Tell us a bit about your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?
I have a couple of elements to my practice. One is an investigative thread, using making and curating to examine process and (mostly) everyday objects: how we design, make, use and remake them. As well as (re)making things this also often results in me writing – I am interested in the parallels between making writing and making objects.
I also hand make jewellery, and other sculptural objects (eg, Monkey Necklace (2013)) from reclaimed materials. This gives me space to work with colour, materials and structure in a way that I enjoy.
I roll between these two elements, working on parallel projects. Both elements fulfil my creative needs, practice and feed each other in different ways.
Milk Jug, 2016
My practice is rooted in sustainability, hand-making and a sense of play. I try to incorporate ideas from feminism, social engagement and direct action to make works which tactually explore everyday experience and narrative patinas - use, repair, and memory. I seek materials that initially seem past their best: tatty jumpers, broken ceramics, fabric remnants.
Inspired by consumption and discard practices, the pre-used and pre-loved, I simultaneously embed, show and hide narrative. I hand-craft detail with stitching, printing, cutting, joining, fixing and beading techniques; my interventions re-story the familiar, and reconstruct the forgotten.
Often in your work the mending doesn't return the object back to its original state, tell us a bit more about the act of making the mend visible, disruptive or even 'ruinous'.
I’ve been exploring mending since 2012, and it is such an exciting discipline, constantly expanding and changing. When I mend, I seek to explore and move the object forward. I am aware of myself as an interventionist in the object and as part of its ongoing narrative. I find it slightly contradictory to try to mend something back to its original self, as it can never be that, so, for me, visibility is important – a deliberately visible mend makes a statement about ‘can do’, politics and choices. The disruption comes from going against cultural norms or expectations – it’s environmentally conscious and an anti-consumption statement, and it also constitutes a visual disruption – a visible mend interrupts what we expect to see.
Occasionally this is ruinous, although I use that word with my tongue in my cheek. My mends can ruin the objects chances of being used in the way it was originally intended. However, through making and exhibiting my mended objects, the object’s life story takes a different, unexpected turn – it becomes a craft object rather than part of landfill.
MEND MORE jumper, 2015
I saw that you describe yourself as an 'activist designer' on your profile, tell us a bit more about this, and the ways your objects/artworks fulfil this function. In what ways do the objects become active?
My activism manifests in several ways, expanding on my studio practice and moving into other spaces. In order to do this I sometimes have to think of my practice less materially and more as a series of actions.
For example, in early 2015 I co-curated an exhibition, The Department of Repair in the public gallery at Camberwell College of Arts. This included a series of free workshops with skilled repairers and some carefully selected objects that demonstrated different approaches to repair. We advertised this widely and lots of people attended the workshops and the exhibition. This helped to spread the idea that repair is something we can do, as well as possibly being something we should do. By looking at repair as part of the ongoing life of an object, we opened it up and included the process of repair as part of making.
The Department of Repair, 2015
Another activist element of my practice is that I co-organise Hackney Fixers events to take repairers to community centers and libraries. This helps include in the current repair discourse those most hit by austerity measures. The togetherness this direct action creates is “social motivation” for my activism (Portwood-Stacer, 2013), through which I am made to reassess my ‘makerly’ privileges: we repair not just beautiful, treasured objects but also essential, everyday things. The outcomes of collaborative and/or participative work - although somewhat recorded in my objects (eg, Learning Cardigan, 2014) - is mostly captured in objects that belong to others: meaning that I, as maker, must see my practice here as one that purposefully shares repair skills and the associated discourse.
Lastly, to contribute to repair practices in a way other than repair-making, I made MEND MORE Jumper (2015), as a placard for the 2015 Climate March. Here, my activism is simultaneously disobedient to dominant consumer cultures and “autonomously obedient” to my principles (Fromm, 1981). It also draws on the history of craft being used to highlight injustices; handwork as political stance; and questions hierarchies through subversive stitch-work (Parker, 2010). MEND MORE Jumper clearly states my agenda: its non-preciousness enabling portability, its portability facilitating visibility of its slogans, which challenge dominant practices and ‘vocalise’ my activism.
Works like FORMbowl and 3D Print Plate use contemporary methods to make the mend – what attracts you to these type of materials and techniques? What impact do they have on your design?
The circular and iterative nature of making, remaking and materials are really important to me, as is experimenting with new materials / methods. FORMcard gives us the chance to play with plastic as a hand mouldable and reusable material. FORMbowl was the most effective of my attempts to use FORMcard to mend ceramics, and is a visual conversation between two, arguably equally precious, materials, both used for table-wares and often taken for granted in a throw-away society.
3D Print Plate, 2016
3D print plate was a challenge to myself. In conversation with a volunteer from a repair café, he mentioned how great it was to be able to make and print plastic parts to fix things. As a self-confessed technology-idiot I wanted to try this, so I (along with the help of a technician) got an app on an ipad, and tried to scan the broken part then print it. It was, honestly, wildly unsuccessful – the part doesn’t fit, it’s chunky and weird looking, we had to print it three times before the whole piece came, but I actually love it. You can see the foot of the saucer on the bottom and it definitely resembles the shape of the broken part, and the experience of using this accessible (!) technology taught me a lot about ways of doing things. I’m still super lo-fi in my approach to repair!
Which artists working at the moment do you admire?
Kader Attia is really inspiring to me, I think he articulates his ideas and philosophies really well through his works. Textile-wise I love Freddie Robins, Celia Pym and tomofholland. I think Lana Locke’s works are highly provocative, I find Caroline Achaintre’s tufted works comforting and disconcerting all at once, and the way Susan Collis’ makes wear and tear precious speaks to me. Silo Studio’s experiments with materials are exciting as are those by Studio Swine. Reading a lot of ethnography written from a female perspective, writers such as Ruth Behar have influenced my thinking.
What projects have you got coming up?
I have been fortunate to receive AHRC funding for my PhD (RepairAbility: Repair-making as material and social action) so I am finishing my thesis and working on some artworks and an exhibition to do with that. Researching and making repairs for the last few years has begun me thinking about failure and its place with in making practices, so this seems like a natural topic for my next investigation. Where repair seeks to rectify, one way or another, a failing in an object, where does this failure come from and how does it affect us as we work? I want to explore if it can be a site for innovation, experimentation and practicalities in the same way repairing can be.
Lastly, I have been researching traditional ‘folk’ practices and am currently testing some new construction methods for sculptural objects and jewellery pieces after a break from this kind of making. It’s very stimulating to be making like this again, so I hope I will be able to exhibit some of these pieces late this year.
Published 01 July 2017