In her 1965 essay, Tactile Sensibility, textile artist Anni Albers advocates for the primacy of touch, the physical engagement with what she called ‘unformed material’. Unformed material is raw and unmediated. Where text and image offers an interpretation of an experience, tactility returns us to the source. “We touch things to assure ourselves of reality.” But for Albers, the material is not necessarily just the physical, in fact, “concrete substances are also colours per se, words, tones, volume, space, motion, these constitute raw material.”
In spending five months on the Isle of Muck in Scotland, we were confronted every day with this raw material. The chill of the breeze on your cheeks, the sharp sting of cold water on the feet, cracked igneous rock and soft white sand. Although sound itself is not material (what sound artist Jana Winderen calls “immaterial material”), it is more integral to our experience of the surroundings than we may think. In the words of Felicity Ford, “listening [is] so key to understanding the physical world, the materiality of a place, the surfaces that surround you, the size and dimensions.”
When you spend long enough in a single place you begin to notice not its breadth but its depth.
"Rocks, wheels, stones and pebbles (...) have beautiful pattern, colour and texture, the smaller chips becoming jewel like when magnified,” writes Constance Howard. “Some veining could be translated straight away to stitchery and some rock formations reduced to mosaic like textures.” For this project, the use of thread as a medium allowed us to focus on the specific marks made on each rock, on how to translate the slightest gradation of lichen into the right stitch, and how, in turn each stitch could play a part in giving a sense of the whole.
And just as rocks and pebbles reveal beautiful patterns when we see them not just as rocks and pebbles on a beach, but discrete and complex entities, so does hearing the world through a microphone expose sonic intricacies that are otherwise obscured. This is particularly evident in the recording of running water, where the familiar gush of a flowing stream can obscure the intricate, interlacing polyrhythms that are revealed when heard up close. Or as Hildegaard Westerkamp has it: “The fabulous variety of individual water voices that make up the sum total of that river sound.”
In thread and sound, we applied ourselves to the small world around us, delving into the details of texture, whether material or immaterial. We would record the same places every day to hear the differences of timbre in the wind, or return to the same rocks to capture the soft coming of summer in the colours of its moss. “The seasons change and with them nature adapts (...). Write down some of the colour seen on walks (...) then later try to find colours of fabric to match what has been remembered. Looks at stones in water and the same stones when dry (…)” writes Constance Howard. Experience the same place in all its shades and you may approach a more intimate understanding of its properties. “If field recording is anything,” write Cathy Lane and Angus Carlye in The Art of Field Recording - a book that became a companion to the early months on Muck - “it involves an acceptance of the shifting circumstances of the world, the sudden, the gradual, the dynamic detail that duration reveals.”
This website collects the materials that emerged from a time of unmediated making, of images and sounds created over the duration of five months on a small island, just 2 square miles in size. The textile observations, images and sound recordings have been grouped as Texture, Sounds, Terrain and Motion with Anni Albers in mind. They are details of material in the rough.
- Anton Spice & Ignacia Ossul Vermehren
Albers, A. (2017). Tactile Sensibility (1965), in On Weaving. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Howard, C. (1976). Embroidery and Colour. Batsford: London.
Howard, C. (1985). Inspiration for Embroidery. Batsford: London.
Lane, C & Carlyle A. (Eds.) (2013). In the Field: The Art of Field Recording. Uniformbooks: Devon.