(All images are from Debbie Lyddon’s website and blog)
I discovered the work of British textile artist Debbie Lyddon two years ago and started following its evolution closely but it was only in the last months that I gradually understood how her slowly developed reflective pieces are in many ways deeply connected with the fundamental themes of this course – place and time. This is why for my last Assignment I choose to study a body of work by her, ‘Caught by the Tide’ (2014), that has directly grown from her special, intimate, prolonged relation with the coastal environment of North Norfolk, and specifically of Wells-by-the-Sea, and the processes of change brought to it by the daily tides.
The pieces of this series – a variety of Cloths, Pots and Pipes – were created over an extended period and finally exhibited as a cohesive whole in 2014 at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery in London. Even if, judging from the images of the exhibition, it seems that also in the artificial and space-limited setting of a gallery they still resonated strongly with the landscape from which they were born, the act of exhibiting them in a gallery somehow interrupted and froze the flow of their organic evolution and set them apart as objects. This ‘objectification’ is a step that the artist deemed necessary to get a perspective on her work but of course it also implied creating a distance from it, a separation that took away ‘the closeness of being with it’ as Debbie Lyddon noted in her blog.
That said, I think that reading the posts of her compelling, at times poetic blog and learning how her pieces organically evolved in time, how they grew from her thoughts and her walks and experiences in the environment is really important to understand her creative practice, develop a fuller appreciation of her work and usefully integrate the exhibition. Her emphasis on the processes of creation and on the action of natural elements on the materials she gathers and transforms makes us look at her actual pieces with increased attention, ‘through’ their story, and they become ‘charged’ with the place they are physically imbued with. These are aspects of her work that remind me of another textile and paper artist, Cas Holmes, who creates evocative mixed media pieces from salvaged materials found in the urban and natural landscape.
From reading Debbie Lyddon’s blog we get to know that the canvas she uses is that found on the beach in the form of tarpaulins, boat covers and sails and still bears strong associations with its primary functions of protection in a marine environment and for sailing by people who live by the sea. We learn among other things that to create some of her pieces, the ‘Tarpaulin Cloths’, she repeatedly dipped them into saltwater – ‘I like to use the sea as a resource – it is another material available to me – so I put this cloth into the sea and then left it outside in the salty, coastal environment’. And in describing the process the artist uses what I think is a very beautiful, powerful expression – ‘taking the cloth to the water’ – like for a personal, repetitive ritual that goes well beyond enriching the cloth with salt and let the sewn-in metal rings gradually rust.
An aspect that appears as fundamental in this artist’s work is the act of repetition, in the form of repetitive, contemplative gestures, recurring shapes and stitches. On the one hand, repetition connects her work to her former practice as a flautist and so to her story, to her personal narrative: ‘I think this way of working recalls my former life as a musician and the hours of repetitive flute practice required to learn a new piece of music’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).
On the other, the repetition of certain elements like holes helps to draw attention and direct vision. Holes are for her ‘an immaterial emptiness’ which ‘allows us to see a nothing – to make visible the invisible’ (Art that Inspires, 2016), and so encourage a meditative, intellectual exploration of her pieces. And in this regard Debbie Lyddon reflects on the holes in the works by Barbara Hepworth, an artist that she admires and quotes often, and sees an analogy between matter and empty space in sculpture and sounds and silences in music, again reconnecting her work to her previous musical studies (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).
In this sense her pieces can be considered a form of conceptual, process-led form of art, but they are also very physical, materially intense objects having a strong visual, tactile and textural presence which can be perceived in the gallery space. The traces left on them by the salt and the sea demand an intimate, close-up appraisal. These are definitely immersive pieces that want not only to be looked, but also touched and felt – and in some cases even heard, like the ‘Aeolian Pipes’, which in their original environment resonate at the passage of wind (Aeolian Pipes, 2014).
Her previous experience as a musician was certainly crucial for the creation of these Pipes – whose shape and holes remind me of flutes – but the use of wind as material seems also connected to the rhythmic movement of breath which is ‘fundamental to life and being’, as she notes quoting Being Alive’ by Tim Ingold.
And I think that the idea of rhythm, which englobes also the idea of repetition, lies ultimately at the core of Debbie Lyddon’s work: rhythmic is the movement of the tides of the coastal landscape from which her pieces are born – ‘dominated by the twice daily tides, it is land for half a day and then sea for the rest’ (www.debbielyddon.co.uk) – and rhythmic is her constant movement as an artist from the inside to the outside, from the inside of her thoughts, readings, memories to the outside made of long enjoyable walks in the landscape or happy sailings on the sea. Her inspiration constantly moves between these two poles – in and out – and is nourished by both.
Rythmic and cyclical is finally also the sense of time in her pieces, that reflect the cyclical changes of the environment and absorb the energy of the place as it evolves. This is a vital, necessary connection with their origins that the artist underlines in her blog: ‘The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece … The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016). I perceive in her vision an implied acceptance of change in life and nature which does not contemplate regret for the decay of things or the passage of time, and so her way of dealing with time is fundamentally different from the drama of the vanitas paintings. The word drama does not seem to belong to her art, harmony instead, and a close, calm and passionate attention to all the small variations of her landscape of choice with which she subtly interacts, in receptive correspondence and uninterrupted exchange.
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Fox, A. (2015) Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects, Batsford
Lyddon, D. (2014) Aeolian Pipes and Air-songs [online booklet] At: debbielyddon.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/aeolian-pipes-and-air-songs-booklet.pdf (Accessed 12/08/2017)
Lyddon, D. (2016) Textiles: A Response to Landscape, In: TextileArtist.org [e-book online] At: https://resources.textileartist.org/products/textiles-a-response-to-landscape (Accessed 12/08/2017)
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