The Collect Open artist weaving 3D sculptures
From makers and designers, to collectors and curators, Collect brings together a diverse mix of people all doing very different work. In the latest issue of Crafts, we met just a few coming to this year’s fair including textile artist Hannah Robson as she prepares an ambitious new trio of woven wall panels for Collect Open.
Visiting Hannah Robson’s Oxford studio one chilly November morning it’s easy to imagine you’re meeting more than one person. There’s the talented maker herself, of course, and then there’s ‘the loom’. Towering above her in what is a modestly sized space, it certainly has a mighty physical presence and the way she talks about it also suggests a bit of a character.
Robson refers to her ‘ongoing conversation with the loom’, by which she doesn’t mean discussing the weather or the latest news headlines, but that the loom has a certain amount of say in what can be made. That means working with it and around its restrictions to explore all the possibilities. ‘Just when you think it’s going well you realise the loom has other ideas,’ she smiles. ‘You’ll try something out that you think will work, but the loom will tell you that it’s just not possible. Although it will probably reveal you can do it another way.’
Difficult ‘conversations’ Robson had with an earlier, more limited, loom led her to where she is now. Currently on the loom is a section of one of three wall panels to be exhibited at Collect Open. Twisted interludes of copper wire pop up among channels of ultramarine thread like rippling, metallic waves. Each twist takes about a day to produce and the effect is mesmeric.
Inspired by the imagined city Ersilia, as described in Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, the challenge was to make tangible the invisible connections the author refers to in the book. Visitors to Collect are encouraged to follow the lines of threads through the twisted forms. The panels will be shown alongside a selection of woven 3D sculptures, made largely from copper wire, a technique she developed at the RCA.
Robson first started weaving at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, where she studied Woven Textile Design, but her interest in textiles was sparked long before. Her mother, an accomplished upholsterer, taught her to sew as a child and there followed an inspirational Saturday job at a couturier in Oxford (Robson’s home city) where she loved to pick apart the swatches of fabric.
She had a go at all the disciplines while at Winchester, but immediately took to weaving and was encouraged to specialise early on. ‘We started off quite simply on a table loom, but the idea of taking a little patch of air, building a frame around it, pulling threads into it to gradually build up a cloth just seemed to me such a magical process.’ She left Winchester with a solid grounding in the craft but it was while at the RCA, and given the time and space to really experiment, that she became fascinated by its sculptural possibilities.
The breakthrough was combining lacemaking with weaving done on the loom allowing her to ‘manipulate threads in alternate directions and build them up into 3D forms’. Her face lights up as she recalls a work placement with Stäubli, a Swiss mechatronics company that builds gigantic looms for the technical textiles industry, enabling the production of 3D objects. She is equally enthused recalling a foray into welding. ‘I really do like the idea of weaving and welding,’ she beams. ‘More welding may well be in order.’
In between periods of making, Robson teaches at Bradford School of Art and she has exhibited extensively since leaving the RCA in 2016. This has led to numerous private commissions that mostly involve remaking exhibits as opposed to creating new pieces. Just a tiny bit of light goes out of her eyes when she discusses this work. ‘I’m very happy to do [the commissions],’ she smiles, ‘but I’d much rather be finding out what the loom is going to tell me next.’