Open Frequency 2009: Ainsley Hillard selected by Karen Ingham

Open Frequency 2009: Ainsley Hillard selected by Karen Ingham Ainsley Hillard, Traces, 2008. 20 hand-woven structures. Credit: Jason Ingram

Karen Ingham profiles the work of Ainsley Hillard

We are bound by cloth, from the swaddling cloth of the newly born to the binding sheets of the recently dead. Cloth traces the very fabric of our being: metaphorically, materially, and psychologically. This woven bond is perhaps most intimately experienced by women through the secular rituals performed within the domestic and philosophical folds of cloth, folds that act as layers of memory and meaning. This process of textual and textural deconstruction is subtly rehearsed in Ainsley Hillard’s practice. 

Hillard is one of a growing number of contemporary artists who blur conventional distinctions between applied and conceptual art. Following her BA First Class Hons in Constructed Textiles from Middlesex University in 2000, Hillard was awarded the James Pantyfedwen Scholarship to pursue postgraduate study at Curtin University, Australia, where, in 2003, she graduated with an MA in Visual Arts. Following graduation she returned to Wales where she continues to develop her practice through increasingly complex and interdisciplinary forms. At the core of her approach is the relationship of the weaver to the weave, the material to the metaphorical and the haptic to the phenomenological. For example, the installation ‘In Passing’ (2002) cleverly alludes to the process of ‘the pass’ in weaving, but it also implicates the viewer in the artwork as an active spectator, as s/he passes through the hanging drapes of printed cloth becoming a human agent of ‘the pass’. Consisting of seven ceiling to floor drapes of cloth imprinted with spectral video images of the moving body, the work invites the audience to pass through the installation as a line of weft does when it moves between the threads of a warp – hence, the ‘pass’.

But in her other pieces, for example ‘Traces’ (2008) Hillard alludes to the other key influence in her practice: that of photography’s paradoxical relationship to the real and the signified, the past and the present, and ultimately to memory and the trace of what has been but is no longer. Hillard’s photographic images are applied to a viscose weft, resulting in a faint, ghostly impression. Once again the viewer must move through and amongst the textiles in an attempt to see clearly, but Hillard purposefully plays with questions of perception, teasing and denying the spectator a clear ‘truth’. The absence/presence dichotomy of photography is in the very weave of Hillard’s printed textiles; she is able to unravel, and thus reveal, new layers of meaning, new traces of memory, as signified in her 2002 work ‘Unravelling Unconscious’. Throughout Hillard’s practice the re-working and re-contextualisation of the weave irrevocably transforms role and function. Textile becomes text, relic, and representation as the antiquity of the weaving process is given contemporary significance and new meaning.

Karen Ingham, November 2009

View Ainsley Hillard's profile > 

Artist's biography

Ainsley Hillard was born in Carmarthenshire, Wales and is now based in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. She studied Constructed Textiles at Middlesex University, London (BA Hons, 2002) and was the recipient of the James Pantyfedwen Scholoarship in 2001 which enabled Postgraduate Sudies in Visual Art at Curtin University, Australia, where she achieved an MA with Distinction (2003). Exhibiting nationally and internationally, Hillard continues to develop site-specific works, such as her most recent solo exhibition Traces, an audio-textile installation at Mission Gallery, Swansea (2008).

Selected exhibitions include Inter-Spacing, Textil Kultur Haslach, Austria (2008), Journeys, Fibre Art Wales, Bunbury, England (2008), Thread Bare, Contemporary Australian Textiles, Manning Art Gallery, NSW (2008), (ex)Changing Traditions, Kyoto Art Centre, Japan (2007), (ex)Changing Traditions, Perth, Australia (2006), International Textile Art Exhibition ‘Scythia 6’, Kherson, Ukraine (2006), York Arts Society Exhibition, York, Perth, Australia (2006), Contemporary Print Exhibition, Mundaring Art Centre, Perth, Australia (2006).

Hillard has completed several private commissions, residencies and workshops and is represented in the International Lloyd Cotsen ‘Textile Traces’ Collection, USA and the Fibre Art Collection of the City of Chieri, Italy. Her current research includes developing thermo-chromic image print applications and exploring audio technologies as the recipient of an Arts Council Wales Individual Project Grant 2008-9. Her work has been selected for Warp & Weft, Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Carmarthen, Wales during September 2010, and at the same time she will present a solo installation at The Old Laundry, Dinefwr Park, Wales.

About Karen Ingham

Karen Ingham is an artist, writer and curator, and the director of various research initiatives in lens-based arts, and arts, science and technology collaborations at Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media at Swansea Metropolitan University. She was born in England but raised in the United States, Germany and Norway, returning to England to study time-based arts in Nottingham in the 1980s. Following graduation she worked as an independent film director and screenwriter before moving to Wales where she worked at Chapter Arts Centre and the BBC before returning to her own practice. She gained an MPhil with the University of Wales in 2001 and a Doctorate in 2006 with research into historical and contemporary arts and science collaborations in the anatomical theatre.

Ingham works in lens-based arts and her practice is interdisciplinary, incorporating theory and practice. She has received support from The British Film Institute, The Wellcome Trust, The Arts & Humanities Research Council, The Arts Council of Wales and The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She was awarded a 2006 Arts & Humanities Research Council 'Sci-Art Fellowship' for the project 'Seeds of Memory' where she collaborated with the Cardiff Neuroscience Research Group, and her installation 'Vanitas: Seed-Head', has been shown at The Waag, Amsterdam (2005) and ENTER 3 Festival, Prague (2007).

Her practice has been widely exhibited and disseminated with publications in distribution with Dewi Lewis Publishing, Ffotogallery Publications and Seren Books. Her research focuses predominantly on: biomedical discourse, 'Anatomy Lessons' (2004) and 'Re: Embodiments' (2008-10); the mind-body continuum, 'Vanitas: Seed-Head' (2005) and 'Seeds of Memory' (2006); the photographic memento-mori, 'Death's Witness' (2001); and the notion of place and belonging, 'Lost' (1998), 'Paradise Park' (2000), 'Ha Ha: Margam Re-visited' (2002 and co-edited with Christopher Coppock), and 'Unnatural Histories' (2008). Karen Ingham is represented by Millennium Images London and IRIS International Resource for Women's Photography.

Karen Ingham's research at Swansea Met University
Karen Ingham's profile on Iris (Research Group) 

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.