I was looking for communicable structures through which to convey the shifting plenitude of the material and decided to explore the notions of â??shopâ?? and â??museumâ??, echoing my research sites, the contemporary textile shops in Green Street, Newham, and the South Asian textile collection at the V&A. This chart was made as a result of my many visits to South Asian textile shops and conversations with proprietors, employees and customers. Itâ??s an attempt to reveal more about the dynamics of the South Asian shop: not just the business dynamics but the imaginative (social, psychological) ones as well.
It contrasts with another chartâ??, this time a take on the South Asian textile archive at the V&A. So many items in the collection, so many labels, places, times, purchasesâ?¦ the V&A, I decided, is metaphorically speaking, the National Storage Cupboard of Design and like all the best cupboards (such as C.S. Lewisâ??s wardrobe which magically leads into Narnia), it has no end; once inside you are in a network of connections which lead everywhere. This is what this crammed, untidy drawing tries to explore.
In an earlier post I mentioned the way the museum acts as a huge frame for its contents, directing our looking in certain ways. The great building itself speaks of its origin at the height of the British Empire, ornamented as it is with various heraldic beasts such as lions and unicorns. I looked at these outside the building and then found more examples inside on some tile work. By placing various fabric samples from the South Asian textile collection within frames derived from these heraldic beasts, I hoped to disturb the animals somewhat, to make a way of seeing anew these familiar hierarchical creatures. This phase of work turned into another small collection entitled â??Some of Albertâ??s Beasts.â??
A famous archive of pattern is the ‘Grammar of Ornament’ by the nineteenth century architectural historian Owen Jones, who had a great deal to do with the ‘Indian’ collections in the then South Kensington Museum. The ‘Grammar’ is a wonderful collection but it is noticeable that the pattern samples are given in isolation from their original contexts so as to create a certain sense of order. I wanted to question this apparently static order and to this end have shredded some of the pages in my copy (only colour photocopies, actually – I can’t be destroying books) in order to return Jones’s careful, tight arrangements to a state in which the possibility of any number of other orderings might become visible.
The time for the exhibition, for displaying the visual outcomes of this project, is rapidly drawing closer. It opens at the Royal Geographical Society on May 7th and before it does I hope to show on this site, some further ideas on collecting and the â??framingâ?? of collections.