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Bird’s Eye. Pop up, Site-specific, Interventionist Art.

Bird’s Eye.

Interventionist, Pop-up, Site-specific Renegade Art, or, Art placed to raise a smile, make a connection or engage?

Today, I did something either quite interesting, or quite stupid. I’m edging on the side of the former.

On the 14th floor, lightly taped to a window, in meeting room, in the Architecture department, in The Arts Tower, I left a Paper Laser cut of my knitting.  It’s an intervention between paper, view, light and viewer.

After creating digital laser cuts, to place in derelict croft house windows across Shetland, I find that I am now looking around at making site-specific work within the City that I live.  And questioning why, and what for and what does this really mean to me and to anyone else? Is it legal? Is it damage or intrusion? Is it pop-up fun? Is it harmless? What is the purpose? Should I or should I not?

On New Year’s Day, I purposely looked, from the car park, at the Arts Tower – having never been inside it, never used the Paternoster lift, never seen the view of our City from its heights and I considered that it seemed the perfect location to place my laser cut work in one of its windows. In a Site-specific, pop up intervention. For the work to stand as a chance to have a moment of exchange with a passer-by. To engage, in some way. I never want to, or will I damage or deface any location.  I want to interact with people in a positive, maybe a thought-provoking way.  My work requires the viewer to interact, if only briefly. 

To look up, look through it, look at it, take it down, tear it down, contact me, ignore me.  I don’t mind but in placing this laser cut in a window, in a room, in a building that I have never been in before – I wanted to touch some ONE in a small way, to intervene with a view unlooked at, through blinds half down and half up, to maybe touch someone, connect with someone – a positive intervention. This moment of connection is a gift, from me to you.

At first, we caught the Paternoster lift.  A completely new and exhilarating experience.  I, and my friend, were a little scared so we waited.  We waited to see how fast the lift moved, how many seconds we’d have to get in and then out whilst it was moving. We were a little scared to do something that scared us. So, we waited a little longer then went for it.

Riding up in the lift car was a short but completely mindful time.  I had packed my scarf away, held my bag tight and concentrated before stepping into the moving lift and it felt good to overcome being scared.  It was decided on ascending, that we’d get out on floor 15 because if we delayed getting out, there were still 2 more floors before we’d have to launch ourselves out. But at floor 13, we were too apprehensive of the exit so jumped out at floor 14.  I looked to my right and there it was –  A perfectly placed meeting room with a wall of windows, opening up to a wide vista and view across the city.

So many meeting rooms across the city are just used without consideration of where they are.  How many people looked out of those windows 14 floors up, amazed at the height from the floor the the view point, amazed to be in the sky overlooking the busy city? I don’t know. The blinds were up and down.  The location instinctively felt right as it had done in the past when placing site specific work. I unrolled my laser cut whereupon it was gently held open so as it would not roll into a tangled mess, and I taped it lightly at the corners, to the window pane to create an intervention between the outside and in, a breaking up of the view so that it now had to be looked at by peeping through knitted paper.  It’s a trial, it’s not bespoke but could be. If the room had laser cuts on the windows, and when the sun shone through, there would be knitted lace shadows across the table.  It’s a start.

This piece is not entirely finished.  When someone engages with it to look at the city landscape through it, this will be the moment of completion.

It’s harmless pop-up art that sits in one of the most iconic buildings in Sheffield, to open up an interaction between viewer, location, and art work, to intervene between view and seeing, to stop someone just for a moment and for them to wonder what it is and why it is there.

A moment of exchange.

We interact with our architecture.

We break the unseeing eye.

The work is called ‘Bird’s Eye’ for two reasons – the laser cut is developed from a simulation of my Lace knitting which is inspired by Shetland and the many lace designs created by generations of lace knitters going back to the 1800’s, who knitted to subsidise their family income.

This is a Shetland Bird’s Eye lace pattern and secondly, I called it Bird’s eye because, for no other reason than that – It’s a Bird’s Eye view


Artist Residency

Artist Residency

I’ve never had an Artist studio for a number of reasons: – it is an expense that I cannot really afford, I live a 4-mile cycle ride from town so to get to a studio and back is a chore, and in the summer, it felt odd to call myself an Artist.  One miserable, wet, dark, raining night in August, I did look at a studio at Kelham Island, but it wasn’t right. I couldn’t find the right place, at the right price. 

In the end, I did buy a desk and was delighted how that desk, in my home, made me feel and instantly became my work space.  It was enough. It is enough. My flat became exactly how I wanted it –  a live/work space at any time of the day.

Then, in November, when I was accepted on to the AA2A Artist residency programme at Sheffield Hallam University, I moved old papers and prints into the MA studio at Sheffield Institute of Arts (The Old Head Post Office) It is a small space with a perfect wall area to overlap things, put things up, leave things, remove things, reflect.  So, until the end of June ‘19, that is exactly where you will find me every Monday and Tuesday.   Take this as an open invite to come visit.  

There is nothing not to like about this gorgeous, strong building which was, for many years, The Old Head Post Office in Sheffield. The floors in the large exhibition space are mosaiced, the walls are still tiled in dark rich brown and cream and everywhere is conducive to creative thought with old remnants of a by gone postal service in town which litters the walls, floors and views. The technical resources are second to none. Space is limited.

The AA2A residency came at exactly the right time.  I applied 2 days after the closing date, the submission was accepted, I was interviewed and proceeded to naïvely cover the interview table with examples of processes and work. It was a shamble of words and lace knit and photographs and, of course, laser cuts. I was over the moon when I was accepted.

Now, is a new phase – a progressive time to learn, experiment and develop by using the resources available to me.  In return, I will show work to the current students, do presentations and workshops, be around in the space, ask and answer questions.  I’m also mentoring a little.  Alongside that, there are countless students doing their thing, and we share information.  They’ve got used to seeing me and I look forward to seeing them.  In the new year, I’ll offer workshops and add information to their notice boards of competitions and residencies.

I did not want repeat my creative practice, therefore, I expose myself to a very creative environment as what can be called ‘A Young Artist’ and I will add – at an older age because I’m not young but I feel it.  But, to repeat is out of the question – where do I start?

I could only start the residency at SHU, where I had left off at Nottingham Trent Uni but I had never used a laser cutting machine myself as this is done by the technician at NTU. At Sheffield Hallam, the students use the laser cutting machines themselves.  They’re shown how to use them and off they / I go. I collected all of my files from NTU but they are not compatible with the software at SHU. So the learning curve of preparing files started.

Initially this seemed daunting but, only 3 weeks in, daunting is a memory.  I’m learning by trial and error but the errors are mine and I continue to learn from them, build a new portfolio and a new-found confidence as a practicing ‘Artist in Residence’. Silly mistakes during the process of live tracing an image and digitally cutting it open up steps to understanding what I can try next and how to overcome errors.  When I fail, I try again and again until, after I feel that I have some small grasp of the technique.

 Students come into the laser cutting room, we discuss our practice and technique, we share learning experiences and own it.  Every student fully owns their own work when they create and cut it. After two successful (ish) laser cuts, I needed a location to place the work in order to really see it.  

I could hear a voice in my head asking myself why I thought that laser cuts of lace knitting which were inspired by Shetland could ever fit into Sheffield. There were no links between lace and Yorkshire. Did it need a link? Could I create a link? Was it becoming inauthentic or decorative? Or, was I repeating myself. And, that would never do.

Showing my work has previously been an easy act to do as I chose remote extreme outdoor locations to place laser cuts or lace knitting and Only I saw it.  In Shetland, the work merged with the landscape and each relied on the other to give meaning. Pure Symbiosis

Today, I do not have access to Shetland to continue to place laser cuts into abandoned croft house windows but I have done that already, photographed it, shown it and understood it.

Now, I only have digital files that stem from my original lace knitting CAD patterns. And I am placing them into Sheffield Institute of Art (SIA)

I looked around the SIA building, the stair wells, and corners at the working windows – mostly sash, and mostly aesthetically pleasing.  I even used a measure and made diagrams.  In Shetland there was no time for a measure of any sorts – not of windows or of place – I came across places and the site-specific work was entirely intuitive. It was placed quickly, in wind and gales and rain or snow.  Here lies a clear difference, I have the luxury of choice and measurement – though this may remove the rawness of the work.  

At SIA, location can be more considered than in Shetland.  The work can be left in situ at SIA and not blow away.  Consciously, I knew I wanted a window of great beauty, subconsciously, I wanted a window in a location with great foot fall.  I also considered the view that would be seen through the laser cuts. I wanted people to walk past and either look or not, to stop or not, to think about the laser cuts or not but I did want the work have ‘the option to be looked at’.  I didn’t want it hidden.

I chose this window on the half floor at Sheffield Institute of Art, between floors -2 and -1 from the reception to the studios and laser cutting rooms. A stair well of much foot fall.

I must admit, I put laser cut 1 and 2 up quickly because I had no permission and I felt nervous.  Nervous if I could be stopped, or asked what I was doing or, and this was the biggest thing, – was the work interesting enough and would it ‘work’ into this location.  Laser cut 3 went up – doing it felt good and I didn’t hide it but I could no longer reach to place the next row. At this point, I tried to enlist the support of Jim, a technician, who was obviously going to ask the question I had been avoiding – Who gave me permission to place this work in this window and had I had it covered by H&S?

So, now after the work has been checked and cleared by H&S, Jim placed 3 more panels and I am thinking of placing renegade work across the city and then in galleries.  New Goals. But for now, this window is my canvas. 

Happy Christmas.  Here’s to 2019 and new things that I don’t know exist yet.

What makes that one pure creative moment?

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I’ve unknowingly walked for almost two years to find this pure creative moment – Or, did this one pure moment draw me back to this derelict, abandoned croft house on the tiny island of Bressay to find me?  

Planning for the unplanned. 

This morning, I didn’t know that I was going to return to this place.  I was in Lerwick, it was sunny, I spontaneously caught the ferry for one last time over a seven-minute stretch of water between two islands. I instantly feel free, always standing on the steps of the ferry deck to watch the island of Bressay greet me.

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I walked left to right, my feet bringing me the long way around to a place I know well. In my back pack a tube with a roll of cut paper and no clear plan – just a creative desire to place the paper in the ‘right’ place.

Climbing the gate at the road side, I break in. Pushing the roped, iron gate, I break in to a place I know has been sold away from a family to a farmer who has made it into a barn. A two-roomed croft house, 8 strides by 4, that has seen births and deaths, and women waiting for men, and men coming home to a place that only towards the end of its lived-in life had running water.  Three windows, a long-gone porch, slate tiles strewn across the ground, roofless and now all traces of painted walls gone. A place I found in August 2016, returned to in April 2017 with a woman who had been born in it, to now – this day in May 2018.  It is not new to me but each experience is different.  

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Almost two years gone, the walls all turned to white chalky plaster – all traces of the family’s carefully stencilled wall paint in deep rust and yellow now gone.  But I saw it.  I remember it. I draw my hand across the wall. Seven seasons of weather putting an end to colour that I know was there.

Instantly, on being inside the roofless croft house, I feel at home. It’s sunny and breezy. The ever-present wind on the islands wraps itself around every minute of the day. I can hear it, feel it, see it.

No time to waste.  I don’t measure, don’t think, just empty my bag across the earth floor to unroll the paper and without much thought, hammer it with a rock and Shetland tacks in to place in the old window that still has glass in it.

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I step back to experience a purity so pin-sharp that I cannot breathe for one moment.   

This pure moment of creativity that speaks to me.

But the paper has been cut into by a two-year long story of my knitting and a search for authenticity. It also contains a technical skill not to be ignored

 

In reality, to the unseeing eye, it is a laser cut in tracing paper. But look to see, because for me it is not just paper.  The moment of placing the ‘fitting’ and fitted paper laser cut draws on every single thing that was leading to this moment.

No one else would have / could have felt this because it is my pure moment pulling on threads of two years ago selling a house to go to Uni at the age of 53, to learn something about myself that I already knew but had lost and to learn new skills and to understand resilience once again.

In placing that laser cut, I found myself in its authenticity – my authenticity.  A language of knitting lace stitches using a computer aided design simulation to create a fine paper laser cut which can rival any fine lace knitting.  It has skill, it has knowledge but more than that, I can hear all of the voices of my past from when an old man once said to me, “never sell these, Tracey, I had them during my grandiose period”  to a woman telling me only last week of her ‘grandmammy’ walking up the hill, using a knitting belt to knit and wearing a kishie on her back going to collect peats for the fire, to a man silenced for fifteen minutes in the wind, the ever present wind on these islands and of course, it is this physical place.

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It’s not just a paper cut. It holds a physical and emotional and philosophical journey, even.

But that one pure moment is a visible celebration and a testament of my repeatedly returning to a group of islands, learning the cultural climate, a landscape and how to get around in seasons on my own to a place that holds stories which I pick up and add to with the materiality of life.

It’s a celebration of all the knitters who have lived in these croft houses over generations and generations subsidising the small crofting income with a material craft and a skill that was given little value.  

Other people will read  it differently, on a different day, the light is different, the wind, the sounds, the movement. 

No one same moment can be pure for everyone. This moment is mine only because it is wrapped up in thinking about authenticity, heritage, time past, a woman standing in a doorway waiting for her man to come back from the sea. The pure moment is the placing of something that fits exactly in that space, without tensions and stays there in an elemental landscape until it blows away.

Like dirty paper.

 

I place the work, it becomes site-specific.  I feel it, document it, understand it and walk away – without looking over my shoulder.  Such a pure beautiful moment. 

With Thanks to Making Ways, Sheffield for enabling this trip to happen. And to Sue Turton for hours and hours of laser cutting. 

 

R&D part two – Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland

Day 2 and 3

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What happens on an R&D trip to ‘record oral histories’ is:

For weeks running up to leaving – there are endless thoughts and ideas and planning

2 days before leaving for the trip, there’s overwhelming excitement

1 day before leaving for the trip, I become subdued

2 days of traveling, to the very end of the furthest island of our country

On arrival, I feel an urgency to get things done.  Then a slow realisation that time moves differently, so I roam the locality  – getting a ‘feel’ of the place.

2 days into the trip and I get the chance to meet the person I have been contacting who is my ‘hope’.

The meeting is tagged onto the end of a visiting tour group talk – it’s practical to do so – after all, it is 10 miles from home to the Heritage Centre. I have zero idea of how anything will go at this initial meeting – if we’ll get on, if I’ll be able to ask questions and – exactly what questions, for that matter?

We meet. Formalities are covered – ethics forms – respect and conduct from both parties.

I have to cover so much ground in so little time which encompasses: meeting someone new (for us both), judging the way the conversation is going – not steering or guiding it but by being natural and building trust.

Then, the whole day turns out to be a gift – a joy, because we become instant friends and trust / respect is the base – born out of two years of learning, researching in practice and theory to get to this place and person.

We nip to the tea room for lunch ‘The’ wedding is on the TV which is propped on top of a chair on the counter – The most northerly tea shop in the UK is heaving with people watching it – broadcast from sunny London. She walks around the tea room greeting most people – everyone knows everyone here, or they soon will.

I am invited to her home, the local area, she freely drives us around, offers tea and parkin and shows me Ham Beach, a place of great beauty surrounded by derelict crofts and an old fishing station house. We talk about endless topics and 6 hours flies by. She is incredibly generous of spirit and I hope to match that. There’s the offer of another meeting, a dictaphone recording and, I don’t entirely recognise the significance of it all but I am aware of understanding context and being here and a good woman willing to talk to me about her ancestors and I’m grateful.

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I go back to the hostel and listen to the recordings of her over and over again. The recordings lead to ideas. There are snippets which already develop my understanding of this place and what it was to be a knitter here in the early 1900’s.

I tried not to talk when she was talking but the conversation would have stopped. It is not about what I have to say but about what she says and, on my part, listening. Really listening.

Day Two

I dip at the magnitude of all of this that I have set out to do. Technical skills development on the road with a camera that isn’t mine and a Dictaphone I can’t switch on. The tripod is heavy and I don’t know the equipment well enough for it not to be a noticeable part of the conversation.

I dip because I want to record, film, write, make site specific work, FIND the right place, the right location to set up my work, to research its history, to feel the life that was, I need time to find the right ‘knitters ’ that live here now, read the censuses of knitters past, film everything with a camera that is neither mine nor I’m used to, record sound without the ever present wind, get from A – B in long distances on a bike, get people to trust me and all in 10 days – 2 already gone, I am dipping fast at the daunting prospect of it all. Will there be enough time, will I capture what I hope, will I achieve what I set to do in the R&D application. Critically evaluating before I have even started isn’t a good way forward.

On the third morning, I learn the Dictaphone whilst walking along the road down to Norwick beach. I record myself until I understand the stages of the recording facility – Record, talk, listen, delete over and over until I get it. I hear the background noises through the headphones and more ideas for recording come to me. Ambient sounds. Sheep, lambs bleating, sea gulls, the sea, other birds I don’t know, lapping water at a mill, the wind, always the wind.

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On returning, I discuss the hideous bike booking system with the hostel manager – 3 hours later, I get a bike. On a Sunday afternoon, the sun comes out – my life changes again.

Burrafirth

I bike towards Burrafirth but there are no signs to show when I’ve arrived. There’s just a spectacular beach in an inaccessible cove, a 3-mast ship sitting on the surface of the crystal sea and a croft house, visible from the road, with initially what seems to be some of the plus points that make it work for my site-specific work.

What I know works for site specific art

1. roofless croft house (good light)

2. 2 rooms, a barn and a byre

3. Windows and door still in the structure

4. Sea view

5. Remnants of a past life are like jewels

• Fire place / wood around a window

• Door intact / paint on anything -this

disappears over time

The derelict croft house on the hill is instantly perfect, two windows without glass, an open porch, a doorway, the most magnificent view and as I walk up the hill, it has ‘a crowning glory’.   Sitting like a rusty jewel in the roofless porch is a dulled pea green enamelled, rusted and stoic looking little ‘prairie’ stove. It’s perfect because it has a visible history and I can work in it and place lace or laser cuts at the windows – not for decoration but as a testament to and a celebration of the generations of knitters who once lived in this tiny two roomed place, miles from anywhere. I initially fail to recognise that this is Stack houll, – a croft house that I had earmarked two days earlier in the heritage centre when reading the censuses. There was a drawing and a photo of it from the 80’s -its porch standing proudly along with lists of knitters ‘by occupation’ living there since the mid 1800’s.

I take photos, feel the core of the place, the stove, the view, the nails in the wall, the low barn doorway. The wind wildly flapping anything flappable, fabric lace snags on every nail, stone, splinter and I make a good start. I pack up knowing that I will return. As I’m leaving this isolated place, a car pulls up onto the grass verge by the road. In all the moments, in all the day, in all the places possible and not possible – by chance, it is Rhoda. I meet her at the roadside and we return to Stack houll together. She’s come for the very first time herself. I follow her around with the dictaphone – hardly daring to speak – in the hope of capturing her joy of meeting this amazing place. She talks of her mother getting ‘the watter in’ her croft house when she was first married. No one had water in the house until the 50’s here. Then Rhoda, like me, stood at the door and wondered how many women had stood there before us looking out to sea to see if they could see the men returning from deep sea fishing.

Some, never returned.

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Unst – R&D trip – part one

 

18 May, Saxa Vord, Unst, Shetland.  Day one. 

 

 

 

At 4:20am, I’m woken by an American guy banging cupboard doors in the communal kitchen which is opposite to my room, at the hostel. No chance of returning to sleep.  A great ball of bright sun sitting on the window sill which is faces East, illuminates the room as if it’s mid-day.   The Simmer Dim is almost fully upon Shetland. The time of year when there is hardly any darkness – only daylight and half-light.

My mind goes over previous conversations / words / unspoken words –  Will this R&D trip work? Work for me? The funders? As a project development? For my Creative practice development?  I’m putting pressure on myself to deliver when R&D should be calm.

What does it mean to make this trip work?   Is it for me or for the funders that I am thinking of?  I’m aware that it is both.

It’s a learning curve and I’m on the edge of my comfort zone – a place I frequently put myself because I feel really connected to life and living.  I once heard – ‘ Life begins at the End of our Comfort Zone’ and I agree with that notion. Keep learning, keep trying, keep taking risks because it brings challenges and surprises –  if you do nothing, nothing happens.

So, I get up at 5am which equates to 4 ½ hours sleep but Norwick Beach is calling, I can hear the sea almost a mile away.

 

 

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Vod (Vod, an adjective meaning an unoccupied, empty place) derelict Croft houses lie littered across the landscape as misshapen pebbles and boulders across a beach. The old, falling-down places have interested me since my first visit to Shetland over two years ago – they have become the focal point of my research in Shetland lace knitting, women’s craft, authenticity, heritage and of my site-specific work whereby I place my own designed textiles and paper laser cuts into the old croft houses.  (The original site of inspiration)

 

The houses interest me because I can feel the life that has once been lived there.  It’s written across the walls, or by something left behind, or a paint colour still present on a door. On more than one occasion, I’ve stood in an old doorway, without a door or looked out of a window without glass and looked towards the sea, knowing that countless generations of women that have lived in these places all over the North islands will have done the same thing – they would have looked seaward but they could have been waiting for their men to come back from deep sea fishing – sometimes waiting until all hope of their return disappeared.

 

 

I have been in many derelict croft houses in many different weather situations over the past two years toing and froing.  So much so,  that I am able to sense the being of a place that once was a home – now abandoned and falling down but, the more I learn, the less I seem to know, though, my intuition is good.

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Oral Histories:

I thought we would meet instantly, on the first day – myself with the kind, honest woman who is going to tell me stories of her female ancestors who lived on the Island of Unst – most famous for its long and renowned lace knitting and fine yarn spinning history.

But, we will meet tomorrow.

Time moves at a different pace here on Unst.  Today is for learning the local area and for visiting the Heritage Centre to build relationships in the hope that I might be able to record oral histories of the knitters still living here.

 

I have never before been able to reach this most northerly tiny island just 12 miles long.  But, I do know about the authenticity of lace knitting here and the croft houses that were lived in by knitters who subsidised the family income and I do know about the truck and barter system, of old knitted spenser vests and their patterns, of kishies used for carrying peats for the fire and many more details.  I know enough of the life here to feel comfortable in any situation with any person from building up an understanding from previous visits in Winter, spring, late Autumn but never in May and by being respectful of this place and its heritage, I hope to build stronger relationships.

I have been funded by a Making Ways, R&D Grant to travel to this most northerly Island of the British Isles – Unst Shetland, to continue to experiment placing new work in to derelict croft houses in different light conditions to create photographic site-specific work which is different to the work that I had created on previous visits, and to interview the women who keep the origin of heritage lace knitting alive at the specialist Heritage Centre in Unst.

This trip is about not being afraid and really embracing who I am, what my work is about and what I can achieve to develop my practice further.

 

On the way to Norwick beach, I go over and over what I want to do and the conversations that I have already had, whilst trying to learn how to use a fairly sophisticated borrowed Dictaphone from the university.

This time is a precious gift and I’ll not waste it.

My thoughts turn to the vod croft houses which are in different stages of dereliction.  Some scare me – if they have their roofs on, they’re dark, dank places that are rotting, if they have had no roof for many many years, the shells of the places are very beautiful and some have treasures – like a fire place, or wood in the windows or even a stove. Initially, I just liked everyone of them but now, I’m more discerning. I fall in love with a few instantly and that love grows on return trips. Then, I start finding out who lived in the tiny house – either by researching censuses or contacting heritage trusts and if I am lucky, someone will get back to me to say that they had been born in that tiny croft house, as with the one in Bressay.

 

A prize vod croft house for me will face the sea, without a roof, with a porch, or stone wall surrounding the place but best are with traces of a past – either paint or door or even a nail in a wall.  These are the things that draw me in.  Then I sit with the place, take in the view, feel the fabric of the building – look at the stones used to build the place and wonder how they were carried to a place high on a hill without a track or a road to the door.

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Thank you to Making Ways, Sheffield for supporting this Research and Development Trip.

 

‘Vod’ an unoccupied, empty place.

I am a Contemporary artist who works with textiles and photography.  I am also a knitter – sometimes a pretty good one.  And, I suppose I’m a designer of contemporary lace knit.

Recently, I took my knitting, which is fine lace knit,  back to the place of original inspiration, which, for my current project is Shetland.  I take the lace back to a found derelict croft – a home where knitting certainly would have taken place and lace could have also once been knitted there. The project is called ‘Vod’ which is a Shetland word for Unoccupied / Empty place.

Shetland has many derelict crofts, sometimes quite plain and simple, sometimes with a yard and gate, some with modifications such as a lean-to toilet room but always, they are deeply moving. There’s something powerful in the traces that can be seen of what  once was, their remoteness and their outlook. They all have a soul.  It’s compelling to stand and look out of a derelict croft house window.

It is mostly in the window that I place my work. Sometimes across a door

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The more crofts that I found in Bressay and Burra and worked in, the more I looked out of the windows and wondered how many women had looked out of that same window, waiting for husbands to return or for kids to come home and that was when I began to really get interested in the social history of the places and the women who had once knitted there.  Below are some of the archive images of women knitting by crofts, which are from Shetland Museum.

My practice began to explore particular social and political narratives of place and values of material production embedded in place/s.  Once I found the crofts, I began to research how the women were paid for their knitting and came to learn about the truck and barter system.  I long to hear Shetland women tell stories of their ancestors’ home life and history and this is why I want to go to Unst – the most northerly isle in the British Isles – parallel to Norway and below Iceland on the map. It is the home of Shetland lace knitting.  I’ll spend time in the Unst Heritage Centre and cycle around the small Island, taking in the surroundings. 

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Almost two years ago, when I started my part time MA at NTU, I was firstly inspired by Shetland knitted lace and my research was initially about the textiles only – how the lace was knitted and the motifs in it.  Over the last two years and over five subsequent visits to Shetland,  I have become more interested in the women who made the fine Shetland lace and how and where they lived, often in remote and extreme conditions. Learning this, and finding these places, developed a deeper understanding of the social and cultural context of lace knitting in Shetland. To express my respect for and love of Shetland lace and the homes once lived in and the knitters themselves, I respond to place and its associated narrative histories – in particular woman’s material and conceptual histories of creative practice.

There is a sublime energy in the derelict crofts coupled with the energy of a my contemporary take on lace knitting placed back into a abandoned building which creates a third energy – the site specific work itself.  I hope that my latest Site specific work has integrity, authenticity and soul.  The symbiotic relationship between my lace knit or lace engravings coupled with placing the work into derelict crofts,  is an act which produces contemporary art that speaks of place, time, culture, textiles, struggle, hardship and past lives.

I’m lucky enough to be returning to Shetland to finish ‘Vod’ and I hope to interview and record the oral histories of knitting and crofting from the women at the specialist Heritage Centre in Unst. These women keep the origin of heritage lace knitting alive. I want to respond to their stories by making a textile and photographic site-specific work around their stories and creative practice on Unst. I have not been able to reach Unst on my previous visits to Shetland due to Winter, ferry crossing availability or non-availability of space to cross the sea between the islands, availability of day light (5 in the Winter) and the closure of the Heritage Centre between October and the beginning of May.  I have not previously recorded oral histories and this is the only place where the lace stories originate.  Unst is 60 degrees North and I learned from my son today, who will be filming in the most Northern part of Norway in March, that there are only 90 degrees, then you are at the Arctic.

The reason that I can return to Shetland is that I have been awarded an R&D grant to research the stories of the knitters, their lives and to look at the knitting itself and to work in derelict crofts, this time, with the permission of the owners to hopefully arrange a pop up  installation in a derelict croft, around the Bank holiday weekend at the end of May. I will invite local artists, knitters and crofters for tea and cake and to look at the  work that has grown out of this body of this project  that has taken me a year and a half in the making

The Research and Development work in Shetland, is called ‘Vod’ – an unoccupied, empty place.

Thanks to Making Ways, Sheffield  for supporting this R&D trip and for supporting the development of my creative practice.

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The 8:55am link bus leaves Scalloway in the half light.  It waits at the first stop in case there are any passengers from the Lerwick link.  There is only one body on that bus and he doesn’t leave it. 

The link bus travels through Trondra towards Hamnavoe. I have an aim but first, I must see if there is snow on Meal Beach.  The 300metre path to the beach leaves high from the road and descends gradually. It is peppered in polystyrene type, small, snow balls. Hard, small hail stones over a thin salt like snow. Meal Beach lies below – a perfect crescent of sand and, as if in a wish, it is covered in snow.  How often do you get to walk on sand covered in snow with the roaring sea backing off in waves of perfect blue? Until arriving in Hamnavoe, the sun has not been seen for over a week.

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I only have an hour and a quarter before the bus will arrive from its round trip journey down to Houss, so I take in the sea view then leave, returning up the small path to the corner of the road, high on the hill, by the old tiny church, over looking the beach to a small croft house that lost its roof in the winter of 1993.  There’s very little left but it’s a fine place.  When I  encounter this building, all structure falls away and I actually meet the being of the place. If all components are right, a deep feeling of connection greets me immediately – something way beyond intellect or reason or history or architecture. What comes to greet me is purely intuitive. I look and really see the place, every detail and if I am lucky, for a few seconds or even minutes, time stands still and I am able to capture something by fluke or will. 

I place something in the croft, always in a window – either a lace knitted curtain or an engraving on aged paper or a laser cut of my lace patterns.  I’ve tried to figure out why I need to do this. It’s an urge that needs to been seen through by travelling 8 hours on two trains to get from Yorkshire to catch a 14 hour ferry from Aberdeen that can make me sick then a journey from Lerwick to a tiny Booth built into the sea in Scalloway.  And all the recent constant bad weather and a storm and power cut then an evacuation back to Lerwick for a night,  to return to Scalloway to catch a tiny link bus, miles and hours from the place I come from  in Yorkshire to a place that until today, I didn’t know existed.  There’s something special seen through a croft’s broken window that has probably not been looked out of for over 20 years. The grass surrounding the place has grown in to over knee high tufts, wind-swept into Icelandic-like grass mounds where my feet leave traces – What is it this urge to find a far off place and leave art?

 

I place the work, stand still, wait and if I am really lucky, all of my learning and thinking and knitting and talking and creative spirit comes together in that one moment and I am able to capture something of a world, partly created by me but joining with location, time, season, light, home, architecture, time lost, history and this present moment.   It’s freezing, it’s sleeting, my hand is red raw from being gloveless but that moment arrives.   It’s rich in colour – a celebration of something past and something living.  Each place has its own colour palette. 

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In that instant, how I relate to this place is a real poetic encounter. And sometimes, it goes further than that, getting a sense of the wholeness of time comes into focus. And I become totally aware.  So much energy and effort in making the knitted lace-work that all of those energies become concentrated in the croft at that moment and symbolise all the different aspects of women knitting, crofting, working, home – call it nostalgia or rose tinted glasses or history itself but this is the core of this arm of my creative work.

I’m knitting stories. At this moment of the coming together of all the components, the lace that I have made that was initially inspired by Shetland lace patterns has merely becomes the bi product of an art practice. An emotional, poetic, living encounter. A long travelled road to arrive here. 

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