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Thursday, 31 October 2013


The show is up at Norwich Gallery. The work was hung in 4 hours and looks good. Its interesting to see the work within the white walls of a gallery after the domestic space, if rather grand of Abbotts Hall at the Museum of East Anglian Life or the municipal functionality and clutter of the record offices and museums the work has been shown in. I was reminded of the exhibition and subsequent article written by Susan Vogel called Vogel’s net where the same objects were presented within different situations or contexts, art gallery, museum, diorama. With each viewing the context overwhelmed the objects and the viewers reading of them was framed by the environment. 
The private view was really busy with many positive and supportive comments. It was really nice to see so many friendly faces – thank you to all of you who turned up, your support was greatly appreciated.  

I set up a situation where work was exchanged for a recommendation – the work in question was a set of prints that I have shown in 4 places and felt that I had learnt all I need from them – they will be going to good homes and I will follow up the recommendations and be enriched by them, everybody wins.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


the show in the library at NUA looks good and provides a number of links between the library (books) and the project (sketch books). http://nucalibrary.tumblr.com/post/64767366270/les-bicknell-lecturer-in-ba-textiles-at-nua-is

Sunday, 20 October 2013


a busy weekend - a talk on saturday at the record office in ipswich and then sunday taking the exhibition down at MEAL. It was good to be able to give the talk again and incorporate some of the points from the discussion that came after the talk at MEAL around the value of making.

Friday, 18 October 2013


There is a small display of some of the background to unpicking and rebinding in the library at the Norwich University of the Arts Library. It includes textual research, notebooks and some models. The books from the collection at NUA are from across a broad range of subjects including architecture, fashion, design and fine art. Traditional smocking is included as the starting point for the project. It supports the one day exhibition in the gallery next week. 

Monday, 14 October 2013


just to let everybody know that this is the last week of the show at MEAL in Stowmarket - http://www.eastanglianlife.org.uk/whats-on.html - thank you to everybody who has visited and given me such positive feedback. looking forward to being reunited with the work and while I'm there getting some final photographs of the work in situ with items from the collection.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


the exhibition at MEAL has been reviewed/presented in the on-line magazine insuffolk http://www.insuffolk.com/unpicking-and-unbinding/ and the press release for the show in Norwich is out - 

Is smocking – the process of sewing folds into a garment - inherently evil? This is one of many questions that artist Les Bicknell asks in a one day pop-up exhibition taking place in The Gallery at Norwich University of the Arts this month.
“There were very real politics surrounding smocking throughout the 250 years it was in practice in this country leading up to the industrial revolution,” says Bicknell. “Smocking could be seen as a form of subjugation through craft. One could ask why were poor farmers sitting at home embellishing their garments instead of rising up and challenging serfdom and crop pricing? Even the nature of smocking – compressing cloth and hiding parts of it – invites darkness into a garment and hides part of it.”
Smocking was also functional – it strengthened a garment and gave it form – but it was also decorative. “A smocked piece of material can resemble a ploughed field,” Bicknell comments. “Smocked garments began to die out with the industrial revolution. They were too baggy to wear near machinery, but also as the economy moved from rural to urban the smock became seen as a garment of stigma. At the Grand Exhibition in 1851 there is a story that a group of 500 rural people turned up in smocks and the organisers were worried they would break the exhibits. There are extraordinary illustrations of people in smocks in the London Times from this period.”
The exhibition, titled unpicking and rebinding, will present a variety of textile wall hangings demonstrating examples of folding, pleating and smocking techniques. The artworks on display form part of Bicknell's response to an Arts Council funded project which explores the role of the fold within historical and contemporary textiles and printed material held in three heritage collections within the Eastern region: The Textile and Costume Collection at Norwich Museum; Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL); and Suffolk County Council Archive.
“The selection explores the point at which a fold changes the nature of the textile,” says Bicknell. “At what point does a piece of cloth stop being a piece of cloth and start being a smock? Take the spine out of a book – is it still a book? I’ve mapped out new ways of accessing and archiving these textiles based on the type of fold. For example I’ve looked at the turnups on 1950s demob suits, the button hole styles on blouses from the 1920s and forms of leather gaitering from France in the 1860s. It’s all tied together by the folds – from the materials used to bind a book to the stuffing used in a suit lapel.”
So is a lapel evil? “Well,” says Les, “it hides, so it’s not necessarily truthful.”
Bicknell’s new archiving system is documented in a book on display in the exhibition, which will open to the public on Thursday 31 October. Entry is free and the show is open from 10am - 5pm in The Gallery at NUA on St Georges Street.

Les Bicknell is available for interview either in advance or at a Private View of the exhibition, which will be held on Wednesday 30 October from 5.30pm – 7.30pm. Members of the press who would like arrange an interview or attend the Private View please contact Stuart Anderson, Marketing and Communication Officer at NUA.
Tel:  01603 756238 or email: s.anderson@nua.ac.uk

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


Working on the next instalment of exhibiting the work - a show at the Gallery attached to Norwich University of the Arts - most of the work is still at the Museum of East Anglian Life but there is a film/slide show I want to present so its all about file sizes and monitors etc as well as rethinking the work in the new space.  I have another talk coming up next week - looking at the background to the project unpicking and rebinding and how it came to be - this time at Suffolk Record Office - October 19th at 2.00 - its at Gatacre Road in Ipswich  http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/libraries-and-culture/culture-and-heritage/suffolk-record-office/contact-suffolk-record-office/ipswich-record-office/

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


the exhibition has been featured in the University of the Arts blog

a selection of images from my last visit 

Some thoughts on unpicking and rebinding - 
How has working within the archive informed my practice - What will last?

Over many years of reflecting on my work previous to this project I had come to know that my practice had the concept of control at its core. This issue of restriction was challenged by the choice of materials that were used within the project. This selection in turn was governed by the establishment of a set of rules developed from a political position. The concept of the hidden within the fold has informed this thinking. Practically the materials chosen serve an unsung yet useful original purpose; stiffening, strengthening and creating form within the garment. 

Politically there is a link with workers making and possibly controlled by the processes they are engaged with, making work for idle hands, subjugation through craft.
When the choice of materials can be anything rules and concepts are important to enable you to focus what you will work with. Materials have political and aesthetic factors connected to them and this choice compounds with issues of quality and value towards the final pieces.

The extensive use of fabric within the project has forced me to release a degree of control in the work I've been making – paper and card ‘move’ less. The inherent quality of materials one works with is apparent and informed by every decision and those decisions embedded within the materials. The fabric feels alien and too open, although this has been one of the many practical lessons learnt.

I have developed my personal connection to the history of textile activity within the Eastern Region, specifically amassing knowledge around the meaning of smocks through time – agricultural labourer to bohemian crafts person including a political position around workers and decoration.

Learning from making is something that I constantly talk about with the students I work with. Asking them to consider and act on it - this new body of work, where I have positioned myself outside my 'traditional' knowledge has required me to learn skills and develop strategies which have in turn moved my work forward

I have been developing my practical textile skills, specifically smocking techniques. This has widened my making vocabulary, enabling me to have a richer visual voice. This extensive period of learning skills from practising creating pockets using paper and lining materials to traditional smocking techniques is now part of my practice. This rigorous making has enabled parallels and connections between pattern cutting and the world of experimental book production to be considered.

Reflection whilst physically being with the objects in the collection enables links to flow. The objects have a palimpsest quality; the record of their history reappears on the surface like the traces of old texts to be 'read', a memory of use embedded within the objects physicality, like cumulative palimpsests. And the objects themselves leave their own mark on the viewer. Every object has an infinite number of stories attached and each personal truth illustrates multiple connections and this in itself documents our relationship to what and how we value the objects around us. But when making work that is inspired by the works of others the shadow of impersonation is ever present. When referencing becomes pastiche pieces can cease to be viewed as valid or creative in their own right. Looking at objects and striking a balance between research and creativity, between citation and indication.

The physical making led, through reflection to a series of questions, including when does bend become crease become fold?  When does an object become itself? This initial interest in the idea of objectness led to a need to consider categorisation and it became a large part of the research.