In July we announced our October solo exhibition of textile artist Johanna Flanagan’s work. We were lucky enough to visit her studio in Glasgow to discuss the exhibition and at that point it was very much still a work in progress. However, with the summer rapidly turning to Autumn and October creeping ever closer we are delighted to say that Johanna’s exhibition The Book of Secrets has come to life and we cannot wait to share it with you.
Based in Glasgow, Johanna Flanagan trained firstly in textiles at Duncan of Jordanstone College, Dundee, and then in Fashion at the Royal College of Art, London. From childhood Johanna has always been fascinated by dolls, storytelling, mythology and textiles. An avid collector of various cloths, fabrics and threads, Johanna has always been, and still is, intrigued by how a textile is constructed, the relationship between warp and weft, or by the history of a length of thread. The work Johanna creates allows the history of a particular fabric to shine through, creating new life and new stories. The Book of Secrets is an exhibition of work created by Johanna specifically for Tig Gallery, Tighnabruaich. You are invited to enter a world frozen in a moment, to be surrounded by a magical gathering of stories and characters which may change and move as soon as you look away.
Salvaged linens, calicos, silks and cottons, dyed using natural materials are used to create a series of dolls, creatures and organic forms. With exquisite line drawings pinned to the walls, the gallery has been transformed into a space where stories can be told, characters have been created and brought to life in some kind of magic alchemy. Drawing on her experience of living in a Norwegian forest where life and death, beauty and decay, stillness and chaos live side by side Johanna says of her work:
“Some artworks are crafted carefully over periods of weeks, while some are immediate responses to dreams, emotions, desires and events. Dolls are carefully hand crafted then left at the point of transformation into a character with their own soul. Organic forms are painstakingly stitched and layered but left seemingly unfinished, always just at the point between transformation and decay. Collages and drawings are balanced between points of extreme control and the unpredictable results of plant dying, decay and destruction. Pieces are taken to the point where they imbue a sense of place, a character, a living form; and then are left in a moment of stillness just beyond the edge of becoming.”
In preparation for the show we had a chat with Johanna about her practise as an artist and her concept behind the exhibition.
Tell us a bit about your artistic practise and processes.
My practice is led by intuition, emotion and craft processes. I create dolls, organic forms and collages, using layers of fabric, thread, paper and dye.
My process involves a continuous shifting dynamic between focused control of the piece and surrender to a variety unpredictable processes that connect the piece to the natural environment at a given time and place. The finished piece is a focus for the exploration of materials and processes and is only complete once the piece seems to embody a character or life of its own. The process drives the piece and my interaction with the environment and materials drives the process.
I use dyes sourced from my surrounding environment - plants, nuts, bark, earth, which are then applied intuitively to a piece creating unpredictable patterns and results which then become the stimulus for the next stage of the design process. No piece is designed in advance, all pieces are led by the combination of the unpredictable results of dying, burning, burying and decaying of the piece and the controlled elements of hand stitching, drawing and embroidery.
I work with all natural fibres - silk, linen, cotton and ramie which are mostly salvaged, which again have an element of their own past and relationship to their environment.
Why do you do what you do?
Conceptually I am interested in the edges of opposites touching within the same piece - chaos and control, inanimate and soulful, life and decay. I am particularly interested in the moment of transmutation from cloth to character. I take the piece to the edge of the point of completion and aim to create a piece that appears to be in the process of transformation. I am interested in what brings a piece to the point of seeming to reveal it’s own character and history, the point where the inanimate seems to embody a soul or character of it’s own.