Published 31/01/19

Katie Schwab: A Working Building

Megan Williams

Before an orange-red curtain, ‘This Interesting and Wonderful Factory’ and ‘Civic Centre/ City Centre’ play silently. These are films, made by Katie Schwab during her 18-month design residency at Plymouth College of Art.

The film to our left is about Cryséde, a St Ives textile factory that made silk designs and offered industrial work to women in the area. To the right, the film ‘Civic Centre/City Centre’, explores the use of space and design in local buildings, such as Drake Circus and The Council House. In both films, Schwab introduces us to influential patterns, such as block-prints and a faux pebble-dashed floor in Plymouth Council House.

Akin to the cosy arrangement of a living room, or a cinema; three rugs and an array of stools sit before the screens. The stools are made of brilliant red and yellow cushions, perched and

upholstered onto slim black metal legs. Once intended for Schwab’s previous work, the stools have now been reconfigured as part of this ‘Working Building’.

The rugs lay like large, lively rectangles; each unique with zestful and abstract patterns that implore us to touch, and lay across them. Woven meandering stripes and curved lines look confetti-like in their shape and softness; and pastel pinks, bright whites, peaches, and brilliant reds make each rug feel like a celebration of shape and colour - weaving together designs of the past, and the present. Jagged blue triangles and dark lozenge shapes are softened by interlacing waves and daring red circles; and one rug, of mostly white, black and blue has been speckled with coloured flecks that bear a likeness to other rounded shapes across the room, on the wallpaper, and on the relief tiles.

These ‘Relief Tiles’ are black and white ceramic squares, reminiscent of the pebbled flooring in ‘Civic Centre/ City Centre’. The tiles are hung on bright white wallpaper, patterned with curved turquoise-blue shapes, and named after ‘Island Road’; the home of the St Ives textile factory.

Katie Schwab install 11
Plymouth Rugs (2019) and Stripes (reconstituted) (2016/19), Katie Schwab (2019) Photo credit: Andy Ford
Katie Schwab install 28
A Working Building, Katie Schwab (2019) Photo credit: Andy Ford

Inspired by female artist-led workshops and the history of women’s industrial work; the pattern on ‘Island Road’ appear concurrently ordered, and impulsively scattered - as if to mirror the artistic process, and the history behind the piece. Up close, the paint-less white lines between the round blue shapes look finger-print-like; evocative of the ink-covered hands of the factory workers - an image noticed by Schwab in ‘This Interesting and Wonderful Factory’. ‘Island Road’ appears as a collectively made high-five to the women who helped make it, and the factory workers who inspired it.

Opposite, curtains made from white and indigo dust sheets, and leftover material, hang virtuously across the window. White and blue snippets of cotton are sewn onto the curtain in an irregular patchwork of jagged shapes, squares, and rectangles. Next to the bold, wide rainbow stripes of ‘Mural’, every shape seems intricate and delicate.

Behind the curtain, for those to see from outside, looking in - a terrific, re-worked quilt of brilliant blues, greens, reds, silvers, and blacks, shimmers through the glass. ‘Double Quilt’ is a multi-coloured collage of cotton; created with an impressive mixture of old and new material. Silky waves of fabric crinkle and dimple; sculpted by the wadding beneath.

‘Double Quilt’ hangs in a firework-like like a burst of colour, that embodies and celebrates old

materials, and past ideas. The making of the quilt spans from it's first use in St Ives, to its current use in Plymouth- acting as a symbolic wrapping up of the exhibition and as a memorable, vibrant goodbye. We leave Schwab's 'Working Building'; having learned, shared and relished in her designs and the inspiration behind them.