The artist creating one of her dirt carpets using a sieve to dust a stencil.

Changing Textiles: Ya-Chu Kang

If you’re an artist obsessed with textiles and cotton, then a pilgrimage to Manchester and the Science and Industry Museum must be top of your list.

As part of an exciting and diverse programme for Manchester Science Festival 2018, Taiwanese artist Ya-Chu Kang, came along to the Science and Industry Museum’s recently refurbished textiles gallery to create one of her evocatively titled ‘dirt carpets’.

The large-scale part-drawings, part-sculptures are created on the ground by delicately pouring and sieving materials such as brick dust, leather powder and, here in Manchester, soot-black charcoal through machine-cut stencils to create elaborate designs that from a distance look almost like a real carpet. Why charcoal in Manchester? To evoke the dirt and smog of the cotton industry that can still be seen etched into the brickwork of the city.

Drawn to the museum’s Jacquard hand loom, she created stencils from the shapes of the punch cards that programmed its weaving patterns (cards that were the precursor to modern day computing, no less), as well as using images of maps of the city to create a beautiful and symmetrical design.

Ya-Chu’s dirt carpets are one-offs, bespoke creations that demonstrate her passion for bringing textile histories to the people of the city in which they are created. Once finished, visitors can walk over the works, smudging them, blurring them, turning a unique moment of reflection on the past back to dust.

Don’t worry if you missed seeing Ya-Chu Kang at the Science and Industry Museum, however, as her Manchester Science Festival exhibition Changing Textiles is currently on at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. The exhibition showcases just some of her fascinating personal archive of objects collected as she’s worked across the world: from a small portable hand loom called a Charkha invented by Ghandi to a small fabric ear hand-crafted by the artist. The wooden loom is from her time spent working in India and was invented by Ghandi to personally empower people to make their own fabric, after years of being at the mercy of the British-controlled trade. The small cotton ear shows a more playful side of her work: to be ‘cotton eared’ in china means to earwig and gossip. As you take in this small, but diverse and perfectly curated cabinet of cotton curiosities, you’re invited to reflect on the worlds interconnected and changing history of textiles, whilst also being amused by word play and thought-provoking pieces such as a crop destroying bug made from folded Indian banknotes.

The exhibition is made up of a cabinet on your right as you enter the gallery, as well as a selection of photographs in the downstairs space. Ya-Chu is often on-hand to talk you through the collection, as she is currently in residence at CFCCA and has set up studio in the galleries designated space which is host to a year-round programme of visiting artists.

As Ya-Chu talked me through the photographs downstairs, she recalled the story behind a photo of a giant mountain of raw cotton. Driving through India she saw it from the road and had to stop. Dressed in black trousers she scaled this strange and soft mountain of material, truly immersed in her fascination for this product and its impact on the world. As she left, fluffy white cotton was stuck to her clothes –  as you leave the gallery, you’ll be struck by her passion and skill for spinning yarns about our shared story of cotton.

Changing Textiles: Ya-Chu Kang as part of Manchester Science Festival is on at CFCCA until Sunday 28 October. There will also be an open studio with the artist on Thursday 29 November (6pm – 8pm).