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
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.
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…
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.
The Right Up Our Street Bentley Chair – one more thing…
The Bentley Library Chair was part of the Right Up Our Street (RUOS) Project, which is part of Arts Council, England’s Creative People and Places Fund. As part of the RUOS funding, every artist involved has to keep an artist’s diary, write progress reports and an evaluation report once the project is finished. I’ve just submitted my final report and wanted to share a few of the comments we got at the launch of the Bentley Chair at Bentley Library. They make me really proud to have been a part of this fantastic and successful project (I honestly didn’t bribe anyone for these comments!)…
“Never been so impressed in something in all of my life, and when you see your work among it… wow”
“It’s absolutely fantastic. Brings the community together – an absolute pleasure for all!”
“What a fabulous piece of community work. It got everyone talking and evoked a lot of memories. A thing to treasure, lots of memories for young and old.”
“I really think the chair is absolutely beautiful and I feel proud being part of it.”
“I think it’s amazing- I’m so pleased. My grandson’s drawing is on the front. It would look the business in my new kitchen!”
I was asked quite early on in the project what the point of the chair was (which I thought was a really good question) and at the time felt that creativity, teamwork, ownership, engagement, pride and self belief were some of the main reasons for doing the project. I think that these comments show that this was achieved – well done everyone for taking that leap of faith and believing we could make this brilliant piece of art – who said a canvas had to be square!
The Bentley Library Chair – signed, sealed & delivered!
The Bentley Library Chair has finally been unveiled at Bentley Library in Doncaster. A busy afternoon launch saw over 70 people attend to check out their textile artwork that had been lovingly and carefully (trust me!) upholstered onto a Parker Knoll Wingback Sofa.
This project has been one of my all-time favourites since I’ve been a freelancer – lovely people that I’ve become friends with, a meaningful process and a successful outcome. I think one of the reasons it was so successful was that I spent a lot of time getting to know the groups I was working with, doing research, working out what they wanted to do and also learning from them. If I’d had my way, we would be looking at images of a mosaic chair right now but the groups were very definite in their wish to create something textile-based – so we went with a patchwork sofa that eventually was made up of over 100 people’s artwork.
The artwork includes fabric painting, block printing, applique, knitting, crochet, patchwork, quilting, embroidery, woodwork, photography, digital printing, encaustic art, free-motion embroidery and machine embroidery – there’s probably more…
Everything was then sewn together and I upholstered the finished work onto the sofa, having stripped it first – I had to remove over 1500 staples to get back to the wooden frame! Now finished, it is going to live at Bentley Library as a story chair – though I secretly want it in my living room. Bentley Library – you know where to look if it ever goes missing!
The project was part of the Right Up Our Street research programme in Doncaster, which has just received another three years funding – well done everyone!
The Bentley Library Chair
I’ve been commissioned by Right Up Our Street to create a story chair for the community library at Bentley in Doncaster. I will be working with three local groups to create artwork for the chair using lots of different textiles and fabric techniques, which will eventually be upholstered into a finished chair. We’ll be using Bentley as the theme, so they’ll be lots of stories and history about the area, alongside notable events and people used as imagery and wording. I’m also hoping for a few Bentley jokes, poems and some creative writing to include!
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been meeting some lovely people and groups from the area, all of whom seem up for the challenge – we’ve already got loads of ideas and suggestions for what we might include on the chair, alongside some practical thoughts about the making and upkeep of a public seat. The next job will be to decide exactly what to put on the chair and also have a go at some different textile / fabric techniques. The groups I’m working with have loads of different skills from crocheting, quilting and knitting through to printmaking and painting so I’m going to try and organise some skill-sharing sessions amongst the groups too.
I’m not the only one to be working in Bentley. Spiltmilk Dance are also working with local groups towards a celebration event for the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Their event is on 9th May at the Bentley Pavilion and will feature lots of dancing, cake (yesssss!) and victory rolls.
Abirdabode Art Bird Boxes
Myself and Arbarus (Richard Dawson) have been delivering the Abirdabode Project for the last eight months. Funded by Oldham Arts Development, the project aims to bring art and nature together by building bird boxes using a variety of different creative techniques and skills.
We are currently working with a number of different groups in Oldham including the Dove Stone Youth Rangers, the Barrier Breakers, an Age UK older people’s group and the Grassroots Community Allotment Scheme in Failsworth.
We’re making lots of progress on the bird boxes which is good as deadlines are fast approaching – there’s an exhibition of them at Gallery Oldham in March and April. The exhibition opens on Saturday 14th March and will have all the bird boxes made during the project on show. Once the exhibition finishes, the bird boxes will be distributed to various communities, gardens, allotments and housing schemes around Oldham – get in touch if you’d like one for your community!
Most of these images are from Grassroots where we’ve been building a large-scale bird box for the exhibition!
One more thing… we’re doing a drop-in workshop at RSPB Dove Stone Reservoir on 22nd February. This is to celebrate National Nest Box Week (14th – 21st February) and to kick off the RSPB’s Discovery Sundays for 2015. We’ll be based at Ashway Gap (halfway round from the main car park) between 11am and 3pm – come and see us!
Hyde Art Project – Urban Sketching
A couple of weeks ago I took a group of Year Seven students from Alder Community High School into Hyde Town Centre to do some urban sketching. We spent the morning wandering around the Civic Square and Clarendon Square Shopping Centre drawing interesting buildings, objects and views. Lots of the group opted to draw the beautiful Hyde Town Hall, with the clock tower being a favourite part of the building.
We also went inside Clarendon Square Shopping Centre (not just to warm up!) and did some quick drawing exercises, doing sketches in 1 minute and 5 minutes to try and loosen up our drawings.
We then returned to the school, had a little lie down to recover from the walk back and went for lunch! In the afternoon, we created imaginary high street scenes on large sheets of cardboard, drawing and then painting them. We didn’t get them finished so some of the group stayed behind for Art Club to do a bit more work on the paintings.
We did however make the local paper (fame at last!). Here’s a link to the Manchester Evening News and here’s a few of the group’s brilliant drawings. Thanks to Alder Community High School – I’m hoping I can return to do some more work there.