Through three-dimensional textiles and photography, Nerissa Cargill Thompson investigates how things change appearance over time, not just eroding or decaying but new layers of growth, giving juxtapositions of structure and colour. Cargill Thompson uses old clothes and scrap materials for both economic & ecological sustainability.
What led you to working with three-dimensional textiles?
My background in prop making as part of my work in theatre design attracted me to working three dimensionally. Initially, I covered manipulated plastic waste to support my textiles. Then I started experimenting with some concrete left behind by builders. At first covering casts of plastic trays and milk bottles but eventually developing my now usual technique of stitching the textiles into the plastic and then casting them together giving a juxtaposition of the two materials. The concrete is key in supporting the concepts of my work. Single use plastics are lightweight and often transparent or at least translucent. They are easy to overlook and disregard. The concrete gives the waste a weight and substance more in line with its actual legacy. I have continued to use concrete rather than other casting materials for its urban quality. I love the way it captures the embossed logos and geometric textures of the plastic waste contrasting with the soft, naturally inspired textiles representing the battle between nature and manmade, how our waste becomes embedded in the environment and how nature fights back.
Can you describe your creative process?
My work investigates change over time, not just eroding or decaying but new layers of growth, giving juxtapositions of structure and colour. I gather visual references through photography in urban, rural and coastal settings. My mixed media sculptures explore climate crisis and the permanence of disposables through combining textiles and concrete cast in discarded plastic packaging. I create naturally inspired textures using a combination of embellishing and embroidery; blending a variety of recycled fabrics to create subtle variations in tone. The textiles are either mounted over charity shop canvases or stitched into plastic waste and cast with concrete. I try to develop work that makes people consider the world around them and their responsibility to the environment.
Could you talk a bit about your piece ‘More Than Jelly Fish’ and how it came about?
The pandemic is ending, but the legacy of environmental pollution caused by associated disposable plastic like masks will go on for centuries. The title comes from media coverage of the situation. Textiles embellished and embroidered with coastal textures cast with concrete to mirror the legacy of this single use waste. The moulds were made using domestic food packaging manipulated to take the sculptural form of discarded disposable masks with elastic added within the casting process to complete the look. The piece has a flexibility of display as they can be hung in a row as like caught fish but can also be plinth or even floor displayed like litter. I am currently making a larger version of the piece with approx. a dozen masks for the Prism Contemporary Textiles “Untold” exhibition at the Art Pavilion, Mile End in April.
What influences your use of colour?
I am mildly obsessed with the poetry of decay – mould, rust, flaky paint and how moss and lichen grow over both natural and manmade things. The variety of tones within these are mesmerising and natural tones does not mean subdued. As a contrasting base, I use old suiting. When hunting for costumes, I would always see large racks of grey office wear in the cheap charity shops like layered rock formations. I tend to choose items with more than one colour in the weave and good wool content as these react best in the embellisher (see
Do you have any studio essentials when you are working?
An embellisher or felting machine, has a head made up of multiple needles but no thread. It distorts and blends the fabrics together and has been essential in developing my signature textiles. I use recycled materials in my art and my workshops for economic & ecological sustainability. I have bags of old clothes, household fabrics and scraps sorted into different colour palates ready to use. The different types of fabrics give a variety of texture when put through the embellisher. The radio signal at the studios I cast in is appalling so have got into listening to audiobooks borrowed through the library Borrowbox app while I mix and pour concrete.
Lastly, Who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?
So hard, so many and so many that you only remember hours/days after being asked but here are the ones that come to mind today. I have admired Alice Kettle’s large-scale fine art textiles for many years but also her continued pursuit of a socially engaged practice. I love how Steve Messam (@rougeit) interrupts both architecture and the environment with his colourful inflatables and how Will Coles installs his politically and environmentally charged sculptures in public spaces. Both artists have a great mix of bold style, message and humour in their work. And finally a couple of local painters: Jen Orpin’s haunting empty roads and motorway bridges and Steve Heaton’s sublime abstracts.