Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?

Hello! I’m an artist maker and an engagement with materials is central to my practice. With a background in contemporary embroidery I use ‘stitch’ in the broadest sense to make sculptural objects, architectural interventions and installations. The work is formed out of a playful, intuitive collaboration with materials and through this non-verbal dialogue or haptic logic, I aim to allow the performance potential of the material to emerge.

I enjoy working equally at handheld and architectural scale when the opportunity arises. Economy of means and material is an integral part of my making methodology and reusing and re-crafting materials destined for the landfill has become my own gentle activism.

I came to the North East in 2013 as artist in residence with Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) which is based in beautiful rural Northumberland. Alongside my freelance artist work with BALTIC, I now feel privileged to be working for VARC as Project Director.

What are you exploring at the moment?

I’m currently in the final stages of a practice based PhD ‘Recrafting waste glass using a stitch-based methodology: A collaboration between makers and matter’. I was fortunate to be funded by AHRC and the opportunity has enabled me to create a new body of work exploring the use of secondary material viewed as waste in contemporary art and craft practice. I’ve been based at National Glass Centre and so it’s been exciting to explore the myriad of glass processes and applications. The aim of the research has been to define ‘recrafting waste’ and in the process, I developed a way of visualising the research to reflect the method of making – hence the ‘stitch methodology’. Inspired by kantha embroidery (which originates from east Indian subcontinent and sees old worn sarees stacked and sewn together with a simple running stitch to form quilts), the stitch is the practice that joins together the research and the theory. The key feature of the methodology is that ‘cast-off’ materials are the starting point for new work. I hope that this idea might be adopted by others in the future and become a helpful way to navigate a process of research.


Untitled, 2017. Salvaged glass packaging cable tie. Alex Crosby Photography
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?

I’ve always enjoyed making and take inspiration from many aspects of the world around me. A visit to a marine chandlery can get me thinking just as much as a trip to a gallery. Those that I enjoy the work of include: Gego, Eva Hesse, Richard Tuttle, Anna Gallaccio, Cornelia Parker, Giuseppe Penone, Mark Dion, Rosa Nguyen, Hundertwasser, Theaster Gates, Simon Starling, Granby Workshop, Frei Otto, to name a few. I have a growing interest in environmental and socially conscious art production and I have recently been inspired by Sarah Corbett’s ‘How to be Craftivist’. She talks about gentle protest and promotion of the idea that if we want a kind and just world, then our activism should be gentle and kind too.

Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?

At present I work out of two spaces; a desk at National Glass Centre and my garage in Whitley Bay. However, as the photos show, neither are really conducive to making as there is a lack of clear surfaces! Once the writing is submitted, I plan to find a studio space, ideally close to the coast.


Current working spaces at National Glass Centre and garage

What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?

Key texts from the research: To Life! (Weintraub) Sustainability as Flourishing (Ehrenfeld & Hoffman), Making and Lines (Ingold), How to be a Craftivist (Corbett),Vibrant Matter (Bennett), Design, Ecology, Politics (Boehnert), The Handbook of Textile Culture (Jeffries et al), Being Ecological (Morton), Cradle to Cradle (Braungart & McDonough), Making is Connecting (Gauntlett) . Next on my list is Other Things by Bill Brown. I like making to music like Burial, GoGo Penguins and Egal 3. I’ve been enjoying the new Radio 4 The Sympathy of Things made by architectural collective Assemble and I also enjoy the occasional ramble chat with Adam Buxton.

Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?

knot, wrap, tension, line, net, twist, connect

value, vital matter, care, remnant, play

non-monumental, assemblage, recraft, joinery


Planted, 2013, Baler-wrap-wire. Highgreen, Northumberland

Where can people see your work?

www.helenpailing.com, instagram @helenpailing

This year I’ll be showing work in three group shows, and you can also still see the chandelier Adorn in the double height foyer space at National Glass Centre, Sunderland. With help from volunteers and Zoe Garner, I recrafted almost 1000 pieces of salvaged glass by adding glass hooks and wrapping them in copper. The work is supposed to be an ‘adornment’ for the building and sees this waste material literally and metaphorically elevated. Since installing the work in the summer of 2017, the copper has reacted to the environment. When it eventually comes down, I’d like to find a semi-outdoor area to install it where verdigris can be encouraged.


Adorn, 2017, Salvaged glass rope copper steel. Alex Crosby Photography

Our last featured artist, James Hutchinson, asked, “How do we solve Global Warming?” Could you answer James’ question please and think of a new one for our next artist?

A question that has many complexities of course! However, I touched on this during my research; I think what is needed is a seismic shift in how we categorise the world and the things that are in it. This is already happening for example in New Zealand, the Whanganui River has been re-categorised as a person under domestic law, and India’s Ganges River was recently granted human rights. It could be argued that when more of the natural world is given the same rights as humans, then individuals/governments will become accountable for the damage they do. Only then will change happen on the scale that is needed to try and get anywhere close to ‘solving’ the problem. I do believe that individual actions can have impact and it’s still important we all do what we can to live in harmony with the planet; respect all matter, buy less, fly less, reuse and so on.

My question for the next artist:

What are the ingredients you need for optimum creativity?


Glass-Stitched, 2016. Salvaged glass board. Alex Crosby Photography