Brightly-coloured modernist quilts hang nonchalantly across the Bricks Space at The Modern Institute in Glasgow, imbuing their sparse surroundings with flashes of pigment. This sense of effortlessness belies the complicated process of creating the pieces and hanging the show — fishing wire and ceiling hooks are used to set a very intentional scene. Viewers are encouraged to consider the dialogue between the deconstructed garments, the quilts and the room itself. There is a raw character to the Bricks Space, its exposed layers create an intriguing environment for the quilts, which are themselves painstakingly produced. Arrange Whatever Pieces Come Your Way (AWPCYW) is a creative partnership between Sheelagh Boyce and Annabelle Harty, who are responsible for their construction.
It’s a small exhibition: just four quilts fill one solitary room in a quiet, unassuming way. This modesty is part of the charm — look closer and you’ll discover that AWPCYW have cultivated a visual language of their own. Drawing on very traditional techniques, they manage to create something completely fresh: meticulously hand-sewn quilts which deconstruct and reassemble pre-existing pieces to express a new narrative.
Quilts 37 and 38 are crafted from the front and back of an Issey Miyake plantation dress, making use of the shapes of the clothing as a self-directing pattern. Despite being comprised of hand-me-downs, the colour palette is completely intentional. Cobalt blues and soft oranges echo natural material and the connection between urban and rural landscapes. Both quilts reference Neolithic architecture, featuring the outline of standing stones or ‘tokens of energy.’ This led AWPCYW to consider the unique construction of power stations, resulting in versos which depict Inverkip power station and a cooling tower at Pinkston, respectively. It’s incredibly satisfying to see something which seems so disconnected in theory make so much sense in practice. This is testament to Boyce and Harty’s shared artistic vision, which comes together seamlessly.
Then there’s Quilt 39, featuring a kaleidoscopic panel of colour quite unlike the rest of the quilts. Indeed, this is the first time AWPCYW have incorporated a patterned fabric, a Nathalie du Pasquier shirt, to be exact. The reverse is three pairs of gym shorts, unpicked and positioned against a plain backdrop, creating a geometric design. The three garments are brought together by a central band of fabric, a stabilising force in an abstract piece.
Embroidered white nightshirts belonging to Harty’s father, the architect Brian Henderson, make up the majority of one side of Quilt 40. A half-moon shaped black segment is the only interruption, a nod to Sizewell B, a power station Henderson designed. This quilt deals mainly in negative space, which makes the segments of colour all the more impactful. Unpicked beige and brown janitors’ jackets are artfully arranged in a design which celebrates their components, encouraging the viewer to consider the construction of the garments in which we spend our lives. This intuitiveness brings Anni Albers to mind, specifically her belief in the ‘dictation of the materials… listening to that which wants to be done.’ The pieces speak for themselves.
To me, quilts are something you get wrapped up in, in order to read a book or perhaps have one read to you. The beauty of AWPCYW is that it subverts this typical use — in their design, the quilt itself tells the story.
The exhibition works on two levels: it is immediately visually appealing, while the narrative adds an extra dimension. AWPCYW’s quilts are art, but they’re purposeful too. Personal histories woven into practical objects.
If AWPCYW have threaded their way into your thoughts the way they have mine, then head to Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios, where they’ll be showing as part of Space Forgets You until the 7th September 2022.
With grateful thanks for Eilidh Tuckett for this review.