5 Needle, 5 Wire

5 Aug 2022 – 21 Aug 2022

Regular hours

12:00 – 17:00
12:00 – 17:00
12:00 – 17:00
12:00 – 17:00

Free admission

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Thames-Side Studios

England, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • 161 / 177 / 180 / 472 Bus stops are located; east-bound and west-bound: Woolwich, Warspite Road (6 mins walk)
  • North Greenwich (Take the Route Bus 472 towards Thamesmead Town Centre)
  • Woolwich Dockyard (8 mins walk) and Charlton (12 mins walk)
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Event map

​Thames-Side Studios sits on the site of the old Siemens factory in an area with a history of factory workers, engineers, and makers. InFems’ exhibition takes its name from the five needle telegraph system, patented in 1837 at the start of the Victorian era.


Designed by Charles Wheatstone, this diamond-shaped open dial was alphabetical, with five needles worked by five different wires that could be manipulated to point to the required letter. If the name for this innovation was prosaic, it is rich in associations.

5 is a key number in so many systems. Religions - Five Pillars of Islam, five-faced Shiva, the Hindu god, Christ’s Five Sacred Wounds, the Five Books of Moses, five sacred Sikh symbols; the five elements of the Ancient Greeks - earth, water, air, fire, and spirit; the five virtues in Chinese philosophy - generosity, kindness, gravity, sincerity, and earnestness, and so on.

Needle recalls the domestic sphere. Stitching, a history of women making samplers or quilts, a pulling together. Sometimes that sewing was subversive. The sampler of nineteenth-century needle-worker Lorina Bulwer, imprisoned in the lunatic ward at Great Yarmouth Workhouse, reads “I have wasted ten years in this damnation hell fire tramp den of old women old hags”. Needle as verb. Women who needle, who won’t let something go.

Sharp women…

5 InFems

Wire A tangle of wires buried underground, transmitting messages, unseen communications beneath our feet. Like secret languages that travel and evolve: African braids to Egyptian braids to Ancient Greek braids; Polari, the C18th code of vagrants, itinerant performers, sailors, and travellers, adopted and altered

5 Needle, 5 Wire. Where there’s communication, there’s the potential for miscommunication. For women to be silenced. The system could only hold 20 letters. C, J, Q, U and X were left out. What was garbled, or left unsaid?

The exhibition features works across media by Infems artists Adelaide Damoah, Wendy Elia, Roxana Halls, Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf, Marie-Anne Mancio alongside their guest artists Annie Attridge, Alannah Currie, Carmen and Luisa, Vicki DaSilva, Sarah Maple, Farrah Riley Gray, Fiona Robinson, Tina True, Julie Umerle, Jessica Voorsanger and Chloe Wing.

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