Frances Lord profiles Ismini Samanidou who designs woven fabrics for interior spaces, ranging from one-off pieces to limited edition textiles.
Ismini Samanidou designs woven fabrics for interior spaces, ranging from one-off pieces to limited edition textiles, woven mainly on industrial computerised looms.
Athens-born, Samanidou moved from Greece to England aged nineteen to study on the foundation course at Camberwell College of Art and Design, where she first became interested in textiles. Her family background is a scientific rather than artistic one: her father a surgeon and her mother a biochemist. A BA in Textile Design at Central St Martins from 1997-2000 followed, then a MA in Constructed Textiles specialising in weave at the RCA, 200103.
Based in Cornwall, she is a member of Hidden Art Cornwall, Design Nation, Axis, Craft Central and the European Textile Network.
Ismini Samanidou was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as studio assistant three days a week at established weave and design partnership Wallace Sewell immediately after finishing her MA. She assisted Wallace Sewell for over a year, the contact made through Emma Sewell, one of her tutors at the RCA. This experience was invaluable in providing direct experience of how a studio works, how to deal with mass production and retailing (Wallace Sewell have a shop in north London).
It was good being on the inside, and learning how to go about projects... and having insight into how other people deal with their work, and the important considerations of understanding fabric and markets.
Her time at Wallace Sewell helped confirm the direction she wished to take for her own work: she realised the making process was crucial for her and so decided to focus on becoming a designer-maker rather than working as purely a designer for industry.
Although Samanidou has worked with many different types of loom, including handlooms, her preference is for the digital power jacquard loom. Work is designed, and all major decisions are made, during the process of weaving: Technology has become an integral part of my creative process.
Operating the loom enables me to design during the process of making. I respond to the fabric as it is being made, changing the design and the yarns intuitively, in the same way a traditional hand weaver works in response to the threads in front of him. The outcome is therefore not predetermined and unique each time. Resulting fabrics retain a very personal hands on and considered feel.
She works from photographs translating these into designs: These are usually abstract visual images of natural forms and textures. I import these images into the weave software and develop them into designs by applying weave structures to the patterns. The cloth is woven with a mixture of synthetic yarns, such as metallic thread, and natural yarns such as linen, cotton and paper.
There is a story, a narrative, behind all her work, with textiles referencing ephemera and the impermanence of nature and the man made. Patterns are sometimes highly abstracted and sometimes photographic, with a focus on the texture and patina of the cloth. The wall hung textiles reference the historical use of textiles both as decoration and practical insulation.
University College Falmouth
In 2004 Samanidou successfully applied for the Next Move Scheme run by the Crafts Council which took her away from London to Falmouth in Cornwall. The purchase of a jacquard power loom at University College Falmouth was a major factor in determining her decision to move to Cornwall.
Looking back she says the move to Cornwall was a big decision and she was grateful for the good support she received from the Crafts Council at this early stage. [She later successfully applied for the Crafts Councils Development Award in 2006, further assisting the development of her business.]
She currently teaches two days a week on the BA and MA Textiles Design Course at Falmouth where she started as an artist in residence with the Next Move Scheme. The opportunity to benefit from the specialist training required to operate a jacquard loom has been extremely important in the development of her work; meaning that she is qualified to use the loom without the aid of a technician and she can be much more in control of the weaving/making process.
She also works in the Business Relation faculty of Falmouth University as an advisor and technical assistant and keeps her production costs down by using university facilities. The high cost of purchasing a jacquard loom is not a realistic option for her at the moment.
However, although there is a strong textile network and a nucleus of creative practitioners at the University, she sometimes feels the distance from London can be problematic and that she might be missing out on opportunities and contacts.
In addition to her role at Falmouth, Samanidou has guest lectured at Chelsea College of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, Central Saint Martins and has mentored recent graduates through the Creative Skills programme.
She regards teaching as fundamental to the development of her practice: it keeps you on your toes, and the opportunity to build technical expertise is invaluable.
An important aspect of her work is commissions for galleries, private and public interiors and site-specific projects.
A commission for a textile wall hanging from the Worshipful Company of Weavers in 2004 built Samanidous confidence early on. The Worshipful Company of Weavers commission a new work from a RCA graduate every two years for their offices; and eventually the work is given to the V&A Textile Collection.
Other recent projects include a commission for a textile wall piece for the new Norman Foster building for international law firm Allen & Overy in East London in 2006, and the interior textile Ismini design, a textured textile based on an image of a peeling wall in Guatemala, for George Spencer designs.
In 2007 she was selected for the Hidden Art Curated exhibition curated by the Crafts Council for Godolphin House, near Helston. Work was commissioned from Hidden Art Cornwall members with the aim of presenting contemporary design in an unconventional context to accompany the Design Fair held in the grounds. She responded with gusto, approaching furniture designer Michael Marriott to ask if she could upholster his day bed in specially designed fabric, and making a screen, inspired by the historic wallpaper at Godolphin House. Both projects were made in collaboration with Richard Hooper, a traditional upholsterer based in Cornwall.
Samanidous approach to new opportunities and generating work is a deliberately flexible one. At this relatively early stage in her career she will consider making work for a relatively modest commission fee, if she feels the opportunity is a particularly interesting one with the potential to raise her profile.
At this stage she has chosen to subsidise the development of new work and ideas by other means, such as teaching, rather than compromising on experimentation, commenting that you have to be open to move into different things.
Since graduating, she has built up an impressive amount of press coverage, including a feature article in The Journal of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, coverage in Crafts Magazine, Selvedge, Vogue Casa Greece, Elle Decoration and other journals, all of which have assisted in raising her profile to an international audience.
She believes in the importance of self-confidence, and a solid way of looking at work and pursuing ones own projects. Making high quality strong work and having a life style where one can be proactive and embrace new opportunities are also regarded as key requirements to development.
Developing new skills
Wanting to learn a traditional craft and new skill Samanidou is working with the Penzance bobbin lace makers circle. This grew out of an interest and awareness that textile weavers make textiles with little equipment and technology, relying on hand skills. During her time with the Penzance lace makers she discovered a lace-making link to a cousin of her grandmother: this connection with her own family history a particularly satisfying personal discovery.
Samanidou is participating in a group exhibition Inspired Design: Jacquard & Entrepreneurial Textiles, which focuses on jacquard entrepreneurial designs by international designers and opens in May 2008 at the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, Hendersonville, North Carolina and tours throughout the USA. She is also a speaker at the Inspired Design conference in 2009. Also coming up is the opportunity to exhibit in the Stroudwater International Textile Festival in May 2008. She is making a site-specific installation for six windows at the Stroud Museum in the Park, exploring the theme of water as part of their Crossing Borders exhibition at the Museum. She hopes that this research may lead to an extension of the project to be shown in Cornwall and elsewhere in the UK.
Other plans are for more 3D objects such as furniture and an interest in doing more site-specific work.
Frances Lord is a consultant and curator based in East Sussex specialising in public art and commissioning. Her background is in the crafts and she worked at the Crafts Council from 1984 1994. She co-curated Jewellery is Life and Prickings for Fabrica, the contemporary visual arts gallery in Brighton.
Frances now works with a range of individuals and organisations including local authorities, environmental agencies, museums and galleries initiating, developing and managing projects. Frances runs seminars on Negotiating Public Art Commissions and mentors visual and applied artists wishing to gain experience and develop their practice in public art.
She is Public Art Advisor to West Sussex County Council, an Associate for Artpoint and a Commissions Advisor for Axis. In April 2008 she was invited to lecture on public art at the Meiji University, Tokyo as part of their Foreign Scholar Invitation Programme.
Frances Lord is a curator and consultant based in East Sussex with a background in the applied arts who specialises in developing and managing public art and commissioning projects. She co-curated ‘Jewellery is Life’ and ‘Prickings’ for Fabrica in Brighton. Frances works with organisations including local authorities, environmental agencies, healthcare trusts, and directly with artists, initiating, developing and managing projects. She runs seminars on ‘Negotiating Public Art Commissions’ and mentors visual and applied artists wishing to gain experience and develop their practice in public art. In 2008 Frances lectured on public art at Meiji University, Tokyo as part of their ‘Visiting International Scholar Programme’. She is an artistic assessor for Arts Council England specialising in craft, design and public art.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2008
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