As a student of Visual Arts at West Dean College I am exploring how textiles can be functional through the use of ancient techniques applied to contemporary practice, not only from an artistic point of view but also questioning the sustainability of crafts and the wider ecology of my work. As well as the larger college and local community, I have so far had great help from the Gardeners, Hospitality team, Estate Management and the Shepherd, to mention a few.
I generally use materials that can be found in the immediate surroundings – hoarded things that have been discarded by others; one man’s junk is often my treasure. Within the first two weeks I had acquired a rusty chair, abandoned in the forest, a large amount of wool from the land and masses of apples, some simple items that have given me such pleasure.
The chair I have used as a frame for a first sample of a tapestry weaving technique. Figuring that chairs are important in society, this seemed like a useful place to start. I am now questioning other important items that could be woven on on into… furniture, books or maybe instruments. Which then raises questions as to what are essential items.
The apples have become part of a longer-term project of dyeing with natural plants from the wider Estate. It has popped up that vinegar was used as an ancient mordant and I couldn’t bare to see the petite pommes from the orchard rot away. My closet is currently a fermenting box, along with various jars of urine-soaked lichen.
With the wool I have started an insulation installation panel for a Creative Research brief. I wondered if wool-lined walls could be a use for all of the fleece that seems unwanted. Maybe the amount of work needed to treat wool is something of a put off. I have been washing all week but it has become a therapy, each bundle bathed is like caring for a small animal. I’ve been very fortunate to receive freshly shorn wool at this time of year from one of the flocks that roam in front of the college.
Without getting too purist about my approach, yet using only resources off the land, I intend to use this wool as the sole material for my practical work, moving onto other textiles as I develop further rural skills. The next goal being flax to linen making through volunteer work at the nearby Weald and Downland Museum.
I came to study at West Dean with a hope that I could find a purposeful use for the textile skills I have. Not only is there a generous amount of materials available to us as students but it is such a delight that I can continue to work with waste and junk, and encouraged to question the status of the materials.
At present, I am considering as my longer term goal the making of a ‘mobile atelier’, kitted out with functional textiles created during my postgraduate diploma. The structure will be a physical example of various techniques and an adaptable space to work from: mobility will allow me to visit more rural settlements in order to research natural textile resources and demonstrate in other communities across the country. From an architectural point of view I will explore the type of space a contemporary crafts person requires and the relation between practice and environment.
I wanted to share my gratitude for everything that I have been fortunate for so far. Thanks to the College for not only providing such a fresh, open space to work in but helping me fill it with my dreams and treasures of the grounds.
Charlotte Zelie Arcedeckne-Butler
Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Arts (Textile Art and Tapestry), October 2015