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.
Following last year’s project for Bentley Library where I worked with local groups to create a community library chair, I’ve been itching to have a go at making/upholstering another one. So, for a recent exhibition at Hot Bed Press, I decided to create some screenprinted textiles for a new piece of work in the shape of a Parker Knoll armchair.
‘Infestation’ is upholstered in silk, hand screenprinted with hundreds of beetles which appear to be crawling out of the chair. Each piece of material features an individual design created from my drawings of beetles. There are about 100 different species of beetle in the surface design from the Javan Fiddle Beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes) to, my favourite, the Long-Necked Shining Fungus Beetle (Datelium wallacei) – you can’t beat that for a name. The chair also has it’s very own beetle legs, brilliantly made by Arbarus.
The work is part of an ongoing series in which I’ll be exploring chairs and similar products, questioning their form and usability (does a chair have to be functional to be a chair?) and reimagining the original design and finish to manipulate reaction and perception.
To create this installation piece I firstly used Photoshop to generate full-size artwork from scans of my beetle drawings, which I then turned into screenprints. I created individual screens for both the fill colour and the key layer (the final line). I’d pre-cut and labelled the individual pieces of silk for the upholstery so I could control which part of the pattern was on each part of the chair. Once the fabric was printed, I set about upholstering!
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!
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.