Issue 17, July 2018
Review: Points of Juncture, by Cos Ahmet
Interview given by John Hopper
‘Points of Juncture’ is a book about an exhibition. Points of Juncture was a ground-breaking exhibition held at the Forty Hall Estate, London in 2017 by the textile artist Cos Ahmet. It proved so successful that a book has just been published by Forty Hall Estate and the Arts Council England in celebration. Cos gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of his work for the Points of Juncture exhibition in this Inspirational feature.
Where did the title for your exhibition ‘Points of Juncture’ come from?
The title originates from a series of collages I created during a collaborative project in 2012. I called this small set of works Point of Juncture (Suture Series, 2012), one of which featured in this exhibition. Points of Juncture grew from this, and became the tile for my exhibition. Both the origin of the title and the title for my exhibition respond to various interlinks or connections. These connections continue between my work, the house and its creators (in this case, Sir Nicholas Rainton and the artist), so made sense to use Points of Juncture as the title.
What was it like working with a 17th century manor house as a backdrop to your contemporary work? Was ‘period’ a challenge or an enhancer to you as an artist?
It was a huge challenge, no doubt about that! It is not the first time that I have exhibited in an alternative space, or a space that imbues a certain sense of history or character. It was a refreshing change to working in a generic white cube space, where everything seems clinical and stark. Having the backdrop of Forty Hall and its layers of history invited a new way to think. In some ways it became more of a challenge, as there were so much more that you had to put into consideration, especially as this is a Grade 1 listed building. Not only did I have think about how I was going to work in this space, but also working with the space in terms of display. I was forbidden to attach anything directly into the walls, so had to rethink how I would display certain works. It forced me to work with the given space and its limitations. As well as being a challenge, ‘period’ also became an enhancer, not only to my work, but also myself as an artist.
Did you let the venue speak for itself?
Forty Hall didn’t give up its secrets easily. I made several site visits before deciding that ‘textiles’ was the biggest (and possibly the most obvious) link in the complex layers of history of this manor house. Forty Hall was built upon a textile legacy that Sir Nicholas Rainton (its creator and original owner) had amassed during his time as a mercer, trading in the fine fabrics of the day. This wealth enabled him to build this house. In a sense, I was able to connect with Rainton through my work and its association with the textile practice, and his involvement as a textile mercer.
A house like Forty Hall obviously has layers of history, layers of meaning. Do you feel that your work and you as an artist, have added to those layers?
Yes, indeed! My own dialogue, history and identity added layers. The works (which were now the house’s temporary occupants) shaped a new narrative and contributed to the already existing layers. I think this went some way in helping visitors to the house and the exhibition to understand and make sense of the reason why Forty Hall came to be. On the occasions I was resident for talks and guides, I would take delight in hearing how the viewer would see and connect with the house via the work and vice versa. There was a personal exchange being made which was what I had hoped would happen.
Your sculptural pieces not only occupy rooms within Forty Hall, they connect with those rooms, have a sense of belonging. Was this something you worked at, or did the pieces connect willingly?
I guess it was a bit of both. Certain pieces took a little time to find the right space. With the work Tender Filum (2016) or Inside My Head (2016) for instance, I knew exactly where I wanted to place them, with the hope that my vision and thought would fit the reality. It just so happened that all the works felt they belonged, and as you quite rightly say, connected willingly!
Tender Filum is an extraordinarily haunting piece. Can you talk us through that piece?
Tender Filum is a piece that deals with reconnecting with myself – my older self consoling with my younger self – addressing this relationship through a conversation. It also reconnects me back with my ‘textile self’. For some time the textile side of my practice disappeared, so in a way, I am reuniting these souls. The piece has connecting cords that trail from the heads to another form - a suggested body or internal organ. These cords travel to eyes and mouth of these heads and signify learning to see and communicate again. For me, Tender Filum is about growth and a perpetual renewal of self. When it came to displaying the work, the most obvious place was the Bedchamber. It seemed the perfect location for this renewal to take place. Within this setting, this discourse continues but with a new narrative, its dialogue coming from another character that is in the shape of Rainton. Tender Filum became a piece that worked on two levels, able to translate its original meaning and adapting it to its new setting.
You work in woven tapestry, a long patient process. Eye and hand are paramount. It seems as if the process is so often reflected in your narratives. Would that be fair to say?
Absolutely. You have to give time to woven tapestry. Hand and eye are key contributors, not only in this process, but also how they insert themselves as motifs into my work. Their dialogue is important both as makers and in their starring roles to the works. A long time friend and mentor (Eric) once said about they way I go about my work as, “seeing with my hands”. For me, both are forever linked with each other, which is why they are reflected in my narratives.
What criteria did you have in choosing previously produced pieces of work for the exhibition?
Well, I think I was given carte blanche. A majority of the works in Points of Juncture were produced during my tenure as recipient of the Theo Moorman Trust For Weavers Award, making a new body of work for my ‘Thread Is A Thought’ exhibition in 2016. During that time, I was in conversation with Forty Hall who had invited me to put on a three month long exhibition with them, and came along to see this new work. They were very keen to see these, along with newly commissioned work in their period rooms.
How did these previous pieces react to their new setting, and did they change in any fundamental way?
Surprisingly, they all seemed very much at home in their new setting. I remember catching snippets of conversation during the opening of the show, that the works felt more alive in this space, had deeper meaning, new meaning without intruding on their original message. The works for me, took on different personas, almost as if haunting the house and absorbing its story. One fundamental thing I have learned about my work, is that it doesn’t have one life, but many lives and extends its intrigue wherever they find themselves.
Although Forty Hall has seen generations of occupiers, it is Nicholas Rainton, the original owner and builder, who is the dominating presence. How did you connect as an artist with that original owner?
Interesting question. Initially, I found it quite difficult to connect. Rainton is a complex character, and hard to penetrate. There isn’t a huge amount that is known about his life, other than becoming Lord Mayor of London twice in his lifetime and his role as a mercer with the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers.
As much as I wanted to connect to his darker side, as an artist, I connected with his ‘textile identity’ the most. His presence and my temporary residence transmitted via my work became a haunting of two identities if you like.
Did the experience at Forty Hall build on your expectations, or did it add something new?
Having never worked or exhibited in a heritage setting before, this experience has given me an appetite to place my work in other spaces that have a different temperament such as Forty Hall. A space with a certain history or character has made me look at my work in a new way and would welcome the challenge of such a space again.
Cover Image: Cos Ahmet, 'Tender Filum', 2016 (detail). Photo: Yeshen Venema