Natural:History (a fable of progress) or, ‘oh no, we’ve killed the last unicorn’
So – a belated post about my three-month exhibition at Gallery Oldham, in which Richard Dawson and myself presented a series of works exploring the era of the Anthropocene, questioning humankind’s impact on, and changing relationship with, the natural world from the 19th Century to the present day.
Currently Climate Change caused by Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) presents an extreme threat to life on our planet and this, combined with loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction and pollution were issues explored in this exhibition.
We each presented a series of artworks that, whilst varied in style and technique, all aimed to highlight these themes, and engage people in thinking about and exploring them further.
I aim to do a post (or at least photos) of each of the pieces I created. However, the works I was most pleased with were:
The Denial Machine (an ode to lying) Or, ‘are 97% of scientists wrong?’ a vending machine that spat out RIDICULOUS quotes from climate change deniers
Splendour awaits in minute proportions (The Dovestone Doomsday Vault) Or, ‘272 seed specimens displayed by colour’ a seedbank of a local beauty spot
The Greatest Hoax Ever Perpetrated (The Drowned World) / (The Death of Grass) / (Earth Abides) a triptych of dioramas with classic science-fiction titles presented as reality from a dystopian future following climate change
We got some great feedback and a rather lovely review from Robbie di Vito at Corridor 8 that says everything we wanted to say about the exhibition far more eloquently than I ever could – it’s here
The Absence of Nature
The printing, upholstering and final result of ‘The Absence of Nature’ chairs. The blue chair, entitled Chair (The Presence of Nature) Or, ‘Life’ is upholstered in a six-colour screenprinted fabric. The white chair, entitled Chair (The Absence of Nature) Or, ‘this should be an empty space on a plinth, though the plinth wouldn’t exist without nature either…’ is upholstered in a single colour screenprinted fabric.
The piece is meant to highlight the beauty, detail and intricacy of nature against the bland, colourless state of the alternative, exploring biodiversity and the loss of nature.
The fabric was developed during my AA2A residency at UCLan in Preston.
For the last three months, I’ve been working with community groups in Ashton-under-Lyne on a project based around illegal money lending. Aimed at educating and raising awareness about the dangers of loan sharks community groups created lots of textile patchwork art that I am in the process of upholstering onto a two-seather sofa.
Whilst similar in style to the Bentley Library Chair, this sofa features more drawing, writing and printmaking than the other one which had a lot more sewing, applique and other needlecrafts on – maybe due to demographics of the groups and also timescale of the project.
Funded by the national Illegal Money Lending Team, the sofa will be used around Tameside as an educational and promotional tool before going to it’s permanent home at Cashbox Credit Union in Ashton.
Work in progress
There’s something here – I’m not sure what yet, but the awfulness of these dolls (their design, colour, body shape and permanent make-up etc) is going to be used to create some kind of suspended installation.
I’m currently concentrating on their heads – I like the slightly macabre feel of the doll’s eyes looking at you as the heads rotate on their strings but the bodies deserve to be used too. Just as a note of interest – before their redesign last year, the shape of a Barbie doll’s body was such that, if real, she wouldn’t be able to walk…
NB. Please contact me if you have any Barbie, Sindy, Disney, Bratz or other dolls that you don’t want any more. I’m happy to have ones with missing legs, feet, adapted hairstyles etc that might not sell so well on Ebay..!
Chester Zoo BumblebeeAbode
Since September last year, Arbarus and I have been working on a commission for Chester Zoo‘s new Bumblebee Garden to create a home for Bumblebees. Based around a used garden shed, the structure houses a number of Bumblebee boxes to provide a safe, dry environment for the bees to nest in.
The project kicked off last year on a sunny day in September with a drop-in workshop at the Zoo’s Wildlife Connections Festival. We worked with Chester Zoo’s visitors creating lots of artwork to decorate the outside of the shed, whilst learning about the best flowers to plant in your garden to attract bumblebees.
Over the winter, Arbarus did lots of research into the right type of home for bumblebees, designed and built the shed and then we worked together to finish it, using all the artwork created at the festival to decorate it. The shed was installed on a chilly January day, to give it time to bed in and for the brilliant horticulture team to create the shed’s green roof and plant up around it before the queen bumblebees start to emerge. We aim to return soon to get some pictures of the shed with some green around it, instead of just some January mud! Fingers crossed that some bumblebees will have moved in too…
STOP PRESS! Whilst we await with bated breath for good news from Chester Zoo, Arbarus has had success with his own bumblebee boxes. Two of the homes are now occupied by queen bees and there is a quiet satisfaction in watching them go in and out of their nests…
Gallery Oldham Residency
Next month, I’ll be completing a residency at Gallery Oldham and creating work in response to one of their upcoming exhibitions ‘Art Forms in Nature’ which opens in mid-October. The exhibition, touring from the Hayward Gallery, features work by Karl Blossfeldt and I am using his images as inspiration for an installation of weird and wonderful plants made out of paper.
For the second part of the residency, I will be offering drop-in workshops to add to the installation – making oversize blooms out of paper, using lots of different techniques such as origami, paper cutting and folding.
The event and workshops, called Nightshade, are also part of the Manchester Science Festival – there’s lots of different things to see and do during the ten day event – have a look at the programme here.
I’ve been doing some test pieces for the installation, concentrating on creating poisonous, carnivorous and parasitic plant forms.
Since earlier in the year, I’ve been working on a commission for County Hospital in Stafford. As part of a major ward refurbishment, I was asked to work with patients, staff and other stakeholders to create a ‘medicinal herbs’ themed piece of work for the new Elective Orthopaedics Ward.
We eventually decided on some large scale silhouettes of herbs with a watercolour texture for the eight-metre long corridor walls. These were printed onto vinyl and then cut out with a plotter so each herb was an individual piece of work. Patients and staff created some of the textures for the herbs alongside some smaller pieces that will be framed and hung in the waiting room. Everyone did some fantastic work – I’ll post some pictures of the framed pieces once they are up but in the meantime, here’s some of the wall vinyls and some work from the creative sessions. I’ve also included some of the original drawings for the herb silhouettes and the designs for two posters I’m screen printing that explain the symbolic meaning of the herbs featured in the artwork.
Animating Lordship Lane
I’ve just finished a commission for arts event ‘Animating Lordship Lane’ in East Dulwich, London organised by Fantasy High Street. ‘Mille Fleurs’ was a curtain of suspended paper flowers, for the window of a fragrance shop called Roullier White, which moved and rotated in the breeze to create interest and animation in the window. I also ran a paper flower making workshop during the event, whereby we made tissue paper flowers, origami flowers and origami butterflies.
Most of the flowers for the ‘Mille Fleurs’ commission were created from thick watercolour paper, stamped and laser cut into various shapes and then hand rolled to create the curve of petals. Other flowers were created from floristry crepe paper (a much thicker crepe paper than normal) which allows for a lot of stretch and shaping to create delicate petals and flowers.
Thanks to Miriam from Roullier White for the fantastic photos!