Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
As a textile/embroidery artist my research methodology, techniques and processes are invariably concept driven. I especially enjoy exploring multi-disciplined approaches and collective and collaborative practice. For many years my themes have been overwhelmingly concerned with loss; the phenomenology of displacement, abandonment, memory and place.
I originally studied Textiles & Surface Design as a mature student at The Northern School of Art where I have also been a lecturer since 2005, though I have always continued my own practice alongside teaching. Sometimes it has felt as though I were working two full-time jobs but if I hadn’t I feel like I would have just shrivelled and died.
It has taken me a long time to figure out what I am; a designer, maker, craftsperson, artist? I have now figured out that I can be all of these things.
It was not until studying my MFA at Manchester Metropolitan University that my personal work really began to make sense to me and I found a reason, an emotional connection which has become an overriding passion.
I have based my research, which informs my current practice, within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for the last five years, investigating the evacuation process of 1986, the destruction to land and community by the world’s worst nuclear disaster. And, the everyday of the self-settlers – those who returned to their homes against all odds and who are now a self-sufficient, isolated and marginalised, ageing people.
I am now a full time practice-based doctoral researcher and am very fortunate to be supported by an AHRC Studentship Award affording me the time to spend on this project and essentially on what I feel is my life’s work. I engage in fieldwork in Chernobyl with the self-settlers as often as I can, it is my aim to build an archive of their embroideries and historical narratives, as soon all of it will be lost forever.
What are you exploring at the moment?
In addition to the work in Chernobyl, I am further investigating ‘the unfinished’, the lost and discarded, by repurposing found objects (stitched tapestries) I aim to give new life to the ‘found’ and invigorate the traditional (well, shake it up a bit). Through my practice in general and with the application of modern technology I try to contemporize the traditional encouraging an increase in value being given to age-old craft, particularly amongst diasporas, youth audiences and marginalised communities.
Recently I exhibited as part of the #untitled10 2019 at The Bowes Museum (October – March) where I produced work in response to the Bowes’ lace collections with a focus on the loss of craftsmanship, underpinned by notions of obsolescence and dispossession. The pieces hold a narrative of the unfinished and questions the future of our heritage and craft legacy. The making of these pieces led to ideas for the new work-in-progress which I will be exhibiting in Oberhausen (March – April this year) which has been a relaxing and meditative project to work on, giving me some much needed time to think and try out new ideas. It has also given me an ‘excuse’ to work in collaboration with Nicola Golightly again which is always inspiring.
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
Other artists – see above 🙂
The dereliction of buildings and their interiors has an ongoing fascination; colour, texture, the disintegrative effect of time and the atmosphere. Interesting and emotive objects can also inspire, there were the tokens in The Foundling Museum for example, which I made a collection of works around.
However, it was my first visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat and the Chernobyl exclusion zone which has influenced me the most, it has such beauty and it is a strange feeling being there, it’s like nowhere else on earth and are so many incredible stories of bravery, heroism, survival and struggle and so many issues from the nuclear disaster that are still relevant today. There is so much I find emotionally captivating that it becomes addictive.
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
I’ve always had a studio at home so I split my time between that, Northumbria University and Ukraine though I travel often to do exhibitions, talks and conferences abroad. I also stitch a lot in front of the TV on a velvet sofa 🙂
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
Because I am studying for a PhD I am reading more text books, right now: ‘Burden of Dreams: History and Identity of Post-Soviet Ukraine’ and ‘The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror Famine’, some of the self-settlers still talk about this famine which is almost unbelievable.
My own bookshelves are full of foreign dictionaries, stories of the Saints, print, textiles and photography books (e.g. Martin Parr’s Boring Postcards) and I have quite a large collection of souvenir tour guides from charity shops on various places that I have never been to.
I still listen to 80’s indie music, when I was younger I assumed that one day I might like classical music, but my taste in music has never changed…just been added to a little (still no classical). Joy Division is a staple, Sinead O’Connor still makes me shiver, The Smiths are still brilliant, and I sing along to Simple Minds, Suede, Spear of Destiny, Reverend and the Makers and such in my studio (an advantage of working alone).
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
Print, stitch, photography, object, everyday, ephemeral, emotive, storytelling, tradition, contemporary, heritage, textural, accessible.
Where can people see your work?
Our last featured artist, Dominic Smith, asked “How do you explain what it is you do to people who don’t care about art?”
A difficult question, I don’t know – I can’t think of where it has happened, but my work encompasses so much, if someone asked me what I did, I wouldn’t say ‘I do art’ anyway, and it would depend on the project I was working on at the time. I would probably say “I’m working with the Babushkas who still live in Chernobyl, we stitch together and I am trying to save their embroideries for the future’ If it was a longer conversation I would add that I was retelling their stories through my own work to the next generations. That would probably be when their eyes glaze over 🙂