Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Processions 2018

Me (far right) Katie Lock (far left) some of our Prism Arts Processions group and our Banner in Edinburgh. 10th June 2018

2018 marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act which gave most men and a few women the vote, after a long and sometimes violent struggle. Last year Prism Arts were approached by Artichoke to submit a proposal to work with participants to make a banner to be part of Processions 2018; four simultaneous processions in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London to mark this centenary. The Processions project involved 100 artists working with 100 arts organisations to create 100 banners to take part in these events; individuals and groups were also encouraged to create banners and attend the Processions.

Discussions and designs

Discussions and designs

Discussions and designs

I was really keen to be a part of this project, I believe very strongly in being an active citizen and in exercising your voting rights and I was keen to take up the chance to honour and remember the people who fought so hard for us to have those rights. Textiles and banners have a long and important history in campaigning for peoples rights and I was excited to be part of a project continuing this heritage. It was a slightly strange process for me, I wrote the proposal and application for the project in my role as Lead Visual Artist at Prism Arts and I was writing myself in as the artist we'd like to work with; it's a bit odd writing a proposal to employ yourself! At Prism Arts we thought this would be a great opportunity for professional development so I also wrote our Graduate Artist, Katie Lock, into the proposal as my Supporting Artist for the project.

Working on our design

Working on our design

Working on our design

Excitingly, our proposal was accepted and we were commissioned to create a banner. The next step was bringing a group together. One of the stipulations from Artichoke was that the workshops must be free and should be for women (including those who identify as women or non binary.) As mentioned before, Prism Arts wanted to make the most of this commission as a professional development opportunity so we invited all our female artists and staff to take part along with our volunteers. We also approached Cumberland Embroiderers Guild and my Tullie Textiles group and we very quickly had a group. We set some dates and then the really interesting part of the project could commence.

Tracing our lettering

Cutting out design elements

We ended up with a very interesting and diverse group and our first couple of sessions involved a lot of lively debate. We talked a lot about our experiences of equality (or the lack of it) and what we would like to see happen in the future to make a fairer society. It was really interesting that although we had a range of backgrounds, ages and experiences (our youngest participant was 11 and our most senior 70) what came through most strongly was that what we really wanted to see was a society that was more respectful. We wanted to see a society that recognised, for example, that the arts and the sciences were equally valuable and useful. We wanted recognition and respect of peoples choices and an acceptance that there is not one 'right' way to live, that we need diversity and a range of skills and approaches.

Cutting out letters to applique

Being very silly

We also spent quite a bit of time looking at the history of the suffrage movement and in particular the banners and marches. When we came to draw our ideas together and start designing our banner we quickly decided there were certain things we wanted to include; where we're from, what we wanted to see in the future and a reference to our history. Past, present and future, in summary.

Machine stitching the letters on

The base of the banner

Ironing around curves

This led us to decide to include 'Carlisle' and 'Border City' prominently in our design (although the group were not all from Carlisle we chose to use Carlisle as a focal point as it is Cumbria's only city.) We did discuss including local landmarks but in the end we settled for a subtle representation on the castle and citadel buildings by creating a castellated design with the hanging tabs at the top of the banner. On the tabs we also decided to include the initials of all the people who'd worked on the banner. Too often 'women's work' remains unattributed and so is seen as less important and this was not what we wanted for our banner, we're proud to have been involved in it and we want people to know that. We also wanted to include the years 1918 and 2018 as one of the purposes of the banner was to celebrate this important centenary.

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

We also decided that 'Respect' needed to feature in the banner as it was such a strong theme throughout our discussions. We'd talked about 'power' as being like a pendulum; traditionally men have held the power but we have seen approaches such as positive discrimination that have caused the sway of power to move more into the female court. We felt that what needed to happen was for the pendulum to settle, so that power was not held by one 'side' or the other, so that there was respect and equality for everyone. This also gave us a really nice visual to work with so we developed a design of a hand holding a pendulum that has settled in the centre and is entwined with the word respect. Either side running stitch pendulums (echoing the shape of the main pendulum but more faint) represent how power has swung back and forth.

Tracing the design onto cloth

Adding design elements

Stitching the pendulums

Finally, we wanted to reference the banners of the past and our strong local arts and crafts heritage without creating a replica banner; it was important to us that our banner was relevant to us now and said something about what we were looking forward to as well as recognising where we'd come from. This led us to use Art Nouveau inspired fonts and motifs for our lettering and to create a stylised pendulum. We chose to use a heart as it is often seen as a 'girly' symbol but it is also one of the most important organs in our body; we chose it to represent strength, compassion and courage. We chose to use the suffragette colours of green, white and violet highlighted with gold.

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

It was a really interesting experience drawing all our ideas together to create our design, we spent a long time discussing all sorts of details and I'm really pleased we spent the time on this as it meant when we came to the making we knew exactly what we were doing, mostly anyway! Katie's background in illustration and graphic design was invaluable; she had lots of great ideas and her skills really helped us put the design together very effectively. She also did a great job of drawing out the different lettering and I think this is one of the real strengths of the banner.

Adding the dates

Adding stuffing to the pendulum to give it more shape

Once our design was complete we were able to get stuck into the making. We used applique, embroidery and couching to realise our design. Naturally we encountered a few problems but we overcame them and worked together to get everything done. The group included a wide range of abilities, from people who'd barely threaded a needle before to very experienced seamstresses and embroiderers. One of my favourite things about the project was watching the women with more experience gently guiding those with less experience. Throughout all the sessions there was a lot of fun and energy but also a strong sense of respect, support and belonging.

Final stages: adding 'Border City'

Almost finished, just waiting for its backing

Seeing the banner come together was really exciting, I think we all felt like we were part of something very special and when it became obvious that we weren't going to finish within the allotted sessions everyone was immediately working out when they could come in and how they could help finish it without me even asking. This was one of those projects that truly belonged to the group, I might have set the ball rolling but it was definitely 'our' banner not mine. Because of this we did get it finished in time with not too much stress and I think the final piece speaks for itself.

The finished banner

Detail: hand holding the pendulum

The actual Procession on Sunday 10th June was the part of the project I was least looking forward to, I'm not a huge fan of crowds and big public events. However, I actually really enjoyed the day. Just as in the sessions, the atmosphere was really positive and supportive. It felt like we were all there together to enjoy the event and to be part of something much bigger. I really did feel excited and proud to be part of the event, especially to be one of the 100 artists, and to be marking such as important centenary. We were also lucky to have fantastic weather which helped but it was much more that that.

In Edinburgh, ready to join Processions

Gathering at The Meadows, before we set off

This has been such a great project to be part of; I feel honoured to have been part of something so special and to have been able to work with such a fantastic group of women and girls. I enjoyed working with the group so much that Prism Arts has invited the group to meet again to work on one of the puppets for this years Carlisle Puppet Pageant. Watch this space!

Marching through Edinburgh

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Nostalgia: An Exhibition at Farfield Mill

Earlier in the year I was delighted to be invited to exhibit with artists collective Decorum. I was invited to join them as they had an exhibition coming up at Farfiled Mill in Sedbergh but unfortunately one of the artists was unable to take part for personal reasons. I was invited by Priscilla Edwards (exquisite mixed media assemblages, sculptures and drawings), who I'd met when I booked her for a workshop at Cumberland Embroiderers Guild in January last year. At the workshop (which was excellent) we got chatting and discovered we were both graduates of the Manchester Metropolitan University Embroidery Degree. So, when Decorum found themselves with a gap Priscilla kindly thought of me!

Exhibition panorama

Exhibition view: Val Jackson's dresses (right hand side)

Exhibition view: Priscilla Edwards mixed media pieces and drawings
Exhibition view: Christine Stanford's paper and wax dresses

The other artists taking part, Christine Stanford (beautiful paper and wax dresses) and Val Jackson (amazing embroidered dress and hat pieces), are also MMU Embroidery graduates and when looking at the exhibition it's interesting that although we all produce very different work there are a number of connections between us all. One of the Trustees at Farfield Mill said that one of the things they liked about all of our work was the quality of the finishing and I think this is probably one of the things we all got from our degree and the tutors there.

Exhibition view: My work

The theme for the exhibition was 'Nostalgia' which worked well for me as at the moment a lot of my work is about exploring memory. I was excited by the chance to make some new work and as I was only a small part of the exhibition there was less pressure to 'fill space' so I felt I could experiment a bit more. I used the opportunity to start exploring some ideas I've had flying around in my brain for some time.

Traces I, II and III

Traces III
Handmade felt, naturally dyed silk chiffon, feathers, beads and hand embroidery. 2018

Traces II
Naturally dyed silk organza and cotton, feathers, gold thread and hand embroidery. 2018

My sketchbooks are full of various drawings and sketches of ideas for 'vessels' and this exhibition provided me with an opportunity to finally make some of these pieces. I've always been intrigued by the idea of vessels as they can be both containers and carriers, used to store or to transport; concepts which relate well to memory. I've also been doing a lot of work around natural dyeing recently and I wanted to use this in these pieces too.

Exhibition view: Val Jackson (left) and Christine Stanford (right)

Exhibition view

I created three large hanging vessels in the end, all naturally dyed, all with embroidery and all with feathers. I was really worried about showing them as I wasn't at all sure how they'd look or whether they'd work but in the end I think I'm quite happy with them. There's a lot more experimenting to be done and if I'd had more time I probably would have done more to them but I like them well enough and am excited about developing the ideas further.

Memory Cloth: For Cathy
Rust dyed fabrics, samples, feathers and hand embroidery. 2018

I also created a hanging wall piece called 'Memory Cloth: For Cathy' for the exhibition. This is another piece I've had in mind for a while and this exhibition gave me a chance to just get on with it. I inherited a large collection of materials, supplies and samples from a member of Cumberland Embroiderers Guild when very sadly she died. She was always very supportive of my endeavours and so enthusiastic about things and I really wanted to make something to commemorate her. The piece uses many of her supplies and is dyed with her rusty pins and scissors and incorporates some of her samples. It also includes lots of hand stitch and gold foil and is meant as a celebration of her life and all the people she affected.

Memory Cloth: For Cathy (detail)

Memory Cloth: For Cathy (detail)

'Memory Cloth' developed from the small fabric banners I've been making and I exhibited some of these as well. I love these pieces, for me they are full of meaning but I hope that they are also beautiful objects that people can enjoy whether or not they understand/want to understand the concepts behind them.

Flow: Tide
Naturally dyed fabric,  shells, feathers and hand embroidery. 2018

Tied to the Earth
Naturally dyed fabrics, feathers, beads and hand embroidery. 2018

Naturally dyed fabrics, feathers, hand embroidery. 2018

I was really pleased to be invited to join this group for this exhibition, they were all very friendly and supportive and it's been a pleasure to work with them. I was very nervous at first as they are all much more established artists than myself and it's always hard to join a group who are already familiar with each other. However, it's been a positive experience and exhibiting with them has given me some different ideas and inspiration. I hope we'll be able to work together again in the future.

Nostalgia is on at Farfield Mill from 23rd May-30th June 2018

Friday, 8 June 2018

Wingspan: Carlisle Library 6th-30th June 2018

In the same way that busses always appear in multiples it feels that recently exhibitions are doing the same thing for me. Over the past few weeks I've been installing and uninstalling exhibitions like there's no tomorrow. The latest one is a slightly revised version of the 'Wingspan' exhibition of art and poetry that my partner and I had at RSPB Geltsdale. It is now on show at Carlisle Library and I'm really rather pleased with how it's worked out. 

Installation view at Carlisle Library

Display case

Display case

One of the things that I like about exhibiting at the RSPB Geltsdale Gallery is that it's a little bit unexpected; people don't generally go there to see art exhibitions but I've had some great feedback from visitors and as the work is inspired by nature it's good being able to show it in a wild place. Exhibiting at the library is different again, it's not necessarily where you'd go to see an exhibition and I like that by showing work here I can exhibit to people who ordinarily might not see my work. It's a shared public space and used by a wide range of people which I think makes it a great place to show art. 

It being a public space does of course mean that there are other challenges; the work is not behind glass and of course there is not the same 'do not touch' culture in a library that there is in a gallery. Because of this I decided not to put some of the bigger hangings and more fragile pieces in, I don't think people would deliberately damage my work but textiles can be fragile and susceptible to marks if not handled carefully and I didn't want to take the risk. I'm also using display boards rather than gallery walls so I've had to be creative with my hanging and mounting and am relying largely on the power of Velcro and please do not touch signs! I have put a few smaller pieces in a glass cabinet downstairs (most of the work is upstairs) and I'm pleased with how this looks and it acts as a bit of a 'signpost' to the rest of the exhibition. 

Exhibition view: Carlisle Library

Exhibition view: Carlisle Library

Exhibition view: Carlisle Library

I don't think that the exhibition is quite as cohesive in terms of the relationship between Nick's poems and my artworks as it was at RSPB Geltsdale as a lot of the work I've taken out for the library show is the work that ties directly to the poems. However, it's given me a chance to put some other pieces up and I still think there's a strong connection between his writing and my art. We're both very inspired by the natural world, the wild places we visit and the wildlife we see and I think that still comes through. If you go and visit I'd love to hear your thoughts, it's on show until 30th June.