Get Wrapped In 'WARPED': A Sarabande Exhibition Highlighting the Importance of Weaving In Contemporary Culture

by Christina Donoghue on 11 May 2023

Centred around three artists, Sarabande's WARPED will showcase each creative's unique approaches to weaving and craft - from human hair to woven leather and precious metals - in tandem with London Craft Week.

Centred around three artists, Sarabande's WARPED will showcase each creative's unique approaches to weaving and craft - from human hair to woven leather and precious metals - in tandem with London Craft Week.

From human hair to woven leather and precious metals, Sarabande Foundation's latest exhibition WARPED has it all. Marking the end of the capital's annual London Craft Week event, the two-day-only show acts as a celebration of the art of contemporary weaving while paying homage to the significance of the loom - an integral instrument to the functionings of fabric (and, therefore, society), but also one that has remained relatively unchanged over hundreds of years.

Opening at Sarabande on Friday, 12 May, the immersive exhibition will showcase the talents of three Sarabande studio residents whose weaving work will stand tall next to an eight x two metre loom installation produced by Souvenir Scenic Studios and designed by the three spotlighted artists. Featuring talents Megan Brown, jewellery designer Anouska Samms, who is an interdisciplinary designer and leather weaver-cum-fashion designer Martina Spetlova, WARPED will showcase the artists' own unique approaches to weaving and their peculiar use of materials. All we'll say is expect the unexpected as a biomedicine degree comes in handy for one designer, while an all too familiar weaving archive over 180 years old becomes useful to another; throw in the unassuming association between human hair resembling mother-daughter relations, and hey presto: you have WARPED. Read on to find out more about the three artists, their practice and what makes them tick.

I hope 'WARPED' inspires visitors to see weaving in a new light, as a dynamic and versatile art form that has the power to transform any material into a work of art' - Megan Brown, jewellery designer
Draped earrings by Megan Brown. Photographed by Stuey'B

Jewellery artist Megan Brown isn't the first in her family to go into the jewellery trade; she's, in fact, following in the footsteps of someone she's related to but never met - her great, great grandfather Herbert Brown, who set up a jewellers and weaving company over 180 years ago. 'Through my work, I explore the interplay of soft, flowing fabric and hard, durable metal,' Brown tells me, using these woven contradictions to 'capture the delicate beauty of one in the enduring strength of the other'. Brown's speciality lies in mimicking the fluid movement of textiles in her sculpted pieces - whether hand-woven jewellery designs or one-of-a-kind silver sculptures. Get to know her below.

Megan Brown

Christina Donoghue: What does the term 'craft' mean to you? What do you think the importance of craft is in the 21st century?

Megan Brown: I once heard someone say that craft is the process of tuning the spark of an idea into something tangible by using your own hands; this, I feel, sums up what 'craft' means to me. Its modern importance comes from providing a valuable counterbalance amidst our fast-paced, technology-driven world; it reminds us of the importance of taking time to create and appreciate things made by hand. Moreover, craft also connects us to our heritage, allowing us to tap into the wisdom and traditions of previous generations.

CD: You're very transparent about your business being inspired by your great-great grandfather's work 180 years ago. Can you remember a lightbulb moment when this known fact directly inspired your own path?

MB: I've known about my family's textile mill for as long as I can remember. It's something my mum and dad were always eager to share with us all, as it's an integral part of our heritage. But honestly, it wasn't until recently that I truly understood how much of an impact it had on me. During lockdown, I began working on a new jewellery collection to represent my identity as a designer better. The designs I had created up until then had always been very sculptural, with a strong focus on flowing lines. It dawned on me that what I was drawing was fundamentally a weaving - consider this my lightbulb moment - as it dawned on me that my family's legacy has been influencing my own path without me even realising it. It's a powerful reminder of the importance of heritage and tradition and how they can shape who we are and what we create.

'Hasir Hoops' by Megan Brown. Photography by Camille Liu

CD: Do you feel the acceleration of technology is hindering craft in the UK?

MB: While some might argue that technology threatens traditional craft practices here in the UK, I believe it can be a powerful tool for innovation and experimentation. With the help of modern technology, artisans have access to a whole new range of materials, techniques, and tools that would have been unimaginable only just a few decades ago. This not only opens up new possibilities for creative expression but also allows artisans to refine their skills and techniques in exciting new ways. Technology also has the potential to make craft more accessible to a wider audience, breaking down barriers of geography and distance. Through online platforms and digital media, artisans can showcase their work to a global audience and connect with like-minded makers from around the world. In short, I see technology as a powerful enabler of craft, one that has the potential to unlock new levels of creativity and collaboration in the UK and beyond.

CD: What do you want the viewer to take away from WARPED?

MB: I hope WARPED inspires visitors to see weaving in a new light, as a dynamic and versatile art form that has the power to transform any material into a work of art. By showing the work of three distinctly different artists and designers using weaving as part of their practice, we hope to give an insight into the boundless creativity of weavers and designers worldwide. Ultimately, I hope that, ultimately, visitors to WARPED will walk away with a newfound appreciation for the beauty and complexity of weaving, and perhaps even be inspired to try their own hand at this time-honoured craft.

Craft is the process of tuning the spark of an idea into something tangible - Megan Brown
'Twin vessels' by Anouska Samms. Photography by artist

Anouska Samms is obsessed with hair. Whether it be hair on your head or the grotesque nature many have towards body hair once it's no longer attached to us. Using clay and human hair to create what she refers to as dysfunctional containers (sculptures), Samms intricately observes mother-daughter relationships, using her own maternal connections as a starting point for research. 'There's a matrilineal connection across five generations of women in my family through a seemingly unquestioned ritual of dying their hair red, like a strange form of "mother-imitation"', Samms informs. 'Even if they didn't get on at times, there was this unspoken desire and act where everyone just ended up expressing themselves similarly through their hair.' Considering this her starting point, least to say, Samms isn't afraid to admit all her friends are hairdressers - where else is she to collect hair samples from, after all? Get to know her here.

Anouska Samms

CD: What does the word 'craft' mean to you?

AS: This is tricky because I feel it's hard to hold onto your own opinion when the meaning of craft - or rather its status - changes over a number of years within the culture itself. Like anything, it comes in cycles where the fashion and art worlds re-embrace craft in a notable way which is ultimately a great thing. On the flip side, I spoke to a curator recently who reminded me what we considered to be craft ten or so years ago has radically changed. For example, and quite rightly, the distinction between art and craft is ever the more blurred, as illustrated in recent mainstream art shows such as Hayward Gallery's Strange Clay and the current Tate Modern retrospective of Magdalena Abakanowicz's incredible woven work. But I don't know if 'craft' ever really loses its silly stigma in the art world. If it had, perhaps we wouldn't still hear the tired old question of 'is it craft, or is it art and design?' in relation to a piece of work. For me, traditional craft is something I adopt in my own work because it lends itself to the art I create with it.

Christina Donoghue: Where and how did the idea of weaving hair with ceramics come from?

AS: Each technique and form I use tend to have a meaning. When looking at mother-daughter relationships - which is what my work deals with - hair, weaving, and clay are extremely symbolic. Mitochondrial DNA is found within the hair shaft and is passed down to a child from their mother or pregnant parent. This is further emphasised when I weave the hair, as weaving represents the universal mythic trope whereby the warp and weft symbolise the tissues of a child's body woven into the womb of a pregnant parent. Clay, transformative matter that inherits the quality of the ground it is removed from, can create vessels from the ceremonial to the mundane. So I like to play on this idea of the ceremonial form in a humorous way when exploring the ways my own family have made a very literal expression of their bond. I tend to make strange vessel-like structures, playing with the idea of mother and daughter relationships through the form of the 'sacred vessel'. Both hair and clay as two organic materials that are endlessly malleable.

'Big Mother' by Anouska Samms. Photography by Gareth Williams

CD: Has your own process of referencing mother-daughter relationships in your work impacted your own?

AS: I completed a short experimental documentary last year titled, It's Not Perverse, It's Mothers, which I found both challenging and healing, but overall, I would say it impacted the relationships I have with both my mother and grandmother for the better, so yes. The film explored the same hair-dying ritual I examine in my sculptures and tapestries.

CD: To state the obvious, society has quite a complicated relationship to hair, especially when it doesn't just appear on one's head... Does this tricky relationship serve any inspiration to you and your connection with your own sculptural works?

AS: Yes! Anthropologist Emma Tarlo talks about this in her book, Entanglement: The Secret Life of Hair, particularly how once human hair is disembodied, it can often take on a new meaning and create very visceral responses. Seeing strands of hair detached from someone's head - perhaps left on the bathroom floor - can then be viewed as grotesque. But before, when it was on someone's head, it's likely that it didn't ignite the same response. In my work, I like to think that the delicate and ornate details are subverted by the presence of the abject in the use of disembodied human hair. From the outside, my work can look like thread, but when closely examined, the same piece of work can then provoke different feelings once people recognise it for what it actually is. For me, I like to play with this in a tongue-in-cheek way to represent the purity and absurdity of the mother and daughter exchange. When you take a closer look at the relationship, different layers are revealed.

A photo of 'Big Mother' tapestry, Anouska Samms

CD: Am I correct in assuming you're also a filmmaker?

AS: I studied film production at university as I thought I wanted to work in the film industry due to my love and appreciation for storytelling. Apart from taking a few ceramics classes here and there, I'm self-taught regarding my actual sculptural work. Storytelling is still something integral to my practice, realised through my use of materials and techniques, but I must say, it would appear that every couple of years or so I make a film; there are some ideas that need to be communicated differently and filmmaking provides that outlet for me. I once heard a comedian say, 'when dealing with complex memories of feelings, when you can turn them into a different form - whether that be through a book or another work of art - you can then make those feelings into a type of literal thing, and once they exist in a new way, they can be physically shared and live outside of your own body'. This really resonated with me, especially when I completed the It's Not Perverse, It's Mothers documentary. Once my feelings existed in a different form, I dropped a lot of concerns that I previously had and was able to become a better daughter.

What do you want the audience to take away from WARPED?

AS: Through the loom installation designed by all three of us, WARPED pays homage to the design of a machine that has remained relatively unchanged through time and geography. Through the two-day exhibition, we want to show visitors the innovative and experimental ways the common loom can still be used today.

Soho Home chair cover, Martina Spetlova

What hair is to Samms, colour is to Spetlova; the Czech-born designer would struggle to imagine a life without it. Her USP is the rich hues of canary yellow, royal blue and crimson reds clashing to create a look-at-me piece to be modelled by any wearer confident enough. Only working with European tanneries using metal-free leather, her designs - often jackets - embrace both handcrafting traditions and sustainability. 'I am also a big believer in storytelling and transparency', she tells me. Fascinated by the in-between narrative that can surround a product, her pieces have 'a chip embedded in them reviewing materials, sourcing and processes, inviting my clients to interact with my work in a more meaningful way.' Sounds quite science-based, doesn't it? Well, now would be the appropriate time to tell you Spetlova is also a bio-medicine graduate. Of course, she is. Get to know her below.

Martina Spetlova

CD: What does the word ‘craft’ mean to you?

MS: Craft is about taking the time to learn and master a skill and then using that skill to create something beautiful. It requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to experiment and is a process that is often slow and deliberate, but the end result is something that is unique, personal, and imbued with the care and attention of the maker. For me, it is also about innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible with a given material or technique. It involves taking risks, exploring new ideas, and finding ways to bring creativity and beauty to everyday objects.

Christina Donoghue: What importance do you think weaving has in contemporary culture?

Martina Spetlova: Weaving is a traditional craft that is being revitalised and reinterpreted by artists and designers worldwide. It offers a sense of connection between the maker and the material and is a slow and deliberate process that requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of the properties of the materials being used. This creates a sense of mindfulness and intentionality that is often lacking in our fast-paced, disposable culture. It is also a way to create beautiful and environmentally responsible textiles, which has become increasingly important in contemporary culture as we seek ways to reduce our impact on the planet. Weaving also has cultural significance and is often tied to specific traditions and communities. By incorporating weaving into contemporary design, we can help to preserve and celebrate these traditions while also introducing them to a wider audience.

Patchwork wall paneling, Martina Spetlova

CD: It's documented that you have a chemistry degree and see subtle similarities in how you conduct chemical experiments and approach your textiles...

MS: Yes, my background in chemistry has definitely influenced my approach to textile design. I see many similarities between the process of conducting chemical experiments and the process of creating textiles. Both involve a great deal of trial and error and the ability to manipulate materials in new and creative ways. For example, in both fields, you have to think carefully about the properties of materials and how they will react with other substances. It's all about experimentation and finding new and innovative ways to work with materials.

CD: Who is the character you imagine wearing your clothes?

MS: I design for a confident, independent, and adventurous person. My clothes are for someone who appreciates the beauty of handmade textiles and unique, sustainable, and high-quality pieces. The character I imagine wearing my clothes is someone who is unafraid to stand out and express themselves through what they wear. I also love when my pieces become everyday jackets you throw on rather than occasionwear.

Soho House collaboration, Martina Spetlova

CD: I've read somewhere that you sometimes showcase your collections through the medium of fashion film; what is it about this art form that has attracted you to it?

MS: I love the medium of film as it allows me to showcase my pieces in a more dynamic and immersive way. It offers a way to bring the clothes to life and create a visual narrative around them, which can be very powerful. Film allows me to tell a story with my designs and convey the inspiration behind them in a way that is not always possible with still images. The last time I experimented with moving image was in collaboration with the 3D animated film director duo THOMASZEWICZ STUDIO. They produced a wonderfully abstract film that resonated visually and emotionally with my brand and audience.

CD: What do you want the audience to take away from WARPED?

MS: I want visitors to see the potential for innovation and creativity within this traditional technique.

I also want to convey the importance of sustainability and ethical sourcing in the textile industry. Through my work, I hope to raise awareness about the impact of fashion and textiles on the environment and the people involved in the production process.

Lastly, I want to challenge preconceived notions of what fashion and design can be and how by combining unexpected materials, colours, textures and technology, we can push the boundaries of 'traditional' fashion weaving and appreciate the beauty and artistry that goes into creating handmade textiles.

Design by Martina Spetlova. Photography by Sylwana Zybura



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Ahead of his SHOWstudio residency, Charles Jeffrey visited the Laxtons Specialist Yarns and Bower Roebuck mills in Yorkshire.

Documentary: Over-Processed

14 July 2016
Interested in the politicisation of black hair, Central Saint Martins students Ievan Darwin and BoHyun Kwon collaborated to look at the process behind weaving.

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02 August 2022
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