"Alice Kettle: Thread Bearing Witness"

Whitworth Art Gallery

OPen from 1 September 2018 - 24 Feb 2019

(Launch event, 20 Sept 6-8pm) 


From the Barberini Tapestries to the Bayeux Tapestry, monumental textiles in the form of large-scale narrative embroideries, weaving and tapestries have been used to illustrate contemporary events to become enduring material chronicles. Thread Bearing Witness is a major new series of large textiles, and other works, to be shown at the Whitworth, that considers cultural heritage, refugee displacement and movement, while engaging with individual migrants and their creativity within the wider context of the global refugee crisis.

Alice Kettle is a highly regarded contemporary artist focused upon stitched textiles, a powerful medium through which to explore these themes. Thread Bearing Witness represents displacement though the migration of stitches, using the three strands of artistic representation, participation and creative resilience, testing ways of belonging within a cultural space, and using textile as a medium of integration, collective expression and resilience to displacement.

The Travelling Heritage Bureau is collaborating with Alice Kettle to co-design giant sculptural cushions, support the participatory "Stitch a tree" forest, and co-curate content for the Whitworth exhibition. 

The textile sculptures are individual reinterpretations of the artists’ work, rethinking the spaces and surfaces for sharing. A 3D archive that is as playful as it is poignant. Textile sculptures – or oddly shaped, giant cushions – are designed to encourage a new type of literal and symbolic occupation in the Gallery. The domestic is re-radicalised in this space; a dominant, beautiful colourful domestic place of collectivism, communion and joy. The sculptural-cushions are soft, but also emblematic of building blocks towards a new structure – a new feminist architecture. This is wholly relevant given the groups’ desire to establish new studios, and find their place and spaces in their City. The process of remaking their work in new forms, to create this new place and space, is bold and generous. The groups’ curiosity to try new ways of communicating their work is glorious, and emerges as a response to the frequent suppression and oppression they may have experienced as artists in expressing their practice and values.

The sculptural cushions/ "mountains" invite new collective actions and thoughts to emerge in the Gallery, through sitting, staying, conversing and contemplating, surrounded by Kettle’s extraordinary tapestries – the other stitched geographies, "Sea", "Ground" and "Sky", the "Forest" created from the Stitch a Tree submissions, and "Balloon/Moon" .