This week saw the return of “Sonic Pattern and the Textility of Code” as part of Sheffield Arts Week, a daytime symposium and nighttime performance, exploring ideas of textiles (weaving, knitting, stitching) alongside live coding, programming, mathematics and music, curated by Karen Gaskill (from Crafts Council) and Alex McLean.
I travelled to Electric Works, Sheffield, for the event with the Pattern Matrix in tow, ready to be inspired by talks from David Littler, Amy Twigger Holroyd, Sharon Mossbeck, Theo Burt, Gemma Latham and Matt Jones. Amongst these discussions was also a 20 minute talk from myself on behalf of FoAM kernow, introducing Weaving Codes/Coding Weaves.
David Littler presented us with ‘Yan Tan Tethera’, his documentary discussing the sound culture of textiles within English folk tradition, where rhyme, song and dance were used as counting systems during the process of creating textiles. Based around the traditional rhyme ‘Yan Tan Tethera’ (which, interestingly, counts in units of 5 – within weaving, knitting and cross stitching discussion, the beautifully divisible number 24 cropped up multiple times as a globally accepted ‘nice number’), the short film showed events celebrating work songs of times past and begs the question, do practitioners still do this? David’s Textile Folk Song project and video can be found on textilefolksong.co.uk.
Amy Twigger Holroyd, knitter and stitch-hacker from Keep & Share, introduced us to an area of her work that she does not discuss as often – mathematics. Previously I have been familiar with the social aspect of Amy’s research, and I loved hearing about this area of work. Similar to weaving, Amy described knitting machine punch cards as a binary device. A punch card is generally 60 rows long, and depending on the machine, can be around 24 stitches across (obviously there are variants on this). Amy uses math logic to design patterns, taking into account the technology she is using and the pattern she wishes to represent. With regards to computer programs that generate knitting patterns from image, Amy argues that they are perhaps not sufficient – computers do not have tacit knowledge, only mathematics knowledge. This is something that applies greatly to our own ideas of weaving simulation. Also really enjoyed hearing the algorithmic decisions that Amy applies to her stitch hacking.
Sharon Mossbeck explores cross-stitch as contemporary art. As an artist, Sharon explores religion, though which as an atheist she questions her own lack of beliefs. Cross-stitch is generally regarded as a ‘twee’ practice, bordering between art and craft. Sharon argues that cross-stitch is not regarded as ‘high art’ – maybe because there is a focus on skill over creativity. It seems that the majority of the stitchers focus on creating a piece using a pre-made kit, and focus on executing the piece neatly and expertly as opposed to stretching their creativity and approaching the medium from a different angle. Of course, there is ‘Subversive Cross Stitch’, a collective who create pieces inspired by quotes of popular culture and curse language, although they conform to traditional materials and grids. Sharon aims to bring cross-stitching into the contemporary, by subversing materials as well as message. She is currently working on a large-scale piece incorporating religious symbols, stitching into clay-soaked fabric.
During the following discussion with the artists, the topic of tensions arose. Both Amy and Sharon have experienced hostility towards their new approaches, wether that be accusations of devaluing the artform or their suggestions serving as a direct criticism to the practitioners. Amy argues that we can identify a tradition by the amount the change in the following years, a difference between now and then, so it’s important to move forwards. Considering tensions in our project and weaving, I can’t say I have encountered many personally, however this is an interesting question I will be bringing back to Falmouth.
Following a short break, Theo Burt presented some recent work. Theo is a generative art/computer/sound/video artist, who, for this particular project, wanted to take his subjectivity away from decisions regarding his pieces, as he felt his (or anyone’s) decisions would be too conventional. The project he presented took popular music and ran it through an algorithm to lose half of the track data and restructure it, keeping the main symbols and chords and ‘throwing away’ the formulaic build ups and drops. The result is beautiful music that you inherently recognise but as a trailing scent, enjoying instead the essence of the rearranged track. Theo also spoke about another process that splits a track into over 3000 slices of equal duration, and reorders them so that each slice will be followed by the most similar slice from those remaining. It was pretty eye-opening to see music approached in this way, especially popular music and club anthems that follow a certain code to become successful by satisfying the listener’s expectations.
After lunch, Gemma Latham spoke about weaving, coding and the theory of flow. It was great to finally meet Gemma as I have been following her work for a while, with common interests in weaving and Minecraft. As a participatory artist, she has been considering the theory of ‘flow’ in textiles, and how to achieve ‘flow’ – ‘flow’ meaning focus on the task in hand, navigating the fine line between anxiety and boredom whilst completing the task in an engaged, enjoyable and intuitive way. One workshop Gemma held in the Whitworth Art Gallery archives invited members of the public to punch weaving patterns on a single strip of paper, with a view to recreating a complete, large scale pattern. Alongside this, the participant’s experience was captured in a rating system. To visualise the data, Gemma presented the finished weave pattern encoded with the feedback results, and laser cut the final piece. Again, mathematics and digital ideas surrounded the practice of weaving via warp/weft over/under, and the idea of ‘flow’ is interesting to consider weaving through the practitioner’s engagement throughout the actual weaving process.
I spoke about the weaving codes/coding weaves project – it was great to have the experience of describing it in this context and people’s reactions to the pattern matrix were both enlightening and affirming. As well as introducing the project, I discussed my own adventures in tablet weaving and cryptography, followed by a demonstration of the pattern matrix. Although most did not initially understand the functionality upon approaching it (maybe I did not explain well enough?), everyone found it easy to engage with and seemed to enjoy figuring out how their draft pattern translated to the simulation, so served as a really good embodiment of the project.
The final speaker was Matt Jones. Matt finds pattern in everything, and also creates them, I’ve never seen anybody quite so passionate about pattern with the ability to see behind the arbitrary. If pattern is everywhere, Matt says, then code is too, and if the pattern is beautiful then it’s likely that the code behind it is also. This takes the idea of coding out of the utilitarian aspect into an artful, aesthetic yet still functional practicality.
After the talks, we moved on to Access Space for the evening performances, including sets from Theo Burt, Tim Shaw, Paul Wolinski, Xname and Alex McLean.