This week we talk to Juliet Fleming and Sarah-Joy Ford who are working together on HARD CRAFT, a two year collaboration and skill share resulting in visual responses to the 100 year anniversary of partial suffrage. Their show previews at Vane Gallery Wednesday 14 November 6-8pm and continues until 15 December.
Hard Craft collaboration detail 2018; Juliet Fleming and Sarah-Joy Ford
Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
Sarah-Joy: I am an artist, curator and researcher. I work with textiles, for the most part quilts that are informed by queer history and culture. As well as more traditional techniques I work a lot with digital techniques and software to create my embroideries. I have had a really exciting past year doing a masters in textile practice and working with Charley Blake Banks on the ‘Queen’ exhibition at COLLAR which really allowed me to ramp up the scale and ambition of my work.
My work is very research based, so I am really excited to have just started my PhD at Manchester School of Art. I am super lucky to have funding and the amazing artist Alice Kettle as my director of study. My research involves exploring lesbian archival material in feminist archives including The Women’s Library (LSE), Glasgow Women’s Library alongside personal archives then making quilts with the research! I hope to make lesbian history more visible, and open up the archives to new encounters and interpretations.
Additionally I curate, through my involvement with SEIZE Projects but also independent textiles focused projects like Cut Cloth: contemporary textiles and feminism that took place at The Portico and The Whitworth in Manchester last year. I love working with other artists and writers to consider a theme together.
Juliet: I am a sculptor/ceramicist and sometimes performance artist living and working in Newcastle upon Tyne. In a nutshell my practice seeks to question the female experience in the 21st century, often using repetitive symbols. I use these symbols to start dialogues around sexual pleasure, bodily autonomy, reproduction and the division of emotional/physical labour. Recently and particularly in this show I’ve been creating work with a homely, domestic quality and I’ve been investigating key themes of stereotyping, particularly in gender roles and hierarchies within today’s society. I am working collaboratively more and more within my own artistic practice and from that, TELEPHONEPONY was born. I think this is in part to do with my curatorial practice seeping in.
I also run a gallery space in the city centre (within The NewBridge Project, Carliol House), GOLDTAPPED, supporting experimentation, development of emerging artist practices. Sarah-Joy and I have been in conversation collaborating on this project for around 2 years.
What are you exploring at the moment?
Sarah-Joy: For the Hard Craft project with we have been exploring our use of female symbols and iconography in both our work. We have made a new body of collaborative work in relationship to the 100 year anniversary of partial suffrage in the UK. There is so much inspiring imagery and design to respond to, as the suffragettes were master publicists and designers! We were inspired by the banners, handkerchiefs, tableware and pageantry of the movement – in particular the use reclamation of prison arrows as part of the language of protest. I am also making work exploring the life and work of militant suffragist, activist and notorious lesbian, Vera ‘Jack’ Holmes, informed by my research at The Women’s Library (LSE).
Juliet: We’ve also been collating the repetitive symbols we use in our practices celebrating their meanings by caving them onto ceramics, digitally printing them onto fabric and drawing from archival research to form a visual repose for Hard Craft. The solo works that I have made for Hard Craft are highly influenced by the pro suffrage protest marches taking place showing women carrying arrow shaped placards, and I can’t help but draw parallels between those marches and the ones that have been taking place all around the world, continuing the fight for equality.
Sarah-Joy Ford, The World Cannot Deny Us, 2018
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
Sarah-Joy: I have always been fascinated by the difficult relationship between women and textiles, one of oppression and also resistance. I am fascinated in how feminist artists have reclaimed these practices as a powerful medium for challenging the restrictive parameters of femininity and questioning the boundaries of institutional fine art. I am also inspired by the histories of protest, and how cloth can become a weapon of resistance through embroideries, banners and knitting.
I think that this outsider-ness and the reclaiming of the history of injury that resonates so clearly with the queer themes of my practice. I also spend a lot of time researching, visiting archives, museums and galleries, searching online and a lot of reading to inform my work. I just keep looking until something captures me and I want to make work about it.
Juliet: Similarly to you (Sarah-Joy) I have found the lines drawn between craft and ‘high brow’ art a peculiar one, particularly in ceramics where it sometimes feels that it can either be one or the other, but for me they are not mutually exclusive. Hard Craft touches on these ideas. I have found working with a volatile material like clay surprisingly inspiring though even following all the right procedures can lead to flaws, but sometime the art of embracing that which is flawed or imperfect is all par for the course.
I have been influenced by current events, social media and other artists responses to the same, but my influences are forever changing, I don’t want to limit myself to only being inspired by certain things, I want to be open. I am constantly visiting galleries and friends’ studios; often chatting about others work can make you see your own in a new light. I find it a lot easier to talk about other people’s work than my own.
Juliet Fleming, Shrine to Femininity, 2016
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
Sarah-Joy: I work mostly at Manchester School of Art in the embroidery workshop. It is an absolute dreamland of machinery. My greatest loves are the brother 12 needle embroidery machine and the Handi Quilter. The embroidery workshop technician Sue Prestbury is an absolutely incredible font of knowledge and skills. She has really helped me over the last year or so to develop new skills and refine my practice.
I also have a cute little home studio/office where I write, draw and use my old faithful domestic sewing machine. Luckily my partner puts up with my art practice spilling all over the house. Although I have to be very careful about leaving any yarn, tassels or pom poms out as they are Phoebe’s (one of our two cats) nemesis and she loves to destroy them……
Sarah-Joy in the embroidery workshop at Manchester School of Art
Juliet: I have a studio at The NewBridge Project and I am a member of the Ouseburn Pottery. The required space and environment for a kiln of my own is unfortunately out of reach at this point in time, though I would hope to have one in the future.
Juliet’s studio at The NewBridge Project
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
Sarah-Joy: My bookshelf is currently very full of PhD reading which includes a lot of books about lesbian histories including romantic friends, female husbands and radical lesbian separatists! I am in love with my research topic and really enjoying authors like Laura Doan, Heather Love, Ann Cvetkovich, Alison Oram and Jack Halberstam (my favourite theorist ever).
I am currently reading Sara Ahmed’s ‘Cultural Politics of Emotion’, which is really interesting.. Ahmed’s work has been so influential for me, her book ‘Queer Phenomenology’ really changed the way I thought about queerness, orientation and otherness. I highly recommend her new book ‘Living a Feminist Life’ is an absolute must read and a little bit more accessible then her other works.
I am also reading ‘Once Upon a Time in the North’ by Phillip Pullman because I love children’s fantasy books– and I need a break from theory!!
Juliet: Ohhh um I do not get through books as quickly as I’d like to, so I tend to stick to short ones or listen to podcasts (it’s mostly My Favourite Murder or Serial both are jolly good escapes.) At the moment I’m reading Grayson Perry’s ‘Playing to the Gallery’, David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’ and Sarah Waters ‘Tipping the Velvet’, lent to me by the lovely Sarah-Joy. I had seen the television series but I’m very interested to see where the book takes me.
Juliet Fleming (left), Clit Selfie Sticks, 2018
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice? (e.g. Dark. Light. Blue. Unicorn. Table.)
Sarah-Joy: Lesbian. Queer. Quilts. Textiles. Stitch. Digital. Touch. Archives. History. Soft. Domesticity. Pink. Feminist. Heritage. Desire. Pink.
Juliet: I’m not sure I could top “(e.g. Dark. Light. Blue. Unicorn. Table.)” but I’ll give it a go: Bright, pinks, oranges, ceramics, glazes, heavy, fragile, verging on naive, collaborative, skill sharing, fabrics, plush furnishings, unfunctional and functional.
Sarah-Joy Ford, We have run half our lives from that damn word queer, 2018
Where can people see your work?
Sarah-Joy: You can see our work at the Hard Craft exhibition at Vane Gallery in Newcastle opening on 14th November 5-8pm and open 15th November – 15th December. To keep up to date with my work and upcoming shows you can follow me on Instagram @sarahjoy.ford
Juliet: We also have invited Cinenova and Helen Antrobus to share their experience and knowledge with us. Cinenova is hosting an Archive Screening: There is Power in the Material on Thursday the 6th of December at 6-8pm. The screening is exploring the politics of domestic spaces and highlights the use of craft media within feminist and queer protest movements.
Helen Antrobus’ Talk Activism on our sleeves: radical women and dress takes place on the last day of the show so is the perfect opportunity to catch our work and the talk before Hard Craft closes. In the talk Helen will be bringing the stories of radical women’s protest from 1819 to 2018 to life, on Saturday 15 Dec 2 – 4pm. Both of these events are happening at Vane and can be signed up to by emailing: email@example.com.
If you want to keep up to date my work, and often other Newcastle art events and GT’s openings and events you can also follow me on instagram @julietfleming and the gallery @goldtapped.
Juliet at Ouseburn Pottery
Our last featured artist, Peter Hanmer, asked “If not this, what would you be doing?” Could you answer Peter’s question please and think of a new one for our next artist?
Sarah-Joy: I have loved doing volunteer work with animals in the past, so maybe if I wasn’t scared of blood and bad at chemistry….I could be a vet! My question…What or who is your spirit animal?
Juliet: Hair Brush Designer, I am certain there is a big gap in the market waiting to be filled by someone wild enough for the job! My question: If you could have two liquids that could come out of each index finger, what would they be?