Building Legacies: A Hand In Creating
An essay by artist Cos Ahmet for his publication 'Point of Juncture'
Published by Forty Hall Estate, 2018

Throughout the history of art, the hand is the most frequently symbolised part of our bodies, with countless artists through the centuries exploring hand gestures, all with their own meaning appearing as connectors between our modern world and our primitive past, as symbols of art and signs of art-making. 1 Louise Bourgeois once said of herself: “I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands” – Bourgeois considered this as an extension of her work, viewing them as an element of her art focusing on her hands as her tools. 2

As an artist and weaver, I constantly work and make with my hands, habitually listening to them to guide me through my work: communicating, sensing, measuring and interacting with my material world. Put in simpler, and perhaps more profound terms by a long time friend and mentor, (Eric Thuile Lefrandt), who, upon observing my practice, remarked that I went about my work by: “seeing with my hands”. 3 The processes I employ are tangible, and often involve responding with the senses in addition to the ‘creative agents’ used to form them. Gaël Charbou, curator of the exhibition Les Mains Sans Sommeil (The Sleepless Hands) declared that during his observations of movements and gestures made by the artisans and artists-in-residence at the Fondation d’Enterprise Hèrmes, that: “Artisans are the custodians of expert gestures defined by savoir-faire; artists are the inventors of forms shaped by a spirit of laissez-faire’. 4

The boundaries between craft and art have long been contested. So what defines an artist or a craft maker, or even divides an artist from a craft maker? Perhaps intention makes the distinction? I like to think that the intention lies in the artists’ hands, being in control of the work as opposed to being dictated by its definition. Textiles, and more specifically woven tapestry is part of my practice and an element that my hands are a constant in its construction. Regarded as a craft, it has to be learned, handled, before it can become art. Woven tapestry can be painstakingly slow, the image or surface patiently emerging in stages. There is great satisfaction and beauty about something made by hand. The artist’s hand is the trademark that becomes embedded in the work, charting the individual’s identity with their unique imprint or signature.

The hand was not the first thing to strike me as a ‘motif’ for the new work for my exhibition Points of Juncture. Walking around the various period rooms of this 17th century manor house in north London, searching for inspiration, I become immersed in its layers of history and dialogue. Forty Hall exudes a certain identity, and what emerged was the origin of its identity, and that of its creator, Sir Nicholas Rainton. Establishing himself in the textile industry as a mercer, trading in sumptuous textiles from across Europe, thereby amassing a considerable wealth. Forty Hall was essentially built upon this legacy, forging (albeit unconsciously), what would become the material identity of this house. It soon became apparent that the hand had to play a crucial role in explaining this legacy.

Building A Legacy (2017), specially commissioned by Forty Hall as the centerpiece to the exhibition, takes its cue from a number of my previous works such as Hand Speak (Mee-Maw Series), Fabric Residency 2015, and the more recent and perhaps most relevant work, In The Hands of My Creator (2016) – both these pieces comment on the hand as a metaphor for making/creating, with the latter being the inspiration for this new work.

The original concept for In The Hands of My Creator expresses the act of self-creation, depicting the course of making with a nod to textiles and the weaving process. This installation consists of a tangle of cast hands, cords and threads; it’s pointing index fingers, meticulously wrapped in threads take on the role of spools of yarn, feeding the creation through a pair of clenched fists, emerging the other side ordered from its chaos. This initial concept remains. However, in its new surroundings, and reworked state for this exhibition, the pieces become new characters, with the artist playing out the part of Rainton as creator, applying his thoughts and vision towards the conception of his soon to be grand house. In the centre of the sculpture sits a lone open hand tenderly holding a tiny woven torso-like object; nurtured and rendered like some kind of reliquary, resting on a brain-like object. This is thinking part, the precious thoughts being guarded. The hands are the interlink, these points of juncture where these two identities meet in a discourse between each other, sharing this new narrative, showing off Rainton’s vision with its audience.

Building A Legacy continues this discourse, this time through a succession of open hand casts as the central motif upon which a bobbin, known as ‘pirn’ is wound with yarns and threads, sits inside each palm. Traditionally, the open hand is defined as a symbol of receiving and giving. In this instance, the pairing of the open hand and the threaded pirns brings with it completely different meanings and symbolism: the hands that made the cloth (the weaver), the hands of the creator (the artist, as well as Rainton). They also allude to a flotilla of ships that Rainton would have employed in the importing of these textiles (the mercer) – the casts mimic a ship, the pirn the ship’s mast, but also its cargo. Whilst all of this is happening, the bobbins and threads attached to them suggest the weaving process – known in the textile trade as ‘boat shuttles’, they house the bobbin that carries the fine yarn through the warps to produce these exotic fabrics on the looms.

“When it came to making the hands, I tried to imagine myself in this vast play, acting out the various characters, each with their hand in making history. All the hands are individual and cast from my own. I invested time with them, got to know them intimately - and although they all seem quite similar, each has its own identity, but are essentially part of one fleet”. 5

As Building A Legacy became the centerpiece of Points of Juncture, this certainly didn’t eclipse the other works that inhabited Forty Hall. They all contributed their own ‘exchange’ to the narrative of the house as they comfortably adapted to their new surroundings, taking on new personas without compromising their initial intentions or ideas behind the works, and all at once added fresh layers to an already rich anthology of history and dialogue that Forty Hall has acquired over the centuries and continuing to the present day.


1. Kirsten H. Powell - Hands-On Surrealism, Art History Volume 20 Issue 4: extract from the online version of this issue
2. Quotation extract: 'Armed Forces', Alex Van Gelder – Louise Bourgeois, exhibition & publication, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Ediciones Polígrafa
3. Eric Thuile Lefrandt – direct quotation in his own words, describing the nature of the practice of Cos Ahmet as a way of ‘seeing with his hands’.
4. Gaël Charbou, curator - extract from his exhibition 'Les Mains Sans Sommeil', Fondation D’Enterprise Hèrmes, 2017-2018

5. Quotation from the artist on the making of Building A Legacy, commissioned by Forty Hall & supported by Arts Council England

This essay features in Cos Ahmet's first title 'Points of Juncture: An Exhibition by Cos Ahmet', published by Forty Hall Estate.