I am an artist and academic who draws on the material and semantic conventions of textile; using these as a point of departure for an artistic practice that variously takes the form of wall based objects, sculpture and installation. My practice, research and teaching experience, however, extends beyond the specificity of textile and is concerned more broadly with a material sensibility within contemporary fine art practice. Of central concern is material agency and the affective dimension of the aesthetic experience. I am particularly interested in the way that a material aesthetic opens up our sensuously bound encounter with the world and how the affective intensity of this encounter opens up a productively indeterminate space where boundaries become blurred and meaning is unable to settle.

Maxine Bristow
Reader in Fine Art, Programme Leader MA Fine Art
Department of Art and Design
University of Chester

Originally trained in fashion and textiles (specialising in embroidery), Maxine Bristow has taught fine art for the last twenty years. She is currently Reader in Fine Art and Programme Leader for the MA Fine Art at the University of Chester.  As an artist, she has exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented in the permanent collections of the Crafts Council, London, Whitworth Art Gallery and Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery. She was selected for the Jerwood Textiles Prize in 2002, and in 2008 was one of the artists nominated for the Northern Arts Prize.

At the core of Maxine’s practice is a concern with material sensibility and the affective potential of aesthetic experience. She explores this through strategies that aim to maintain a productive tension between meaning and materiality and between the subjective and objective dimensions of the work. What unites her practice is a visual vocabulary that establishes a relationship between sensuality and austerity; generally employing sensuous and tactile materials that are framed within a coolly detached façade.

Her early work (largely represented by her signature ‘bag’ and ‘buttonhole’ pieces) framed language systems intrinsic to textiles within the conventions of a minimalist aesthetic and in relation to discourses of modernist autonomy. Strategically adopting a reductive vocabulary, employing serial repetition and referencing notions of ‘objecthood’, the work explored tensions between the affective dimension of the work and a simultaneous desire for self-effacement and objectivity. Within this work, any attempt at formal autonomy is continually disrupted by the somatic sensuality of cloth and by the social and historical connotations of the needlework techniques employed in its production

Her more recent practice shifts the agenda from the legacies of modernist abstraction to one that draws its reference from textile’s own object conventions and position within material culture. Framed within PhD research entitled Pragmatics of attachment and detachment: the productive indeterminacy of textile/not textile, the work investigates textile as a site of multiple, complex and contradictory connections and intermediary material agency.

This new methodological approach involves the creation of individual sculptural ‘components’ that can be variously configured (and reconfigured) in the form of an installational assemblage. By facilitating temporary connections and coalitions acted out over a series of provisionally staged mise en scène, the intention is to maintain a sense of mutability where meaning is not stable but continually in flux.

The overarching aim of the research is to develop a model of practice which moves from the strategic negotiation of textile contexts and conventions and an interpretation of the work that is largely dictated by a rhetoric of negative opposition, to a much more productive openness. Arguably, this more affirmative stance allows for a more playful mixing of codes and the creation of heterogeneous connections across a range of disciplinary, material and semantic contexts, together with and a greater contiguity between the subjective and objective dimensions of the work.

A key focus of the investigation is the tension between processes of assimilation and differentiation and the development of strategies which facilitate both attachment and detachment. This tension is explored from three perspectives: from the strategic negotiation of the diverse material and visual culture contexts from which textile derives its contradictory meanings; from the subjective and objective dimensions of the practice and the experience that it induces in the viewer; and from the constitution of her own subjectivity as it is materialised and mobilised in relation to the textile and fine art communities in which she operates.

Through this methodological shift, the cultural ambivalence of textile is reinterpreted as a productive indeterminacy that embraces ambiguity, complexity and contradiction. Within this model, textile conventions and contexts provide a point of departure but the practice is no longer bound by these conventions.

Further information on some of the above concerns and how they are explored through the studio enquiry can be found within the ‘Portfolio Threads’ section of the site.

Maxine Bristow