Barber, Claire (2015) Cloth in Action: The Transformative Power of Cloth in Communites. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The work submitted for the PhD by Publication is evidence of my investigation into the significance of textiles as an aesthetic experience within a socially engaged form of material practice, some of which involves other people.
Social engagement has been an active and deliberate agent in the aesthetic transformation of functional material objects in two of my publications called The Sleeping Bag Project and You Are the Journey. A third publication is a co-edited book called Outside: Activating Cloth to Enhance the Way We Live. A range of essays by artists, curators and writers discloses previously unwritten commentaries on community initiatives that probe a range of empathetic modes of investigation that explore meaningful spaces for participation. I have come to recognise that a proactive attitude towards collaboration is evident in all three publications. It is exemplified by my approach to co-orchestrating the Outside book and by an eagerness to work with others to advance the concept of the transformative power of cloth within the live arena for socially engaged textile practices today.
The relations between an aesthetic transformation and socially engaged practice was implicit in Rozsika Parker’s seminal text The Subversive Stitch first published in 1984 providing an analysis of textiles within social history. At the beginning of work on this PhD my relationship with the book was complex and full of tensions. My perceptions of Parker’s work changed as I discovered at the very end of my thesis connections between her work and mine that enable a deeper understanding of the need in my socially engaged textile practice today for the kind of aesthetics she describes historically as arising from social constraint. Consequently The Subversive Stitch has now re-appeared with value as a touchstone for my work in a contemporary context.
The thesis then discusses examples of the outcomes of practices by other artists and considers the attention given to visual aesthetics within socially engaged practices. Ideas are developed to suggest how the aesthetic dimension of textiles may enhance principles of communal giving as an innovative strategy stretching beyond the coalition government’s Big Society agenda presented in 2010. Examples from investigations of textiles in museum archives including embroideries created by internees within Second World War prisoner-ofwar camps in the Far East are also examined. The aesthetic dimension of the embroideries carries significance through the vulnerable context in which they were created, as a potent series of statements involving cloth in action.
In contemporary Britain, I have shown how such everyday objects as sleeping bags and travel tickets can capture the imagination by creating a connection with participants, when they may not have been consciously seeking an insight separate from the functionality of these objects. Nevertheless, an aesthetic gesture is surreptitiously tucked away. This has created a hybrid form of social engagement that can move fluidly between private and public spaces. The social engagement also involves processes of interaction and exchange with the object in the presentation of an active relationship with the object that is both seen and unseen.

26 Barber_Cloth_in_Action_PhD_Dec_2015 (1).pdf - Accepted Version
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