It’s all in the detail

Another little treasure I came across today – the work of Hannah Leighton-Boyce. She has used old black-out curtains and, as I do, looks at the detail.

East Wing 1939-2011, (Part of) Diptych, 2012. Hannah Leighton-Boyce

“Are those your rags?” 2012

I’m unsure how large this piece is – Hannah explains about her work on her website.

Below is an extract…….

“Surprised and rattled but I accepted this was a fair comment and worth reflecting on, even if they were hung on a gallery wall. I found them in the bin after all and to the one who threw them away and the many others who would have, they are just that.

The serendipitous meeting came when the curtains had been removed from their windows and a story I had just read, met as I glanced in the bin. I never really took much notice of them when they were hung in the windows, only perhaps to note that they were black, austere and were blocking the light, but at this moment I observed a flicker of wonder and connection. Unlike the person who had decided they were no longer of use, I saw them not as worn out, threadbare curtains, no longer capable of doing their job, but, a surviving memory, a tangible piece of history embedded with time; I heard, a story of someone’s mother coming into the school to make blackout curtains during the war.

During war, the window, once a space to view and observe the outside world, daydream and wonder, shifts to being a point of vulnerability. The curtain becomes a fragile threshold between inside and outside, a frontier between the safety of this side and the realities of beyond. They created an enclosure of protection, a thin veil against outside forces, shielding life inside from the outside awareness and the immeasurable realities of war; of the threat of the ‘east’ carried on the ‘wing’ of the enemy planes.

In light and shadow they remained. Due to their particular situation at a QuakerSchool, they hung in the windows of the East wing for around seventy-three years as silent witness to changes going on outside the walls. Rarely now would one pair of curtains remain hung in the windows for so long, even if by circumstances of chance or forgetting, it is fitting that they remained there for all that time, as in their own way they were ‘conscientious objectors’, hung in quiet protest to changes going on in the outside world. Removed from their place in the window they have been paused, in picking them out of the bin they had been elevated them from the realms of oblivion but the fragile nature of the fabric continues to rot and unravel.

It was after I turned them ninety degrees and hung flat against a wall that I was really able to see the beauty in their marking and un-making. At first the curtains appeared still and quiet but you can see time in their making, and hear the voices of the past and activity that they had absorbed; silent witnesses to a lifetime of memories and events that unfolded before them. Of a collection of four hundred or so stories I had collected from former pupils about their memories at the School, I realized the curtains had remained constant during the time in which these memories had been written and re-written over the years.

Opening them out and turning them on their side had literally given me a sideways slant, an alternate perspective enabling me to see the play between the light and folds forming a trompe l’oeil of horizons and time. The light drawing in the fabric shows the changing folds of the curtains within different stages in their lives, as a shield and as a daily marker embedded within the process of the fabric drawing. They are a visual and physical phenomenon, a palimpsest of light and time created by the unique situation and condition to which they were exposed. They were no longer curtains but a metaphorical landscape, a space already defined with its own markers and signs with their own history and narrative, embedded with a lifetime, whispers of stories, the voices and sounds in the surface patina carried along the loose threads and fabric rents.

The function of curtains encapsulate time, their choreography is a daily marker drawn open at day and closed at night; the curtains speak of duration in their marking and through the nature in which they were made by an extended process of analogue exposure.  They capture in an exposure of themselves, the slow passing of time unfolding, and immersed within in its sable folds and chiaroscuro they open up a space between the ‘something felt and something seen’

And here is a link to The Cloth & Memory Exhibition at Salts Mill


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