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.
‘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!
I thought that in the lead up to the Knitting & Stitching show I would give you a taste of the work that I will be showing and a short explanation of it’s inspiration. Liminal Objects is the collective name for the salt works that I am exhibiting. I originally made them for an exhibition early on this year but I have made more pieces and will be showing the complete series here for the first time.
I first started using salt in my work when I noticed the tide marks seawater left on my navy-blue sailing trousers (another ‘Moment of Being’). I thought that saltwater marks on cloth had potential and I have experimented with salt water solutions extensively to get the effects I presently employ. When salt is mixed with water it dissolves. As the water slowly evaporates the salt’s crystalline structure is revealed. This cyclical process takes time and many of the small salt works I make can take up to six weeks for the process to be completed.
The series of works in Liminal Objects come from my memory and imagination. They could be the remains of creatures that have been washed ashore and caught on the strandline – the threshold between land and sea.
The works here are Sea Purses. They are small, salt encrusted containers to remind you of the seashore.
The first of the Knitting & Stitching shows is at Alexandra Palace, London from 5 – 9 October. Please do come and say hello to me if you are there.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the Week of Collecting project that I finished last week. It was such an satisfying, yet simple, exercise and one that I will definitely do again in the future.
The project was rewarding on several levels. Firstly, it was of course good to get out and walk and look and decide what to pick up and take home. It was good practise to write concisely about what I had collected and to hone my thoughts about that particular object. Finally it was very good to draw everyday.
This was quite nerve-wrecking as I had decided to do my drawings on one continuous piece of paper so that I could bind them into a concertina book at the end. If I went wrong the whole thing would have been ruined and by the end of the week I was beginning to get quite nervous about putting paint to paper. Drawing this way makes you think and observe and consider much more carefully than normal.
I did however have one shot at getting the drawing right in the journal that I recorded and documented my findings.
Both of these hand-bound books will be on display at The Archive Project exhibition at Haslemere Educational Museum in February.
Along with the books I’m also showing a series of small sea-purses and other imagined objects that could well have been found on the strand-line. Here they are photographed on the beach and give a clue as to how they will be displayed in the museum.
Christmas always feels like the end of the year to me even though afterwards there is still another week. I set myself deadlines – work that has to be achieved by a certain time – and Christmas feels like the biggest deadline of them all. However I have just finished my ‘set’ tasks, so now I can allow myself to put everything away and relax until the New Year (did I say relax? Cooking, wrapping presents, tidying up, washing ….. it still goes on, only more so!).
The work I have just finished forms just a small part of several projects and exhibitions that I have to look forward to next year – it is going to be busy. Some of the work I have already finished, some has been conceived and I have started making it but there is still a lot of thinking and making to do. It is very exciting.
Here is a taste of what I have been doing recently:
Holed Cloth being washed around in the sea – the second of three dips to rust the wire eyelets. This is the second of several cloths.
Liminal Objects – these tiny works have been soaked in saltwater for a couple of weeks.
A particularly calm day on Wells beach.
There will be more on everything next year as things get finished and ready to show.
I’ve recently started a new project that responds to the collection at Haslemere Educational Museum. This is a traditional museum – dare I say, rather old-fashioned. It was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson as a centre for learning. All the artefacts were at that time on open display as Hutchinson ‘believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes’.
I am of course a great believer in understanding things using all the senses and not just the eyes, so this idea appeals to me. Unfortunately the artefacts in the three permanent Geology, Natural History and Human History galleries are now all behind glass. However, the work I am making for the exhibition responds to the idea of open display and will be highly textured and tactile – it will encourage exploration with more than just the visual sense.
You will not be surprised to hear that I was drawn to the Natural History galleries and the collections of insects, bones, marine life and shells. Most of the artefacts were collected by naturalists and collectors at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. These collections show an obsession for exploring, learning and understanding new and mysterious things. Many of the collections are neatly labelled with the artefact’s scientific name, date of collection and locality.
I am a collector. I can’t help myself. It is as Rachel Whiteread says, a type of ‘absent-minded browsing, like doodling in a sketchbook’. I wander along the beach, eyes down, mind whirring as I bend down and pocket stuff. I take it all home and put it in containers – often the bottom of milk cartons (which now I look at them are interesting in themselves as they are dated and the supermarket they come from gives me a clue to where the ‘stuff’ was collected). This, up to now, has been the limit of my rather crude form of documentation.
The plan for this project is not to use my collection but to take inspiration from it. In the spirit of the Victorian collector I will gather and place together mysterious objects to be wondered at. I will make a collection of imaginary marine debris that will consist of things that could have been found and collected along the beach strand-line – objects that could have floated ashore on the waves and deposited as the tide retreats.
So far I have made one set of objects. I will make more sets over the next few weeks and I intend to make drawings as well …. I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve had some little pieces drying in the beach hut and they are now done. These are experiments. I don’t know yet if they will be developed into something else but they have several properties that are quite promising.
The pieces have been filled with a mixture of sand and salt and soaked in the sea until wet through and then left. They have taken between three and four weeks to dry out fully.
The smaller pieces were inspired by heaving lines – a lightweight line with a weight at the end, made to be thrown between a ship and the shore, or from one ship to another, and used to pull a heavier line across. The weight in them is really pleasing. I often feel that 3-D textile work lacks heft so I am really pleased with their heaviness.
The longer piece was made simply to see how much sand/salt could be stuffed into a small work before it became too heavy…… it’s not too heavy to hang! Again I really like the feeling of gravity – you can see the weight of the sand/salt pulling the cloth down towards the ground.
This morning I went to Stiffkey for a mosey around. Boots, hat and gloves were needed as there was a sharp wind and it was cold, even though the sun was bright and its faint warmth occasionally managed to penetrate my waxed jacket. I had a backpack with a sketchbook and drawing stuff.
Picking my way along a path straight out towards the marsh the mud sucked at my boots. I had to scan the ground in front of my feet to find the driest, least slippery route – the slick, wetness of the mud would have had me over in a trice without concentration. Although looking intently at the ground I was still aware of what was going on around me. A skylark hovered just above, its wings barely visible, flickering up and down as it rose higher into the sky, its song becoming fainter. My clumsy footsteps disturbed a flock of brent geese that rose, chattering, into the air and the wind ruffled the dry grasses either side of the path.
Out on the marsh I faced north, looked towards the sea and drew.
My tendency is always to look north – here on the North Norfolk coast the sea always draws me. The mutability of this edgeland is endlessly fascinating – nothing is ever the same as the tide washes in and out twice a day. But today I turned around and looked back towards where I had come from. The sun shone through a stand of trees on the edge of the marsh, their winter bones, lace, as they stood silhouetted against the fields beyond.