. To reference the ‘indicator light’ rhythm which beeps within the score, a visual rhythm recurs as if we can see the heartbeat of the astronaut as he ascends to the moon. The palette graduates and changes to follow the progression of the sound as well as the increasing light of the moon. The stripes within the artwork reflect the sections of the music. The abstract blocks which make up the composition move in a stepping motion, reflecting both the way musical notes step between the staves on a sheet of music and the stairwell where the work is situated.
The importance of wool
The woven length uses British wool throughout, spun in the UK with fleece from British sheep. Margo Selby studio pledges to support the British wool industry and this project showcases the amazing color and texture that can be achieved using wool. Wool is inherently fire retardant, biodegradable and sustainable.
The artwork is the largest piece ever made in the studio, with 6 weavers working in rotation from 7am to 7pm for 4 months to create the piece.
During Collect, a display of framed, handwoven artworks from the Nexus series will be exhibited on the Cynthia Corbett Gallery stand - Booth W6, West Wing.
Images courtesy of Margo Selby
Collect will take place 29 February - 3 March. Find out more and plan your visit: