Emily Lang's pattern stories
I came across Emily Lang's work at the Edinburgh College of Art degree show a couple of weeks ago, where her understated and beautiful knitting pattern works hung alongside patterned pieces in book form. Her practice has a basis in printmaking and bookbinding, and in her recent work she has begun to incorporate textile designs. The patterns are reminiscent of woven or knit cloth, culling ideas from traditional craft, especially that of the fishing villages of eastern Scotland.
Lang's work addresses Scottish textiles and the towns associated with them, but also the crafts and traditions of the women in fishing towns such as Musselburgh, Fisherrow, and Newhaven. Woven in, so to speak, with the beautiful textile patterns that Lang transfers to paper, are the histories and traditions of the craft. The patterns illustrate the repetition inherent in the tough routine of daily labor that the craft of weaving or knitting would have helped to alleviate, even though it is itself a repetitious act. She derives her ideas from folk culture to rediscover past, both remembered or imagined, within a contemporary context.
I was first drawn to the images of circular knitting patterns in the series Dreg Singing, which without any previously-known context of fishing villages or textile craft, struck me as handcrafted mandalas. They remind me of my mother who dyes wool at home and knits the most beautiful garments, and I myself who especially in the wintertime usually crank out at least a scarf or two. There is a meditative aspect to the repetition of the craft, whether done on needles or a loom, and the fact that one can spin, knit or weave and also be socializing makes crafting into a powerful community builder. Not only has it served an economic purpose, but in some respects, it serves as social and cultural glue.
Lang assembles beautiful books and prints that boldly, yet delicately illustrate the beauty and material strength of the textiles, but she demonstrates this on paper rather than the fabric itself. The history of the Scottish fishing villages or the textile towns, and the fading social and oral traditions of historic places like these throughout all of Scotland, Lang's work can be seen as a way of capturing or memorializing the patterns as well as the traditions in prints and books. They are exhibited like precious artifacts that explore all the variety and history that these traditions consist of.
More information and images of the artist's work can be found at emilylang.co.uk.