Katie Schwab’s exhibition ‘Together in a Room’, currently showing at Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, brings together voices and histories spanning over a century through an installation of textiles, video and furniture. The exhibition marks the culmination of Schwab’s participation in Collective Gallery’s ‘Satellites Program’ – an open submission initiative which provides artists with development and mentoring resources. Looking at domestic craft and design in 20th and 21st century buildings, Schwab has installed a space whose bright colours emanate from the glass-fronted exterior of the gallery and out into the panoramic vista of Edinburgh from high on Calton Hill. In doing so, the architecture of her exhibit points to a central theme of the work – that of the ambiguity between the realms of public and private space.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells us in his memoir, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life that “all human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” Schwab’s largest work in the show, a textile piece, ‘Sampler’, merges these disparate spaces into an embroidery of individual designs and motifs whose haphazard but elegant compositions are reminiscent of architectural sketches on discarded papers. ‘Sampler’ takes its name from the textile trade, calling on the tradition of using off-cut pieces of fabric to work out embroidery patterns before committing them to final pieces. Historically, samplers served as a type of pattern book to be shared between women and to be handed down from generation to generation.
‘Sampler’ is further understood through Schwab’s video ‘Dedicated to My Great Teachers’. Piecing together subject matter from seven sources, Schwab has translated the enduring but fractured nature of the sampler object itself into a 10-minute work whose source material includes guided home tours, weaving textbooks, and memoirs. By knitting together these narratives, she walks us through the Contempora art school building in Berlin, homes of early Bauhaus designers in London, and the residence of arts and craft movement artists in Sweden. Throughout this travel, she asks us to consider community, creativity, and education in spaces that are governed by economics, domesticity, and modernism.
An additional feature to the work is a series of hand-made stools – collaboratively produced with the artist’s peer and flat mate Simon Worthington - for us to sit on whilst in the gallery. Further drawing on Schwab’s interest in design heritage, the main form of the stool is taken from a design by Finnish design house Marimekko, while the profile draws on a design by Arne Jacobson. With the addition of these stools Schwab’s work becomes complete. Seated atop their green wooden tops and held aloft by their stalk-like legs and yellow feet, you sit watching ‘Dedicated’, whose bright colour palette makes the screen blend into the vibrant wall coverings. Your curious, perched position in the space as related to the other stools around you, forms a motif that could be easily found within ‘Sampler’, and you begin to see how your own story becomes interwoven with that of the embroidery itself.