Artist Susan Stockwell discusses the inspiration for ‘A Chinese Dream’ and the techniques used in creating it. This video was made as part of the exhibition Quilts: 1700 – 2010, at the V&A from 20 March to 4 July 2010.
I'm Susan Stockwell and this is my studio, it's in West Norwood in South London I've been here for about 12 years, it's been great, fantastic light which I need for my work. It used to be an old carpet factory and now it's an artist studio.
This is the quilt that I've made for the show at the V&A which is made from Chinese money, It's a map of the world on a sea on money. These are other money studies that I've been doing for the dress and since. This is Britain made of euros and dollars. sort of you know, who are we? Where do we sit?
This is a map dress called Colonial Dress and it's made from maps of the world.
Often I work here by the window especially if I'm doing smaller collages and cut-outs and drawings so I work at my drawing desk here, it's a bit over-run at the moment. Or on this bench if I'm sewing, cutting and I'll look out at the sky over there because there's fantastic light comes in here in the afternoon. That's sort of like a blank space I can look at and contemplate and get ideas.
I'm not a quilter, I'm an artist who makes lots of different things, I trained as a sculptor so the work is about beauty as well as other things and it's very important to me and I use these sort of craft processes to make these beautiful objects but they also have a content or a subtext that's much more political than that. The work's about ecology as well and I use recycled materials a lot but there's also a sort of ecology within the ideas behind the work.
When I did a residency in China a few years ago I thought it was an amazing, fascinating place that's changing so quickly. You can kind of see how it's overtaking the West or the old world it seemed like a kind of relevance to make a map of the world and a quilt out of Chinese money. And as money is something that you, we all recycle it's kind of constantly recycled and reused and has it's own kind of history, and wears that very clearly, you can sort of see the difference between these notes. It seemed like the right sort of material to make a quilt from.
Sewing is one of my processes, one of many. I think sewing has become more and more important actually as the years have gone by. I grew up in what I call a 'make do and mend' household where we recycled absolutely everything and I learnt to sew from a very young age and I learnt how dress making patterns work I think before I could read. And I think that that has influenced the work I that do now very much. I think the thing about sewing for me in different forms but is that it is a very slow process and it does take time but the repetitive nature of it means that it's actually quite sort of contemplative and meditative really. I almost get into a trance with it and that's often when I have my best ideas, so I'm not consciously thinking about things but it's as if I empty my mind and the ideas come to the forefront or I might resolve a piece of work you know when I least expect it. But it's often through doing these slow repetitive processes that I get into that state of mind and then I sometimes, you know, I find them very creative actually.
This box I inherited from my mother and it's a beautiful sewing box that's full of all these fantastic threads and cottons. Sewing scissors and you know it's all there, it's all there, so it's been really nice to actually out it into use positively in the work. I always had my own sewing box which I was given as a kid, which similarly is, well it's not actually a sewing box, strangely enough it's a cash box. Originally it was a cash box and we turned it into a sewing box so that's interesting that now I'm using money and cash and my sewing box that I've had for 40 years is actually a cash box, I hadn't made that connection so yea, that's interesting.
So this is part of my repertoire I suppose, part of my vocabulary, it's something that I am actually enjoying using and perhaps to a degree dictates the kind of work I make. And that's not being used to make clothes anymore, they're being used to make art with, a part of that process for me. So that feels quite rich and important.
It's taken me a long, long time to make because it's been stitched machine and all the countries have been stitched on if you get up close you can see the blanket stitch, so they're all stitched on by hand. The map of the world that I put on to this background makes it's own sort of pattern, you recognise it as a map but it's partly defined by these sort of blocks of colour that I've actually used for the continents and then I've framed it with red ribbon just literally to frame it but also because it has a Chinese reference, red is used a lot on China.
The other great thing about money is that people write on it and so and there's lots of marks on it and rips and tears and bits of Sellotape where it's been held together and things like this Chinese character, I don't actually know what it means. And you know, they write numbers on it because they've been counting it so you've got all that sort of history that's sort of inherently in the piece now. There are 560 of these blue notes which make up the ocean and I haven't counted these actually, I lost count. It took me so long I lost count.
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