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Alice Kettle

Creating a space of enchantment: thread as narrator of the feminine

The research concerns the role of enchantment and narrative in my artistic practice. It is based on a body of monumental pictorial works in the medium of thread. There is a tradition of epic thread-based narrative works in Britain from the eleventh century history of the Norman conquest known as the Bayeux tapestry to the Elizabethan allegorical schemes at Hardwick Hall, all linked with the feminine condition. My work is part of this tradition, but not “traditional” in the sense of customary or conventional but determinedly contemporary in its process and themes. This study seeks to define its place within the histories of women who use the medium of needle and thread to describe an alternative perception of daily realities, and the integration of history, mythology and personal experience. Aspects that are cyclical and recurrent as opposed to chronological are emphasized, recognizing that non-chronological time is central to myth and the space of enchantment. It will be argued that this space is a domain in which creative interventions in life and art can be brought together.

The study examines three elements which are mingled pathways which interconnect through enchantment within my practice: (1) the narrative, which conflates the personal and actual with the archetypal in order to resolve inner conflicts and external provocations; (2) the feminine noting its contested relationship to thread-based work; and lastly, (3) the material process of production.

The study will show how narratives can engender the interpenetration of actual and imaginary zones, facilitating movements into and out of enchantment. It draws upon Suzi Gablik’s view of art as transcendent and ultimately good, and Tzvetan Todorov’s writing around the ‘fantastic’. Enchantment is also examined as a mystic construct in the medieval world view, and as part of the surrealist illusory and dream-centered vision for what these can add to our understanding of enchantment within creative visual practice. The work and reflections of several female artists will also be drawn upon to develop the theme.

The study establishes the relationship of the fairy tale and myth tradition in my work, which leads to a better understanding of the transformational potentialities of folk tradition. Through the enchanted vision, the synergies of creative impulse, its improvisatory and material possibilities are drawn together, establishing the place of wonderment within the medium of thread.

This study explores the development of my work in the context of reconciling notions of narrative, the feminine and the making process. The meeting of ideas and making can be understood through the state of enchantment and the “in-betweenness” it offers. While my work shares ideologies of contemporary women’s lived experience expressed through narrative art practice, my personal practice- most notably its continual play between seeing and not seeing- takes the study into how the artistic process works. Thread offers a particular narrative voice that can be appropriated for feminine needs of concealed meaning, but I will argue that it also serves to clarify the movement between metaphor and realisation that is essential to artistic creation.

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