Excitingly, and after many weeks of stitching, the final piece entitled 'Bricks & Pieces' went on display yesterday evening alongside other works created by artists who responded to the space in unique ways.
These works form the People and Place exhibition which sees the Observer Building re-opening its doors to the public for the first time, as part of Coastal Currents Arts Festival. The exhibition is open 6, 7, 8 September.
It was inspiring and uplifting to be part of the first steps of this building's glorious journey and I know that it will be a space that greatly enhances the community in Hastings. I've learned so much; from how to rust metal quickly (hydrogen peroxide and vinegar if you're ever in the need!), to creating detailed thermofax screens.
Part of the beauty of the Observer Building, the crowdfunding of it, and the specific nature of this piece of textile art, is that it's a shared entity; something that the whole neighbourhood can be part of. In the light of this, it's only fitting that some of the donors got the chance to stitch and glue their own names to be incorporated into the final piece.
We held two open sessions during which folks gathered, created and chatted about all sorts of things including where they were born and how they had come to be in Hastings. One thing pretty much everyone had in common was that they had chosen the town to be their home specifically because of its bohemian, creative and inclusive vibes.
As with every creative session I facilitate, I learned so much and was incredibly inspired by the way that participants responded to the rusty and vegetable dyed marks on the cloth that I provided; sometimes stitching delicately round these organic shapes in order to highlight their subtle beauty.
As I piece this big patchwork together, I am reminded how good diversity looks and feels.
I knew early in this project that I wanted to use intricate fern fronds as part of my printing process. There are over 30 species of ferns to be found in Sussex and in parts of woodland around Hastings they grow huge, taller than me; ancient looking as they create a prehistoric view. I love the history of this plant; that is spans back to the Triassic period, and as The Observer Building itself is rich in old stories, I feel it's a fitting piece of imagery.
I packed my youngest son, a couple of large plant presses and my mother into the back of the car and we went hunting for Ecclesbourne Glen. Despite living in Hastings for 13 years I'd never set eyes on this place except in photographs, but once we found it, it did not disappoint. Giant ferns abound!
The ferns pressed beautifully and a week later were ready to use. I've been able to create some gorgeous cyanotype prints on charity shop vintage napkins and tablecloths; I love the way that the colours of each one varies due to the heat of the sun and how thoroughly the chemicals get washed out once printed. The rinsing of each piece is the unveiling of a sapphire coloured surprise, released by the light of the sun.
I've also been delighted with an experiment in creating a rust paste that can be passed through a thermofax screen, made using a photograph of one of the ferns. I created an iron and vinegar solution, letting it soak for about a week, then added Gum Tragacanth - a substance that is normally added to icing sugar to make a tough paste. The resulting colour will gradually change over time to create a beautiful golden hue.
There's an armchair chemist residing in me somewhere so I'm very happy with the mini laboratory that has taken up residence in my studio right now!
I am hugely excited to have been selected to create a hanging textile piece for The Observer Building, Hastings. The artwork will be launched as part of Coastal Currents Arts Festival 2019 and will help celebrate the opening of a once derelict place into a wonderful space for individuals and small organisations to thrive and grow. The project's mission statement includes the following key points:
LOCALLY DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT
Sharing opportunities locally and equitably
SECURELY CAPPED RENTS
That protect the soul of our neighbourhood
NURTURING LOCAL CREATIVITY AND ENTERPRISE
Quality, affordable homes and work spaces
LIFE CHANGING OPPORTUNITIES
Responding to local need and giving chances to those at risk of exclusion
A SELF RENOVATING NEIGHBOURHOOD
Inclusive, bottom up, sustainable approaches to neighbourhood development
Excitingly, the community have come together to help crowdfund the opening of this incredible building that once housed the printing presses of the local newspaper Hastings & St Leonards Observer. Part of the artwork will contain the names of many of the people who generously donated in order to bring this old gem back to life.
Inspired by a trip round the building to photograph its many wabi-sabi and textured surfaces, alongside consideration of its rich history involving the printing process; I have produced a mood board that draws on printing processes including the historical cyanotype invented in 1843, and rusting with seawater to produce delicate shapes and organic marks. The Observer Building team have described to me how they are inspired by the idea of nurturing their tenants and helping them to thrive; a quick brainstorm with them brought up the words flourish, growth, rewild, wellbeing and community. For this reason I am choosing to incorporate imagery of locally pressed flowers and plant life, such as the intricate fern fronds that grow abundantly in wild habitats like Ecclesbourne Glen.
The beautiful brick surfaces in the building have already got me pondering how walls can be beautiful and sheltering, or divisive and intimidating, as they sometimes were when I was growing up in Northern Ireland; strewn with murals full of propaganda and incitement, keeping 'two sides' apart. I know this project will be both meaningful and cathartic for me as I explore these ideas further, and become more intimately acquainted with the subtle layers of paint, brick and cement.