'TROUPE' BY SUSAN STOCKWELL
We recently collaborated with British artist Susan Stockwell to create a sculpture for the 2017 London Craft Week. After training as a sculptor at the Royal College of Art, her works are now exhibited as part of the public collections of galleries and museums all over the world. Stockwell’s work takes on many forms, and makes use of discarded everyday domestic objects, which are then transformed into sculptures or installations that vary in scale and proportion.
You’ve recently been given a tour of our mill in Scotland – what were your initial thoughts about how you could use what you saw to influence your choice of material or medium?
I was struck by the repetition involved, the movement of threads and reels within the mill machinery. The same methods were being used over and over again, which is something I explore in my own practice as an artist. There were so many parallels with the processes I use, and the ones used by the craftspeople at Begg & Co, albeit in a different context and with a different outcome.
I grew up in Manchester in the 1960s, when the remnants of a once thriving textile industry were still evident. I’d visited old mills in the past, and studied the history of textiles in Lancashire, so the opportunity to see the inner workings of a thriving mill in Scotland was something I was very much looking forward to. Throughout the tour, I was struck by the attention to detail at every stage and how inventive problem solving means that the technicians get the results they want, however tricky it seems initially. The dedicated, positive atmosphere was really evident inside the mill – it wasn’t the corporate mentality you see so often these days, and I think you can sense that in the finished product, which is always beautiful and totally unique.
After the visit, you went on to create a series of sculptural works for us, made from moulded metal. How did your original thoughts translate into the finished pieces?
I started making some rough sketches of structures and started working through a few ideas. I had a couple of old mannequins in my studio, and after playing with some of the Begg scarves, I realised that as well as the chest, the neck and shoulder forms are also crucial, and act as the main scaffolding on the body – it’s these body parts that give scarves their 3D form. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make sure the sculptures were kept as minimal as possible, but would still allow us to hang, wrap, tie or drape cloth in a multitude of ways.
I’d worked with metal when I was at the Royal College, so it felt like the right time to start using it again as a material; the act of welding, grinding and bending opened up new opportunities for me to resolve issues with other pieces I’d been working on. Traditional shirt front designs were the overarching idea, and after seeing the way things were made at Begg & Co, I wanted to make sure I entrusted the help of a small fine art metal workshop, so that I could be assured the same skills and care could be applied throughout the process. It was critical that the finished result didn’t feel mass produced, they needed to be stand-alone, and individual.
How did you feel when you saw the final installation?
I was absolutely delighted! Each piece is quirky, strong and harks back to my earlier works. I love the juxtaposition of the steel with such soft, fluid textiles. One compliments the other and enhances their difference. The scarves look even softer next to the metal – there’s a real tactile quality about it. Collaborating with Begg & Co made me realise how important it is for companies to take more risks. Working with artists means taking a chance, but relying on trust and belief takes confidence, so it's crucial for a brand to believe in their product enough to take that risk. I found the whole experience intriguing and fascinating and I’m really pleased with the result.