Why Nostalgia makes me weep
There is an insidious, pernicious wave present in the textile world, promoted by the whole ‘make do and mend’, ‘vintage’(whatever that may mean) and ‘crafty’ miasma, brought on by a wave of cupcakes and tea from the craft cafes popping up on the trendy high streets of Britain. This all sets my teeth on edge, I make no value judgement about the worth of this sort of work; if the maker is content and fulfilled by such work then I consider it a good thing, as long as it is not confused with art, or creativity.
However, there is a problem with the language that this trend is bringing towards the craft processes. This includes a catalogue of horrors, of which, on my short list, are the words: quirky, nice, fun, vintage, and nostalgia. There is a real problem with nostalgia, both as a word and a concept. Do not misunderstand, memories are glorious, in all their techni-colour horror; who does not enjoy a real cringe remembering the mis-timed snog, the ill-judged pass, the fashion choice one thought once was so cool…….. BUT none of this exists in nostalgia land. There, Granny was always rosy cheeked, she had linen sheets (and never seem to resent the labour and workload they represented) wore a pinny, usually made clothes and bread, and so often seemed to be entirely sepia, or in over the top saturated colour.
Here they are in textile art, armies of sepia linen, old photographs and if we are lucky a button, sometimes pearl, cunningly attached. I lost both my grandmothers a long time ago, but I do remember them fondly, the snide comments about each other (she borrowed HER coat for the wedding), the rudeness (you might be good looking, except you look like your father) the bread making, jams and all that – no linen sheets however. All these memories make us what we are, and give us and our work a context. Personally I relive them whilst making the gestures that produce my work, they are part of me and us all. Nostalgia does not contribute to creativity. It makes us pretend that the past was great, better, and sweeter. It may make looking back simpler, but that is no reason to celebrate it eternally in linen. Nostalgia is never sad or heart rending, it is always wistful and rose tinted.
I use linen in my work, am proud of the past of the fabric but I am aware of the unrelenting nature of it – and I will only use new linen, without history, without a ‘story’. WE can give fabric memories, WE can give it a history. This is a plea to stop looking backwards to an unreal past. By all means look backwards and bring all the scary, embarrassing, rude, sexy, happy and agonising memories into our work, lets celebrate the fact that we are glad to be here and now and what has made us. Enough sugar coated nostalgia.