Image: Paula Reason, Japanese Workshops (detail), 2020.
What turns a space into a place? Is it the structure holding the space, or is it something other? According to the writer Michel de Certau, a place is created by the order with which elements are distributed in relationship to each other. Each element, each thing, is situated in its proper and distinct location.
The textile works of architect and textile artist Paula Reason describe this transformation of spaces into places through the things contained within. These are places redolent of the persona of the occupant. Much of her work is concerned with artists' studios, places that have always held a fascination, to the extent sometimes of reconstructing it piece by piece within a museum setting. For example Francis Bacon's studio re-located to Dublin Art Gallery. What is it we hope to find or understand by being in such close, sensory proximity? The why? The how? Or the who? The places where we work can be seen not just as repositories of what we do, but imprints of who we are.
Image: Paula Reason, Dad's place (detail), 2019. 55 X 70cm. Embroidered and painted silk panel
All this we can understand from the work of Paula Reason. The tools, materials, books, pots, jars, bits of wood, pencils, paints, brushes, paper, rolls of cloth, each with their designated place. Through their presence, their co-existent placing, and their traces of use, this accumulation of things hold the narrative of a life lived, They also hold the DNA of their owner, while at the same time Paula's interpretive material response holds her DNA through the act of making, every push and pull of the needle, every turning of the cloth on the machine. In fact, it turns out that DNA may have had an influence on the fact that textile is Paula's material of choice. As she says: "Family legend has it that my grandfather, an engineer, took a plastic sheet to make the raincoat which became the foundation for a chain of department stores in Finland."
Image: Paula Reason, TOM AND JERRY, 2017. Machine Embroidery on Linen, 25x25cm.
Paula Reason runs a successful and demanding international architectural practice, yet she chooses to spend time, thought and energy on her textile art. At first these two passions seem at extreme ends of the creative scale. Large scale architecture, small scale (by comparison) embroideries. There are correspondences: both need understanding of space, the skill to transform materials, an ability to form an overview and a patience for detail. Nevertheless, buildings are hard and textiles are soft. When asked what these dual roles bring to each other, she replied:
"Both are about design, materiality and construction. Architecture involves an infinite number of materials and processes and I have always been as hands on as possible in order to understand their potential. The beauty of textile art is that I can focus on the possibilities of one medium, a medium that can take on almost any form and engage multiple senses."
Image: Paula Reason, A Love Letter to My Father, Beytan Erkman Corner Detail, 2019. 160 x 120 x 72cm. Machine embroidered silk.
Paula's approach to her textile work begins with being present, in that place: looking, absorbing, talking with the occupant and most importantly - drawing. Using her architectural perspective training, she draws everything from every elevation. The more she draws, the more familiar she becomes with the things that make up the place. This is not a cataloguing exercise, it is drawing in order to understand the relationships between one thing and another, an understanding that increases through stitch and embroidery. The drawing continues through the stitching process, laying down the lines, then given body, atmosphere and presence by the embroidery.
This manner of recording place began for Paula with her aging father as she observed how the space he occupied became reduced due to lack of mobility. He surrounded himself with those things that were most meaningful to him, creating a place to be. And so she began to document his living in this place through stitching, and finally re-constructing an embroidered record of his room as an embodiment of the man. The work, titled 'A love letter to my father', became a biography comprised of memory and memories, shared and hidden within the things surrounding him.
Image: Paula Reason, NURTURE, 2019. 55 X 70cm. Embroidered and painted silk panel
In her recent work for the exhibition 'TANSA - miniature textiles', Paula has moved these ideas away from the figurative. She has created an object of her own, one that is a complete embodiment of autobiographical memory. Specifically the memory and memories of a textile research trip to Japan. 'The Memory Catcher' is a densely wrapped sphere of silk, small enough to fit into the hand. As she says:
'The meditative process of hand embroidering the surface provides time for reflection, marking a shift from the historical to the psychological, from the social to the individual, from the concrete message to its subjective representation, as memory becomes a private affair.'
Paula Reason's textile pieces are about embedded memory, in the things and places that tell us who we are.
Written by Lesley Millar
The TANSA Miniatures exhibition runs from January 4 to March 25 at the Crafts Study Centre Farnham.
There is also a process based TANSA Work in Progress exhibition of large scale works at South Hill Park Arts Centre 26 February to 3 April featuring the UK participants. Find out more on the South Hill Park Arts Centre website.