Student Stories: Navigating New Horizons with Emma Yorke
In the spirit of the MA Arts & Place at Dartington Arts School, current student Emma Yorke reports on her trip to the international ‘Textures of Emotions: Storytelling and Textiles’ Conference in Athens where she gave a paper on ‘The Great Unravelling: an exploration of the ways in which fine art textile artists are telling stories of climate breakdown’. She also shares some insightful creative reflections in the form of postcards to and from the conference in Greece.
The Ionian Sea from Emma’s slow travel route back from the conference
As a student of the MA Arts and Place, I have greatly enjoyed the emphasis the course places on moving practice out of the studio and into the wider world. Through a combination of international guest lectures given over Zoom and a series of placements undertaken across the UK, the course broadens horizons and opens new perspectives. It also encourages students to build their professional networks and push beyond their academic and creative comfort zones.
So, it was very much in the spirit of the course that I set off a few weeks ago to take part in the international ‘Textures of Emotions: Storytelling and Textiles’ Conference in Athens. As a first-time presenter, I was both thrilled and nervous when my paper was accepted after I responded to an open call issued by the conference convenors, Progressive Connexions, who describe themselves as ‘a not-for-profit network inspiring inclusive interdisciplinary research, publishing and collaboration’ and run thematic conferences across Europe. I had been encouraged to apply by the positive and inclusive tone of the call for papers, which encouraged contributions from artists as well as academics, and promised a conference that ‘will provide platforms for interdisciplinary interactions that are fruitful and conducive to broadening horizons and sparking future projects, collaborations, and connections.’
As I made my journey to Athens, I was hopeful that the conference would indeed be as fruitful as it promised to be, particularly as I was mindful that I was taking a short-haul European flight to get there, which is something that I normally try to avoid doing. As I waited for the delayed departure at Heathrow airport, scene of recent travel chaos and poster child for a carbon-dependent society destroying itself through over-consumption, I thought about the conflict between the need to maintain international travel as a route for cultural exchange and learning, and the fact that (in the post-Covid world) we have had to recognise that many of our ‘needs’ can in fact be satisfied by less environmental damaging behaviours than we previously believed.
But who can deny the value of being in the room together as a way of facilitating embodied, experiential, collective learning? My way of resolving this conflict this time was to take consideration of the immense value to me (as a very early-stage researcher) of being in the room with the other speakers, and to balance this with the choice to take the slow travel option some of the way home, which would involve a ferry from Greece to Venice.
It felt particularly important to consider the impact of my travel choices given that I was speaking on a subject directly addressing the ecological emergency. My paper, entitled ‘The Great Unravelling: An Exploration of the Ways in Which Fine Art Textile Artists are Telling Stories of Climate Breakdown’, was a presentation of research related to both my own textile-based practice and that of other inspirational textile artists working with both material and content considerations to ‘tell the truth’ of the climate emergency in sensitive, creative and connected ways.
The programme was widely varied across the two days but can loosely be characterised as ‘telling stories’ of textile related care – care for fabric objects, care for the hidden narratives textiles carry, care for the process of creating cloth and working with cloth. With a range of post-conference outcomes now under discussion, including possible publications, web-platforms and exhibitions, and perhaps most excitingly, a collective effort to support the opening of a dedicated textile conservation facility in India, the conference intention to achieve fruitful collaborations and meaningful connections was most definitely achieved.
I was grateful that I had decided to take the slow route home, first a bus to Patras then the 32 hour ferry ride to Venice, as I really enjoyed the time to process and decompress from the intellectual stimulation of the conference. I looked at the sea, wrote up my notes, and reflected on my experiences.
However, I couldn’t escape into my reverie too deeply, as the idyllic views were clouded by black smoke rising from forest fires along the coast to the south of us. The black cloud on the horizon followed us north to Italy, as did the intense heatwave making its way across Europe – a timely reminder of the ever more pressing work of building networks of knowledge that can strengthen resistance and resilience, whilst still retaining space for enrichment through cross-cultural exchange and creative connections.
Postcards to and from a conference in Athens, Greece
Sent from Emma Yorke (MA Arts and Place)
Somewhere above the Alps, 8/7/22
On board a flight to Athens to take part in the international ‘Textures of Emotions: Storytelling and Textiles’ Conference in Athens. Bitter-sweet excitement. Sweet to be accepted to deliver a paper in the company of some truly inspirational artists and academics at a conference organised by Progressive Connexions (an international not-for-profit network facilitating inclusive, interdisciplinary collaboration, research and publishing). Bitter in the irony of taking a short-haul flight to deliver a paper entitled ‘The Great Unravelling: An Exploration of the Ways in Which Fine Art Textile Artists are Telling Stories of Climate Breakdown’.
Flying high! Ex.
Conference hotel, Athens, 9/7/22
Aside from the breath-taking night-time views of the illuminated Acropolis from the rooftop bar, the hotel has few distinguishing features. But it is a real privilege to be here, in the room, listening as the other presenters share their research with such passion and generosity. Speakers from all over the world contribute narratives of witnessing, expressed through encounters with the material world. The diverse subject matter covered (from textile evidence of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia to the power of culturally dislocated cloth to resist and interrupt dominant stories) reveals the breadth and significance of the role that textiles play in both our private and collective lives.
It can’t be denied that international travel as a route for cultural exchange and learning takes a heavy ecological toll, but coming together in person to share truths and develop new narratives of care and repair is a powerful experience.
So happy to be here, Ex.
Cine Aegli, Athens, 10/7/22
The courtyard of the outdoor cinema is contained by high concrete walls, but they don’t stop the swallows dipping and diving over them, chasing insects drifting in from the botanical gardens next door. The sky is balmy baby blue, then chalky white and finally rosy pink as it makes its gentle descent from day to dusk. Crepusculum is I think my favourite word. The green metal chairs slowly fill up with families, couples, teenagers and the skinny cats of the neighbourhood. With poetically perfect timing, the projector turns on as darkness falls. Happy to be amnesiacs for an evening, the crowd sits back and breathes in the gentle, timeless and collective experience of cinema.
Wish you were here, Ex
Ionian Sea, 11/7/22
It may be almost impossible to ride the ferry between Patras and Venice without being overcome by fanciful and nostalgic notions. Echoes of ancient cultures braving dangerous sea passages under sail, slipping silently past hostile headlines under cover of darkness drift alongside the hum of the diesel engine. Then, as now, the ideal of travel without consequence was perhaps a fantasy acted out by the lucky or powerful few. The space between here and there remains problematic and contested, but it can also be a pause, a portal, a way to cross-over and begin again.
Adriatic Sea, 12/7/22
But where, in these days of planetary level problems and climatic-scale crisis, are we crossing over to? Black smoke rises from the south from forest fires raging along the coast of Albania as we sail along. How long before fires rage to the north of us too?
Only a few days as it turns out, as the heatwave follows the ferry northwards across the seas. The space between here and there reduces ever more quickly. When will we realise that we are leaving ourselves with nowhere to go?
Yours, rearranging deck chairs, Ex
UK based visual artist interested in the relationship between people and place
Currently working on my MA Arts & Place. Find out more about Emma and her work on her website via this link.