Leave No Trace, Shetland

Place of return

At every visit to Shetland over the past 4 years, I always take time to return to an isolated, derelict, lonely croft house on Bressay where I respectfully and quietly develop a creative practice that speaks to me of connections and belonging. 

The deterioration of this 2 roomed croft house has been logged since I first saw hand stencilled flowers painted across the walls at waist height in 2015.  The last family who lived in this small home painted those flowers but now they are gone.  The croft house may be small in size but I have spoken to a woman who was born there, as were her brothers and sisters and her mother and her own children.  It was her grandmother’s house and I heard of three generations of women who went home to give birth to their children there.

march 2017

Because I know this, I hear the sounds in the plaster on the walls that is now, year by year, disappearing away down to the stone fabric of the build. 

For weeks before returning this time, I had made preparation for my reunion with the shell of a house, by making it a gift of hand-block printed wallpaper with a Shetland Bird’s eye and a Brother / Sister lace design.  This wallpaper has been a couple of years in the making from learning CAD knit to using the stitch pattern to create a laser etched rubber stamp to print the design.   Material process and practice led research has always been the core of the development of my art practice.  I have long questioned – is it craft or art and is it relevant today a Contemporary Art arena in a time of changing families, fragmented families, home life, belonging, gendered women’s domestic craft of knitting and narratives of those women.  

The world is speedily changing and what can we say through art that will make a difference to someone for a moment to stop and think and feel.

Last week, on my first day back on Shetland, I nipped to see the derelict croft house.  As I was rounding the corner on the hill, my pace and heart quickened at what sight may greet me as it had been 15 months and a cycle of 7 raw weather seasons each taking its toll on the exposed walls since my last visit.   I hoped the house would be standing proudly as before which it was.   It felt like meeting an old friend.  Returning to make work here is not a safe option.  It feels as if I am breaking and entering, although the house has no roof and takes the label of ‘barn’.   I know it was a loving family home that just happens to be falling down on farm land which is owned by another person.  I visit it like an old relative. I look forward to first sight of out and in. Each year, I notice change.

On Tuesday, I returned again. This time, I carried the wallpaper, paste, brushes and measure to wallpaper around a window that I know so well. I had a hope of making creative work that spoke of belonging and connection to place and women’s domestic craft of knitting, maybe something of my own personal journey to this point.  

I measured, sized the walls, and hung the strips of paper on crumbling plaster in the hope of creating something that touched on the embedded experiences I had during the making process.   A connection of past and present. I’m interested what other people see.  My critical eye firstly noted that the water based ink ran when touched by water based glue, and that the design would have probably looked better with one style of lace pattern and at best it could be described as imperfect and at its worst – well, you can only say but actually, on a practice led research level, the piece did work because in the right place, with the right print, I know I can create a piece of work that does speak of belonging.

After I stepped back from it, I recorded my initial responses and photographed the work then I pulled the paper off the wall, folded it and took it away for the bin back in Lerwick and Left No Trace.

leave no trace

Leave no trace, only record the moment of a coming together of a conceptual and expressive property which remains personal.  What is this work – is it Art? Textile art? Ethnography? Materiality? Am I telling stories? Am I making stories?  I’m trying to understand it in a way in which textile materials and techniques are expressed in contemporary site-specific art in order to tell a story.

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.

Embodiment

To craft something that has taken a journey of almost one year incorporating everything from the ill-tempered, sleeping cat that lies by my side as I write this piece to the deeply difficult-to-learn (for me)  digital CAD knit design, to make a lace knitted piece that I never knew could exist an academic year ago, is a good place to be.

Is it craft?

If, as written by Louise Valentine in the paper ‘Craft as a form of Mindful Inquiry’ is the case, then, I feel entirely relieved.

‘On reflection of the intellectual and social meanings of craft practice, craft is often misunderstood as skilful making. The notion of craft as a concern for innovation, individual vision and future cultural concerns: a fusion of art, science, engineering and technology, is uncommon’

The relief is born from realising my knitted pieces are craft in the sense of a fusion, a journey of enquiry and perpetual activity, not as skilful making.   Because, the result would be denied as skill by many.   The knitted pieces look to ‘hold skill’ but don’t look quite skilful because they are messy and ill fitting.  It is uncommon to consider the fusion of knitting and technology as craft but the outcome can be.

DSCN3964

How to make messy – attractive?

The lace trousers are the embodiment of my practice to date. Each loop and knot and lace hole contains all that I have seen and felt in Shetland over the last two years – they are possibly my most intellectual activity to date but not the most attractive or practical. To make these trousers, unbeknown to me at the beginning, I navigated through the naivety of an idea (to make a tube of lace into sculptural trousers)  through basic technical mastery of a software package (CAD), to develop an art practice that shows not tells.   My thinking process was knocked and shaped by software and ideas whereby I gained an awareness and understanding of practical things to take forward such as drape, tension, size, linking, mirroring stitch patterns, and finishes. My initial aim was not trousers but to learn the software and to power knit machine lace. The trousers grew out of trial and error.

But really, the joy that has come far outweighs the practical learning.  My joy in holding something that I have made which has drawn on stitch patterns developed from what I saw in the lace cabinets in The Shetland Museum and the Bod of Gremista.  This joy far outweighs the acquired technical knowledge to get to this point.

The technical knowledge I can take away, the embodiment is within.

Hours of looking, seeing, sensing have gone into this small, slightly unattractive piece of wrongly shaped knitting, which now is the start of my second year as a part time student at NTU for a discourse for craft and mindful inquiry.   The lace trousers are currently my ‘capacity to synthesize and integrate information’

Exploration in knit design is, for me,  a dance with an unfolding imagination.  To dance needs time and space.

I will be undertaking an Artist Residency at The Booth in Scalloway – December 2017, surely, I will be dancing with time and imagination.

The tacit knowledge in a piece of broken knitting.

The final week of the first year of my part-time MA at NTU is drawing near and what have I learned?

More than that, what have I felt?

On a technical level, I have learned measurable things: how to use Digital CAD knit to a level where can design lace knit – maybe that’s the only measurable thing. (and maybe linking – but badly)

But from the perspective of just soaking in the atmosphere and feeling my way, I’ve taken leaps and bounds from that first day in Sept 2016. 

I arrived at Uni only being able to hand knit now I can see a future in my knitting that is beyond what I thought possible or considered and that is to make knitted lace – it’s as simple as that but what goes into that making isn’t simple at all. I suppose that this year, I have been working from accidental results and prototypes built from flawed outcomes from the digital CAD and power knit, but that’s also not the result.  Flawed endings are not a result. There may be a broken piece of power knit in front of me but it has a heart and a soul and a back story and here lies the unmeasurable learning.broken lace samples

To look at a broken piece of knitting with vision and joy is or has been the task of my countless attempts at trying  to knit lace – perfection was never an aim (but only when it seemed so risk ridden). The birth of my broken power knit samples involved multiple journeys to Shetland, taking in the light and the landscape and language, looking at traditional hand-knitted fine Shetland shawls in the Shetland museums, spending hours figuring out how the lace patterns are made and translating that into digital CAD designs, graphing lace patterns out in knit language that I had to learn,  then digitally positioning them to make an altogether knitted piece that is aesthetically pleasing in a number of yarns (some of which have been brought to the machine by contacting sponsors – some from the yarn bin at Uni – none purchased) stretching, pulling, steaming the pieces to flatten dishcloth shapes with holes in – sometimes unwelcome holes which were caringly darned to save the piece. Some pieces involved designing a garment shape and positioning the tried and tested lace patterns within the boundaries of the ever moving edges or mirroring, chevroning and altering patterns.  Why, then, are there still holes and errors? If I love it and have developed it to a sort of visual simulated perfection – then why does it still have broken areas – ah, take-down, tension, bent needles, programming, yarn waxing, yarn breakage, doubling up, single thread, finding something suitable. And why, then, is it still a bit broken – never mind, I’ll embrace the broken bit by darning into it. What? Darning? Dutch darning, boro darning – regular sock darning – it’s all in there in this broken piece of knitting that we will call unique’

darning2

So, I look at the unique piece of knitting with joy and vision.

and, the latest samples are also intriguing  –  The gauge is too wide, the fairisle is like lace – nnoooo, it’s just like the drawn line.  It has a pencil line quality – that’s what it is. it’s quite beautiful in its looseness. The fairisle is like a loose pencil drawing. It’s not knitting at all – and I can see how it will look in a garment.

fairisleand lace 3

 

When I look over my shoulder, I am pulling a faint thread of invisible yarn from Jamieson & Smith in Lerwick, Shetland to here in Nottingham to attach it to a power knit machine that I never knew existed 10 months ago, and I can (at last)  see the journey that I have travelled.

 

 

 

 

Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty Series.

Bressay

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