Something Made By Hand, Interview with TextileArtist.Org
by Daniel Crowder
In 2015, Cos Ahmet completed a month long artist-in-residence post with Fabric Residency, situated in a former textile mill in Manchester, where he created site-specific installations using materials and yarns left over from the mills various pasts, symbolising the mill as a body. In the same year, Cos was shortlisted for the Kate Derum Award for Small Tapestries at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne, and was included in the month long exhibition. More recently, he received the prestigious Theo Moorman Trust for Weavers Award, supporting the creation of a new body of work, exhibited at this year’s Knitting & Stitching Shows.
In this interview, Cos discusses what drew him to Woven Tapestry as an art form and how he continues to develop his techniques. We learn what inspires him and how patience is key to producing his striking and visceral sculptural images.
TextileArtist.org: What was your route to becoming an artist?
Cos Ahmet: After studying my Foundation Diploma in Art & Design, I went on to study my BA Hons in Constructed Textiles at Middlesex University. I almost didn’t study art, so making the realisation that art was the one true thing that excited me and had a passion for, was the motivator in pursuing it as a career.
TA: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
CA: I guess I should really start with the earliest memory I have that may have been the catalyst. My mother was a seamstress most of her life, and I always remember her at her machine or having some sewing project on the go. I remember watching my mother at her sewing machine one day. Mesmerised by this shiny needle, glistening as it furiously bobbed up and down, punching lines of thread into the fabric. Intrigued, I put my finger underneath, and the needle went right through, or so I was told. I don’t recall any pain or tears. I later learned one thing – the ‘textile bug’ kissed me, putting me under a spell.
It wasn’t until my Foundation Art & Design diploma that textiles would fully present itself to me. At the time, I was trying to decide whether I was more fine art or sculpture. I liked both and knew I wanted to incorporate 3-dimensions. My tutors had other ideas and thought I would be more suited to textiles. I, however, was not convinced until I encountered textiles and the weaving process. I soon realised that I could fulfill all of these aspects, but in a completely new form. Making this link ticked all the boxes. I began exploring this new tactile language and wanted to learn more. Eventually, I pursued my degree in Constructed Textiles, where woven tapestry became my specialism.
TA: And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by woven tapestry?
CA: What attracted me to woven tapestry was how this ancient form, one of the oldest forms of weaving, seemed to be open to manipulation and change, and in the right hands, this is altogether possible. I was seduced by it’s distinctive, handsome exterior, its tactile and versatile properties, which satisfied my hunger to produce something different. What I was most definite about was that my approach would be unorthodox, unusual, and not what my tutors wanted – mundane, pretty, woolly and flat! The techniques may have remained the same for centuries, but I was more interested in taking tapestry somewhere it had never been before.
TA: Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
CA: Woven tapestry is just one strand in my practice, with the others being printmaking and sculpture. I also use other textile-based techniques. An example would be long lengths of continuous hand-felted cords that I meticulously bind, wrap and wind with threads and yarns, all by hand. Textiles can be a painstakingly slow art, but there is nothing more satisfying and beautiful than something made by hand. There is a different quality of something that is hand crafted rather than machine made. The fact that I surround myself with various ways of making means that my practice belongs to many disciplines. I like going off at tangents, searching for new possibilities, combining and making surprising connections.
TA: How do you use these techniques in conjunction with woven tapestry?
CA: The other techniques are used to enhance and elevate works. Early works, especially when I started with woven tapestry, would consist of only that one medium, and I tended to think that I had to weave every single element for the work to have any justice. Other media and discipline came into play, albeit very separated at first, but soon became part of each other’s language, constructing completely new dialogues. Woven tapestry is a very laborious process, and you need the patience of a saint sometimes. I find myself going into this meditative state when weaving. It is a place where I do most of my thinking. Having other materials around you is exciting, but it is about getting the right balance. I like how a woven surface reacts with something like wax or plaster, collaged and printed papers. It is that discord that I find most interesting.
TA: Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
CA: Indeed. I have always used sketchbooks, though these days they are used more as journals or visual/thought accounts. I always have one with me wherever I go. They are an invaluable place for my ideas and thoughts to live. A place where something I see, hear or feel can exist and be preserved. Apart from recording my ideas in book form, I also document through samples, experiments, and tests, important processes in developing my work.
TA: What environment do you like to work in?
CA: I am usually in my studio on my own. I am often asked whether being an artist is a lonely profession. It only becomes lonely if you make it so. I recently relocated, which meant moving studios. I am fortunate to have a bigger and lighter space to work in. I am rarely in complete silence. The hum of classical music from the radio and being surrounded by work are the only companions I really need.
TA: What currently inspires you?
CA: Many things inspire me. Like many practicing artists, I look to other artists for inspiration, and not necessarily textile artists. I find that detaching my inspiration from textiles artists and focusing on sculptors and fine artists gives me a wider view. I am especially drawn to artist’s whose subject matter involves or suggests the human form in some way. Artists that excite me are Caroline Achaintre, Antony Gormley, Maria Nepomuceno, Kiki Smith. These are just a few, far too many to mention!
Many of my recurring themes concern self, identity, and sexuality, the sole thread of inspiration is the body – I become the subject of my work. I extract, explore and interpret as I make. Bodily, internal and the organic also feature as textual annotations, suggestions, and references, commenting on the complexities, and the vulnerability of the body, furnishing my work with a visceral quality, provoking a reaction, making you think, cogitate and connect to your own vulnerabilities. Brain, heart, and organ-like structures, filaments and cords are typical features in my anthology.
TA: How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
CA: My practice cannot be defined by a sole discipline. Instead, it is a combination of textiles (woven tapestry), collage, printmaking and sculpture, and places my work on the edge of fine art and craft. It has been described as ‘art, with a lot of craft’. My work is a complex and unsettling set of body dialogues, personal, yet universal in their message. I have shaped my own metaphor that represents the human form as: thread as the thought, warp as the skeleton, weft as the flesh or skin, and weave as the body. I make comparisons with this notion, and connect it to the process of weaving.
TA: How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
CA: My work is constantly changing and developing. I tend not to restrict myself to one process and let my ideas dictate the choice of materials appropriate to my concept. I like to consider my process of making these pieces as a point in time, where the work has a particular place. This allows me to explore freely with diverse approaches and methods. In the beginning, woven tapestry was very dominant, almost every element had to be translated into weave. As my practice developed, other disciplines presented themselves and eventually my curiosity took over and started to produce combination works, and this gave them more harmony.
How do I see it evolving in the future? I want to build on the dialogue that I have developed and push it into other areas, make bigger and bold statements, and perhaps looking at other ways to communicate my ideas. Film and more specifically sound is something I have been thinking about lately, completely alien but intriguing to see what I would produce.
TA: Do you give talks and run workshops? If so, where can readers find information about these?
CA: Workshops and talks are something that I am working towards doing more in the future. 2017 will see a variety of workshops and talks, plus I have been invited to run a short course at West Dean College. Details about these will be published on my website in due course.
TA: Where can readers see your work this year?
CA: [i]Well, I have just finished a tour of exhibitions with Twisted Thread at the Knitting & Stitching Shows across three venues; London, Dublin and Harrogate. I presented a new body of work under the title of Thread Is A Thought, which was greatly received.
I am currently starting work on a new project and exhibition in 2017. This will be my largest exhibition to date, running for a three months period at Forty Hall & Estate on the edge of London. Forty Hall is a Grade 1 listed Jacobean House built by Sir Nicholas Rainton. I am looking forward to the challenge.
Read Daniel Crowder's interview with Cos Ahmet online at: textileartist.org