Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood  detail

Flesh and Blood addresses some of the many factors which embody being human. By looking closely at this quilt the viewer can visually unpick the many layers that form the quilt 'portrait’.

 

​The springboard for this was the diagrammatic double wedding ring; this traditional quilt design is a pattern which suggest links and bonds to family. The blueprint was turned diagonally and compressed into an oval shape to create the chromosome template for the female and male, XX and XY design. This arrangement ran the length of a vertical format enabling the western reader to view the work from left to right and top to bottom. In addition, it makes the most of the primary design XX and XY pattern. Had the format been horizontal the XX and XY may have been read as pairs instead of as individuals.

Embedded within the chromosome letters are fragments of black and white photographs printed on fabric and arranged sideways, portraying couples and families. The photographs are sideways on, so the XX XY would be read first as a pattern and not specifically as a collage of photographs until viewed more closely. The images are printed twice, one slightly overexposed, and mirror each other across the quilt. My decision to limit the 'flesh' or top of the quilt to black and white and the underside red 'blood' is my observation on the randomness of the colour of one's skin.

 

The pictures range from the early days of photography to modern day and most are of diverse, hybrid individuals, taken from across the globe.  As humans, we are programmed to be drawn to faces more than any other image. The neurons in our visual cortex can respond to a familiar face in less than a second and we are able to sense the mood of a colleague or recognise someone we haven’t seen for years.

 The assistance of a Longarm quilting machine technician was employed to stitch customised quilting patterns throughout the work. Instead of the traditional flat stitched pattern running edge to edge of a quilt, customised patterns employ various designs stitched separately in all the different zones. Not only did this add to the layered theme, but it gives more clues to deciphering the quilt portrait. Stitched in red, zigzagging down the XY shapes, is the first of two quilting patterns, the DNA chain. This was intended to further obscure and change the nature of the photographic fabric to be read at first glance as a pattern. The thread at the ends of the rows, or where the quilter refilled her bobbin or changed direction, are hanging loose and not concealed as is usual, suggesting that all human life is work in progress, capable of perpetual development and change. The larger areas of fabric echo female genitalia; the quilting stitches are closer in colour to the fabric and takes the form of sperm swimming towards an ovum.

The nature of the whole quilt puts one in mind of cured animal hides linked together one above the other, the 'skin' of the portrait. The underside of the quilt is backed in a red fabric. This colour suggests a glimpse under the skin. The quilt hangs proud from the wall some twenty centimetres, supported by a narrow rod held up by two test tube clamps on either side and mounted on a metal plate screwed to the wall. The test tube clamps are a medical reference and also a vehicle to allow the red from the back to be subtly reflected onto the wall behind the quilt, which adds the under-the-skin blood element.

 

Flesh and Blood pieced fabric and longarm quilting

The printed photograph fabric (detail)

Sketches and other methods I used to calculate the best  arrangement of the photographs to form the X and Y pattern

The double wedding ring quilt pattern and turned sideways to form the XX and XY pattern

First a paper pattern is cut and laid out to determine how many photographs are needed

A tanned animal hide

Using tracing paper to work out the pattern for the body fabric

Initial tests for how the printed fabric portion responded to the machine stitching and the wadding behind using the DNA pattern.

Test tube clamp used to support the work

I have always known that my maternal grandfather’s lineage was black. Whilst my mother was living we never spoke of it. My grandparents married in the Edwardian era, in colonial Trinidad. Still reeling from the Victorian period of austere moral judgement, nonconformist family business went unspoken.

 

All Africans who travelled to the Caribbean at that time would have been sold as slaves, wrenched apart from their families, even children were sold separately. This story has been told many times. 

 

I have a modicum of information regarding my grandmother’s family, who were second or third generation Irish immigrants to the Caribbean. Her sisters and a cousin have been important parts of my life, but further back, my heritage knowledge is a blank. I knew even less about my grandfather, until I took a DNA test. A number of my older cousins have recollections of him, but they were very young and childhood memories are glimpses, half stories, often unconnected and confused. We have been told that his father was white and his mother, who was black, is said to have descended from slaves in Barbados.

 

 

My DNA story

My choice to include photographs of mixed-race couples for Flesh and Blood is a direct response to my frustration with racial prejudice still happening around us. I deliberately searched for images as far back in history as I could find to evidence that there have always been valiant souls willing to stand up for those that they love, no matter what the shade of their skin. These were the courageous few, swimming very much against the societal tide.   Now racism remains ever present, primarily because of the ingrained social and political attitudes formed generations ago, operating alongside privilege and ignorance, to continue to kindle social racist conventions.

The use of photographic images downloaded from the internet, flags up potential copyright issues. The law is not particularly clear about this point.  The artist Richard Prince was successfully sued in New York for copyright infringement by  French artist Patrick Cariou for the use of his photographs  without permission. Prince added collage, daubs of paint and other techniques to change and partially obscure several of the original images. Prince had claimed fair-use exemption, stating his work was transformative and on appeal the finding was revoked even though his work hadn’t altered the meaning of Cariou’s original message.

Left, Patrick Cariou's original photograph.  Right, Richard Prince's Graduation 2008

The Law in Britain is equally unclear. An overview of the revised copyright laws of 1988 states that work deemed a Pastiche may be used without seeking the photographer’s permission. The dictionary definition of Pastiche states in part, a medley of borrowings.

 

I have used photographs of mix race couples taken from the internet with no visible photographic credit assigned to them. They have been constructed as a décollage, as did the German artist Wolf Vostell or the Italian artist Mimmo Rotella, and many others, who borrowed images from television and magazines and repurposed them into new art.

 

In forming the XX XY pattern in the quilt, using photographs of real people, my intention is not to copy but to champion the choices they have made to be with those they love, often in the face of adversity and prejudice

Anno 1990 pencil on paper Alighiero e Boetti

Although a drawing it is a direct copy of magazine covers from 1990

Wochenspiegel Beatles decollage

Wolf Vostell

King Kreole 2004 décollage

Mimmo Rotella

A closer look at the photographs used on Flesh and Blood