CASE STUDY: Daniel Fountain and Antoinette Burchill – Re-Imagining Citizenship: Sampling The Subversive Stitch & Stitching Solidarity

This case study, which explores a participatory textile making research project, is written by Daniel Fountain and Antoinette Burchill. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.

Title of case study project or workshop

Re-Imagining Citizenship: Sampling The Subversive Stitch & Stitching Solidarity

Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any

Daniel Fountain, Loughborough University

Dr Antoinette Burchill, Independent Researcher

Context for project

‘Sampling The Subversive Stitch’ was a provocation that Daniel included in the Re-Imagining Citizenship Activity Book, a publication that was produced by members of the Politicised Practice, Anarchist and Theatre Activism Research Groups at Loughborough University. The book, which has thirty different contributions, is based on the conviction that citizenship is a participatory act. It consists of playful and politicised instructions for readers to interpret, experiment with and respond to creatively. This provocation invited respondents to stitch just one word relating to their feelings relating to citizenship.

Later prompted by a need to form a creative community during COVID-19, Antoinette organised a series of workshops under the banner of ‘Stitching Solidarity’, inviting people to sit and engage in creative hobbies like stitching or knitting with strangers; counteracting the social, physical, and geographic isolations of living in the coronavirus era.All of the creative responses were uploaded to our ‘Living Archive’ which sits on the Re-Imagining website as a permanent record of engagement.

This case study reflects upon Daniel’s initial provocation for the Re-Imagining Citizenship Project and Antoinette’s recent series of workshops that came under the same umbrella.

When did the project take place?

The activities featured within the book were inspired by an exhibition that was collectively curated and centred on the concept of the citizen/citizen-artist/artist-citizen to explore the potential for art practices to re-imagine citizenship. This took place between May and October 2018 at the Martin Hall Exhibition Space, Loughborough University, amidst many conversations relating to these themes at the time, such as Brexit negotiations. The book was later published in 2019 and free copies were distributed by research group members across the world. Antoinette’s workshops took place in August 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown via Zoom.

Background(s) of the practitioner(s)

Daniel Fountain is an artist, writer and PhD researcher at Loughborough University. Their practice-led research project ‘All That Glitters IsGold: Queering Waste Through Campy Craft’ uses found textiles and waste materials to explore themes of queerness and abjection. Daniel has published widely on themes relating to waste, textiles and queer visual culture, and they have exhibited artwork on an international level.

Dr Antoinette Burchill is an independent researcher, visual artist and street theatre performer. Her practice-based research explores political dissent and participation, usually with a little mischief-making. She has been a member of the Politicised Practice Research Group since 2011, and a contributor to many events, performances, exhibitions in the UK and Europe.

Aims of project

The original aim of ‘Sampling The Subversive Stitch’ was to encourage people to gather together and stitch one word or phrase that summarised their feelings in response to notions of citizenship.

The over-arching aim of ‘Stitching Solidarity’ was then to explore how exactly solidarity could be consistently performed with strangers. Consideration was given to how this could be structured, performed safely without risk of infection, and include those who – because of lockdown, the need to shield vulnerable individuals – are experiencing exclusion. Antoinette embeds political options within her projects and invites the participants to respond (or not) to the politicised aspects. The politicised aim of ‘Stitching Solidarity’ was the facilitation of time as an activated space to think, dream, consider responses to personal and/or world events. Time, in the era of coronavirus, seemed to be experienced incredibly slowly and simultaneously demand instant reactions: pausing in this context is a politicised act.

Description of project

The ‘Sampling The Subversive Stitch’ provocation encouraged people to stitch just one word or phrase that summarised their feelings in response to notions of citizenship. Participants were encouraged to use any materials they saw fit – scraps of fabric, feather dusters, clothing, packaging, whatever they had around them. Daniel was about to develop a workshop to solicit responses for the ‘Living Archive’ as lockdown happened.

Each 40-minute ‘Stitching Solidarity’ Zoom session had a non-verbal welcome and the first 30-minutes were performed in silence. In the last 10-minutes Antoinette opened up discussion, verbally and in the Zoom chat box. Participants introduced themselves and the activity they had been working on. Emphasis was placed on sharing the microphone and being seen during the last 10-minutes. Activities included cross-stitch, embroidery based on a pattern, freehand embroidery, dressmaking, printmaking, and creative writing. 7 people took part, with 22 participatory episodes: a core of 4 people turned up for all 5 sessions. An unexpected outcome was the participants’ decision to take a collective ownership of the project. No photos were taken of the event in progress so as to add any barriers to participation. ‘Stitching Solidarity’ will now continue on a weekly basis.

Why did you choose to work in this way?

Zoom was chosen for ‘Stitching Solidarity’ as a free audio/visual platform that rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Duration, in turning up consistently for five days, was an important method. Likewise, the emphasis in the event promotion and in the range of resources Antoinette developed was on cross-stitch as an easy-for-beginners form of embroidery that is also suitable for political sloganeering.

What did you learn from the project?

Antoinette discovered that ‘Stitching Solidarity’ met the need for connection and companionship that she hoped the project would address for participants. Several participants used stitching to make visible an intention, whether political or personal, that they needed to act upon. The sequential sessions operated to consolidate and, through the sharing segment, to explore how and why that intention was important. Antoinette discovered a methodology for using Zoom for participatory art practice; sidestepping Zoom’s function for engagement focused on conviviality, consuming or spectating content. 

Related projects

Fruit Routes is an artist-led initiative seeking to develop Loughborough University as an edible landscape, and hopes to share knowledge with the university and wider community through creative events, participation and mapping. As part of the 2019 Fruit Routes programme, Daniel ran a site-specific project ‘Weaving The Orchard’ on 1st May. Daniel used recycled and natural materials to create a huge weaving between the apple trees, drawing people’s attention to the site and the abundance of materials that go to waste. Many students and University staff joined in, none of whom had experience in textiles or weaving practices, and the installation became a real talking point and a site for skill-sharing.

Antoinette’s first cross-stitch project was a contemporary sampler (stitched area 291x357mm) that she designed and sewed as she wrote her PhD thesis. When COVID-19 hit, plans to continue develop her research-based art practice of guerrilla street theatre came to an abrupt halt. Exploring solidarity as a politicised and participatory practice needed a disciple shift into textiles.

Further information

All information about the re-imagining project can be found here: http://www.re-imagining.org

Daniel’s website is: www.danielfountain.com

Antoinette’s website is: http://misachievement.co.uk

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