In the Hands Of My Creator detail (reworked) (2016/17)
45 x 50 x 200 cms
Linen, cotton, mercerised cotton, hand-felted cords, casts of the artist’s hands,
Perspex platforms, hand woven torso sitting in a plaster hand
British textile artist Cos Ahmet’s work centres around the human body. He uses tapestry to create thought provoking sculptural forms that focus on self, identity, memory and sexuality. His limited colour palette brings with it serenity that allows the viewer to give their full attention to each piece.
What are your earliest memories of discovering your passion for textiles?
I guess I should really start with the earliest memory I have that may have been one of the catalysts. My mother was a seamstress most of her life, and I remember her at her industrial sewing machine, mesmerised by this shiny needle, glistening as it furiously bobbed up and down, punching lines of thread into the fabric.
Other vague memories I have are of my grandmother teaching me how to knit, and also watching aunts either crocheting or sewing. I didn’t realise at the time how much of an influence they would have for my passion for textiles. One clear connection to weaving would be my mother showing me her mother’s woven blankets. They are constructed from discarded or unwanted woollen sweaters that she would unravel, and then use as her weft to reconstruct into these simple yet beautiful blankets. Some day, I would love to own these.
What is your background in textiles?
I studied my Foundation Art & Design Diploma at Barnet College, in North London. It wasn’t until this time that textiles would fully present itself to me. Back then, I was trying to decide whether I was more fine art or sculpture. I liked both, and knew I wanted to incorporate the three-dimensional into my work somewhere. My tutors however, had other ideas and thought I was more suited to textiles. I was not convinced until I encountered weaving and other textiles processes. I soon realised that I could fulfil all of these aspects, but in a form that I had never thought about. I began exploring this new tactile language and wanted to learn more. Eventually I pursued my degree in Constructed Textiles at Middlesex University, where woven tapestry became my specialism.
Why did you choose to specialise in tapestry weaving?
What attracted me to woven tapestry was how this ancient form, one of the oldest forms of weaving, seemed to be open to manipulation and change, and in the right hands this is altogether possible. I was seduced by it’s distinctive, handsome exterior, its tactile and versatile properties, which satisfied my hunger to produce something different. What I was most definite about was that my approach would be unorthodox, unusual, and not what my tutors wanted – mundane, pretty, woolly flat pictures!
The basic techniques may have remained the same for centuries, but I was more interested in taking tapestry somewhere it had never been before. I had to first learn the craft before turning it into art. I see tapestry weaving very much as an art form. This is something that I continue to push in my practice, and I don’t feel that I have even scratched the surface of the possibilities yet, and shall pursue this as far as the medium will let me. Woven tapestry seems to be rather popular at the moment, where top named artists seem to be championing the medium, having their various works turned into woven translations. However, woven tapestry as an art form in the realms of fine art is still finding it difficult to make this transition from a craft-based medium to a worthy fine art medium. That is what I am striving to do in my practice and in what I produce.
How do you describe your work?
The core of my work is centred on the body. Recurring themes of self, identity, sexuality, and memory, are emotive features in much of my work, displayed as a complex set of body dialogues. Shaped by my use of metaphors, the body becomes symbolised through various interlinks – points of juncture, where body and material respond or react with each other. These come to light in the diverse processes and characteristics of my practice, that range from woven tapestry, works on paper (collage, printmaking, drawing), to sculpture (installation and object making), as I make loose connections with their attributes to represent parts of the human form.
One metaphor I use with my woven works to represent the human form looks at the weaving process: ‘thread’ becomes the thought. ‘warp’ is the skeleton’, ‘weft’ is the flesh or skin, and the ‘weave’ stands for the body. I make comparisons with this notion, and connect it to not only with the process of weaving, but with the other processes that I employ in my practice.
How do you work?
I have always used sketchbooks, or what I call ‘visual thought’ accounts. I always have one with me wherever I go. They are an invaluable place for my ideas and thoughts to live, exist and be preserved. Apart from recording my ideas in book form, I also document through samples, experiments and tests, important processes in developing my work.
Why do you tend to use such a minimal colour palette?
A very interesting question! My most recent works have adopted this very neutral palette, and have come under criticism by some who say my work is colourless and bland or lacks colour. I, of course disagree! For me each project or body of work demands different things from you, and this is reflected in the choice of palette, the choice of materials, and the choice of discipline. I work in a very intuitive way, and always allow the works to speak and give me their needs or demands, and sometimes this means that colour becomes limited.
This limited palette in the bodies of work such as ‘Thread Is A Thought’, and the new works in my current exhibition ‘Points of Juncture’ both adopt this minimal palette. Memory and dialogue are ever present in my work. I see these forms of memories as a neutral palette and refer to this use of colour as a ‘faded history’, something that evokes a past, perhaps something that is not as clear as one would like, but sits in a pale silhouette – a ghost of itself, presented as gestures, traces or presences.
Can you explain why you chose to represent yourself in ‘Self Portrait in Red’?
Having just talked about the neutral and minimal palette, there are occasions that colour does need to make itself known in my work. ‘Untitled I (Self-portrait in Red), is one such piece that is a blaze of reds. Quite raw, powerful and dominant even. I guess I am expressing what is beneath the veneer, something under the skin a raw identity, my true face. It also evokes an organ, a heart or brain, other times it is so raw, it feels like a slab of meat. Hints of this red are also appear in ‘Tender Filum’, where it suggests rebirth, reconnection and resurgence of life!
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
It would be foolish of me not to acknowledge all of my achievements in my careers, and I am proud of them all.
I am most proud of receiving the Theo Moorman Trust for Weavers Award in 2016, which gave me the opportunity to create a new body of work and resulted in the touring exhibition of ‘Thread Is A Thought’ with Twisted Thread. I am also very proud of gaining Arts Council funding and support for my current exhibition ‘Points Of Juncture’ at Forty Hall Estate. This has enabled me to create two newly commissioned works by Forty Hall that respond and reference this Jacobean manor house’s very existence – a place built upon a textile legacy’ by its former owner and creator, Sir Nicholas Rainton, who traded textiles across Europe.
Other proud moments would have to be when I was selected for the MM1 Project in 2012. This was a British-Israeli experimental collaboration, co-curated by Sharon Toval and Nimrod Vardi and supported by The British Council and BI Arts. The project functioned as an artistic lab, which took place on a virtual media platform, and tried to explore the boundaries of the artworks as well as the possible collaborations between Israeli and British artists participating in this project. The two resulting exhibitions that came out of this were: De-Construct/Re-Construct/We-Construct, Arbeit Gallery, London and Question.Reaction.Examination.Reaction, Alfred Gallery, Tel Aviv. This was an amazing experience and would love to work on other collaborations in the future.
What advice can you give to aspiring textile artists?
Believe in yourself and your message. The rest will follow.