Thinking through the Arts – Madeleine Seys

Date: Wednesday 9 October

Time: 7pm

Thinking through Cloth

Cloth is the very stuff of our lives. In Western cultures, cloth swaddles us at birth, and shrouds us upon death. It clothes, warms, comforts and protects us and, through intimate contact, bears the marks and stains of our bodies. The names, manufacture and uses of different cloths reflect long and ongoing stories of cultural appropriation and exchange, colonial invasion, and enslaved labour across the globe. The history of cloth is the history of agriculture, science, colonialism and industrialisation. Myths and stories are woven and embroidered into cloth, too, as in the myth of Procne and Philomena, or the making of the Bayeux Tapestry. Cloth is made through spinning and weaving threads, and these practices shape our language, through idiom, proverb and storytelling. We speak of the social fabric, of spinning a yarn, of tying up loose threads, and of embroidering or unravelling the truth. In myth and fairy-tale, spinning, weaving and unravelling are symbolic practices: from Homer’s Penelope, to the Grimms’ Rumpelstiltskin, William Shakespeare’s Nick Bottom, and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s the Lady of Shallot. In this lecture, I will think through the making and history of cloth. I will use spinning, weaving, embroidering, and unravelling as critical and creative practices and reflect on my own work as a writer and textile artist to explore how we make and use cloth, and how it shapes our lives. The lecture is itself a cloth – a weaving together of warp and weft, of material and narrative threads.

Dr Madeleine C. Seys is a scholar, writer, multi-disciplinary textile artist, textile conservator, and curator. She is employed as a Visiting Research Fellow and sessional lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide. Working in cloth, threads and words, Madeleine’s practises involve interweaving, embroidering, unpicking and tailoring. Her work explores embodied histories, materiality, and ephemeral objects as repositories of identity and memory. Madeleine’s book Fashion and Narrative in Victorian Popular Literature: Double Threads was published by Routledge in 2018. Her research interests include: Victorian literature, fashion and material cultures; gender and sexuality; and queer and decolonising curatorial practices.

Thinking through the Arts is a series of six public lectures on Wednesday evenings in the Hills, exploring the way different mediums and art forms think materially.

Thinking through the Arts is a collaboration between Fabrik and the JM Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice.

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