Just over one year on and my exhibition, ‘Material Remains’ in the Fashion and Textile Gallery at The Bowes Museum is at last installed. Working for three days with the technicians Vin and Mark, and Museum curators Joanna and Viv has shown me how my van-load of works of art and artefacts driven up from the South of France has become a reality.
When I wrote my first blog for this site last year, after my research trip at The Bowes, I was convinced that I would be creating almost abstract work which would emphasise the structure and texture of the cloth of worn garments as I had seen them through a magnifying lens linked to the computer. However, this was before I began to find more and more concealed and hidden garments and objects in varying states of decay in the course of renovating our farmhouse in rural Auvergne. These included three dresses that would fit a five year-old child that I found in a hayloft; covered with decades of accumulated debris, these were the inspiration for one of the key pieces of the exhibition. This large installation made from cast tissue paper projects a flimsy dreamlike after-image of fragments of these ragged and poignant garments. As I worked on this piece it became a metaphor for my childhood with my two sisters. Is the piece telling my story or that of unknown children?
Still close to my own memories is an installation entitled “Corps de femme” in the same medium which traces the changes in women’s bodies over time.
This exhibition includes the actual objects which inspired the work. At one end of the spectrum of preservation are the rusty, broken metal, parts of tools, pots and pans, shards of broken china and leather shoes which were unearthed from this, the hamlet’s rubbish tip, as we followed a digger driver employed to clear 60 years of vegetation. The work inspired by these discards shows the imprint of imagined narratives and the transience of the frugal lives of the former inhabitants of our rural farmhouse.
The work inspired by the well-preserved garments which belonged to Empress Eugénie, on show behind glass in the Fashion and Textile Gallery, shows the vanity of possession of these richly decorated garments. I painted the large piece entitled ‘Empress Eugénie’s wardrobe’ on an old french linen bedsheet which has been left folded since completion to represent her exile from France to England in 1870 when all her fine clothes were packed up and stored in trunks.
In the pieces inspired by 18th Century corsets from The Bowes collection there exists the same dichotomy of intent and interpretation: although both are ‘worn, darned, patched and mended’, one is homemade, a practical item to keep out the cold, the other an object of delicate fantasy.
Clothes and possessions as signifiers of class and status divide is a thread which has evolved for this exhibition; equally the unsung legacies of the ordinary everyday possessions alongside the carefully preserved and conserved objects in museum vitrines.
Diana Winkfield February 14 2013