• Brooke Roberts-Islam

David Bowie's Let's Dance woven into textile art - Beatwoven's sound and vision

It’s been a year since Nadia-Anne Ricketts and I last met to discuss her collaboration with singer/songwriter Beatie Wolfe and David Mason of Anthony Sinclair tailors. And what a difference a year makes. Transforming her interiors-focused Beatwoven textile business into an art-led one, Nadia is showcasing the translation of sound into textile art through her unique interpretation of how sound ‘looks and feels’.

Nadia was in the throes of developing a very special commission for Warner Music, weaving David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ for their new recording studio in Kensington when her interiors client Harrods approached her about extending the project to their Brompton Road store.

What followed was a negotiation with the Bowie Estate and Warner, leading to Nadia creating a woven representation of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ for the Harrods Art Partners initiative. During our interview at The Hospital Club, a stone’s throw from her studio at Cockpit Arts, she explained to me why she chose ‘Let’s Dance‘, having been given permission by the Bowie Estate to weave any of his songs into a piece of textile art. ‘It’s the song that I remember growing up, and it was his first commercial hit’, she explained. I mentioned the brilliant music video too, which Bowie used as an opportunity to highlight racial discrimination of the indigenous population in my home country, Australia. It’s a reminder of how artists can use their medium for social and political commentary and change, something which Bowie did repeatedly throughout his career.

We discussed Nadia’s former career as a professional dancer and she described the feeling of connecting sound with movement, and interpreting a song through choreography and dance – it becomes clear that Nadia’s process of woven textile design extends beyond the design software and the loom into a personal interpretation of how sounds make us feel. The colour and texture of her textiles is derived from her sensory response to the sound – something she describes as being akin to a synaesthetic quality.

The process of creating the woven textile from the sound waves involves segmenting the wave and attributing these sections of sound to pixels in a digital image, which can then be woven. She describes two ways of approaching this process from a design perspective. One is a literal interpretation, where the sound wave data is processed by an algorithm (which she developed with a coder when she began her sound and weaving fusion) and woven directly from this; or a second, more interpretive, approach which sees her hone in on certain sections of the wave and the resulting digital pattern it creates, then manipulate that section’s pixel graphic using other graphic inspiration. An example of this is the Bowie ‘Let’s Dance’ piece being a literal translation of the first two minutes and ten seconds of this song, with the limited addition cushion covers accompanying this available in the interiors collection at Harrods.

Nadia in the Beatwoven studio – Images: Beatwoven

We discuss her project with Warner Music UK, which is a part of their Firepit Tech Innovation Lab, which seeks to fast-track the development of start-ups in a range of ways, including providing investment and access to Warner Music’s world-class catalogue, then segue into the Harrods Art Partners collective, of which Nadia’s Let’s Dance piece is part. Other artists and designers who created work for Harrods Art Partners include Smeg X Dolce & Gabanna, Wedgwood X Lee Broom and Lalique X Terry Rodgers.

Firepit Tech X Beatwoven – Art and cushion covers – Images: www.bpwcorporate.com

Wedgwood X Lee Broom – Image: Leebroom.com

Lalique X Terry Rodgers – Images: Estelle Rodgers for Lalique.com

Our discussion broadens to our respective experiences in textile creation and barriers to innovation within the industry, in terms of access to the newest technologies, and it’s clear we have both at times had to work within restrictive industry parameters. For example, Nadia is only currently able to weave in silk because of the setup parameters of her suppliers’ looms and their reluctance to experiment with yarns and parameters not tried, tested and ‘fixed’. The industrial weaving looms her pieces are created on are expensive (making ownership prohibitive for small businesses and startups) and there is one global manufacturer of the type of loom her work requires. What’s also clear is that collaborating with other industries, whether they be music in Nadia’s case, or healthcare in mine, provides access to specialists in other industries, including engineers, coders and other scientists/artists, creating far greater opportunities and tools for innovation.

The TC2 loom by Tronrud, which allows complete experimental freedom for sampling and prototyping

Weaving in progress – Image: Beatwoven

Nadia’s team consists of a project manager, a PR representative, and the weaving mills she works with in England to create her textile pieces. She is working towards setting up her own facility to weave more experimental pieces, and we talk about the lack of access for textile designers to cutting edge tech and how this hampers the exploration of creative ideas. It’s clear there is scope for disruption in digital weaving, as is happening in digital knitting via Kniterate’s desktop industrial grade machine, which I recently featured on the blog.

Before wrapping up, we discuss her other work throughout the year so far, which spans commercial and arts projects in Hong Kong, Dubai and here in the UK with Weaving Futures at the London Transport Museum,where she wove the sounds of the London Underground. A graphic-led project she recently completed, and which I find fascinating, is her Call to Prayer for the Design Days Dubai, in association with the Crafts Council (UK).

Harrods Art Partners launches on Monday 10th April and runs for a month, coinciding with London Craft Week. Check out the windows at Harrods presenting the works and products of the featured artists and designers and for more information about Nadia’s textile and sound fusions, click here.

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