The Gallery

A Working Building

Katie Schwab

Katie Schwab install 7
Mural, Katie Schwab (2019) Photo credit: Andy Ford

During a recent tour of Plymouth’s Council House, mace-bearer and guide Steve Mallinson described the space as ‘a working building, not a museum’.

A well-preserved example of postwar design, the Council House is notoriously difficult for the public to access: today it is used for civic and private functions, although the neighbouring municipal offices have recently been sold off for redevelopment. Intrinsically connected to civic function, social use and cultural preservation, this building introduces ideas that have been key to the development of this exhibition.

Evolving through an 18- month Design Residency at Plymouth College of Art, research for this show has centred around recreational, educational and civic designs in Plymouth, alongside fabrics produced by the early twentieth- century Cryséde textile factory in St Ives. Works for the show have evolved from visits to the Council House, Drake Circus, Barbican Leisure Park, St Ives Archives and Penlee House to explore, amongst others, the woven murals of emigré designer Hans Tisdall and Cryséde’s block-printed silks.

Through a collection of new and reconfigured existing works, this exhibition explores these design histories in relation to contemporary concerns around reused and scrap materials. Embracing bold, abstract and improvised patterning, the exhibition incorporates works produced at Plymouth College of Art, including block-printed wallpaper, tufted and stitched textiles, upholstered stools, enamel wall panels and videos. With a focus on room dividers, screens and wall-based works, the installation incorporates divisions of space drawn from models of the shopfront, cinema, living room and council chambers.

Developed through a process of facilitating workshops and interviews, undertaking tuition, partaking in tours and looking through archival records, oral histories and sample books, the works document knowledge and skills that have been shared between artist, students, museum staff, technicians and local residents. Through observations and reflections on materials, spaces and designs, this exhibition considers ideas around shared production, craft and industry while also exploring social and cultural histories of women’s work, colonialism and migration in Devon and Cornwall.

Supported by New Contemporaries and SPACE, London; Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust Residency Award at Porthmeor Studios, St Ives; Tate St Ives, St Ives.