Looking for the i in desire

11 February – 26 March 2016

Meredith Hughes

Even, Found petals, found cloth, embroidery thread, 2016, Image Brenton Mcgeachie

Looking for the i in desire by Dr Sally Blake

Floral fabrics, onion skins, artificial flowers, charcoal and her daughter’s hair are the materials which Meredith Hughes uses to explore and deconstruct strategies of Buddhist meditation on emptiness. From these every day, found materials she has created detailed floral assemblages and artists books based on the form of pechas (traditional Tibetan loose-leaf books). 

Hughes’ material choices are sensitive and thoughtful, and she finds meaning in these everyday objects. Floral imagery is a recurring theme in her work and for this exhibition she collected a paper or fabric floral motif from one person each day for three months, along with a description of their attachment to it. She says, ‘it is the seductive, yet invisible aspect of floral materiality that interests me as a metaphor for desires and provocations that exist in a kind of subterranean way.’

As part of her research for the exhibition Hughes gathered drifting, discarded petals from artificial flowers at Bookham cemetery, their tenacious materiality used as a poetic metaphor for our longing and desire to hold onto loved ones after they die. Ground charcoal and onion skins are used to stencil floral shapes on the floor in Loop, their ephemeral nature a way to contemplate the futility of this longing. The tiny stitches made with her daughter’s hair are exquisite. Using this material was an opportunity to reflect upon mortality and very personal attachments.

Time, reflection and daily practices are built into the processes which Hughes uses, the personal and collective intermingling in the way she collects and collates materials and thoughts. The work Looking for the i in desire, is made up of two artists’ books. In the first each story is written alongside a scanned image of the gifted floral motif. The second book is composed of Hughes’ written responses to each story, and handwritten text from a Buddhist mind training practice which she has written into floral drawings. The paper is transparent allowing the image and text to interact in a shifting and dynamic way- the viewer activates the work as they turn the pages.

The reflective process used to make the books inspired Even, a large wall piece of petals embroidered with names of people she heard or read about who have died. As she says, ‘death is a bit like the floral imagery, pervasive yet unnoticed.’ Hughes spent her time embroidering to contemplate the life of each person as fully as she could … often via her imagination as she knew no more about the person than what was reported in the newspaper. During this time her own mother died, her personal attachments and grief examined as she stitched.

These works are generative, one work leading to another, each stitch and thought accumulating over time. The fluid nature of the works continues as they are installed- the onion and charcoal may be swept away by a footstep, the pastel colours in Even flicker and the eye keeps moving across the work’s restless surface, and the books are constantly reshuffled by the viewer. In an exhibition of thoughtful and poignant works, the tiny fabric hand clutching a stitched flower is for me especially moving, a reminder of the tension involved in letting go when all one wants to do is hold on…

Dr Sally Blake is a freelance researcher and artist.