Remembering 'Cottonopolis' through cotton cloth
Cathy Greenhalgh (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores ideas of the affective trace, ephemerality and “agentic presence” of stitched and woven cotton items and collected narratives for a film, Cottonopolis. Questions of locating durability and decay in the object arise through memories imbued by cotton cloth.
Paper long abstract:
Anthropologist Tim Ingold problematizes the notion of agency and materiality through a discussion of kite flying (Being Alive. 2011 : 215). Is the energy and presence in the object, the viewer, the path between (the kitestring)? Is wind rather than the flyer the agency? This paper explores ideas of the affective trace, ephemerality and "agentic presence" of stitched and woven cotton items displayed by participants and recovered through collected narratives for a film (shown as objects, in photographs and extract). These include lace, a wedding garment, shawl etc; from historical Oldham and Bolton (Lancashire) and Kaachch and Ahmedabad (Gujarat). Cottonopolis (2016, Cathy Greenhalgh) is a feature film about memories of "Manchesters" with observations of contemporary Indian handloom and powerloom cotton manufacture. It combines documentary reflexive essay and meditation, sensory and material culture ethnography, oral historiography and experimental visual immersion. The author is a diasporic Lancastrian with cotton industry roots. The handmade skills providing the foundation of the industrial revolution survived its decline. The paper considers the power and endurance of these fragile cotton cloths and how narratives indicate reasons for longevity beyond homes and factories where they were made; such as intimacy to the body, memory and migration. Participants feel for colour and count, strength and timing in manufacture helped define a chronotopic structure for the film influenced by a textile epistemology. Questions of locating durability and decay imbued by these affective relations changed the author's focus on slow and sustainable textile-like processes and possibilities of enhancing these in filmmaking and fieldwork.
The endurance of the ephemeral