Artist and weaver, Ainsley Hillard lives and works in the Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo. Alongside traditional loom weaving Ainsley uses a range of other techniques to make her pieces, she particularly enjoys researching and installing her work site-specifically into historic buildings as well as gallery spaces. We visited Ainsley in her studio to ask her more about her methods and her interests.
Mae’r arlunydd a’r gwehydd, Ainsley Hillard, yn byw ac yn gweithio yn nhref Llandeilo, Sir Gaerfyrddin. Ynghyd â gwehyddu traddodiadol defnyddia Ainsley ystod o ddulliau eraill i wneud ei darnau, ac mae hi’n hynod o hoff o ymchwilio i hen adeiladau a gosod ei gwaith yno yn ogystal ag mewn orielau. Aethom i stiwdio Ainsley i’w holi rhagor ynghylch ei dulliau a’i diddordebau.
OM: You have an inter-disciplinary approach to making your work which involves a number of techniques. Can you tell us a bit about the processes involved?
AH: I studied Constructed Textiles for my undergraduate degree specialising in traditional tapestry weaving. My practice had and continues to have a multi-disciplinary approach combining a variety of techniques and processes. During this time I experimented with traditional hand dyeing, photography, screen and heat-transfer printing methods to create textiles that incorporated traditional processes with contemporary materials and digital technologies combining image and structure.
For me the fascination of cloth and its construction runs deeper than the physicality of the material itself. During postgraduate studies in Australia, I developed a need to challenge the conventions of weaving, driven by a personal respect for both sides of a woven cloth. This curiosity led me to take the woven work off the wall, to view both sides, and become more aware of the spatial experience and potential for installations.
In Passing 2002, an audio-textile installation was a pivotal point in my arts practice when a greater emphasis was placed on the audience reception rather than artistic intention. I considered weaving both as concept and as medium and the audience became integral to the work through their dynamic interaction. Influenced by the phenomenological ideas of Merleau-Ponty and the writings of Susan. K. Langer the multi-sensory installation considered weaving both in terms of the physical process and the metaphorical connection with the body, movement and space.
OM: Do you take your own photographs? What draws you to a particular image?
AH: Yes, I take traditional and digital photography and have also used images from digital and 6mm films that I have created.
The photographic images are de-saturated, however, there are tones of blue and green in the printed weft. Whilst I do favour black and white photography, the cool tones of the print aesthetically give an ephemeral, light and airy sense to the works, referencing that which is tangible and intangible.
Of greater importance is the transfiguring of a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional material structure and thus requires an active bodily engagement that includes both sight and touch. The photo-object thus engages with the body both in its actual scale and materiality and perhaps this physical encounter enables what Barthes describes as the ‘there-then becomes the here-now’ (Barthes 1984: 44)
Whilst my work focuses on figurative imagery, I have also created works that reference interiors and objects such as ‘Traces’ audio-textile installation, ‘Flow’ and ‘The Window’. I am drawn to specific spaces and want to question how do we grasp space and place?
Inspired by the paintings of Villhelm Hammershoi and influenced by the writings Juhani Pallasmaa and Yi Fu Tuan on the relationship of humans to their environment. I strive to evoke the sensual, material, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of place.
I am interested in materializing the immaterial. I want the viewer to be drawn in to the structure of the fabric, and embrace an embodied and haptic means of looking, to look anew, what Alpers describes as ‘mapping’ the surfaces of objects, giving close attention to materiality and what David Michael Levin terms as an ‘alethic gaze’ a bodily felt visual encounter with what is being seen.
OM: How do you go about planning and preparing to make a new piece of work?
AH: My practice to date has involved creating site-referential installations. The projects involve a minimum of six months researching the social history of specific architectural spaces and sourcing archival materials that will act as a catalyst to inspire and inform installations. Sites have included the Fremantle Art Gallery, formerly the Western Australian women’s mental asylum, the Mission Gallery, Swansea formerly a Seaman’s Chapel and the Old Laundry, Newton House a National Trust Property, Wales.
Over time, the projects I have undertaken have developed a more inter-disciplinary approach, particularly in respect to the materials and mediums that are incorporated.
The processes used inform both the concept and context of the final installations. The development of applied research, generating samples and final artworks is informed by the specific site, the characteristics of the installation space and the theoretical texts that I research from a variety of sources to build upon these ideas.
Audio-textile Installations such as Folds 2010 and Traces 2008/09 offer a multi-sensory experience. The audience (as opposed to the viewer) is actively engaged in the space and implicated within the artwork. As a result, the relationship between people, memory and space becomes inter-woven revealing stories both individual and collective.
OM: You have exhibited widely internationally and undertook your MA studies in Australia. How have your travels influenced your work?
AH: I value greatly my time and experience spent in Australia both completing my MA in Visual Arts and working within the School of Art at Curtin University. I was inspired and challenged by the academic staff and research students especially Annette Seeman, Pamela Gaunt, Moira Doropoulos, Consuelo Cavaniglia and Brendan Van Heck. Australia is a thriving, forward thinking and optimistic art community and provided me with the confidence and ability to develop as an artist.
I have spent time travelling through China, Asia, Guatemala, Mexico and South America collecting textiles, visiting workshops and cottage industry’s. Travelling also gives me the space to think and during these times I write, sketch and explore ideas.
OM: You live and work in Carmarthenshire, do you feel your location affects your work?
AH: Yes I am particularly interested in the local social history and my research directly informs my art practice both in terms of the concepts and in providing a context particularly in the site-referential installations.
OM: Who (or what) has been an influence on you artistically? What other artists or makers do you particularly admire?
AH: I am influenced by the writings of Merleau Ponty, the theorists Juhani Pallasmaa and Yi Fu Tuan.
Artists that have influenced my practice are many but in particular the installations of Ann Hamilton, Caroline Broadhead and Cornelia Parker; the weavings of Lia Cook and Shelly Goldsmith; the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi.
OM: What would you like to do in the future? Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?
AH: I am generally always investigating and sourcing several potential research projects at a time. Some projects are realised and others are still works in progress and waiting for potential fruition it is also dependent on the curators and managers’ cooperation of specific sites to co-operate and realise a project.
I am currently undertaking a period of applied research developing reactive and interactive textiles using conductive yarns, heat-reactive inks and experimenting with integrating audio technologies.
I am creating a new body of work to be exhibited at Aberglasney House and Gardens, Carmarthenshire during 2014.
Barthes. R. (1984), Image. Music, Text, trans. S. Heath, London: Fontana.
More of images of Ainsley and her studio can be seen here