Sensory Ground*
A collaboration with Raewyn Martyn.

Emma Fitts and Raewyn Martyn spent 9 days travelling, camping, researching and making in September in Northern Scotland. Raewyn is an artist currently based in the Netherlands at the Jan van Eyck Academy. Emma is an artist based in London.

Tactile exercises in conversation
Pressure, Pricking, Rubbing, Pain, Temperature, and Vibration†

(Pressure)
The oldest textile in Scotland looks like it may have been felted. It’s a piece of cow hair felt, with plaited and twisted strings of wool and horse hair. It was found under peat. You can tell the land that’s been excavated for peat as the heather doesn’t grow there anymore and the ground becomes boggy.

(Pricking)
The purse that was found buried with the man in the peat is dated from the 1600s and is now a dull brown, but was probably a natural mixed grey, with a pattern of red and white. The wool is soft and has a coarse fibre mixed with it. You’re wearing a shirt, skirt, leggings and a cap with a peak. There’s a mixture of wool and cotton, flat colour and pattern in your garments. The canvas that you hold is a mixture of orange, blues, greens, browns and yellows. The pattern is loose.

(Rubbing)
There’s dirt, plants and dead insects in the wool that I collected. I’m not sure if its goat hair or sheep’s wool – it feels like a mixture. To felt this fiber would take a mixture of rubbing, twisting and shocking with temperature to try to get the wool to form a tighter mass. The man’s cap has been made of a Cheviot-type fleece. It has been heavily shrunk to produce a thick felted surface which entirely obscures the knitted threads.

(Pain)
I had a cluster of bites around my ankles, on my face near my ear, and on my chest. Your bites were worst round your eyes. The heather has antiseptic properties, so perhaps it would have been good for a weeping midgey bite had we made it into tea.

(Temperature)
The oil skin is light, water proof and channels wind easily. The Cotton drill has a twill weave that makes it dense and durable and being the heaviest of the fabrics its wind channeling is less frequent, it stays flat with distinct folds. The wool is raw and stays connected to the ground. Your canvas has an open weave that makes it very light. One is pulled taught between high and low grounds and is sharp to the wind, the other lies relaxed on the ground.

(Vibration)

My tent was made of nylon and yours of waxed cotton. A ribbon of silk, a warm red and dull brown colour was found neatly folded inside the man’s purse. It was a fine and firm fabric. All the garments that he was wearing were sewn with woolen thread and all buttons are of wool covered with cloth. If we were staying for longer I would have covered the inside of my tent with wool to absorb some of the sound caused at night by the wind.

† Headings taken from Moholy-Nagy’s series of tactile exercises used in 1927 to initiate an investigation of the limits of touch and vision within a greater analysis of materiality and texture at the Bauhaus (see Limits of the Tactile and the Optical: Bauhaus Fabric in the Frame of Photography by T’ai Smith).