Making Space

Next week I am helping to put up the 62 Group, Making Space exhibition at the Knitting & Stitching show, Olympia. This is the next stop in the tour for this exhibition that was first shown last year at the Silk Museum, Macclesfield. The theme of ‘Space’ has been interpreted by members in diverse ways using hand and machine stitch, print, weave, installation and mixed media inspired by textile techniques. I will have one salt work showing, Holed Cloth.

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‘A hole is just a space – an immaterial emptiness that is surrounded by a physical material that describes its shape and allows us to see a nothing. Debbie has made holes in cloth to give form to space and to make visible the invisible.’

I’ll be stewarding all day Saturday if you want to come and say hello!

The Knitting & Stitching show is open from 2 -5 March, 10am – 7pm Thursday and 10am – 5.30pm Friday  – Sunday.

 

 

The Signalman

I am making new work for an exhibition that is coming up in a couple of months time.  It is  for a group exhibition, The Archive Project. The group consists of four artists that explore ideas through responses to archives and collections, using textile and mixed media. The exhibition is at The Cello Factory, 33-34 Cornwall Road, Waterloo London SE1 8TJ from Thursday 4 May 2017 – Friday 12 May 2017.

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The starting point for my work is a personal archive – a journal that was written by my grandfather, Charles Thomas Sewell, who was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June.

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The morse code spells out: ‘The sea was very calm with a light haze.’

The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from my grandfather’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle.

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During WW1 signalling methods in battle were a mixture of flag, semaphore and Morse code: both wireless telegraphy and searchlight. Flags had been part of the Navy’s core skills since the Napoleonic Wars and a signalman would be able to read and transcribe messages with ease.

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The Leading Signalman ‘badge

The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative of each is notated with a different method of signal communication. Each flag commemorates a different part of the battle. 1. The beginning, 2. The day action and 3. The night action. I have finished the first flag …

Flag 1: The beginning

Message: The sea was very calm with a light haze.

Signal method: Morse Code

Materials: Linen, wire, cotton, brass

Written by Charlie Sewell in his memoir:

‘On Tuesday afternoon May 30th 1916 the Battle Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (in his flagship HMS Iron Duke) and the Battle Cruiser Squadron under Sir David Beatty (in the fleet flagship HMS Lion) put to sea on customary sweeps…. my job was as a Leading Signalman, acting foreman of the Action Watch and my place on Monkey’s Island was the passing of orders to make signals.’

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My Grandfather’s Official Number

 

 

And again the wind

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On the beach a stiff wind.

But in the pinewoods – stillness.

 

A slow crescendo. A gust gently swells

And its hastening rush journeys around from treetop to treetop before quietening.

 

Again the wind touches the trees, but its voice comes from another direction.

In the woods it is difficult to pinpoint its bearing.

 

Again the wind swells.

The sound of dry, cracking wood as its intensity peaks.

Dropping pinecones. Trees crack.

 

A wood-pigeon flies past and lands clumsily with flapping wings and a clatter.

Then, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu.

 

And again the wind swells.

Trees gently sway.

Far away, seagull cry, and traffic rumble. Dog walkers walk wordlessly past.

 

And again the wind swells.

Above, a longer, more sustained gust dies and builds repeatedly.

On the ground – stillness.

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Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 3 – Hunstanton

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Hunstanton is a bit out of my way. I know it’s only a fifteen miles along the coast but it’s not a place a generally go out of my way to visit. However, recently I wanted to go and look at the stripy, white, red and orange chalk cliffs as research for a new piece of work.

These are the notes from my sketchbook:

‘Grey/white on top – brick red below.

Gulls nesting on ledges – croaking calls.

Grass – thin layer- on top.

 

 The cliffs come to an abrupt and brutal end as they turn the corner.

Sharp ridges and ledges where the cliff face has fallen away.

Fissures diagonally across its face.

Grass clinging.

 

Underneath, brick red chalk holds up white chalk.

Large chalk boulders at the base of the cliff.

Smaller chalk stones and pebbles are washed away from the base of the cliff and have been dragged over the beach by the sea’s action.

 

Bleak, stark, uncared for.

North-west facing – dank, cold, damp.

I imagine the sun rarely reaches the cliff face and so never has the chance to dry out.

Green/grey coating to the white chalk.

Grass in all the crevices.

Large mossy stones on the beach.’

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The looming cliffs cut out any warm southerly light; the beach is in shadow and the resulting cold and damp isn’t helped by a wintery day and a sharp northerly wind. I collect a few chalk pebbles to experiment with – they are freezing cold – and hurry back to the car. I need a cup of coffee …. perhaps it this place would feel more welcoming in the summer.

Walk 2 – Burnham Overy State

Winter. It is a grey, drizzly day that bodes only to get worse. However, I decide to go out for a walk anyway. As I pull onto the hard standing at Burnham Overy Staithe my first thought is, ‘I should have bought my camera!’. Although the wide grey sky is giving off a surprising amount of light, everything before me is drained of colour and blurred in the mist. It is a monochrome landscape. There is detail in the foreground, but horizontal lines of mud, water and sand dune fade into the haze.

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The raised dyke is slippery. Flints stick up out of the mud; slick and shiny, they add to the feeling of instability underfoot and I have to look at the ground to stop myself from slipping. A few yards on the path gets better and I can look up – there are birds everywhere. It’s low tide and they are dotted, like tiny ants, across the wet, silvery marsh. They are too far away to make out what they are, but with binoculars each one is revealed and there is a huge variety feeding on the mud: Dunlin, redshank, several curlews, and a couple of golden plovers. Suddenly a flock of lapwing rise up into the sky, their frilly wings flap as they twist and turn; dancing in the sky.

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I walk on and movements on all sides grab my attention. A great flock of Brent geese fly over in formation; as they pass over more come in from the west. They are looking for a place to land and graze. The formation breaks as they glide down towards the marsh and chaos breaks out as each bird tries to find a space to land. Their chattering calms to a contented honk as they begin to feed.

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The mud flats are slick and shiny, and in this misty, light they are devoid of colour. Deep channels are cut into the smooth, flat surface by the actions of the tides and here meandering black shadows echo the outline of dunes in the distance. Almost colourless tones of layered marsh and mud fade to the feint smudge of horizon.

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A tinkling, tinselly sound catches my ear: goldfinches. A flock of these small birds fly in from behind and land on a bush just ahead of me. As I get nearer, they rise up and I catch small flashes of yellow as they flit through the air before swooping down into a small bush just ahead. This game is repeated several times more as I follow them along the dyke. Finally, they rise up for a final time and dart off over the marsh to find a new feeding place.

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At the beach it’s really too cold to sit, but with a cup of coffee from the flask I note down the birds out on the sand. In the distance, by the sea edge are a flock of cormorants holding their wings out to dry. Closer in along a curving sea-river are more redshank, oystercatchers, dunlin and a ruff. Just in front of me two turnstones are pecking around in the tideline; there must be goodness amongst the dying sea debris.

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As I turn to walk back along the dyke I notice that the clouds have lifted. Maybe there is a hint of sun low on the horizon. Everything definitely seems brighter and more defined out here on the marsh.