Anna McDowell (b.1990) is a multi-disciplinary artist working pre-dominantly with printmaking and hand-embroidery. Her work traverses the subjects of loss, time and the phenomenology of art practice. She has exhibited across the UK and internationally including Two-Fold, Southwark Park Galleries (2023) Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair (2022), The Damage is Done, Pumphouse Gallery (2022) and Stillness/Movement/Chaos: International Print Exhibition, RIT City Art Space, New York (2021). In 2021 she was a recipient of the Developing Your Creative Practice Arts Council award and in September 2022 she was artist-in-residence at the Villa Lena Art Foundation, Tuscany.
Encompassing printmaking, textiles and bookmaking, this body of work explores the phenomenology of art practice. Working from an intuitively gathered amalgam of found photographic imagery and text, fragments are extracted and gently transformed. Through layering, cropping, stitching, shifting scale, quoting, noting, collaging and blurring, these works seek to frame and capture the gestures and textures of (re)searching and (sense)making.
Bracha L. Ettinger’s psychoanalytic theory argues for an unconscious connection that we all have to an in-utero, intra-psychic zone she names ‘the Matrixial Zone’: a space inhabited within the mother’s womb from which our first, pre-cognitive encounter with the non-I or Other took place; an encounter, she argues, artists are unconsciously re-kindling or yearning for whilst engaged in artistic activity. Across this body of work I have attempted to articulate a primordial essence stirring at the heart of creative encounter. Often using an ultra-subtle aesthetic (e.g. almost-transparent grey inks, white on white embroidery) I have produced a set of poetically charged surfaces that seduce, emote and elude the eye.
My practice engages with modes of making that require time and labour. These aspects of my work, and of craft praxis more broadly, are something I seek to frame and draw viewers’ attention towards. Simultaneously I am interested in how craft intersects with theory; how these interconnected spheres unfold in my own work, as well as their historical relationship. It is dialogues such as these, unfolding as I make and think, that I endeavour to give shape to.
In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes famously wrote:
A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here in a carnal medium.
Here Barthes points to the raw, maternal-like primality of the photographic surface. In the same text he writes of the ‘fantasmatic’ quality of certain non-indexical photographs:
...it is fantasmatic, serving from a kind of second sight which seems to bear me forward to a utopian time, or to carry me back somewhere in myself: a double movement.
Across this body of work I have used the non-indexical photographic image as metaphor for looking and longing in their most primal forms. In each of the prints from the Far Behind and Always In Front series I have taken a found photographic fragment and printed the same image on top of itself six times using photolithography and ultra-transparent ink. The image gets slightly larger and slightly darker with each layer so that a subtle gradation is established at its edge, creating the appearance of a shallow recession into the space of the paper, combined with a subtle movement or hum that emanates towards the viewer.
‘The place of art is for me … more than a place … rather a space, that allows for certain occasions of occurrence and encounter’ Bracha L. Ettinger, Art as the Transport-Station of Trauma
Bracha L. Ettinger’s psychoanalytic writing has puzzled and guided me in equal measure through the development of this body of work. For the Borderstitch series (still in development) I have extracted fragments of text from Ettinger’s essay Art as the Transport-Station of Trauma and transposed them on to fabric using hand-embroidery. These text(ile) objects function as an homage to Ettinger’s words which offer an alternative to the phallocentric, Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalytic paradigm, locating an inherent link between subjectivity, creativity and the feminine. The title Borderstitch makes reference to Ettinger’s notion of the artwork as ‘borderspace’, a meeting point between past and present, visible and invisible, artist and viewer. These works move through the felt experience of engaging with theoretical language via the process of art-making, a meditation on how these interconnected spheres inform and shape one another. This work also considers the relationship between craft and theory, text and textiles, taking into account the historical privileging of language (the seen, the known) over material (the felt, the intuited). By extracting small parts of the text from their original context, Ettinger’s words become poetic fragments, divorced from meaning or definition.
Intimate Failures is a hand-made artist book containing fragments from a ‘failed’ series of printed artworks. The prints have been cut to size and sewn at both ends, hidden between linen-bound hard covers. A trace of the prints can only be glimpsed at the book’s edge. Here I was thinking about failure and doubt, how we wish it away or attempt to hide it from view. Or how we occasionally manage to re-configure what remains.