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Where's the frame

Jean Watt

March 22, 2023 10:46 AM


Adam Boyd’s practice sets out to materialise the immaterial. Taking the ephemerality of a fleeting moment captured in a photograph Adam responds with textile-based works, from UV photo printing on polyester to embroidery and quilting. The folding of a shadow around a corner becomes a stitch on canvas, the shimmering of light on water is suggested through iridescent fabric. Visiting Adam in his home-studio, fully realised wall-based works live above printed taffeta and silk experiments hanging on a laundry rack and laid across a desk. For wtf?, writer Jean Watt had the pleasure of chatting to Adam about the threads that connect the work, from video games to Kafka.

Adam Boyd in his home-studio

Since graduating from his MFA at the Slade last year Adam has been finding space for working outside of an institution and its facilities. The textile practice which he developed whilst studying is luckily one which transitions neatly enough into this new setting as, in his words, it can be done in piecemeal. Small fabric experimentations germinate in Adam’s home-studio, coming in to being alongside finished pieces. The practice breathes into itself in this way, old work informing new work: the hiking ropes which creep out the bottom of Trifurcate, a wall based work, dangle towards blossoming experimentations. It is an active site for cross-pollination, with ideas and processes bouncing around against each other.

Adam Boyd, Trifurcate.

Although there is a craft-bias to Adam’s mediums, the work expands beyond a sense of domesticity which can suffocate a textile practice. This comes from a commitment to the conceptual rationale behind the work, particularly an engagement with ideas about time: parallel timelines and their splitting, multiple universes. These concepts have an established history in their connection to the language of textiles. It makes sense that Adam’s practice has settled itself here, to investigate the fabric of reality. In Odradek, a large quilted and embroidered inkjet on mixed-textile, fabric elements seem to explode out of the expected edges of the work, zips rippling away from a centre point, threads and wadding left dangling and visible. The inkjet skin which sits on the polycanvas puckers the fabric when sewn, producing  an almost portal-like effect. There is something cosmic driving the work which Adam recognises, “stitches can be otherworldly, rather than just homely”.

Adam Boyd, Odradek.

The work is a translation from this otherworldly: a reference point to something unknown, but also, a physicalisation of that same thing into the known. This emerges from a way of seeing and documenting the world which Adam describes as obsessive, an iPhone camera roll saturated with potential source imagery. “I like the idea about photography being a decisive moment. I see myself as being in the right place at the right time”. 

Adam Boyd, details Odradek.

This imagery finds itself embedded in fabric in works like The Seam and Mimic. In these two pieces, there is a direct mirroring: quilting echoes the shapes of an image of mossy grassland, satin mimics the flickering of light on concrete. In more recent works-in-progress, the textile is becoming an extension of the imagery, a way to imagine a before and after of when a photograph was taken: “I’ve taken a photo of a shadow going around a corner where it feels like time is stretched out. How can I make a sculptural response that starts to unpick or unfold that?”. 

Adam Boyd, The Seam

Much of Adam’s recent practice found its root in the SÍM Residency he did in Iceland in 2021. During lockdown he had become fascinated by ideas of parallel timelines and shared experience which are explored in Death Stranding, a video game based on the Icelandic landscape. Emerging from isolation into this strange, yet familiar setting encouraged an urgency in his practice, which coincided with his introduction to UV printing on fabric. Suddenly, his wealth of images could immediately be transferred onto material and responded to sensorially. “The textures that I was seeing everywhere, they felt so unreal that it was only through the sensory, that I could kind of make sure that I was actually living this.”

Still from Death Stranding

In Chiralium, a closeup image of a lichen is placed next to a 3D scan of the bedroom Adam had to isolate in when he arrived at his residency. Autobiography becomes a filter which the work moves through. Fabric becomes membrane. 

Adam Boyd, Chiralium. 

Death Stranding also introduced Adam to the idea of the Odradek, Franz Kafka’s strange creature which haunts the home, shaped like a spool of thread. It has been extensively interpreted, considered as a symbol of obscurity or uselessness. Adam sees it as a lens through which to read a practice which attempts to physicalise the immaterial, the unquantifiable. “Bit of a left field way to get to Kafka”, he admits. Somehow, it makes complete sense. In the video game the Odradek is a scanner which reveals the underlying structure of the terrain, an idea which Adam investigates in his quilted works like Strand System, featured in this year’s New Contemporaries. The quilting mirrors the image of a rocky landscape, revealing a kind of skeleton, a network of blood vessels, a constellation which exists underneath. 

Adam Boyd, Strand System. 

Much of Adam’s work takes the form of a diptych or triptych, suggesting something quasi-religious in their presence on the wall. The silky stitching of a textile work could be a vestment, light refracting in a photograph could be coming through stained glass. “Growing up with one quite religious parent, and one that was less so, I’ve gleaned from both systems of belief”. The existential and the ceremonial catch each other’s eye in the mirror of Adam’s work. The quality of shadowy light or the ephemerality of a leaf fluttering in the wind are both holy and earthly.

The tendency - which Adam is pushing to break free from - to produce wall-based work comes, in part from his background in painting. Until his MFA, his practice consisted almost exclusively of figurative oil paintings, taking his source imagery as something to be directly copied rather than transposed. The new way of working came from a desire to create a research-based practice which could be reimagined in the process of making, seeing it as something that could grow uncontrollably and unexpectedly. The notion of painting remains imprinted on the work in Adam’s carefully cultivated handling of colour and form. Yet the energy of discovering these new mediums bursts at their seams, the painterly expanded with a sense of joyous abandon. “How can I transcribe a digital glitch in a piece of handmade felt?”Adam asks,“It feels like the wrong tool for the job, but there’s something exciting in the miscommunication”. 

Adam’s work will be part of Eleven Twenty Three at St. Bartholomew The Great, London from 20th April - 3rd May, 2023

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