Tangled Yarns explores the politics and morality of the textile industry and the cotton trade, from the 18th century to the present day.
Each work examines a different episode in the industry’s complex - and often brutal – history, combining found fabrics with painting, stitch or print. Using both narrative and more abstract approaches, Schmidt reveals how the trade is intertwined with issues of race and gender, exploitation and violence.
The earliest story is that of the violent campaign by English weavers against imported Indian cotton in the early 18th century, when gangs attacked women wearing patterned cotton gowns or petticoats. Elsewhere, classic Morris prints have been subverted to remind us how Morris & Co, through its supply chain, was linked to the cotton mills of 19th century Lancashire. Recent events explored by Schmidt include the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building, which killed 1,138 Bangladeshi garment workers.
Each piece incorporates a different fabric, chosen for its association with the story being told and used as a canvas, sculptural medium or object in itself.
Schmidt deliberately cultivates the tension between the works’ provocative subject matter and their delicate, often decorative, appearance.
Rather than presenting a definitive political statement, she invites us to consider the contradictions and ambiguities of a trade that spans centuries and every part of the globe.
The exhibition and associated educational programme kindly supported by Arts Council England
Special thanks to Morris & Co for supplying fabrics used in the show