THE QUIET DISRUPTION OF THE STITCH / Hannah Turlington
7/08 – 4/09
at York PICA Studios window,
Free & Accessible
Curated by Kyveli Lignou-Tsamantani
All of these things that I have done, a snapshot of the rebellious years when I was, unknowingly, shaking off the conformity I had experienced. I had sent my formative years seeking validation through my usefulness – my ability to please and be everything that society wanted from a young woman.
Getting married is an institution. Getting married is a conveyor belt - a conveyor belt that you find yourself on. On that belt you are expected to complete a series of tasks along the way. You can choose to get off – that is divorce. Marriage – honeymoon – new house – large house – children – family holidays – cruise – children leave home – downsize – grandchildren – retirement – golfing – craft groups – waiting for god. The conveyor belt we got on was faulty – it broke down at the children section – and there was no way of fixing it. We were conditioned to believe that the conveyor belt was the only way to live our life together. (Trying to get the conveyor belt starting again nearly broke us – we were left covered in debris and worn out from trying to fix the unfixable.)
I look at the decades when I was not true to me.
Sitting on the edge of the ball pool – infested with dirty socks, cheesy wotsits and flaky pastry – I look at my little boy drowning in the plastic spheres. The conversation from the other mothers to the side of infiltrate my thoughts – breast feeding – night waking – cloth nappies – I knew nothing – I had this baby but I didn’t know stuff. I had come into the story half way through – I had picked up the pen from another author – taken over the lines from another actor. I was in that mass of balls drowning – cheesy wotsits between my toes and flaky pastry in my hair. I had a 13 month old baby but I didn’t fit in – desperation ran through every part of my body – the lies came.
The rhythm of stitching each word onto the t-shirts gives each event a permanence – which I can choose to accept. Each of the confessions are stitched onto Primark T-shirts as an act of defiance – what is usually disposable is now a permanent reminder of my past – as I come face to face with it to understand who I am today. Every act of stitch gives each action an extended life.
My drawer is full of striped t-shirts – a self-imposed uniform that I wear to fit into the concept called Motherhood.
Huddled at children’s parties – slouching at the school gate – gossiping in the park – whispering outside the newsagents – they were everywhere – the striped t-shirt brigade.
Mothers. The uniform had been programmed into me – if I was going to become one, I had to have as many as possible – coloured ones – smart ones – scruffy ones – casual ones – a striped t-shirt for all occasions. Bugger the fact that my womb was barren - wear a striped t-shirt and they wouldn’t know any different. But they knew – it is almost as if a fertile woman can sniff out the stagnant smell of infertility that lingers in the uterus of a nulliparous woman. Questioning is more intrusive – they know how to look at you and make you cry – their very being excavates the shame of not feeling like a ‘real woman’ – a fertile woman – a worthwhile woman – a useful woman.
Each word is hand stitched onto the t-shirts as an act of defiance
to the uniform of motherhood – the uniform of a fertile womb.
Curator’s note: The words presented here are Hannah Turlington’s and offer a conceptual stitching of parts from the artist’s memoir; as a curatorial influence should be credited the book: Amalie Smith, Thread Ripper, translated by Jennifer Russell (London: Lolli Editions, 2022).
THE QUIET DISRUPTION OF THE STITCH is a micro-exhibition with two parts – the physical space at the window of PICA Studios, which offers multiple encounters to any passer-by, and the online space of the digital patchwork of images and words. Both “spaces” are stitching together different aspects of female identities and motherhood, as they are explored by the artist Hannah Turlington.
Turlington’s work at PICA Studios window is entitled “All These Things That I Have Done...” This is a “sculptural” installation that could be seen as a process of catharsis. If a voice had asked: “What are you stitching there?”, the answer would have been serene and quiet, embodying a societal expectation for the composed and polite “good mother”. The value judgement that would creep in here would not reflect on the actual day-to-day acts of child caring, but on the internalised expectation of “goodness” – the seed is planted from a very young age and is watered to become a big plant through an upbringing in societies with deeply rooted patriarchal cores. “The catharsis from the guilt that a society convinced me I should embody!”, the artist could have hypothetically responded to the question.
The installation comprises nine striped T-shirts – cheap fast fashion pieces of clothing that would otherwise function as a “safe” visual identity for a sufficiently aesthetically cultivated self. Yet, the tote bag on the side of the window reveals the artist’s voice: “I am more than a striped t-shirt”!
Hanging, vacant shells of past actions – past selves. Inviting one to keep hanging in there despite past histories one might want to forget, or that one might be asked to omit in order to conform to societal expectations.
Nine past selves offered as old skins of a snake. Skins that are left behind in order for a creature to develop and continue living, while a new “skin” is reconfigured underneath.
On the other hand, the digitally stitched part of this micro-exhibition comprises artworks, filmed acts, and words. A stitched narrative about different aspects of a female life beyond their reproductive organs. Visual and written “statements” that could be thought as being beyond obvious in the third decade of the 21st century. Yet, if one is to contemplate the length of histories rooted on patriarchal values and male bodies, even the mere deviation from them has emerged in less than two centuries of human history.
What the artworks that are presented in this micro-exhibition do is quietly disrupt unspoken norms of behaviours and identities, societal expectations and embodied negative perceptions linked to the value of a female. And while quietly disrupting, they invite us all to rethink and discuss openly our experiences, our sense of guilt and trauma that we often carry with our past “skins”; they invite us to perform our own catharsis by kindly acknowledging our past selves.
Dr Kyveli Lignou-Tsamantani
Art Historian & Curator
Image 1: 'My barren womb does not define me' - Lino print onto tea towel.
Image 2: '34 years and counting'- Sanitary Towel handstitched and dyed - mounted on traditional cork bathroom tile.
North Yorkshire based artist, Hannah Turlington, has been practicing since 2015 and identifies herself as an artist researcher, who seeks to constantly develop her own practice and the mediums in which she communicates.
Hannah, originally trained as a primary school teacher and specialised in special educational needs. During the early years of her practice, she worked predominantly in lino print, running print-based workshops and creating bodies of work for exhibitions and open studios.
She works in an auto-ethnographical way in order to reveal the depths of her human experience. In this context, her practise incorporates questions of Motherhood as a nulliparous woman; Infertility; Identity & Conformity; Grief & Loss. She explores those through various mediums, including Lino printing; Textiles & Stitch; Painting; Writing; Thinking & Research.
Her drive to create comes from a need to be raw, vulnerable, and authentic around the issues that she is passionate about, so she can connect with others who are living with similar experiences. She aims to make work that promotes quiet disruption, that invites difficult conversations that challenge historical & societal expectations.