To mark the Textile Society’s 40th Anniversary, the conference Textiles: a bigger picture will take place on Saturday 22nd April at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Set against the backdrop of a city that for centuries has been the powerhouse of global textile production, this conference will consider the power and influence of textiles, celebrating its ability to inspire while exploring its capacity for change.
Those of us with a passion for textiles know the extent to which our subject crosses cultural boundaries and disciplines, and how its material qualities hold an enduring universal relevance. As such, this conference looks to the future from different perspectives; reflecting a bigger picture for textiles through art, architecture, fashion and industry. The Textile Society is privileged to welcome professional speakers who are at the forefront of their practice, and who will undoubtedly present ideas to challenge our thinking.
Jonathan Watkins is an independent curator and writer. Previously he was Director of Ikon (1999-2022), Curator of Serpentine Gallery (1995-1997) and Director of Chisenhale Gallery (1990-1995). He has curated a number of large international exhibitions including the Biennale of Sydney (1998), Quotidiana (Castello di Rivoli, Turin 1999), Tate Triennial (2003), Shanghai Biennale (2006), Sharjah Biennial (2007), Negotiations(Today Art Museum, Beijing 2010), the Guangzhou Triennial (2012) and the Quebec City Biennial (2019).
In 1992 Jonathan won the Prudential Award for the Visual Arts, UK and in 2013 he was nominated as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, so he is sure to raise important questions for delegates. In a presentation titled Unravelling Art Jonathan will question the definition of art in the context of contemporary textiles. Counteracting the often-presumed gentility of weave and stitch, he will present works by key international artists who challenge these conventions – Susan Collis (UK), Britta Marakett Labba (Sami, Swedish), Claudia Losi (Italy), Timur Novikov (Russia) and Ding Yi (China).
In contrast Adam Mansell will bring his in-depth knowledge of British design and manufacture to the conference. As Chief Executive of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) Adam represents the beating heart of the industry, confronting the challenges of political and economic change on a daily basis, and bringing the best of the UK’s textile innovation to an international audience. David Collinge of John Spencer Textiles has said, “Adam has been instrumental in championing, both at home and overseas, UK manufacturing, skills and training, international business, innovation, research and development, and sustainability…[Adam] has helped hold the hands of the industry to guide companies through the turmoil of Brexit and the global pandemic. Working with government and industry, he has endeavoured to find practical solutions to the issues that have been raised and to explore new opportunities that have arisen”.
Over the last 10 years, the politics of textiles and fashion has driven Carry Somers to question the ethics and sustainability of manufacturing and production. Carry is the founder of Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement. She has sailed the Pacific investigating microplastic pollution, examined the impact of Staffordshire’s textile industry on rivers past and present, and collaborated on a garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show featuring plants that can be used to make or dye our clothes.
Significantly and poignantly, the conference coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse – the disaster that triggered the Fashion Revolution movement. Carry’s presentation will explore the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry past and present, considering how we can reshape its future. In Carry’s view, “Fashion is a complex web of tangible and intangible values that extend far beyond the financial. Being equipped with information about the social and environmental impacts of our clothes enables us to make better choices. If the fashion industry wants to drive sustainability, it must start to understand the true value of textiles, which should be mindfully designed, redesigned and recuperated as a valuable resource”.
Following the highly acclaimed exhibition Africa Fashion at the V&A, the conference welcomes Dr Christine Checinska, the museum’s inaugural Senior Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion. Prior to joining the V&A Christine worked as a womenswear designer, academic, artist and curator. Having worked in industry for over thirty years, she has created womenswear collections for iconic British brands such as Margaret Howell where she was a Senior Designer during the late 1990s.
Christine’s creative practice and research explores the relationship between fashion, culture and race. Her recent exhibitions include an intervention for Makers Eye: Stories of Craft (July-October 2021) at the Crafts Council Gallery, and Folded Life (February 2021) at Johanne Jacobs Museum, Zurich, Switzerland. Her recent publications include ‘Re-Fashioning African Diasporic Masculinities’ in Fashion and Postcolonial Critique, Elke Gaugele and Monica Titton (eds.), 2019. In 2016 she delivered the TedxTalk Disobedient Dress: Fashion as Everyday Activism.
Christine will speak to concepts that have been consistent in her thinking, writing and creative practice, referencing artists to whom she is particularly drawn - Anya Paintsil, Enam Gbewonyo and Alicia Henry. Crafting Difference/Weaving Histories will explore the relationship between textile crafts, culture, race and life-writing from Global Africa perspectives. In Christine’s view, “The closeness of textiles to skin, their presence in our everyday life, our instinct to touch, to hold, to wrap ourselves in cloth creates a sense of connection that opens the possibility of cross-cultural dialogue and the co-creation of interwoven narratives”. Christine’s presentation will explore “what textile crafts can do that other media cannot”.
In parallel, the architectural practice of Asif Khan MBE “explores how material and social innovations can fundamentally alter the way people experience and shape their environment…”. His research and development studio in East London crosses boundaries within his own discipline - buildings, landscapes, exhibitions and installations - all of which acutely express the materiality of the designed environment. In 2015 Asif was selected from 1700 anonymous designs in an international competition for the new Guggenheim Museum Helsinki. His spaces were formed behind an intelligent textured glass skin designed to wrap visitors in diffused light – translucent below and transparent above.
Asif is currently working on the new Museum of London and the Tselinny Centre of Contemporary Culture in Almaty, Kazakhstan. His work is truly global – regularly presenting significant new works at international trade expositions. Asif’s award-winning UK Pavilion at Astana Expo 2017 was a multi-sensory experience involving film, technology, sound and computer-generated animation. The Hyundai Pavilion at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics was coated in Vantablack, the blackest of black pigment pierced with light, while the monumental Entry Portals to Dubai Expo 2020 presented immense, intricately woven, carbon fibre structures. Speaking in Designboom Asif explained, “I would like visitors…to be inspired by architecture they have never seen before, and to be excited that it is part of the heritage of the region. Passing through the doors represents a physical and symbolic act of moving from the past into the future.”
The Textile Society is offering a £20 discount for bookings made before 28th February. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-textile-society-annual-conference-2023-tickets-475943609147
Dr Linda Brassington
Chair, the Textile Society UK