STITCH in process: a reflection on practice-as-research
Land/Water and the Visual Arts research seminar
14 March 2012, Faculty of Arts, Scott Building, University of Plymouth
Colour photograph is of a length of black 16mm film, single perf, exposed to no light and processed, unraveling from the core, with a sewing needle threaded with white cotton; against a background of a white cotton sheet.Image: black 16mm film, single perf, exposed to no light and processed, unraveling from the core, with a sewing needle threaded with white cotton and knotted at one end; against a background of an unironed white cotton sheet. Photo: Stuart Moore.

The presentation took place half-way through my week-long residency in the foyer of the Scott Building. From Monday 12 March, my presence in the space was indicated by an installation of a length of unused 16mm film, and my sewing box on a white plinth, until 10am on Friday 16 March, when I began to perform STITCH. The residency is part of Research Conversations, the series of presentations by creative practitioners whose research has received funding from the Centre for Media Art and Design Research (MADr) with Plymouth University, curated by Liz Nicol.

A new film These Restless Hands was presented in the Manifestations of Place exhibition of postgraduate research by Lu La Buzz, Gabrielle Llewellin, Kayla Parker, and Yan Preston, in the second floor corridor of the Scott Building from Wednesday 14 to Friday 23 March 2012.

As I approach the final stages of my doctoral study, I find that I am returning to themes of ‘the material and the maternal’, and female genealogy, which drew me in the beginning. In this current iteration, I am thinking through ideas about matrilinearity through a series of practice-as-research projects focused on sewing, knitting and crochet, drawing on childhood memories of my mother and my late maternal grandmother. In the animation film These Restless Hands, my mother’s hands twist this way and that in her lap, looping the fluffy yarn around her crochet hook to create stitch after stitch after stitch. She is making a woollen scarf, for no one in particular. When she is finished, she will unravel all her stitches, and start again.

As an artist film-maker my practice is feminist and intuitive. I use dreams, automatic writing and drawing, randomness and chance. The final form of the work evolves through the processes of its making. It is an experimental, critically reflective practice, but not - until recently - a theorized practice. In choosing to do a PhD, after more than 20 years as an artist film-maker, I sought to contextualise and provide a theoretical framework for my practice through investigating creative processes and gender in animation, within artists’ moving image - an area dominated by heterosexist patriarchal discourse - and to establish how feminist creative practice has shifted from the 1970s onwards. My enquiry is practice-based - I think through making - combined with study of key artistic works, and informed by my readings of poststructuralist feminism and critical thinking about contemporary film and animation. During the course of my PhD I have explored audiovisual forms of écriture féminine, a term used by Hélène Cixous and others to denote ‘feminine writing’, the transformative practices that come through the body, a language of the body.

"It is as if - what is imperative for me, without my formulating it - it is as if I were writing on the inside of myself. It is as if the page were really inside. The least outside possible. As close as possible to the body. As if my body enveloped my own paper" (Cixous, 1997: 105).

Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber (1997) Rootprints: memory and life writing. First published in French as Photos de Racine (1994) by Éditions des Femmes, Paris. London: Routledge.