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, the collective work with human biodata, translating it through traditional printing and generative processes to explore new ways to tell stories with fabric as a medium.

For this exhibition we worked with a group of young adults from Salford who are already connected to The Lowry via their Learning and Engagement team.  During a week-long residency at Islington Mill we worked with the group to create a digital representation of their identity.

The bioquilt concept incorporates a traditional quilt format; early quilts were sewn together using fabric fragments, documenting birth, death, marriage and family domesticity.  Pieces were intricately sewn into quilt blocks using old clothes and textiles that held, quite literally the fabric of life. 

For this piece, a hexagonal, honeycomb format was used to reference both Manchester’s textile heritage and the social cohesion of the bee. In places, the quilt blocks fall away and are displaced and not cohesive, reflecting how life isn’t connected sometimes and can feel isolated and ungrounded.

Each quilt cube is consciously contemporary in style, with references to gaming such as Tetris or Minecraft where you are able to build a life with a total control that’s not always possible in the real world. Some cubes are cages, some are held in interference and glitched, some are completely detached, all representing our connections to others and ourselves.

Every cube holds the bioprint of one of the young adults; the design in each cube is an abstraction from work created during a week-long residency

One key process is the translation of human bio-data into generative digital imagery. Using a pulsometer, the rhythm of a human heart is captured; translating this varying voltage into ones and zeros. This binary information is woven into the code along with significant numbers from the young people’s lives.  It is this uniquely human algorithm that generates each digital image.  

Participants were also encouraged to hack the code, alter the geometry and repeat.  We focused on spirals and organic emergent forms capturing individual frames in time. This process generated multiple images with the young people critiquing and selecting the content.

The digital images created from the biodata were then screen printed onto fabric by the participants with each person curating the design, composition and colour palette.

Screen printing is an analogue process which is subject to many anomalies, such as human touch, divergent thought, time and environment.  The outcomes can vary with each print, offering irregularities, deviations and unexpected results.  Primarily a physical action, printing can often be an emotive experience where energy and movement are passed into the work as the body interacts and connects with the process of making. Participants exploration of this medium resulted in the creation of original pieces giving a snapshot of the human and digital intersection-

The animation was created through over 500 uniquely generated images, the code of which is imbued with significant numbers from all the participants and thread collective forming a unified motif.   

The soundscape features recordings from Islington Mill and the sonified print Studio. Audio was recorded by the young people using directional and contact microphones to capture the sounds of materials, the process of screen printing, the ambient mill atmosphere and the gestural actions of the participants. Loops, incidentals and textural elements reflect the repetitive and cyclical processes.

Quilt construction / Jessie Fewtril

Photographs / Jody Hartley