As an artist, most of the time I am thinking about making work suitable for exhibiting either solo or with a group. The type of work produced is normally left up to me in terms of size, style, medium etc although there may well often be some sort of ‘theme’ or ‘concept’ to which the work is intended to relate. This year I have taken a slightly different tack and responded to ‘call-outs’ from other artists or arts groups to contribute a piece of work in a specific style as part of a much larger overall piece of work.
The first of these was for an exhibition in Blackpool from 19 January to 9 March 2013 at the Grundy Art Gallery ( www.grundyartgallery.com) called “Amongst Dark Trees, a Clearing” the stitched work for “Motto in Thread” forms a smaller part of the wider exhibition. The idea of artist Kai-Oi Jay Yung, a call-out was issued for artists to express a personal phrase or motto for life by embroidery, crochet, knit or simply sewing a phrase or motto that conveys your outlook in life into fabric on fabric. No stitch too elaborate, no letter too wonky!
My piece, although not perhaps the best example of cross stitch, was stitched onto woven cotton fabric and not the usual binca type fabric, using a soluble plastic grid placed over the top of the plain cotton fabric. The design of a retro style TV featured the words “TV is no substitute for Real Life” and was then surrounded by digitally printed TV listings for ‘reality’ type TV shows before finally being set within a large circular piece of fabric. The setting in to a circle shape was at the instruction of the commissioning artist (I say commissioning despite there being no monetary payment involved), although why it should be a circle was not clear. I have to say that I really enjoyed doing the piece, it was great fun!
TV is no substitute for real life – a motto in thread
Having had my appetite for this type of participatory work whetted, I then decided to make a piece for the East London Craft Guerilla (www.craftguerilla.com) call out for the E17 Art Trail in the late summer of 2013 for a group piece to be called Lencinhos dos namorados. The idea for this collaborative exhibition comes from a very old Portuguese tradition which began by semi illiterate women embroidering hankies for their lovers some of which were fisherman. These little tokens also served as good luck charms and as a constant reminder that their lady’s love would be waiting for them upon their return while they worked on the stormy and harsh seas. Filled with pretty, colourful images and designs they also featured spelling mistakes and grammatical errors which personally I think makes them utterly charming! These little pieces of linen are a true and pure account of someone’s love for another and also served as a “sampler” to teach girls the basics of embroidery..
Example of Portuguese embroidered hanky
I popped in to a local flea market and purchased two ‘vintage’ hankies in white cotton, one with a lacy border, the other with a textured surface. I was intending to only use one, but on completion of the first piece I felt that I simply HAD to make another!
The first of my stitched handkerchiefs
The two hankies have brought about a sort of ‘eureka’ moment and given me a new idea and inspiration for the next group exhibition I am involved in April. So work for one thing drives new work for another.
Finally, I received an email from the East London Craft Guerilla alerting me to another participatory call out; this time for the Craftivist Collective Jigsaw Project in aid of Save the Children #imapiece. Full details of this worthy campaign can be found at www.craftivist-collective.com and also at www.imapiece.craftivist-collective.com. #imapiece is being organised in association with Save the Children (www.savethecildren.org.uk) and is to be a protest message by way of a giant jigsaw embroidered with provocative messages to support the Save the Children Race Against Hunger Campaign. Pioneers of the emerging contemporary craft movement Mr X Stitch, Deadly Knitshade & Hilary of Craftblog UK are joining the Craftivist Collective to urge the craft community to help create this giant jigsaw.
The brief is: Using jigsaw pieces stitched by craftivists (that means you!), the project will create an art installation to raise awareness of the issues of world hunger and injustice. As well as making a piece for the artwork, you are encouraged to make one for yourself to keep as a reminder to be part of the solution, and to give a piece stitched with the words “I’m a piece” to your MP (mine is the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP), to ask them to be the positive change they wish to see in the world. Full instructions, information, a video and template for the jigsaw piece can be found at http://imapiece.craftivist-collective.com.
It was difficult to decide what to write on my jigsaw piece and I didn’t want to use any of the suggested phrases from the Craftivist website. As luck would have it I was reading a magazine interview with Ark redwood, Head Gardener of the Chalice Well World Peace Garden at Glastonbury, and he was talking about the frosty freshness of the new Winter season which heralds the beginning of a new gardening year bringing with it hopes and opportunities to make a difference. His actual words were ” There’s an air of optimism and hope, as we resolve to attempt new ways to challenge and change old habits and patterns within ourselves.” I decided that this would be a perfect phrase, with a minor adjustment for the embroidered jigsaw piece and would make a very appropriate statement about the #imapiece campaign. It took me a couple of evenings to stitch the 2 pieces (one for the project and one for my MP) and I am pretty pleased with the result.
For each of these participatory projects there was a full ‘brief’ to work to, with some leeway for individual artistic input of course; but generally it was challenging and refreshing to produce something to someone elses specification.
I like the idea that my contribution is only a very small part of something much larger and that such a wide variety of artistic involvement can be marshalled and channelled to create work of deeper meaning and significance.