An artist that works at the crossroads of data and drawing, Manchester-based artist Daksha Patel’s practice extends to printmaking, animation and installation to visualise what is immeasurable, illusive and unseen. Colour, light and mapping are emerging themes in Patel’s work, which has also been influenced by a series of residencies in scientific environments, including LifeScience at the University of Dundee and The Christie Hospital in Manchester. She often produces work using ‘unstable’ natural materials such as oil or clay. Blackburn Yarn Dyers is a business founded over one hundred years ago in 1915, providing yarn dyeing to clients worldwide from the heart of Lancashire. Working with leading fashion and interiors brands in the UK and internationally, the company offers a range of products and services in support of the textile industry as well as hand-knitting and craft brands, with dyeing and bleaching remaining at the core of its trade.
Here, Daksha and Anthony Green, Managing Director of Blackburn Yarn Dyers, give answers in an Art In Manufacturing Q&A.
- Welcome to the third season of the Art In Manufacturing collaborative art commissions. Tell us about you and how you’ve become involved.
Anthony Green: We are Blackburn Yarn Dyers and are commission yarn dyers based in Blackburn since 1915. We dye yarns for weavers and knitters across the world, all of whom make many different products, from fashion to upholstery. We ran a dye shop in the first year of the festival and are very proud to have been selected for Art in Manufacturing this year.
Daksha Patel: My practice encompasses drawing, printmaking, animation and installation, and it engages with scientific systems of measurement and mapping. The process of drawing is an important ongoing strand in my work; it is one of the most direct and immediate ways in which I can explore an idea. I will often use unusual materials such as fat, latex or clay, and experiment with methods such as drawing from live data projections.
For me, the relationship with materials whether it is graphite or a lump of clay, roots the work in the body through touch. This is a very different way of knowing to the ephemeral way in which a digital projection transmits my ideas. The meeting of the two is where I work. In many ways, manufacturing process mirrors this: it is absolutely an engagement with materials, but enhanced by technologies.
- What is it about that has drawn you as an artist/manufacturer, from what you know so far and perhaps of previous years’ collaborations?
DP: When I was paired up with Blackburn Yarn Dyers I immediately started thinking about yarn as lines of a drawing, and of lines connecting all the different aspects of the manufacturing process. And of course the colours! I’m used to the texture and feel of pastels or paint when I use colour, and am looking forward to getting to know how the different types of yarn: cotton, wool, silk or synthetics change the ‘feel’ of a colour.
AG: Many people, even in Blackburn, don’t know that we are here and that we have been here for over a hundred years dyeing yarns. For us it is a great opportunity to show that there is still a textile manufacturer in our town, which has a wealth of textile heritage.
- Have you ever taken part in a project of this nature before?
AG: No, we haven’t taken part in something like this. All of the members of our team are very excited.
DP: No I haven’t worked with manufacturing before, but the process of going into a new environment or institution, learning about their work and developing artwork in response to my research is very typical of my practice. My recent artist residencies include The Applied Mathematics department, University of Bristol and Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
- What are the most important things your collaborator should know about you or your company before things get underway on ‘day one’?
DP: Although the subject matter of my work is often tied to scientific technologies, my practice is rooted in materials and analogue methods.
AG: Daksha should know how incredibly proud we are that we are still carrying the flag for textile manufacturing here in the town. She should also know how passionate we are about doing things the right way – for example we are only one of fifteen manufacturers in the North West of England that is committed to the Living Wage Foundation as well as carrying green status for our commitment to Zero Discharge of Hazardous chemicals (ZDHC Road Map to Zero)
- What opportunities do you predict the Art In Manufacturing collaboration will bring to you or your organisation?
AG: I believe that the publicity and engagement with the general public making them aware of what we do and how we do it will help people understand the importance of responsible textile manufacturing. This could lead to opportunities to collaborate with other businesses or inspire younger people to consider our industry.
DP: Blackburn Yarn Dyers will enable me to work at a bigger scale using manufacturing processes and materials not readily available to me. I am increasingly working with installation and the materials and objects at Blackburn Yarn Dyers offer an exciting range of opportunities for me to explore the creation of immersive environments. Blackburn Yarn Dyers is a small manufacturing company, and yet it is connected to places across the globe through its work.
I’m interested in the hidden geographies that link Blackburn’s textiles industries to different places: from cotton production to sheep farming; chemical dye manufacturing to yarn dying; garment design to garment production. Through these processes Blackburn Yarn Dyers is deeply inter-connected to places across the globe.
- How do you see productive, creative or other impacts developing, or have developed, between the art and manufacturing worlds?
DP: The exploration of colour connects my own practice to the work at Blackburn Yarn Dyers. It is fascinating to be in their colour lab and to learn about colour perception and its relationship to light from the perspective of a yarn dyer. Terminologies can be different: I’ve learnt about metameric colours, which are colours that appear the same in one light and appear different when the light changes. In some ways, being at Blackburn Yarn Dyers reminds me of being in a large print room.
There are large, heavy bits of equipment made out of iron and steel. The constantly changing colour of the reels of yarn reminds me of new prints drying on a rack in the print room. And there is a wonderful mixture of science and intuition as I’ve discovered when I speak to people here. There is technical knowledge, but also there is the know-how, which comes from years of experience and understanding your materials.
AG: In the textile world art and creativity work together with manufacturing all of the time. It is the designer’s creativity that imagines and develops products that require us to make ‘reality’ in product. I believe that art and creativity is important in any manufacturing, especially textiles. Most of our customers in the fashion and upholstery world are driven by creativity.
- What making tool or piece of equipment could you or your company not work without?
AG: We could not work without our dyeing machines, driers and winders.
DP: A pencil if often my starting point for all new work.
- What are they key stages of the daily routine in the studio or factory?
DP: Research stage is about asking lots and lots of questions, reading around my subject and becoming a bit of a magpie by collecting different materials and images, both online and in the real world. Following this phase I will go into the studio to test materials that are connected to the idea I’m exploring in some way. It is really helpful if another artist is in the studio (we are a very small and friendly studio group) as it is very beneficial to talk through my ideas, talk to people about my tests and get other perspectives. But when I am actually making the final work I like to be alone in the peaceful, quiet space of my studio.
AG: Winding the yarn onto dye cones, dyeing and drying the yarn. We then colour test and fastness test the yarns.
- Tell us three things you know or have recently found out about Blackburn.
AG: Blackburn was once known as the ‘cotton capital’ of the world. The name Blackburn comes from the river that runs through and under the town –‘Blake Water’ – also known as ‘Clear Water’, which is still very clear and not polluted by any textile manufacturers. Blackburn is one of a handfull of towns with its own Cathedral, only cities usually have Cathedrals.
DP: I have spent most of my time at Blackburn Yarn Dyers so this is what I’ve found out about them: The first thing I do when I get into the factory is to check the new colours on the dyeing carousels: they look absolutely amazing, they resemble giant multi coloured cocoons. I’ve learnt that metallic yarns are actually metal (often aluminium) coated with nylon. And lastly, and most importantly, that Blackburn Yarn Dyers is an incredibly welcoming and friendly place, which truly feels like a family. I love being there!
Art In Manufacturing, commissioned by The National Festival of Making and Super Slow Way, will premiere at the festival over Sat 15 – Sun 16 June 2019 in Blackburn, Lancashire
Visit Daksha Patel at www.dakshapatel.co.uk
Visit Blackburn Yarn Dyers at www.Blackburn Yarn Dyersltd.co.uk