Monday, 19 September 2011

Sew to Speak

It is peculiarly appropriate that Lois's latest art exhibition involves a play on words, both because I am writing about it and because some of the sewing is in fact words. Several years ago Lois did a course on Machine embroidery at Malvern College. The group of classmates from the course have continued to meet and have managed to mount an exhibition of their work every year since the course. This year the show is in Ledbury and I am writing this on the iPad sitting in the gallery as the group decide what to hang where. It is absolutely fascinating to watch and listen to group creativity at work. The group has it's own blog site
Most of the exhibits hang on walls or display on tables with no difficulty, one is an exception (see the picture). Lois's sister Joy, is an artist and over the years they have corresponded about art, and of course all the other trivial that you might expect sisters to discuss. What to do with the letters has been a recurring question as we go through the process of downsizing. Simply throwing them away doesn't feel right, but on the other hand it seems unlikely that the British Museum will want them. Given the context, a work of art was bound to emerge.
Over a period Lois gradually settled on the idea of embroidering text from some of the letters onto an old boiler suit that Joy had used while painting. Initially the plan was for me to make a flat plywood model of a person, to go inside the suit so that it could be displayed like a shop dummy. Enter the second random addition to the plot. Through membership of various art organisations Lois has access to a local scrap store. This is a sort of Aladdin's cave of stuff given away by local industry and other sources, in the hope that it will be of use to local artists. It is surprising what you can find there, but even we were slightly amazed to come across two life sized plaster models created by a local artist but no longer required. We immediately bought one of the models in order to dress it in the boiler suit.
Once the model was home we had to work out a way of making it stand up on it's own. For a while it lay on the table in the studio looking suspiciously like a pale corpse. The model is made from plaster-of-paris bandages, the stuff they wrap around you in hospitals when you have broken your arm. The thing was obviously hollow, because it didn't weigh much and it made a sort of dull clonking sound when you tapped on it. After some thought I drilled holes in the feet and shoved three foot long pieces of hollow metal tube up the legs and stuck them in place by filling the legs with polyurethane foam, the stuff you can get from DIY stores for filling big holes in walls. Not only does it fill gaps but it also a pretty good glue. Be sure to wear plastic or rubber gloves if you ever play with any; oh and remember that the gas in the foam has cyanide in it.
Continuing the recycling theme, and giving a further insight into the problems we have over moving to a smaller place; I was able to use two large flat five kilo weights as a stand. These came off the multi gym that was wrecked by the floods in 2007. I knew they would come in useful one day. They have neatly drilled holes that used to have steel tubes in them, back when they were exercise apparatus. These allowed the tubes inside the plaster lady's legs to lock in place and keep her standing upright.
She is now standing proudly in the gallery in Ledbury, having been carried by me from the car park - see video clip for example of the writer looking silly. If it is art it's OK, right?

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