Visiting the Wellcome Collection yesterday for another reason, Georgie Meadows' arresting exhibition stopped me in my tracks as soon as I stepped into the Foyer.. Using a domestic sewing machine to sew through two pieces of cloth, separated by wadding, Meadows has created a series of delicate, evocative, profound portraits of old people. The title of the show is Stitched Drawings and sometimes she uses black thread to create an outline as if she's sketching the subject.And tight-knotted threads combine and contrast with loose stuffing, with softness and jagged edges. The notes on the exhibition point out that 'the tangled threads are both a metaphor for the scrambling of neural connections during degenerative illness and a tender and tactile form of portraiture'.
And deeply moving as the portraits are, the artist has a practical purpose in mind - to help us understand some of the concerns that need to be addressed when caring for - or just being with - some older people.Meadows' concern is with the primacy of visual communication in the act of caring, when logic and speech are often elusive. This gives the portraits a meditative quality; when the confusions and distress of illness are set beside the kindness held in the simple act of empathetic looking and seeing..
The captions accompanying the pictures movingly outline the daily challenges and triumphs of her sitters: the woman wearing a party paper hat looks as if this is not the sort of headgear she has ever relished, young or old; the success of a man's day is measured by dressing himself; a woman is hungry but her brain will no longer tell her how to eat. There is also a short film Thursday Afternoons.about a community on the Welsh border where Georgie Meadows has organised a weekly tea dance to bring together a mixture of people.
Meadows' works are a gentle and beautiful testament to courage and resilience in the face of a loss of control and identity. I hope this exhibiton will go on tour.