Handloom cotton mill
SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :
A day out with Alice, another artist in residence at Sura Medura. We planned a trip following the south coast from Hikkaduwa to Weligama with some specific aims for the day. Alice had located a cotton weaving mill and a tea plantation, whereas I was on a mission to find stilt fishermen. We also had some items to source in Galle for our projects, so we decided the best way to go about all our travels was by tuk tuk, with driver ‘Uncle’ * .
After an unsuccessful search for ‘white mosquito nets’ with ’round hooped tops’ in Galle (for Alice’s project) we headed off to ‘Sooriya Weaving Mill‘ just outside Galle. After a slightly confusing scenario trying to find the place, we pulled up at what seemed to be a private house. Which it was. However, thankfully, the man living there kindly led us through his house and back garden to a pathway through a paddy field, (where we saw a huge snake) and we caught a glimpse of beautiful green swathes of cotton hanging out to dry. From there, we found our way to the mill.
We were warmly invited in by a group of women, all working on the many procedures taking place at the mill. The cotton is imported from India, but the rest of the process all takes place at Sooriya Weaving Mill. The cotton is washed, dyed, spun, threaded onto looms and then woven into fabric which, in turn, is then made into garments such as sarongs and bed linen. It was really inspiring to observe a complete production process from raw cotton, to garment. We met the owner, Chandana, who was extremely welcoming, and gave us a complete guided tour, even inviting Alice to try her hand at the weaving loom.
I was fascinated and captivated by the rhythmic sounds and vibrant colours. Interlacing percussive rhythms of the looms and spinning wheels generated a phasing composition that constantly shifted in dynamics with overlapping paces, all resulting from the process of creating beautiful interwoven fabrics. I was impressed by the regular rhythms of the weavers; their looms demanding physical and energetic handling. I couldn’t help but assimilate the looms to musical instruments. As I explored more, I discovered many ingenious and fascinating mechanisms. Most were operated by hand; the human and machine working together in a way that felt symbiotic, neither one in charge, each giving and attending to the other. I noticed the machines had a certain amount of tolerance, and ‘looseness’. They are as accurate as they need to be yet with a necessary flexibility in how they function. Nothing is hard edged and over-fixed, meaning they can work well when operated by hand, yet are able to adjust and not break when performing in slightly different scenarios. Later in the residency I returned to Sooriya Weaving Mill to record close up films and sounds using a variety of different microphones – My first ‘phasing video’ edit is below the pictures. Here are a few images from this first visit.
Two close up videos of a weaving loom are presented side by side, one gradually increases in speed until it locks into a new rhythmic counterpoint… and again…
Inspired by the captivating rhythmic patterns of Sooriya Weaving Mill and by early Steve Reich phasing tape loop works from the 60’s.
* After referring to our lovely tuk tuk driver as ‘Uncle’ all day, it transpired that his name is actually Newton, his ‘nickname’ is Jonny and there is another tuk tuk driver usually called Uncle. Not sure how this happened, but Newton/Jonny was happy to be called Uncle throughout the day… so he will always be ‘Uncle’ to Alice and I despite the ongoing confusion this inevitably caused during the rest of the residency, (until being resolved on the last day).