Ainsley Hillard’s Traces, an installation of twenty hand woven panels and sound, encourages us to engage with Mission Gallery’s past as a seaman’s chapel and community meeting place.
Hillard’s beautifully pared down and sensitive response confirms her consummate skill as both artist and maker. Her practice insists on physicality and this is reflected in the organisation of the space. Her Traces exist as metaphoric stand-ins – chairs, prayer books, tables – familiar everyday objects that, crafted by Hillard, occupy the space as if in conversation. That they are woven threads emphasises their corporeality and reflects our universal and enduring connection with cloth, of how cloth carries memory. In their structure, their careful and cared for weaving, they demonstrate how objects become more than their sum, freighted with meaning, how they become ‘embodied’.
As Hillard weaves, so do we: passing between the warp threads, seen and lost, present and absent, weft wrapping warp, hidden and revealed. In our passing, we gather different sightings: the hazy edges, soft focus: the underbelly of the weave, normally hidden from view, is apparent for all to see, and, like the lines of a book, we notice that one pass is printed and the next is not. We weave through Traces: create our own memories. We are at the very heart of Mission, woven into its text.
Whispered echoes, the traces of sound, accompany our steps and musings: a page turns, footsteps cross the gallery floor, a bell tolls. In the intervals, the physical ‘in-betweens’, we hear, and perhaps see, the rhythmic and patient practice of the weaver. Perhaps, we might also understand Pallasmaa’s claim that the eye reaches but the ear receives.
This sensory experience of space, our ‘engagement’, fits with Levin’s idea of the aletheic gaze: a multi-layered seeing, which is at turns snatched at, caring, intuitive, glimpsed and haptic. This gaze is embodied in Hillard’s intention – that we should ‘know’ Traces on different levels, that the experience should be multi-sensory, have different readings and, like memories, some are collective, some personal and others imagined.
It is people, their connections and recollections that transmute space into place: place is the people who occupy it and give it meaning, they the sensory fabric of a building. In Traces, Hillard’s beginnings and endings defy order; they seem to threaten an unravelling into something or nothing. They remind us that space is a dynamic thing and that like shadows; traces are both followed and left behind.