Caroline Broadhead

Caroline Broadhead  Necklace / Veil, 1982, nylon, photo David Ward The Waiting Game, 1997, linen dress made for dance performance in collaboration with Angela Woodhouse
Exchange of Views, 2006, acrylic mirror, photo Phil Sayer
Breathing Space, 2005, installation at York St Mary’s, polyester wadding, nylon line, lead, sound and light, photo Jerry Hardman Jones

Caroline Broadhead is a highly versatile artist. Trained as jeweller, she developed her practice beyond this discipline to work on a larger scale, with textiles, light and space and also in collaboration with choreographers for dance performances, winning the Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts: Textiles in 1997.

Now the newly appointed course director of BA Jewellery at Central St Martins, she says, ‘My work is mainly driven by ideas but making and materials are an integral part of the process. You can’t make things without considering the craft of it.’


How would you define yourself professionally?

I don’t consider myself to have one title. My practice spans several of the categories that are defined by organisations. I have been called a jeweller, a textile artist, a designer.

Is there a particular link between your different strands of work?

Not one constant link, but several. Most of my work offers an experience. My interest is in the body or its absence, its senses and its movements. Light and shadow have been important in my work and recently reflections play an important role.

Can you explain how you made the transition from jewellery to textiles?

In the 70s and 80s, I was exploring ideas about jewellery, the way it could be handled, change on or off the body etc, ideas that were best expressed through materials of a certain colour, weight or flexibility. I made work out of coloured cotton threads and rope and my tufted bracelets used very fine nylon threads. And as my ideas were developing, I became more interested in the non-precious materials, ones that did not have a recent history in jewellery. By the mid 1980s I was making much larger scale pieces in woven nylon - veils, collars and sleeves. This scale was exciting as it allowed me to examine a spatial awareness around the body in a new way. For example, the Necklace / Veil was woven out of nylon line. It married something that you could wear round the neck with something you could also twist up to become a veil. It became a screen to look through to the wearer, or for the wearer to look back, as much as something to look at. These larger pieces that covered more of the body led me to clothing forms which gave me greater scope to express ideas about the whole person. These were not fashion but there didn’t seem to be a particular category for my pieces to be located, except art.

What does your most recent work involve?

Recently I have been working on gallery installations for specific spaces. For example in 2005 I created Breathing Space for York St Mary’s, an old church which is now a contemporary art space. This piece was a rather low ceiling of polyester wadding stretched across the whole space to divide the building into two strata. There was both natural and artificial light from above, and a soundtrack. The lower space felt a bit oppressive, like a low cloud, but there was a second position to view the work from above, which gave a very different experience. Also, a recent dance piece was performed at the Royal Opera House this autumn called Sighted, where the dancer performed within a carpet of mirrors, so the audience could look directly at the performer or other audience members or indirectly through the mirrors.

How important is function in your work?

Jewellery made me consider the fit and use of objects on the body in a practical way, but the function of my pieces has been to give the viewer or wearer a particular experience, or to start a train of thought. When I started making garments in the 80s they were wearable – even if they didn’t look it. The function of wearability was not my aim, the important thing was that there was a possibility that they could be worn. They were a way of exploring and expressing ideas. Clothing as art was an area in its infancy in the 80s.

So if function is no longer relevant, what are you trying to do with your garments?

I used the garments, and subsequent work, to explore notions about a person. The first shirts I made gave form to the gestures a garment makes you do when you put it on. For example Wraparound Shirt makes you ‘put the other arm in’, you keep repeating that gesture to put it on. But I also wanted to create pieces that had a strong visual impact when they weren’t being worn. In my work with dance, gesture and movement are also important. I have created dresses that direct the dancer’s movements and set the scene for these movements.

Can you explain your attraction to textiles?

I started working with textiles before I realised that that was what I was doing. Most of my work is working with textiles, or about textiles. I like the fact we are surrounded by it in various forms, its feel, and what it does. I enjoy the sense of touch. It’s an amazing manufactured material which you then add your manufacturing process to – often you meet the material in this half-way position. It’s already had a human touch.

Interview by Diana Woolf