Tea Towel Heaven

What does a tea towel have in common with the Turin shroud?

It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but a tea towel does share some elements with the revered religious relic. Both are pieces of cloth, stained through their contact with the world, and both have rituals associated with them.

The tea towel’s ritual is trivial – the everyday mopping up, wiping of hands and drying of dishes. An unhygienic relic perhaps that carries the all too obvious marks of use.

Usually, a tea towel has an image or pattern printed on it and this image fades with age. Overlaying this washed out image is the gradual accumulation of new imagery – the stains of daily use, the folds and creases of ironing and storage.

In this series of work, photographs of used tea towels – with their stains and creases – are made over the duration of an exhibition. Every day, a tea towel will be photographed and the print added to the gallery wall.

The gallery wall will become a ‘washing line’ of images showing the life of a tea towel during the life of the exhibition, and by the end of the show the exhibition space will be filled with an archive that shows artistic, practical, daily work.

So the menial, repeated work of the tea towel is both the subject of the pictures and is mimicked in the process of creating the exhibition: each day a new image is hung up ‘to dry’, and each day the print on the tea towel fades a little more. The photograph will expose the disappearing tea towel.