In and Of an Urban Time / A quilt

/ 2010 – 2015.

When I looked more closely at the form of the traditional thesis document, I was unsettled by what stared back. Black and white text; composed in rationally reasoned sentences, paragraphs, chapters; comprised of a start, middle and end; all sheets bound together at their spine. There was a strong linearity to the document, and bound from cover to cover it suggested that ‘knowledge lives here’; that within it, truth was fixed.

With its two dominant colours and uniform text, the traditional thesis document conveys a troubling aesthetic. Black and white; on or off; true or false. Far from passive, as a medium it enacts a strong statement of knowledge’s proper modes. Moreover, it suggests who has the right to speak of such subjects (and the correct temporal order for doing so). Whilst undertaking my PhD I came to realise that I could be as plural with the content of my written thesis as I wanted, but there was also a need to challenge the dominant epistemologies and temporalities posed through the presentation and representation of my work.

Exploring this further, I came to recognise more fully the spaces in which I wrote and how I wrote. There was a physicality to my experience of writing. A tactility, urgency and energy in my efforts that were wiped out on the page; a vulnerability and openness that all too often became tempered when translated and fixed into text. I therefore wanted to find a way to bring that part of the knowledge production into focus; to bring to the fore the embodied practice of thesis creation. I arrived at the idea of a quilt soon after. As a keen seamstress, I had amassed a lot of fabric over the years and whenever I caught sight of my pieces, bundles and bolts of pattern, texture and colour, it was fragments from my life which spoke back. Memories of where they came from, what they were meant for, what they had been previously. Imaginaries of what they might become.

The finished composition can be seen in the photograph above. Constructed from thirty-six individual squares, each is of a different fabric, embroidered with a different quote. The quotes are from non-academic sources – snippets from outside the academy that nonetheless speak to the same concerns of my written thesis. The squares are left unbound at their edge; non-squares of absence are interspersed at points between. It is quilted in two continuous lines – one tracing the order in which I embroidered each square, the other tracking the temporal origin point of each quote. The rest of it is ‘quilted’ in person, and in the mind, as I perform the quilt by telling its stories with Others who look upon it. There are no proper lines through the quilt, only lines of flight. Lines: from the threads that make up the warp and woof, to the lines I’ve stitched on top, to the lines of flight that take thought elsewhere. Only lines, only stories, only possibilities.

As an alternative form to sit alongside the thesis document the quilt acts not to negate but to challenge the problematic realities enacted through the traditional thesis medium. It is a counterpoint to the masculine, binary aesthetic of an electronically produced, sanitised form. It is produced from and is productive of a knowledge less fixed, more open, more rhizomatic. And perhaps most importantly, it permits time to flow in many directions. To be made in the present; for what was past to be remade in the future; and for future desires to remake the past anew.