The Presence of Absence

Nipped up to Manchester the weekend before last (if you can actually nip anywhere on the rail network at weekends) to spend a couple of hours at ‘See, Sew and Chat with Jenni’ at Manchester Art Gallery. I first saw Jennifer Vicker’s work when judging ‘Quilt 2005’ at the NEC in Birmingham. Jennifer’s machined stitched newspaper quilt ‘Yesterday’s News’ was a potent commentary on the throwaway sentiments used by the tabloid press to discuss the ‘War on Terror’. Jennifer was awarded a highly commended and ‘Yesterday’s News’ was acquired by the Whitworth Art Gallery – a fitting home for an extraordinary work.

Since then I have often thought of Jennifer – and was thrilled to be able to collaborate on a new piece of work for the exhibition.  ‘The Presence of Absence’ builds on the work involved in ‘Yesterday’s News’ and explores the representation of memory in museums, memorials and the public sphere. Jennifer speaks eloquently and passionately about her new work, in opposition to traditional memorials of stone and marble, ‘The Presence of Absence’ will be constructed from 1cm squares of paper, and each individual square will represent a military or civilian casualty of the second Iraq War. The quilt will comprise over 38,000 squares listed in proportion to the sequence of deaths occurring between the start of the war and the 100th British military fatality.

I joined Jennifer to contribute to the quilt – throughout the two hours I was there people dropped in, mothers and fathers with small babies, museum colleagues, quilters and friends.  We talked as we sewed, we had tea and biscuits and eventually the time came for me to catch my train back to London.  As I walked through the city to Manchester Piccadilly I passed throngs of people, the shops were full, music was playing – despite the rain shopping appears to be the pastime of choice for many. As I sat on the train I reflected on my time spent with people I’d only just met, commemorating in stitch people we had never known.  I feel honoured to have played even such a small part in such a momentous work.

If you would like to contribute to ‘The Presence of Absence’ please contact Jennifer