Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

In/Visible Stitches

Creativity from hospital artefacts with artist Sarah Milne

In/Visible Stitches by artist Sarah Milne is a new exhibition of textile art exploring an individual’s emotional presence visible on institutional fabrics, in this case, hospital fabrics. The artist speaks about her developing practice to Jude Montague.

Why have you picked the name Invisible Stitches? Does it have a literal or a metaphorical meaning, or both?

The exhibition includes a series of ink and stitch on hospital sheets and a dress made from hospital fabrics. It reflects the time when I was living many long months in the hospital with my son. The role of ‘hospital mum’ is an interesting one. All mothers make sacrifices in putting their children first, but mothering a sick or disabled child often means sacrificing everything, your job, your friends, your creativity and your very self. You have to become the ‘hospital mum’ – a role that comes with a set of expected behaviours.

In this series is a full-sized stitched sheet called  ‘Please Don’t Call Me Mum!’ It’s a mix of quiet requests and screams to be called by my name, and acknowledged as me, rather than constantly being referred to by my role. To be visible as me! The work is all about becoming visible in these institutions that make us invisible, especially as women.

The division between craft and art – a false divide?

You are exploring your long term  interest in and skills in textiles, in making but in a new context of art. How do you feel the disciplines of craft and fine art come together in your work in this show?

‘Women’s craft’ has been judged as less important and less prestigious than painting and drawing for so long. It is changing but people still tend to use the term ‘fine art’ for art on paper or canvas. The definition of fine art is actually art for art’s sake. I make art to show people something they haven’t thought about before, to tell a story they haven’t heard before and to give them a different perspective.

This show adds the performance element to the mix of craft and fine art. There are people who would say a piece of textile work is not art. Many more may say a piece of performance is not art. Bringing all this together, creating a performance around a piece of textile art, dressed in a piece of wearable art,  in a fine-art gallery setting is something I am really excited about, and nervous too, as I hope people will get involved with what I am doing. If it’s controversial, then great! Controversy means people are thinking about it and reacting to it and that is exactly what I want my art to do.

In/Visible Stitches 2

The themes of community and health

You are exploring themes relevant to Hastings, to the lives of women, to caring jobs and to the fishing industry. Please can you outline the major themes and what you are interested in communicating through your work?

My work is about motherhood, specifically the dichotomies and ambiguities in motherhood. These are taboos we still don’t like to talk about or acknowledge. Society has very strongly set ideals about what a mother, or someone in a caring role, should be like, should behave like, should say, and even think. This creates an everlasting burden for us as mothers and/or carers to strive towards an impossibly mythical ideal whilst experiencing utter grief, guilt and disintegration of self through the inevitable failure to meet the expectations imposed upon us.

Through my art, I am to challenge the impact of this guilt and erasure of self through the expectations and pedestals we place on mothers in our societies and communities. I start by sitting with the fabric or net and focusing on the stories it has to tell, the work it has done, and the people who have used it, and held it. I then reflect it in the work, weaving and stitching those stories with my own experiences.

Another opportunity comes to amplify these original stories in the curation with the curation. This show is all about my experiences of loss of self and feeling invisible as a person with my own hopes, dreams and ambitions almost sanitised as a mother of a chronically sick child in a clinical setting with a very specific role and expectations of how I should behave and feel. The show is curated to amplify these feelings of loss, emptiness and abandonment.

Performance art

This is the first time you are seriously exploring performance art as part of the show. Could you tell me about this departure and how you intend it to interact with your visual pieces?

I am an artist who is very present in my work with an autobiographical thread running through almost all of it. Interestingly, when I showed some of the work in this current show before, it led to endless conversations about my son and how he is now. When I reflected on this I realised that this was exactly what the art is about. Most people, once again, kept me invisible, even though the art is about my voice and story of that time. So I wanted to find a way to be present in my art in a new way that amplified its meaning, rather than almost hiding it or apologising for it.

I went to the Marina Abramovic show at the RA and it was simply life-changing. I was so inspired by how I could combine performance with textiles. It’s really exciting – textile is such a material end, at the opposite end of the spectrum to performance.

In the performance of In/Visible Stitches I sit stitching on a piece of inked hospital sheet in a paper towel dispenser. I had to have these installed in our home when I was doing intravenous treatment for my son and I hated it. It represented how my home was being sterilised and made so clinical. So I sit stitching in silence, in a 50s mum-style dress I have made from hospital fabrics. The audience are invited to pass me a thread in a new colour to my left or right side, in accordance with a chart that tells them what that action will instruct me to feel and express in the work. By doing this, they are reflecting how society tells mothers and carers how they should be feeling and what and how they should be expressing emotionally, especially in institutional settings.

The importance of writing

You are a keen and expert writer. Is this important to your visual arts practice, does it inform your approach?

I still love to write but there just feels so much I can’t put into words. There aren’t words to convey things as well as they can be in a visual representation.  My art helps me to write. I have used art as a prompt for writing.  From a very young age, I have gone to galleries and written ideas down in front of the works. My own art does this for me too. It comes from somewhere I don’t have the words to express, but through making it and sitting with it I understand my experiences and how they relate to the experiences of others and wider issues in the world, and then I feel I have much more to say!

Where next?

How do you feel this exhibition stands as part of your wider practice as an artist and where do you feel that will progress to next?

I would really like to have the chance to travel with this exhibition and performance so it can be seen by a wider audience. This is really important for me because of the issues I am exploring here and what I want people to take away from it. I really want my work to help offer an alternative to the current norms of society, where mothers and carers have this huge expectation placed upon them and are then so often made the scapegoats when things inevitably go wrong.

I want to open dialogue towards accepting a new vision of mothers and carers as individuals with a right to balance the lives and dreams of their children or those in their care with their own needs to be free, to emerge and have their own best life.

In/Visible Stitches by Sarah Milne is in downstairs Gallery 2, at St Andrew’s Mews, Queens Road, Hastings from 22 to 30 November.


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Posted 19:49 Saturday, Nov 25, 2023 In: Visual Arts

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