Decorated - Tour Of Duty

Taking place in the iconic Alexandra Palace, the Knitting & Stitching Show is the biggest textile event in the UK and features some of the top textile artists exhibiting their work. Textile artist Nigel Cheney's exhibition Decorated - Tour of Duty will be on display at the Show. He talked to Jessica Edney about the story behind the exhibition.

"I have been working on this project for over five years and it began at the junction of three elements. The first was physical. There was a time in the summer of 2012 when I was simply creatively exhausted. I picked up some simple Aida canvas and just started sewing. Playing with colour relationships; trying not to over think, just enjoying stitching. Very quickly they started to look like medal ribbons and I began to consider the language and codification of these.

"History always fascinates me, especially how it relates to memory and narrative. My late Uncle Michael Westaway had spent many years researching the war memorial of his village Naseby, Northamptonshire. The incredible book that resulted from this was a treasure trove of information. By looking at the loss from one small country village was an easier way of understanding the loss and tragedy of WW1 rather than the vast cemeteries and state monuments.

"I was reared with the Kipling ‘Lest we forget’ motto but the more I researched the survivors of WW1 it appeared that it was never spoken of. In a time where every breath appears to be shared on social media with an infinite digital footprint, the uncovering of family history was mesmerising.

"There were so many small facts that came as revelations and I had endless questions. For me making is my way of processing those concerns. How such important facts become confused after a relatively short period of time was something that formed the vein of this work. To what extent can we rely on facts and how much is an interpretation or corrupted memory? I have not been overly interested in completely accurate costume and military references, allowing a more intuitive response to materials and imagery.

"I avidly acquired uniforms, military and imagery. This collecting led me to the juxtaposition of the kit bag and the uniform; resulting in a hybrid form which after much experimentation resulted in the main pieces in the exhibition. These are representations of the 11 names on the Naseby memorial and a single uniform for my great-grandfather. In Sleaford, the exhibition had a fantastic response from the public and became a portal for the viewers to bring their own memories. The challenge to take it on tour made me rethink and develop a dozen identical banners that are personalised for each name. The anonymity of a uniform and a gravestone are in stark contrast to the personal memories that infuse the loss of a loved one."

See Decorated - Tour of Duty at the Knitting & Stitching Show, 11 - 14 October 2018 at Alexandra Palace, London, UK.

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