Psychic Garden presents a new collection of work from our resident creatives inspired by the poet, craftsman and radical thinker; William Morris, in a collaborative exhibition created during the current pandemic by London based organisations The William Morris Society & StoryBox Collective.
William Morris (1834 - 1896) is arguably the most iconic name in British victorian design. From his dazzling and unmistakable pattern wallpapers and textiles to his illustrated books, poetry, buildings and furniture - Morris' designs are still selling today - almost 125 years after his death.
"Have nothing in your House that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" - William Morris
But more than being a great designer, or a talented writer, his forward thinking and radical views on worker's rights, pollution and social democracy made him controversial and subversive. He was a dreamer, a scruff, a polymath and a constructive enemy of the states quo. Not only were his creative ideals precursors to contemporary social and environmental sustainability, we think his expansive body of work can still demonstrate clues about the art of simplicity and the future of society.
History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created - William Morris
The Story Box Collective are a group of artists / illustrators / designers / writers and poets based in London/Berlin/Bangkok and Sardinia. Their work crosses the boundaries of disciplines and applies a serendipitous approach to archival research through collaborative making. Founded in 2020 by Clare Conway, a tutor at Kingston University, it brings together an international group of student, graduate and professional creatives in design, illustration, fine art, film making and performance who unearth hidden gems in archives to create new responses which tell the story.
"Interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of what we do, with each member identifying an area of interest, then working together to create work that responds to shared themes...The Collective’s definition of a story box is something that best communicates the narrative of the combined work. It can take any form: print, digital, moving image or object."
Let's take a look at the work by our resident creatives...
William Morris Tracksuit [Artistic Dress 2020]
Leonardo Russo, Amy Turnbull and Joseph Montagu
A biodegradable, non toxic tracksuit made from organic hemp-cotton jersey, natural madder dye and a specially developed alginate acid-wash screen printing emulsion. (Leonardo Russo)
Dress in Victorian times was (by contemporary standards) restrictive, uncomfortable, stuffy, formal, and deeply gendered. Morris believed in what he called ‘artistic dress’ which was comfortable and more loose-fitting. He also provoked controversy by saying that women should reject their crinoline and corsets because of their un-comfortability.
“Do not allow yourself to be upholstered like armchairs” (William Morris,1880)
In his visions which stretched far into the past and inconceivably to the future, we think Morris imagined that we could all wear clothes like monks do: fabrics designed for simplicity and upmost comfort (a necessary aspect of life when extended periods of prayer and contemplation are prerequisite!). The belief that form and function must find equilibrium in clothing carries through to Morris’s commitment to fabric design. Morris held nature as the ultimate inspiration, and concurrently the depictions of nature found in medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Some of Morris’ fabrics would be sold as dress lining in the late 19th and early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that ‘Granny Takes a trip’ would re-imagine his curtain and upholstery fabric as fully fledged jackets, popularized iconically by George Harrison.
Morris’ ideas from socialism are well documented, with crucial ideas such as the preservation of ancient buildings for future generations and the ‘just price’ for manufactured products being no doubt influential precursors to the contemporary ideals of social and sustainable design.
For this story box, we have decided to re imagine the concept of artistic dress for the young creatives of the 2020’s. Nothing seems more fitting and more comfortable than the tracksuit. The most accessible, universal and utilitarian dress of our day, worn by creatives and non-creatives alike.
The tracksuit is a part of British cultural identity, revered as much by art students as it is athletes. With the luxury of digital technology and mechanised processes, the handmade can become affordable.
Machine rendered recreations of the original patterns will be carved into photographic emulsion with upmost precision, and within a couple of hours, a screen print can be prepared that would have taken Morris’ workers weeks. This enables the hand printed fabric components to be hand assembled by skilled craftspeople in so much as an afternoon.
The Romanticists' Nightmare
Brandon RA Pestano
An original poem accompanied by long lost historical archive footage of nature, contrasted with horrifying scenes of pollution, as a response to William Morris as a romanticist poet and proto-environmentalist during the time of the industrial revolution and the destruction of natural habitats and ecosystems.
I've often thought about our responsibilities as artists to convey the issues that are most important to our generation. For me environmental destruction is at the top of that list, and I believe that in some ways we now live in what could be described as 'The Romanticist's Nightmare', in that all the fears and warnings presented by the great poets of the 18th century regarding the dangers of losing touch with the natural world, have now escalated to a reality in which the future of our species and planet is now in jeopardy. (Brandon RA Pestano)
I decided to narrate a poem addressing the importance of maintaining a connection with nature now more than ever, paying homage to the ages before, in which great minds and thinkers such as William Morris opened up our spirits to the wonders of the natural world and the importance of protecting it in the face of oblivion. (Brandon RA Pestano)
"Peace and progress,
Tragedy and protest,
Process in balance,