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. 

 

‘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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Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty Series.

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This body of Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty is a collaboration between the relationship of Process and the interface of place, travel, memory, history, tradition, language, people and returning. Fundamentally, I am interested in the creative process of knitting to explore and articulate memories and tracing journeys.   Knitting and returning, create the platform for the final work in a site-specific image, film and soundbite.

Journey

I initially found Shetland when traveling to Lerwick to learn traditional Fair Isle knitting techniques. But, the islands’ rich landscape and raw beauty completely drew me in.  I began to wander away from the stationary act of knitting to take hikes across the small islands. Now, the two acts are intrinsically brought together in images.

The more precise Artistic Impression is, the more real it seems and the freeer it feels – Lee Ufan – The Art of Encounter

 

Since my first visit, I have returned and built relationships both with people and with the landscape, both of which I found through spending time living a connected life with the surroundings. The purpose of my trip and residency in Scalloway in December 2017, is to continue to take site specific photographs of my knitted lace to evoke a quietness and stillness, yet express an energy that is about a real truth of living.  The locations that I have chosen to install my work are derelict and abandoned croft houses.  The images are as much about showing a place for what it is and for what it is not as about the knitted lace.  I’m drawn into the houses because they are full of the unexpected.  There are signs of the lives that have lived in these abandoned places with their insides open to the outside without roof or protections. I find walls with the imprint of the people who once lived and loved there and made a home. I look out of windows that look onto raw beauty that must have been a hard existence.  The architecture is quiet and simple with a sense of dignity. DSCN3527.JPG

I never snap the photographs – they are constantly deeply rooted in narrative. I try to get one good photograph a day – and that’s a good day.

In order to make the image, I connect completely with my surroundings – it could be that my hand traces the decaying croft walls where the palimpsest is so deeply felt through touch that I can feel what the life may have been like.

The Interrupted paint on walls, the hand cut stone slabs outside the front door to keep a skirt hem from getting muddy or a small, deeply inset window where a woman used to wait, the click of a latch will all narrate the image.

These are places of impermanence. They’re places that change every day over time.

Process – Conjuncture

Initially, the history of Shetland knitting began to excite me in the simplest terms of Fair Isle design and colour.  I experimented at home in Yorkshire but the knitting became a true art form when I travelled to Lerwick in order to fill my knitting colour palette with colour made and sold in Shetland.

It is only now that I realise that the act of finding a place and building relationships through the process of knitting is crucial to my work. In fact, it is the work.

I wanted to knit a feeling, so I bring these relationships of memory, travel, conversations and place into the process of my knitting.

Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty is born out of a new relationship and fascination with Shetland Lace. My initial inspiration was a 1970’s lace knitted cardigan bought from a charity shop and owned by a friend. I trawled the library in Lerwick for information on traditional lace designs and patterns but I couldn’t find either, so I sat on the floor of her old Sea Captain’s house that overlooked the harbour in Lerwick and mapped out the old cardigan in a combination of patterns and rows to try to remake what I had seen.

This was not art but a process to understand lace knit structures. This understanding fed an appetite to learn more and led me onto researching traditional Shetland lace in the museums across the Shetland. All of the lace shawls are perfectly and beautifully knitted by skilled and experience hands.  The knitter had taken months to spin the wool, knit the shawl, make it pure white, then dress and stretch it into perfection to show every lace pattern to its best.

These shawls are all original to the maker. There are no two the same. They’re grown from a desire to make something exquisitely beautiful that, at the time of making, was sellable. I’m sure that the only aim was not just to make a sellable item but to show off a difficult skill to perfection with pride.  These fine shawls were not worn by the women of Shetland who made them but were made by them to supplement their crofting income.

Through my MA, I had a desire to experiment and make CAD machine knitted Shetland inspired, lace fabric. This is not an easy process and, since there were errors in the knitting results, I completely accepted the flaws as part of the piece.  I have developed lace patterns for Power Knit machines using Computer Aided Design. Each piece of work is unique and bespoke but inevitably subject to the conjuncture of design and process which often results in a flawed knit.   Even with imperfections, the work is still very beautiful and surprising.  In fact, I have capitalised on the flaws in the lace knitted fabric and use these errors to darn into – make the piece strong, make visible, add another layer, make a story, keep the piece alive.  On a practical level, I don’t want to waste the knitted fabric, not in a political, austere mend and make do way but out of pure gratitude that I have made something worth looking at, at all.  This is not the only reason I keep the flawed knitting – it has become another narrative in the work. When a broken piece of knitting drops from the Power knit machine at NTU, I reflect on both the designing and the knitting process to try to understand technically why it did not knit perfectly, did I want it to be perfect, what is its value.

The first time a ragged, puckered, broken, torn piece of lace knit dropped from the power knit machine at Uni, I picked it up and instantly saw a ragged lace curtain that had been hanging at a broken croft house window for years until it was shreds. And this is one of the reasons of why I returned to Shetland with my knitted lace curtains – a relationship between process and place and tradition.

 

Tracey Doxey – Studying an MA in Fashion, Textiles, Knit at Nottingham Trent University

Residency in The Booth, Scalloway, December 2017

Lace curtain on tour.

PROCESS

Eventually, after some time, I designed a lace curtain that was entirely inspired and touched by Shetland. Couched within the design are memories from all of my previous visits. I was hoping to capture the essence of the landscape, language, tradition, and the people that I have met.

It’s not just a lace curtain.

This week, the curtain is on tour visiting old derelict croft houses.  There was always one particular croft house in my mind.  Last August, whilst walking across Bressay to catch the rubber dingy to Noss, I came across a derelict croft house with its roof only recently removed and the slate tiles scattered across the ground. Inside the traces of the people’s lives were visible across the walls in layers of flaking previously-lovingly designed patterns in paint. I fell in love with the place and imagined how the woman of the house had looked out of the small square windows waiting for family to come home.

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RETURN / TIMING

About a month ago, I contacted Shetland Amenity Trust to see if they knew who had lived in the small 2 roomed croft house, they forwarded my email on to Bressay Heritage Trust and last week a lady emailed me to say that she was born in the croft house and it had been in her mother’s family for over 100 years. I was so moved by this email that I quite tearful and had a vision of what it would be like to meet this lady and listen to her stories. We arranged to meet today and in celebration of the house and lives lived there and the walls and paint marks and all the things that had inspired me, I made a laser cut in the one of my lace designs to hang on the croft house wall and leave behind.

Now, there’s one flaw with visualising what might happen when you’re wearing rose tinted glasses.  It’s mostly a one-sided, personal made-up fairy story where you don’t quite figure the other person or their thoughts and wants into the equation. The croft has been ravaged by the last winter and the walls have no trace now of the beautiful floral border design. It seemed smaller than I remembered and had been gated off.

I did briefly hang the laser cut on the inside wall on an old nail painted green then I gave it to the lady who had been born in the croft house and we looked at her photographs. she didn’t want to go inside.  I am completely grateful to her for taking the time to meet me.  It was really kind of her – she is warm, honest and open – characteristics I find in Shetlanders all over the islands.

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It was not the right time or place to hang my curtain in this croft but I have hung it in other croft houses.

The Shetland lace curtain is one of three pieces that were made a few weeks ago leaving enough time to darn into any of the ‘natural’ breakages before bringing it to Lerwick.  ‘Natural breakages’ meaning the errors that may or may not occur when knitting lace on a power knit machine. Right from the beginning, I have embraced these ‘natural’ errors in the knit by using the holes to darn into. The darning keeps the piece alive and adds another layer – another story. Each of the 3 curtains that were knitted on that day came out with the same errors – largish gaping holes down the left side. I designed the lace in CAD and they were knitted on the Shima at Uni and darned with a connection to the memory of an interior wall in a derelict croft house in Bressay that we didn’t return to.

 

I was hoping to capture the energy and the strength of Shetland in one image.

I have made a start.

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