Image from the Prinzhorn Collection
A few weeks ago I listened to a Radio 4 Programme, All in the Mind, featuring the American Professor of psychology, Gail A. Hornstein talking about her new book Agnes's Jacket: A Phsychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness. My ears pricked up immediately when I heard Claudia Hammond, the presenter, comment that Tracey Emin had raved over the extraordinary artwork of the book's title.
Agnes Richter was a patient in an asylum near Dresden in Germany during the 1890's, admitted against her will and held for 26 years from the age of 40 to the end of her life. In her former life, before her institutionalisation, she had been a seamstress. The jacket she created is now held in the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg.
This is an extract from Gail A Hornstein's book: "...The felt is frayed, but the course linen underneath looks indestructible. The flared cuffs, fitted bodice, and perfectly formed buttonholes reveal a skilled seamstress at work. But it isn't the jacket's design that mesmerizes every person who enters the room. It's the intricate text that has been embroidered in five colours over practically every inch of the garment. A needle-and-thread narrative unlike any other." (page ix; Introduction) The jacket was issued as part of her hospital uniform, but Agnes picked it apart and reconstructed it. During that process she embroidered her own text into every surface. It is more or less indecipherable, although there are many references to 'ich' i.e. herself.
I was trained as a lettering artist and also have a particular interest in the 'ghost' life and resonance of objects such as clothing and furniture - the powerful legacy of these formerly inhabited things; the presence held in such personal items. So this discovery feels a bit like a missing piece of jigsaw.
Kathryn Campbell Dodd detail from 'The Bone Dice quilt 2009'
Having researched the jacket a little further, I found a blog - Lulu Bird - with lovely images from the author's own visit to the Prinzhorn Collection:
Images from Lulu Bird
Yesterday, I learned about a fellow lettering artist Rosalind Wyatt who has created a body of work called The Stitch Life of Others and the resonances with Agnes's jacket are unmissable.
Image from The Guardian Online
I have thought again about Tracey Emin - I wonder when she first saw the jacket ? Her work is so strongly resonant.