Featured artist, January/February 2020
My current work extends what formed the focus of my recently completed MA in Creative Practice. During the last two years I have been using my allotment plot as a source of materials for my work, exploring the potential of what grows there, planted and wild, as well as other materials found on the plot. The focus of the MA gave me a framework within which to concentrate on issues that concern me and underpin my practice.
With a background in physical geography, nature conservation and with a life-long passion for the natural world, sustainability is at the heart of my art practice. 10 years ago, as an undergraduate textiles student, I helped Sue Lawty in her studio on a variety of projects. Sue’s approach to materials and her meticulous attention to detail had a long-lasting effect on me and how I choose to work. My desire to take an ethical approach has driven a shift within my practice from using conventional art and textile materials into exploring found objects, gathered materials and natural processes.
Having previously undertaken a series of landscape-based projects, including formal residences and self-directed projects that focus on materials from different locations, the instigation of creative engagement with an allotment plot potentially allowed for deep engagement with one location. In taking over the management of a site, even on a small scale, there is control over how and when work can be carried out, as well as considerable freedom over what materials can be utilised and how. Working within the parameters of the rules of the site but being autonomous within those, I can develop a long-term relationship with the site, its conditions and possibilities. I am taking a ‘bricolage’ approach to making, by using what is at hand on the plot and exploring the materiality and potential of those materials within the context of my own making skills. The decision to work primarily (or ideally only) with materials available on the plot is driven partly by the desire to work as sustainably as possible and to use the scope of the site to explore the possibilities of self-sufficiency in terms of materials.
My plot is run as a normal allotment, therefore the crops grown are mostly for food. Plants are being used for natural dyeing and botanical contact printing as they are available or being harvested anyway. Plants are also being used to make ink at appropriate harvesting times. Plant fibres are being explored for their potential for cordage making. These are mostly what is growing on the plot by way of weeds and food crops but also include flax planted specifically for processing into linen fibre. Other materials in the sheds are being explored for their potential in terms of making: paper, cloth, plastics, wood, ceramic. Some materials lend themselves to my textile-based skillset and some are less familiar. Each material poses a new set of technical challenges. By working with similar materials in sequence there is an accumulation of experience which means that informed judgements can be made about how to work with each fibre, which ones are worth carrying on with and which not. Alongside the physical actions of making there is an influence of the wider personal experiences of the location where it was made: sensory stimulation, reflection and personal experience all become tied up in the making process so that the material is somehow imbued with those aspects.
My work is very much process-led and the objects that I make are small sculptural forms, often presented in groups. An ongoing record of processed materials from the plot is growing, along with a series of objects made using those materials and exploring how I can bring different materials together. Drawings of items form the plot are also ongoing, using home-made botanical inks. Engagement with the site and the materials from it is necessarily seasonal. New opportunities for exploring potential come in cycles and the rhythm of tending, gathering, processing, storing and exploring is ongoing..
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