Arrange Whatever Pieces Come Your Way, a quote from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is the title of this exhibition but also the name that duo Sheelagh Boyce and Annabelle Harty have used for their work together since 2016. My title for this review is also borrowed, taken from a poem by Marge Piercy where she describes quilts so perfectly as ‘art without frames’.
There are 17 large-scale abstract patchwork quilts in the show. Quilting is a highly labour intensive artform and this is an undeniable amount of work.
Patchwork is a way of joining two or more pieces of cloth together, the individual elements are often attached by machine stitch. Hand stitch is then used to bond the three layers—a pieced front, an insulating middle layer of batting and a backing fabric. Boyce and Harty clearly cherish materials and the process of making itself. There is a different interpretation of Glasgow International’s theme Attention at play here, a lot of ‘attention’ is required in order to collaborate and work together successfully. The work itself also requires a high degree of attention to detail. At first, you see aerial views of flattened landscapes in coloured cloth, you’re then drawn in to examine the layers themselves.
Many of the subjects are taken from locations or architecture, especially in the more recent work which name checks specific buildings such as The Barbican in London or St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. By the same architects as the latter, Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, St Brides in East Kilbride is referenced in Quilt 22, its sweeping brick curtain echoed in an irregular edge. Although traces of brutalist buildings exist in many of the quilts, their composition is often dictated by the existing shapes of the garments. Not wishing to disrupt these residual lines and curves, AWPCYW have brought them together in an act of renewal.
Suspended from the ceiling throughout the gallery, the quilts can be seen from both sides, with much simpler backs. I am drawn to details such as old seams that have been unpicked but without threads fully removed so some stitches linger, left behind with empty buttonholes. The material itself brings further depth—bold, graphic shapes in heavy linen show subtle marks of wear or fading where the creases have not been ironed out and a waist band remains defiant.
The incredible Gee’s Bend quilts have had much exposure recently and you can see their influence in some of these. Quilts have been made for thousands of years, in times of need to keep people warm, but also to share stories and pass down skills through generations. The tradition of using salvaged scraps of cloth began because new material was unaffordable. This recycling process has also become a means to remember and record the past through new patterns. Quilting has always been seen as women’s work, but it can also be interpreted as a feminist act, as well as an activity given new ecological currency in today’s ‘throw away’ society.
Here though, the recycled clothing in AWPCYW’s quilts is not your average workwear and it has been donated rather than discarded. Commes des Garçons joins Issey Miyake and I’m sure there’s some Margaret Howell in there too, these are undeniably beautiful pieces made from already beautiful pieces.
Boyce and Harty use cloth to communicate in a fond and familiar way. There is warmth and nostalgia embedded in the work—lives of old friends laid out and pieced back together. Standing in the exhibition, I think of my friends and the people I love together in a room. The quilts need more space and Glasgow Print Studio shrinks around them, activated by softer, more tactile work than usually shown. The ceiling feels a bit low and as happy as I am to see textiles here, I would like to see the pieces again in a bigger venue. Or perhaps I am just not used to being in a crowd anymore.
Mhari McMullan is a textile designer, consultant and researcher based in Glasgow. She works across exhibitions, retail and education in craft and design. She is a PhD candidate at Glasgow School of Art working with Paisley Museum on contemporary contextualisation of their textile collection.
Arrange Whatever Pieces Come Your Way at Glasgow Print Studio, 11 Jun — 25 Jul 2021