The space between mourning and melancholia: the use of cloth in contemporary art practice to materialise the work of mourning

  • Beverly Ayling-Smith

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research project examines the language of grief in textile art practice. It takes as its starting point the idea that, as individuals with experience of bereavement, we may carry with us an element of unresolved mourning. This is not the pathological condition of melancholia or complicated mourning, nor the fully resolved, completed state where mourning is over, but is a space between; a set of emotions which continue to be felt and may be brought to the surface by an event, situation, set of circumstances or encounter with, for example, artwork which may bring back feelings of grief and loss long after the death of someone close. This project investigates how cloth can be used in textile artwork to make a connection with this unresolved mourning and thereby contribute to the progression of the viewer’s work of mourning. The aims of the research are to explore how textile art can be used as a metaphor for grief and mourning and to consider how the staining and mending of cloth in contemporary art practice has been used in my studio practice as a way of understanding and expressing mourning. This is a practice based research project, the outcomes of which consist of a written thesis and a body of artworks created through studio practice. The dialogic relationship between the practice and the written research is integral to the outcomes of both the written work and in the studio practice. The written thesis builds on existing research into the psychoanalytical interpretation of mourning and melancholia; the development of the understanding of the process of mourning, trauma theory and the material culture of mourning to establish a rationale for the use of cloth in textile art practice to materialise the work of mourning. The thesis and body of studio practice make an original contribution to knowledge by bringing together the sociological and cultural use of cloth with psychoanalytical theory and the consideration of the affectivity of artwork. The overarching approach of the thesis is a two-part focus on the use of cloth and how it can be used in textile artwork. The first chapter sets out the context of the research both in terms of previously published written work and the studio practice of other artists. Chapter 2 examines the methodology of the research and how the work has been shown to viewers and the means by which any responses have been obtained. Both written and verbal responses to the work by viewers have been used to substantiate the proposal that textile artwork can connect with the viewer in such a way as to allow a progression of their work of mourning. Chapter 3 considers the materiality of cloth; its manipulation and transformation using processes such as staining and mending, and the utilisation of metaphor and metonymy in the creation of artworks in cloth. The final chapter ‘Connecting with the Viewer’ explores the affectivity of artwork and how it is able to facilitate an emotional connection with the audience.
Date of AwardSept 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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