TOP SHED RESIDENCY
In December of 2017 I was delighted to have been invited to be artist-in-residence at Top Shed. This, essentially, would involve me living and working alone in a cabin in rural Norfolk for two weeks during April 2018. I was excited at the prospect of having undisrupted time to develop new work, with no other commitments or distractions for this intense period of time, but also a little apprehensive about being so remote and cut off from the usual human interactions and the 'on-tap' facilities I am used to in my city life.
I needn't have worried, it turns out I am pretty happy in my own company and living a simple life. I enjoyed taking each day as it came. I had more phone and internet connection than I'd expected so I was able to speak with my family from time to time, but chose not to look at any news, social media or emails whilst I was away.
I spent my mornings walking and observing my surroundings and my afternoons and evenings making new work. Every day at my own pace; walking and working in whatever direction I felt like taking.
I knew I was interested in recording my walks in some way before I came away. I had printed out large maps of the surrounding area in preparation - I am glad I did because I really enjoyed the process of planning a walk - walking - and then coming 'home' and marking my route with stitches on my own embroidered map. To start with I underestimated how far I would walk and pretty quickly I had walked off the edge of my fabric. I transferred all the info already recorded onto a larger piece of calico fabric using brightly coloured threads, a different colour of each day. I absolutely loved seeing how where I walked created a drawing with stitch. It made me want to take new untrodden [by me a least] paths to create new lines in my work. Creating this Norfolk map has made me go out in weather that I wouldn't ordinarily choose to leave the house in, just because I wanted to draw more stitched line on my map. I've felt refreshed and happily exhausted by the walks themselves too. They always produced some finding and collecting activity that eventually has been incorporated into some of my making, whether that be physically or metaphorically.
I walk everywhere in Bristol [my home] and am interested to translate this to my Bristol life too. Would it make me walk more? Would it encourage me to take alternative routes? Would it make me explore Bristol more? I like the idea of consciously observing and recording the data of my daily movements.
Sitting in the garden on my first day and looking back at Top Shed [which isn't a shed at all, rather the top half of a small barn] I realised the shape of the building was such a classic house/shed shape it inspired me to do something to reflect that. I started experimenting with paper to construct small, differently proportioned, paper 'sheds'. En masse they looked like houses on a street and I realised I was living in a shed and thinking of home. I decided that these shed/houses would be the basis for any posted correspondence I would make. The idea of the connection between Top Shed and somewhere else really interested me, because where I was staying seemed so remote and far away from other people [I could only send mail via a travelling mobile post office that visited the nearby village on Mondays and Thursdays]. I liked the idea that the shed/house would be marked with stamps, address and post office marks, evidence of it's journey as well as the message to the recipient. I found actually writing the messages harder than I'd expected, I thought it would be easy to tell people about the amazing place I was staying in, but in the moment it felt too smug to share this, too deeply, with people who were going about their usual routine, so I kept words pretty minimal and let the notion of sending a symbolic correspondence be enough [it was probably a bit boring at the other end!] I enclosed a printed feather with the note - I have been thinking a lot in recent months about sending messages via feathers and looking at historical [older and slower than text and email] forms of communication like carrier/messenger pigeons.
I'd had the forethought before I came away to ask my friend, Angie Parker, who is a weaver, if I could borrow a small loom in case I found the time to try this new technique. She'd generously given me the things I needed to create a body-tension loom and helped me thread up the warp in preparation. I'm so grateful as this piece of weaving became something that I kept dipping in and out of the whole time I was away - weaving in found objects like sticks and feathers. Though I don't actually think that what I produced was particularly sophisticated I absolutely fell in love with the process.
I've always enjoyed using discarded or leftover materials to make my work. I enjoy the challenge of creating something thoughtful and considered from something forgotten and disregarded. I also like the way the limitations of the found material suggest ways of crafting something new. Using my domestic recycling as a source I began to slice up plastic milk cartons to create small woven vessels. I tried various wefts; strips of paper, wool and coarse cotton thread. I experimented to see if I could change the shape of these tiny baskets by weaving strips of warp together - the results were something that looked to me like birds nests. I realised that the work I had been putting in to learn how to use the body tension loom was just preparation for weaving nests! How interesting to start my time there making paper houses and develop into making woven nests. My need to make a safe and comforting 'home' was stronger than I had realised. I continued with the nest theme through other kinds of weaving projects. I created spindle looms from flexible vine. I liked how the roundness of this style of loom naturally suggested nest shapes to me.
All this work is very much embryonic in its progression, but concepts and processes I want to pursue.