Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Clio Padovani in conversation with Jessica Hemmings

C_Padovani_catalogue_coverBY JESSICA HEMMINGS

JH: You trained at the Royal College of Art in the Tapestry Department. Do you see your current digital practice as a type of weaving?

CP: I do. None of the moving image work would exist without my knowledge of tapestry. The moving image editing process is very much the same as weaving because you import a little bit of film and put it on a timeline. That timeline can expand, contract and contain many ways of you affecting it.

JH: Does video provide a more open-ended sense of time than weaving? In other words, is weaving too contained for the conceptual ideas about time and memory, which your recent work explores?

CP: I feel incredibly free when I am constructing with video, in a way that I don’t feel when I am weaving. If each thread or block of thread could be as detailed, as lifelike, as seductive as what the video contains, then there would not be a necessity for moving images.

JH: Why do you continue to exhibit the video work alongside textile pieces?

CP: Because I feel that for many people there is an enormous struggle to see the relationship between textiles and this work. Also I think at this moment in time the work has never been shown as it should be shown, which is projected onto a cinema screen size.

JH: Ideally, you envision these pieces as projections that are greater than life size?

CP: Yes. Enormous. In essence what they are talking about as pieces are large events.

JH: Mermaid’s Lace is one of your earliest digital works to explore a collage format.

CP: Yes. I wanted to make a weaving piece from bottom to top. I wanted to make strings of images: a thread and within the thread the unfolding of a life, an episode, an event. In Louise Bourgeois’ work people often describe the thread on the spool as the ‘stuff’ that is yet to become, to be made into something in order for it to live. Achieving a comparable quality in moving images proved technically impossible, but there is the illusion, in this work, that the images are moving along and being rewound. The work is about the making of lace and the myths of lace. There is an Italian myth that suggests lace comes from the foam of the sea. The text at the bottom talks of a young man bringing a coral to his fiancé and she being so taken with it that she started making some point work and that is how the lace developed. The two little Russian dolls dancing are a story of union. But lace is to do with gaps, the loss and the emptiness that makes everything else work. So here the dolls are being knocked apart and then the sea and the coral lace appear. The idea is that from something to do with love something else happens that is not to do with love.

JH: Stack 1 (No Time) is quite different in composition, more like a digital collage of the human figure.

CP: It is a fragmented body – with a heart that occasionally beats. For me the Stack pieces are innovative because they have a formal coherence and they recall the body, fragmentation and the narrative of the thread. They don’t represent these things in horizontal linearity, like Mermaid’s Lace, but I imagine them as being drawn towards us from the depth of the screen, each image replacing itself  ‘through’ time. Stack 1(No Time) starts with a reel of ‘stuff’. There is the image of a rock from a painting by Giotto. It is a painted rock, a representation of rock, but it is also an immutable thing. Then there is an image of a hand and images that carry on towards the disembodiment and fragmented-ness where all the stories fall apart. But there is a sense that time is contained. The meaning for me of this piece is that time is suspended between historical time and personal time: emotional time.

JH: And the time of making?

CP: Yes, and the time of making. These images are solid images and talk about materiality and corporeality whereas Stack 2 is made with images that talk about illusion. Stack 1: (No Time) is about unity. The hand is the hand of a child playing.

JH: There is something tactile about your use of video, a medium that can’t really ever be tactile.

CP: It is all about evoking the remembered tactility that belongs in the body, that belongs in the heart, that belongs in the mind. So it is about retriggering the experiences that have been embedded.

JH: Do you see that as within the individual, or much larger than that, within culture? Is tactile knowledge is so instinctive that it does not have to come from personal experience?

CP: Yes it is cultural. That is why I am working with more overt art historical references, bringing in the images of the frescos and painted rocks because artists have long been interested in representing material matter, tactility.

JH: Two very different metaphors, lace and tapestry, seem to be operating within your work.

CP: Yes. I am now more and more interested in making them work together.

JH: Lace is in some ways about a lack of connection and fragility and emptiness as well as wholeness.

CP: Lace is something that is basically predicated on the existence of the hole, because without the hole it would not happen. Lace decorates around nothing. In tapestry everything is structurally united. Tapestry can’t exist with a gap. Nothing in its building allows for gaps.

JH: Stack 1 and Stack 2 explore, in different ways, the fragmentation of time and memory: moments when time and memory come together as well as moments when they fall apart. Is that in your mind something that is ultimately positive? Do they need to return to wholeness?

CP: They both finally start rebuilding so that in the end they are one thing, although their characteristics of colour, the type of image that is being shown, the scale, and the materiality are different. It is the commonality of things that are being brought back together. Having said that Stack 2 is much more to do with uncertainty and loss and not being able to find a stable ground from which to proceed from a continuous unwinding.

JH: There is a enormous difference between the two, a shift from the universal and cultural to the intimate and specific Are you referring to the unwinding of historical time?

CP: Yes the unwinding of historical time, and lives, but not just one life. It is about evidencing the accumulation of lives: Giotto’s life, the weavers’ life, the painted life, my life…. In the end I am trying to develop a timeline between an intimate, personal narrative and a collective cultural narrative. I think I can do this through knowledge of textiles, drawing on material experiences that have echoes for many people. They may appear and disappear in our consciousness, but essentially I see them as an unbroken thread.