Artist Profile: David Medalla

21 July 2021

This month’s Artist Profile, written by Sage Kema, Intern at the Arts Council Collection, focuses on artist David Medalla and his work seminal participatory artwork, A Stitch in Time, currently on display at the Southbank Centre, until 18 July 2021.

In a career spanning nearly seven decades, Philippines-born international artist Medalla is recognised as a pioneering world figure in kinetic, installation and participatory art. Medalla established himself in the avant-garde art scene when he arrived in Britain in 1960. That same year, Medalla exhibited the first of his Cloud Canyons sculptures; the coiling and wreathing sculptures were formed out of soap bubble machines, which British curator Guy Brett (1989) came to consider Medalla’s “Kinetic” phase. During the mid to late 60’s Medalla art practice began to incorporate relational aesthetics, in particular, pioneering participatory art; Brett calls this Medalla’s “Participation” phase. 

A Stitch in Time is one of the best-known artworks of the genre Participatory Art. Participatory art is relational art, which involves audience participation, wherein the artwork is made as a collaboration with the public, usually through a process where the public interacts with materials given by the artist and/or each other. Medalla called his participatory art, ‘participation-production-propulsions’, and in the case of A Stitch in Time, the installation considers how a person’s individual experience can become subject to public dialogue and consideration.


The public is encouraged to interact with the work by stitching small objects, messages, or any personal item of their choosing onto the long fabric. A Stitch in Time creates dialogue with both the art and the audience as both spectator and co-authors.

In 2016, Medalla was shortlisted for the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture and this work was shown in the Prize exhibition in Wakefield. When discussing this project, Medalla stated, “the thing I like best about this work is that whenever anyone is involved in the act of stitching, he or she is inside his or her own private space, even though the act of stitching might occur in a public place.

In the 1998 Grand Street quarterly, Brett described Medalla’s aesthetic sensibilities as “a desire on one hand to preserve the freshness of an insight and the active engagement of an audience from the deadening institutionalising process of the art system, and on the other to articulate a delight in continual transmutation.” 

He continued, "These experiments often amazed even the artist himself by the variety of people's contribution”.

A Stitch in Time is on loan from Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. The Arts Council Collection celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2021, the same year the Royal Festival Hall celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Open for participation 21 June – 18 July 2021 in The Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall.


More information is available via the Southbank Centre website.


Images: David Medalla, A Stitch in Time, 2016. Installation View, The Hepworth Wakefield, October 2016. © David Medalla. Photo: Helena Dolby, courtesy Passport

The Arts Council Collection : Artist Profile: David Medalla

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