Bioquilt / The Lowry, Salford

Working as the collective > thread { } , myself, Cheryl O’Meara and Vicky Clarke were commissioned by The Lowry for their EDIT series of exhibitions.

 > thread { } is a coding command, a conversation and the fibre within a fabric. 

Playfully subverting traditional textiles, we use human biodata, translating it through traditional printing and generative processes to explore new ways to tell stories with fabric as a medium.

For this commission, we collaborated with a group of young adults from Salford, associated with  The Lowry through their Learning and Engagement team. Over the course of a week-long residency at Islington Mill, we worked closely with the group to create a digital representation of their collective identity.

The concept of the bioquilt draws inspiration from traditional quilt-making practices, where fabric fragments were meticulously sewn together to document various aspects of life, including birth, death, marriage, and family dynamics. In our version, we utilised a hexagonal honeycomb format as a nod to Manchester’s textile heritage and the social unity symbolised by bees. However, unlike conventional quilts, some sections of our quilt appear disjointed and fragmented, reflecting the occasional disconnection and isolation experienced in life.

Each quilt cube adopts a contemporary aesthetic, incorporating elements reminiscent of gaming platforms like Tetris or Minecraft, where individuals have a degree of control over constructing their virtual lives. Some cubes portray confinement, interference, or detachment, symbolising the complexity of human connections.

A pivotal aspect of our process involves translating human biodata into generative digital imagery. By capturing the rhythm of participants’ heartbeats with a pulsometer and converting the data into binary code, we created a uniquely human algorithm that influences the visual output. Participants were encouraged to modify the code, experimenting with geometric patterns and organic forms, resulting in a diverse array of digital images.

Subsequently, the digital images were transferred onto fabric through screen printing, with each participant overseeing the design, composition, and colour scheme of their respective cube. Screen printing, being an analog process, introduces variations and irregularities, imbuing the artworks with a sense of human touch and spontaneity.

The animation accompanying the exhibition comprises over 500 uniquely generated images, with the code incorporating significant numbers from all participants, thereby forming a unified motif.  The soundscape, sourced from recordings at Islington Mill and the sonified print studio, captures the auditory essence of the screen printing process and the ambient atmosphere of Islington Mill. Loops, incidentals and textural elements reflect the repetitive and cyclical processes.

Quilt construction / Jessie Fewtril

Photographs / Jody Hartley