‘I must have been a weaver in a previous life’: A Dialogue with Hannah Waldron

by: , December 13, 2021

© Hannah Waldron. Photo by Tim Laing.

Hannah Waldron is an international multi-discliplinary artist and designer, currently based in Cornwall in the UK. Her graphic and narrative-led image-making has been applied across a range of media from print to textiles, at both a personal and architectural scale. Finding weaving to be a process complementary to her grid based image-making, Waldron completed an MFA in Textiles at Konstfack, Sweden and now works predominantly with creating woven based artworks.In 2014 she was awarded the HAY talent award (Denmark), in 2017 the Irene Davies tapestry award (Australia) and most recently in 2019 was awarded a QEST scholarship (UK) to travel to Japan to undertake a specialist weaving course in Kyoto and exhibit her work in Tokyo.Hannah has enjoyed teaching weaving workshops in Sweden, Japan, France and the UK at numerous cultural and craft institutions.

For more info, please check Hannah’s website:  https://www.hannahwaldron.co.uk

Follow Hannah on Instagram: @Hannah.Waldron

© Hannah Waldron. Photo by Tim Laing.

MAI: Handicraft appears to be undergoing a revival lately, but you have been weaving for the best part of 15 years now, how did you start weaving and were there any practitioners who inspired you to take to the loom? Did you find your ‘style’ (which is so beautiful and distinctive) rather quickly or did this take a while to develop?

Hannah Waldron: I think I must have been a weaver in a previous life but it took me a while to find it in this one. There was no option for me to take both graphics and textiles at school so I went down a more graphic art route and studied illustration at Brighton University. There I found myself screen printing textiles, but it wasn’t until living in Berlin in my mid-twenties and seeing the astounding Bauhaus woven textiles that I sought out a loom. In particular Gunta Stolzl’s work blew me away. I was so fascinated by what she had been able to achieve in weaving. 

Looking back, I can see in my drawing (which used a lot of horizontal and vertical parallel lines and adhered to a grid) that weaving was a natural progression to the visual language I was developing. Anni Alber’s writing (as well as her work) was my guide, and everything she wrote rang so true for me—for example her thoughts on tactile sensibility, or the importance of textiles as a language in itself.

MAI: How has your style developed? or are there perennial themes which you explore in your art? I remember for your final project at Konstfack, you were inspired by a poem by Patti Smith, but travel also seems to be a consistent and important part of your ‘storytelling’?

HW: Time and space and playing with aspects of speed, movement and travel are the perennial themes that I play with in the work; again listening to Anni Albers, who asks us to work from the material, I often ask: what does weaving as a process want to say? And for me, it is all about the process of weaving, what kind of forms and marks are natural to form in the material, but also the rhythmic nature of weaving and its haptic qualities, what it does to me and what images and subjects it brings to me as I weave. But sometimes ideas just spark from my surroundings, and what I see I can visualise translating perfectly to the language of weaving. For example, I was watching the animation The Cobbler and the Thief the other day, and it was so dense with patterns and shapes that would be incredible to weave, and I find something so interesting in freezing one frame of 24 frames per second and finding the slow beauty in what would only ever be a fleeting shot.

MAI: Do you see yourself as part of a ‘slow craft’ movement? What are your thoughts on craft in relation to attention and time? I remember talking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow theory with you and how you felt this was partly what you experience at the loom. Do you think art and craft has an important role to play in conversations around mental health?

HW: Weaving for me is definitely a conscious act of creating happiness for myself, and I do feel I experience what Csikszentmihalyi talks about in flow theory, especially when I am working on something where I feel I have combined materials or patterns in an interesting or pleasing way, or I am creating something new that I am curious about. Weaving is very repetitive and for me meditative, and losing a sense of time and forgetting where you are in that flow of time on a daily basis is a feeling I very much enjoy, especially living in such a society of various pressures. A couple of years ago I worked on a project called the CHAOS project, where art students and members of a local social services provision worked together to create a book exploring mental health using art and craft workshops. It was really powerful in terms of how the activities had a positive impact on the participants mental health, and feeling empowered to tell each person’s stories. Art and craft has such an important role to play in conversations around mental health because you have the process itself which has positive benefits for the maker in that moment of doing the work, but also in terms of the ongoing empowerment from finding a voice or way of speaking in a process; and perhaps also a sense of achieving something tangible, but also in the outcome which can start conversations in a way that might be hard to do without the creative act. 

MAI: Is there anything self-consciously feminist in your art? I remember us talking about how some of the more dismissive attitudes from male art scholars in particular probably had to do with weaving being viewed as a traditionally ‘feminine’ craft. This is patently ridiculous, of course, but I wonder if you still encounter this attitude?

HW: I think the situation is improving as more mainstream attention has been given to textiles in major galleries for example, but I think there are still some dismissive attitudes, which are more subtle and harder to pinpoint. There are some very practical aspects to weaving that suit the more domestic scale I am having to work to currently as I have two small children, I can easily pick up my small loom in small windows of time throughout the day, which I think would be very impractical if I was, say, painting. It is easy to see why textiles has been a creative outlet for women historically. I love Ursula Le Guin’s carrier bag theory and I certainly think textiles has this ‘container of stories’ quality to it, and perhaps has a lot to say in terms of storytelling that goes against the typical narrative arc of slaying an enemy / defeating a problem we are accustomed to in the majority of narratives in the mainstream. In my last exhibition, I was researching mythological female deities and world-makers who were also weavers. The act of weaving in many of the examples I looked at was a very empowering one—for example Penelope in Greek mythology who managed to fend off aggressive suitors by weaving (and unweaving) her work, which could be re-read today as being counter to linear notions of industrialised progress.

MAI: Which artists inspire you right now and what are you working on currently? Did you find that the pandemic and lockdown changed anything about your artistic process? Has becoming a mother changed the way you work?

HW: I find artists such as Hilma Af Klint and Warja Lavater very interesting in terms of how they forged and innovated their own visual languages and translated their experiences and ways of seeing the world into their very unique way. More recently Helen Marten’s solo show at Sadie Coles, which was incredibly materially varied, generated an immersive experience with layers upon layers of visual and process-rich elements to it that I found exciting.

Since the pandemic and lockdown, and also since having children, I have tried to distil my practice to creating bodies of work that have a restorative quality to them—I need a quiet place where I can process the thoughts behind/beyond the everyday stuff. I am currently creating a series of weavings, drawings and a publication for an exhibition here in Cornwall titled ‘Care Takers’. In essence, the work is documenting a year of maternity leave in an abstracted kind of way, focussing in on forms and acts of care I see around me, not just with looking after a baby, but also in nature around me, and a conscious attempt to try and slow down. I think the pandemic brought the climate emergency into sharper focus for me, and I am trying to use my work as a way to slow down and reset my unconscious patterns of thinking and behaviours. Weaving is naturally a very slow process and a lot is invested in every piece even in terms of material production to get from raw material to yarn, so I am trying to use only naturally dyed yarns and repurpose yarns I already own or second hand. In this series I am using a lot of embroidery too, my baby doesn’t sleep much at home in the day so I can take the weavings on walks with me and stitch while she is in the buggy sleeping. I want to really soak up this incredibly special time with my baby, but also I feel a bit of a loss when I am not making, so I have to find inventive ways of making work.

© Hannah Waldron. Photo by Tim Laing.
© Photo by Tim Laing.
© Solmania Exhibition (2020)
© Solmania, Exhibition (2020).
© Sisters (2017)
© Osaka Spans (2019)
© Map Tapestries (2016).
© Hannah Waldron. Photo by Tim Laing.
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