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Brooches and badges: Art with something to say

After a lifetime in Gravesend, in March this year I moved to Norfolk.  We’d always loved Norfolk and went on holiday there most years with the dogs. But good friends and various family and work commitments kept us living in the Gravesend Riverarea.

Duncan Grant: Wells-Next-the-Sea
Duncan Grant: Wells-Next-the-Sea

Things change though. The pandemic meant my wife, Davina, moved her tutoring online. My mum was safe, well and settled in her care home.  I was offered the opportunity to do the same work in a new region. And as a few other bits fell into place, we found we were free to go. So we did.

And so far, it’s been great. We’re about ten minutes drive from the Broads, half an hour from the coast, and within walking distance of Norwich, which (as we’ve discovered) has great beer and food and a really vibrant art scene. What more could you want?

Duncan Grant: Big skies
Duncan Grant: Big skies

I’ve only been here for a couple of months but I’ve started to dip my toe (pen?…brush?) into the local art community.

I’ve got six ink drawings on display in a new restaurant Harry’s Soul Station which recently took over what used to be The Fat Percy pub.  The family-run business  started two years ago as Harry’s Soul Train, a food truck that toured Norfolk.

In the new restaurant, they’ve just installed the hanging system I designed for non-traditional venues and they’re hoping to feature work by local artists on a regular basis.

I’m also going to join Norwich Open Studios in the autumn, which is part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, so look out for a post about that. I’ve done a few paintings and drawings while I’ve been in Norfolk over the years. Some originals and A3 and A4 prints are available in my gallery.

Jane Sedgwick: Sustainable jewellery

Jane Sedgwick: At work in her studio
Jane at work in her Norfolk studio

So what’s that got to do with brooches and badges? Well, while I’ve been settling in in Norfolk, a little bit of Norfolk has come to Gravesend and has been staying in a hotel right opposite my old house.

It’s Norfolk-based, contemporary jeweller, Jane Sedgwick, who has been awarded the first Ship & Shore artist residency on LV21 for 2022.

Jane makes wooden jewellery, which she turns by hand and then hand paints in her studio near the North Norfolk coast. Her work uses geometric forms, repetition and colour and is inspired by classic educational toys and nautical imagery.

Jane grew up in a small mining village in West Yorkshire and studied for a degree in metalwork and jewellery at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design  in Dundee.

Jane Sedgwick: Dundee degree piece 1993
Jane Sedgwick: Dundee degree piece 1993

‘I loved Dundee, and my final degree show was all about marine architecture,’ Jane remembers. ‘I used to go around all the little fishing villages in Fife looking at lighthouses. But it was quite a traditional jewellery and metalwork course and the pieces I made were bigger works – silverware and vessels to be held, rather than worn. I really enjoyed the course but, by the end, I wasn’t really sure that I’d found my thing.’

After she graduated, Jane went to the Royal College of  Art in London to study for an MA in GSM&J (Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery).

‘I thought it would help me to find out what it was I really wanted to do and give me more time to study,’ she says. ‘And although I intended to do more jewellery, I ended up developing performance scale work – so, things you might wear over your head – and focusing on the space around the wearer and how the piece made that different.’

Jane Sedgwick: RCA GSM & J piece (1996)
Jane Sedgwick: RCA GSM & J piece (1996)

When she left college, Jane worked for a while making props for shop windows, and then for a high-end interior design company, where she worked as part of a team creating interiors for Marco Pierre White, Vivienne Westwood and the restaurant at Claridge’s.

‘The job was quite multi-skilled and I loved the camaraderie of working in a team and getting an insider view of these nice venues,’ she says. ‘But being freelance, I got a bit nervous living in London with the rent to pay. So I took on some teaching at Westminster Adult Education Services where I did a couple of  morning courses teaching prop making – basically making a lot of things out of paper mache – and another course about window dressing.’

From there, Jane was offered more teaching. Firstly, at Sheffield Hallam University, where she taught drawing on their  jewellery and metal course and then, in 1998, at the University of Derby, where she worked for 13 years, teaching on their degree craft course, which had a strong focus on sustainable approaches to making and design.

Jane Sedgwick: RCA GSM&J light piece (1996)
Jane Sedgwick: RCA GSM&J light piece (1996)

‘The course was ahead of its time really,’ Jane comments. ‘There were a couple of members of staff teaching on the course who were doing PhDs looking at sustainability-related issues and that really fed through into the programme. So we did lots of work with reclaimed and natural materials.

‘I’d used a lot of reclaimed plastics on my first degree. I’ve always liked colour and although it was a silversmithing and metalwork course, I wasn’t keen on the traditional options for incorporating colour into jewellery, such as enamelling and precious stones. So, probably from a need to save money at the start, I used to rummage through the skips of the sign-makers in Dundee, to find bits of acrylic and plastic that I could combine with my metalwork. I really like that intuitive approach to things – not knowing what you might find, or finding something that you weren’t expecting and thinking how you could use it.’

Jane Sedgwick: Bauhaus dancers
Jane Sedgwick: Bauhaus dancers

It was when a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, Onno Boekhoudt, challenged Jane about a piece of jewellery she had designed, that she really started to think seriously about the sustainability of her own work.

‘The piece was designed to light up, and he pointed out that the bulb and the battery would need to be replaced and asked if that bothered me,’ Jane recalls. ‘And it did. I hadn’t thought about that until he touched on it with me. Now sustainability is a real focus of my work.’

In 2010,  Jane moved to Norfolk with her partner, also an art educator and maker. The house came with a 10-acre woodland which they manage, and which provides a sustainable supply of sycamore for Jane’s work. Her work also incorporates recycled and yarns, and cordage that she makes from plants, such as nettles and brambles.

Jane Sedgwick: Bobbin pendants
Jane Sedgwick: Bobbin pendants

Once settled in Norfolk Jane decided to go back to her roots and to try to make a living from making and selling wooden jewellery.

‘My skill set in working with wood was quite limited, so I gave myself a bit of time to try out various woodworking techniques with different kinds of wood, and I did a bit of wood turning and found I was quite good at it! ‘ she exclaims. ‘I’ve always liked Bauhaus and Constructivism, as well as nautical imagery and I collect classic educational toys. And it’s these influences that, I think, come through in my work.’

Soon Jane was exhibiting her work at design and craft shows and selling jewellery through her website.

Meanings and Messages 

Jane Sedgwick: Forget Me (K)not Image credit: Simon B. Armitt
Jane Sedgwick: Forget Me (K)not Image credit: Simon B. Armitt

Jane heard about the LV21  Ship and Shore residency through her membership of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ). The association works to promote greater understanding of contemporary jewellery and to bring it to new audiences, as well as supporting the creative and professional development of its members.

The residency call-out was exclusive to ACJ members and was timed to coincide with ACJ’s 25th anniversary touring exhibition,  Meanings and Messages, which opened at  St George’s Arts Centre in Gravesend, on the 30th April.

Jane Sedgwick: Forget Me (K)not Image credit: Simon B. Armitt
Jane Sedgwick: Forget Me (K)not Image credit: Simon B. Armitt

Meanings and Messages features 60 brooches, designed and made by ACJ members from UK and around the world.

Jane’s exhibited brooch, Forget Me (K)not, is a tribute to her late mother. The brooch represents the tacit exchange of skills between mother and daughter and incorporates threads from her mum’s sewing box.

Exhibition manager and curator, Jo Haywood, who also has a piece in the exhibition,  explains how the power of brooches to communicate, makes them distinct from other pieces of jewellery.

Emma McGilchrist: Zeros No Ones
Emma McGilchrist: Zeros No Ones

‘Unlike bracelets or rings, for example, which are designed to be worn in a very specific way, brooches are not confined to the task of curving around a body part,’ she says. ‘The wearer always decides its placement. Brooches are like miniature canvases and microcosms – an ideal way to convey meanings and messages. And even when they are not  being worn, they remain as standalone pieces of art.’

 

Jo Haywood: All You Need is Love
Jo Haywood: All You Need is Love

 

Jo has curated exhibits into six themes:

  • Social justice and societal change – a fairer world for all, technology,
    consumerism and conflict
  • Supernature – celebrating the wonder  of the natural world
  • Tributes and personal narratives – for our heroes and loved ones, personal reflection and biographical pieces
  • Our beautiful planet – Climate change, conservation, sustainability, ecology and animal rights
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Personal reflections and global impact, and
  • Love, hope and faith – Humanity, lore, talismans and amulets.
Claire Underwood: Each of Us
Claire Underwood: Each of Us

‘There are many pieces of work in the exhibition and some of the messages they convey could be quite difficult to access without presenting them with sensitivity, so we thought it was important to organise them into groups,’ Jo explains. ‘We invited prominent jewellers and researchers from our own community to write a short introduction to each theme, to set the scene, but without reference to individual brooches.’

So while the themes give a clue the  meanings and messages of individual pieces, visitors are invited to bring their own interpretations to the work.

Mark Mcleish: I Do
Mark Mcleish: I Do

‘In the exhibition, each piece has just the name of the artist and the title of the work: there are no artist statements,’ Jo continues. ‘We want the audience to try to guess what the meanings and messages are and write down their interpretations on the luggage tags that are suspended from the community artwork in the gallery.  But, of course, if people want to know what it was that the artist really intended, they can look at the catalogue in the gallery.’

Asimi - Anna Butcher: The Killing Fields
Asimi – Anna Butcher: The Killing Fields

Through their time exhibiting in Gravesend, the ACJ hope to achieve two main objectives.

The first is to introduce contemporary jewellery to new audiences.

Jo defines contemporary  jewellery as being wide-ranging in its profile.

‘It can include both traditional and fine art jewellery, moving into fashion jewellery and everything in between,’ she explains. ‘Generally, artists will be independent makers with a focus on exploration, which could be of particular materials or processes. Innovation is often a driving force too.

‘Contemporary jewellery can be made using traditional materials, but it can also include other materials, precious or non-precious. This year’s pieces feature gold, silver, aluminium, copper, wood, textiles, ceramics, semi-precious stones and a range of found objects, including gramophone needles, leather gloves, spent bullet cartridges and faux leather made from citrus peel.’

To reinforce the bespoke nature of contemporary jewellery, a PowerPoint display  featuring images of the makers working in their studios, forms part of the exhibition at St George’s Arts Centre.

Young visitors to ‘Meanings and Messages’ completing design and colouring sheets

‘St George’s is a fabulous venue because it is right in the middle of the shopping centre so it’s very accessible, and we hope to tempt new audiences to come in,’ Jo says.  ‘We’ve tried to make a lot of the participation work accessible as well. There are colouring and design sheets for young children, and each venue has been offered a toolkit of education resources from the Crafts Council, our education sponsor. The toolkit includes ‘making tutorials’  to involve people more in delivering workshops which could, perhaps, be used by gallery staff .’

Tactile wall: ACJ 'Meanings and Messages' exhibition, St Georges Centre, Gravesend. Image credit: Wendy Daws
The tactile wall makes the exhibition more accessible Picture credit Wendy Daws

The gallery also has a tactile wall of sensory objects – test pieces and samples associated with the exhibited pieces. This helps make the exhibition more accessible to visitors with a visual impairment, and allows sighted audiences an opportunity to experience the exhibits in a different way.

Tactile wall: ACJ 'Meanings and Messages' exhibition, St Georges Centre, Gravesend. Image credit: Wendy Daws
Exploring materials Image credit: Wendy Daws

‘There are fabrics, metals, plastics and enamel where you can feel the raised design elements,’ Jo explains. ‘So often when you go into galleries you’re told not to touch anything. But we really want people to get close up and personal with the materials that the makers have used.’

The second objective of the exhibition in Gravesend, which also supports the first, is to create legacy opportunities for ACJ members through a participation programme of master classes and workshops. The aim is to create ‘a network of sustainable practice’ and paid opportunities for members that will continue after the tour is finished.

ACJ 'Meanings and Messages: Works in response to Covid-19
Works in response to Covid-19

The Ship and Shore artist residency is just one example of this.

As part of her brief, Jane Sedgwick will work with a small group of local makers from the LV21’s Making More group and the Gravesham Arts Salon, with the aim of  encouraging new members to join these groups  and learn new skills.

ACJ members Jennifer Kidd and Rebecca Ilett, will deliver a jewellery making masterclass at the Gravesend Adult Education Centre, while other ACJ members will deliver workshops and events as part of the Meanings and Messages programme and beyond.

Ship & Shore

A key part of Jane’s residency, is producing a new, collaborative piece of work reflecting, in some way, Gravesend’s maritime heritage and/or wider nautical references. To link with the  Meanings and Messages exhibition, the residency brief  suggested that she might like to draw upon LV21’s vast collection of illustrated archive records of badges, issued for ships built at Chatham Dockyard.

In the early 20th century, ships’ badges began to replace figureheads and gilded carvings as a way of identifying ships. The shape of the badge conveyed information about the type of vessel, while the design illustrated the name of the ship and its historical associations. Approved designs were carved in wood and then cast in metal before being installed aboard.

At present, Jane is exploring possibilities. She has visited LV21 and St Andrews Church on the riverfront, explored Gravesend and is planning a trip to Chatham Dockyard for further inspiration. Jane is also looking at  the meanings conveyed by signalling flags and nautical buoy shapes.

She is excited about where the journey might lead, but wherever that is, Jane sees her residency on LV21 as an opportunity to develop her own making practice.

‘The work that I make for sale on my website is studio jewellery and though it is bold and colourful, it’s still practical for everyday wear,’ she says. ‘So I’d like to take this opportunity work more intuitively, to have fun with nautical themes and see where things go. I’d like to push myself to be a bit more ambitious and explore scale and wearability.’

You can follow Jane’s residency journey and see what she creates on her Instagram account @janesedgwickjewellery

LV21 'Making More' workshop
LV21 ‘Making More’ workshop

Community involvement
LV21 Ship & Shore programme is a partnership project with Gravesham Borough Council supported by Arts Council England and, to accompany Jane’s residency, there will be free creative activities aboard LV21, at St Andrew’s Arts Centre and on the surrounding quayside.

On Saturday 21 May, Jane will run a Making More workshop aboard LV21.  And the residency culminates on Saturday 28 May  with an Open Day, where you can meet Jane, learn more about her work, and take part in family friendly drop-in activities exploring textures and jewellery techniques, led by jewellers Jennifer Kidd  and Jo McAllister. For further details please go to: https://lv21.co.uk/whats-on/

The ACJ  Meaning and Messages exhibition continues at the St Georges Arts Centre in Gravesend until 29th May 2022. Details of future venues and dates for the tour can be found below.

Further information
LV21
What’s On https://lv21.co.uk/whats-on/

‘Making More’ workshop
https://lv21.co.uk/whats-on/making-more-with-jane-sedgwick/

Jane Sedgwick
Website: https://www.janesedgwick.co.uk
Instagram: @janesedgwickjeweller

 

Hendrike Barz-Meltzer: Elpis (Hope)
Hendrike Barz-Meltzer: Elpis (Hope)

Association for Contemporary Jewellery
Website:https://acj.org.uk/index.php

Meaning & Messages
tour dates and venues

Exeter University – Conference pop-up exhibition: 1st – 3rd July 2022
Vittoria Street Gallery, Birmingham School of Jewellery: 19th September – 28th October 2022
Mission Gallery in partnership with Swansea College of Art UWTSD: 16th November – 21st December 2022
Goldsmiths’ Centre, London: 9th January – 24th February 2023
New Brewery Arts, Cirencester: 14th April – 18th June 2023

Duncan Grant: Norfolk ink drawings and prints
You can buy my artwork featured in this blog here:
https://duncangrantartist.com/product-tag/norfolk/

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That’s Entertainment: A telephonic tribute to ‘Sound Affects’ by The Jam

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

It seems like ages ago when I was commissioned by  Gravesham Borough Council to create an installation in a telephone box, as a tribute to The Jam’s 1980 studio album, Sound Affects, as part of  the Winter Light Festival 2020.  But as with most things lately, COVID got in the way and the event  was cancelled. I got paid and I kind of forgot about it.

But now it’s back again!  And my installation will be one stop on a circular trail of light around the ‘Heritage Quarter’ and along the river.

Gravesham Old Town Hall: Telephone box 2022
The telephone box outside Gravesham Old Town Hall (2020) photographed by Bill Smith for ‘Sound Affects’

Sound Affects
I’m not sure quite how well known it is , that the telephone box outside Gravesend Old Town Hall was featured on the Sound Affects album cover.

The original photo was taken by art director, Bill Smith, who worked with The Jam over the three most important years of their career. During that time he designed five album covers and 16 singles bags for the band, as well as a range of promotional ads, posters and videos.

BBC Sound Effects with Paul Weller annotations
If you zoom in you can see Paul Weller’s annotations on the BBC ‘Sound Effects’ cover

‘The idea came from Paul [Weller] who was working in the studio at the time making the album, and they used some effects from the series of BBC Sound Effects records,’ Bill explains. ‘Paul gave me a sleeve with the BBC scrubbed out and replaced with JAM and the number altered to 80 (to reference 1980, the year Sound Affects was recorded) and “Effects” changed to “Affects”. He asked me to recreate the cover, using images that related to the songs on the album.’

Bill was brought up in Gravesend but, by 1980, had moved away.  It was while he was visiting his mother-in-law in Gravesend to photograph her dog for the Sound Affects cover that he took the picture of the phone box.

The Jam - Sound Affects 1980. Art direction and design Bill Smith. Photography Martyn Goddard and Bill Smith
Bill and Martyn’s cover for ‘Sound Affects’ 1980

Bill shared the photography for the Sound Affects cover with renowned rock photographer, Martyn Goddard.

‘I just chose subjects around my home – the jukebox, record player and even my sister’s friends baby,’ Martyn says. ‘Then I walked around the streets of Camden Town and the West End of London shooting interesting subjects, such as the funeral hearse in York way and  a taxi at Kings Cross Station. The power station at Dungeness was mine, plus the police car and the Brunswick Centre.’

Martyn has since met one of the funeral staff. a young undertaker who was in the hearse that he shot for the cover. Thirty-odd years later he was running the firm and Martyn was able to provide him with a print of the photo.

The “baby”, by then aged 36, also turned up at  the About the Young Idea exhibition at Somerset House, in 2015, where she met Paul Weller.

Bill Smith: Gravesend telephone box
Bill Smith’s original photograph taken from the ‘Sound Affects’ cover – they still haven’t mended that railing!

The Sound Affects album was released on 28th November 1980  It sold over 100,000 copies and spent 19 weeks in the UK album charts. making it to number 2. The track Start!  was a number one single for the band. And although That’s Entertainment was never released as a domestic single,  it did chart as an import single, making it to number 21.

Sound Affects was the last album cover Bill and Martyn ever did for The Jam. 

‘We created the sleeve and inner bag and I designed a series of ads and posters that used Roy Lichtenstein pop art influences for these,’ Bill remembers. After that there were three or four more covers for singles that I did, including 1981’s Funeral Pyre , for which I also wrote and directed a promotional video. And finally, Absolute Beginners. I also wrote and shot a video for that with Gered Mankowitz  but the band weren’t happy with our initial edit and, rather than let us do a re-edit, we were sacked and they did a brand new video shoot. It was the last time I spoke to Paul Weller until the 2015 Jam exhibition at Somerset House.’

Wooden prototype of the original K2 now at the entrance of the Royal Academy of Arts in London

Red telephone boxes
The first public telephone boxes were introduced by the Post Office in 1921. They were made of concrete  and some local authorities, including the London Metropolitan Boroughs, refused permission for them to be installed. Eastbourne Corporation stipulated that the kiosks could only be installed if they had thatched roofs!

In 1924, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won a competition to design a telephone kiosk  that would be acceptable  to the London boroughs. You might have heard of Scott. He designed Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church in Northfleet…oh yeah, and Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station  and the Bankside power station (now the Tate Modern). Scott’s  winning design featured steel structure with a silver exterior and a greeny-blue interior. The Post Office, however, decided to make it in cast iron and to paint it red. Kiosk Number 2 (K2). The boroughs were won over and K2 was installed in and around London.

K6
K6

After three more iterations, the Post Office commissioned a new ‘Jubilee kiosk’ to commemorate the  silver jubilee of George V. The  K6, as it is known, again designed by Scott, went into production in 1936. It was a bit more streamlined than the K2, designed to be cheaper to produce and to take up less pavement space. The number of glazed panels were increased from 18 to 24.

Thousands  of K6 boxes were made and installed all over the country, replacing most of the existing  telephone boxes, as well as introducing them in thousands of new sites. The telephone box by Gravesend Old Town Hall – the one on the Sound Affects cover – is a K6.

Although there was some objection early on to the bright red paint used on the boxes, the K6 box quickly became a national icon. In 1980, British Telecom’s plan to paint all telephone boxes in their corporate yellow caused a national outcry. Battered into submission by the Daily Mail. BT backed down.

By 1985, BT announced that the old red telephone boxes would be replaced because they no longer met the needs of customers and were expensive to maintain and clean. Once again their was a vociferous campaign to stop this but, this time, BT held firm.

In the late 80s, just before deregulation of telecoms, I worked for BT for a bit, identifying  new sites for payphones around the country for BT to develop, before they were nabbed by their main competitor, Mercury Communications.

With the old red boxes being replaced by more utilitarian versions, many local authorities used legislation designed to protect buildings of architectural or historic importance to keep  their red telephone boxes. Around 2,000 red boxes were given listed status. Lots more were sold off.  But more than 6,000 were bought by organisations and converted for community use, as libraries or to house public defibrillators. The only use forbidden by the regulations was ‘telephony’.

In 2021, BT announced that about 5,000 public phone boxes around the UK would be protected from closure in areas with  high accident or suicide rates or poor mobile signals.

Duncan Grant: artist
Me as callow yoof

The Gravesend mod revival scene in 80’s Gravesend
In the 1980 when Sound Affects I was released, I was working just around the corner as a Saturday (and holidays) boy, alongside my mum,  in Boots.  I was 15.  At around the same time, my now wife,  Davina, and her mates were part of the mod revival – hanging round the town centre showing off the look and dancing  the night away at mod clubs. Davina’s friend Kay Sugg even had a scooter.

The Jam, with their mod styling  and energetic, punky post-60s mod sound was the soundtrack to their lives. And with no mobile phones then, telephone boxes were essential for keeping in touch.

Mod night, Northfleet
Davina (centre) at a mod night in Northfleet

Davina and her friends still have really good memories of those times.

‘I wasn’t a fully fledged mod when Sound Affects came out but Quadrophenia had been out the previous year, so the revival was in full swing,’ Davina reminisces. ‘The album reminds me of just turning 17, dancing at every opportunity and a continual round of parties with my school friends. My favourite track was and still is Start!

Davina Grant and Kay Sugg
Davina and Kay ready for a night out around 1982

‘Sound Affects is as good today as it was 40 years ago,’ says former teenage mod, Yvonne Lynn.  ‘Listening to the album back when I was a 16-year old mod living in Gravesend consolidated my feelings of belonging in the mod scene. The lyrics and music made sense to my teenage rebellious self and it was the glue that held our group together.’

‘The album tied in with so much,’ agrees Derek Forbes. ‘Mods, scooters, my first girlfriend and my favourite band.’

Kay Sugg on her scooter
Kay Sugg on her scooter

‘I was desperate to become a mod,’ Davina admits. ‘But I was too shy so a boy from my school took me to my first mod night  in Wings in  the Battle of Britain  pub in Northfleet. I couldn’t believe that so many other kids of my age were so into 60s music, like I was, so I was soon hooked – and that’s where it all began. After that, most of my time was spent in second hand shops and Kensington Market perfecting the mod look, and dancing! It took hours to get ready. Getting the make up just right – the eyeliner was the hardest bit  as well as back combing your hair – normally with a bathroom full of giggling mates and a Supremes album on for inspiration!’

Mod Life, soul music, scootering and Carnaby Street filled my youthful heart, took me on an amazing journeys and left a lasting legacy of wonderful memories that still make me smile at the love we all shared, ‘ says Kay Sugg. ‘From the sharp cut of a suit, a neat bob hairstyle, ski pants or mini, we danced our style, to our music and looking cool round town was an every Saturday treat.’

‘That’s Entertainment’ installation
So back to my installation.  Because the phone box was featured on the Sound Affects album, Gravesham Council wanted my installation to be a tribute to The Jam.

I tried to combine all this in my piece.  I started with some initial sketches – two  figures – mods – speaking  lyrics  from Start! one of the tracks on Sound Affects, to go on either side of the telephone box.

And then a eight smaller drawings – my take on some of  Bill and Martyn’s images from the Sound Affects cover.

The  Old Town Hall box has 24 panels, eight on each side, so the next job was to measure them up and draw them to scale. While it was pretty straightforward to cut paper to size for the smaller drawings, I drew out the people full size and then cut them into panels afterwards, discarding the bits of the pictures where the metal window frames would go.

Gravesham Council then took those drawings and transferred them onto white vinyl to stick onto the inside of the box. The plan for the Winter Festival is to light the box from the inside, illuminating the drawings, while the Sound Affects album plays on a loop.

So come on down next weekend and have a look and a listen. I’ll be hanging around the phone box and it will be nice to see everyone there – sharp suits,  Chelsea boots and Parkas optional.

Follow the link below for the full programme but don’t miss  the interactive installation, Light and Thread, in St Georges Arts Centre, created by friends of this blog Filaments Art Collective, who work aboard LV21 was featured last May.

Also, check out Bill Smith’s book which tells the stories behind some of his covers – you’ll recognise pretty much all of them, I reckon.

Further information

Filaments Art Collective: Light and Thread, 2022
Filaments Art Collective: Light and Thread

The Winter Light Festival 2022, will take place at the end of this month, on Saturday 29th January and Sunday 3Oth, between 5 and 8pm.

Light and Thread by Filaments Art Collective
A collection of light installations and digital projections made from textiles, thread and paper.
19th – 30th January 2022
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday  10am – 4pm

Cover Stories: Five decades of album art  by Bill Smith

Over the years, Bill has designed album covers and sleeves for artists including Kate Bush, Led ZeppelinKing CrimsonMarillionGenesis and Mike Oldfield . Check out the link to his book ‘Cover Stories’  which tells the stories behind some of those covers
https://redplanetmusicbooks.com/collections/full-catalogue/products/cover-stories

Martyn Goddard images
https://www.martyngoddard.com/

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Cas Holmes: Painting with cloth

Cas Holmes working in her studio
Cas working in her studio

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

I’m planning a move to Norfolk in the near future and one of the many things I’ll miss about my home town of Gravesend, in Kent, is the cultural centre and local landmark that is LV21. I’ve exhibited and run workshops there as have many of the artists that have featured in this blog.

This month, LV21 is featuring new work, The Shipping Forecast, by Maidstone-based textile artist Cas Holmes, whose work is often inspired by her life, the journeys she makes, the places she visits and people she meets. She describes it as ‘painting with cloth’.

Cas Holmes: Romani sketchbooks
Cas Holmes: Romani sketchbooks

 

Origins and influences
Cas came to Kent from Norfolk in the mid-80s to study fine art and photography. It was the same journey that her Gypsy Roma grandparents  would have made each year to pick hops.

Heritage is key to Cas’s identity, as a person and as an artist, and explicit and derived references to her family’s history continue to influence her life and her art.

Her father studied at the former Norwich Technical College (now Norwich University for the Arts) and became a sign-writer.

‘I think my attention to detail comes from him and from my Roma grandmother,’ Cas reflects. ‘That’s something that they both told me – look up, look down, look around you, pay attention to the world. And from my Norfolk grandmother I’ve taken to heart the Norfolk philosophy and expression “Do different”.’

Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth
Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth

Those two, combined with a third expression from a medal presented to Cas when she became a Winston Churchill Fellow, “with opportunities comes responsibilities”, have become the mantras that guide her life and work. In recent years she has recognised how, in some ways, she is continuing the tradition of her Roma forebears.

‘It’s taken me 40 years to realise that my life as an artist who has travelled throughout the world, upped sticks carrying all my bits with me, worked on the hop and the hoof, is not too dissimilar to the way my grandmother and my great-grandmother would have lived, taking their things to wherever they needed to work.

Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth
Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth

A  growing interest in textiles
Cas gained a degree in fine art (painting and photography) at Maidstone Art College. Her prior experience with textiles gave no indication of the direction her work was to take.

‘My grandmother hated stitch so she never taught me and I found out a few years ago that my mother could knit, though I never saw her do it,’ Cas remembers. ‘I hated that cross stitch apron we all had to make at primary school. Mine was so grubby. I hated doing it because it was so formulaic.’

Then, as part of her studies at art college, Cas made paper and, as a result, became rather more interested in what she was painting on (the substrate) that what she was applying to it.

Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth
Cas Holmes: Romani portraits on cloth

‘I think that’s the paying attention bit – finding out what your materials can do,’ Cas says. ‘Learning about western-style paper led to me researching Japanese paper making and I put in an application to study in Japan.’

It was while she was in Japan, studying papermaking under a Churchill Fellowship, that Cas’s interest in textiles developed.

‘That’s when I began to understand what materials could do, because in Japan cloth and paper are equally valued as substrates,’ Cas explains. ‘And that’s where, for me, the world of the fine artist – someone who paints on canvas or paper – and that of the textile artist began to merge. It was the beginning of my understanding of what materials mean to me. Studying the links between paper and textiles built my confidence with handling materials, and from very early on, my materials of choice became “found materials”.’

Cas Holmes: Studio
Cas Holmes: Studio

The making process
Cas now works mainly on textiles that she collects on her travels or (mostly) old and worn fabric donated by friends. These are then coloured, painted, layered, collaged and stitched to form the final piece.

For the last ten years, the focus of her work has been on the everyday relationship that people have with the world. She is particularly interested in the connection between the urban and natural world and in ‘liminal’ spaces – those spaces in-between, such as verges, field edges and the boundaries where gardens meet the landscape.

‘I’ve always worked in these sort of in-between places – I think it’s part of my psyche,’ she reflects. ‘It’s become an evaluation on how I see myself positioned, because my wok is neither placed strongly in the world of painting nor the world of textiles. It is in-between them and I’m quite comfortable there.’

Cas doesn’t drive and spends a lot of time walking, cycling , or on trains where she can see the world passing. As she travels, she sketches.

Cas Holmes: Studio
Cas Holmes: Studio

‘I’ve always sought to get enjoyment out of the places I’m in rather than the places I’m going to,’ she says. ‘And I want to give people a way in to my particular take on the world. What I see will be familiar to other people so I’m  just saying, “Look have you paid attention to this? Do you not see how beautiful, or strange, or beguiling our world can be if you just paid attention to it”.’

There are two elements to Cas’s work – the idea and  the materials – and, as she puts it, they ‘satellite around each other’.

‘The interplay between idea and making is very important to me,’ Cas explains. ‘I think that is what art is about – the artist being involved with the materials to create their own particular take on the world. The materials I use will be chosen because they have a connection with the idea that I want to communicate. You need to listen to your materials to push your idea along. The tangibility of touching a soft cloth or the harshness of a piece of paper that you have picked up on your travels, is very important to me.

Cas Holmes: Studio
Cas Holmes: Studio

The process of making a completed work can be lengthy and complex but it always falls into three key processes, not always worked on in sequence:

Mark-making on the chosen material – this might be with paint, dye or other media

Layering pieces of cloth, paper or found materials, constantly referring to her sketchbook to make adjustments, and

Stitching, which holds the work together.

Cas says that her drawings ‘infuse’ her work. They are not intended to be copied but rather act to stimulate and engage her as she works. She might also include photographic elements or text in the final piece.

‘Once I have worked on a basic composition for a piece, I ‘audition’ it by pinning it to a large piece of canvas hanging on a wall, or lay smaller pieces on clean paper, often overnight so I can look at it with fresh eyes,’ Cas explains. ‘After I’ve made any adjustments – fine tuning it like a piece of music – I’ll add the stitching. The form and texture of that is informed by the marks made in my sketchbook.’

Once the piece us complete, interaction with the audience completes the process for Cas.

Cas Holmes: 40 yards
Cas Holmes: 40 yards

‘Any successful art work is a meeting point between the artist and the audience,’ she says. ‘You need to ask questions. To leave space for other people to bring their own thoughts and stories to the work. What you’ve done should intrigue them, perhaps trigger memories. Textile art, like any good painting can work at two levels. It might capture your attention as you walk by and you think, “What is that?” and then it might draw you in so you want to look at it in more detail to see what’s happening, or how it is made, or because the subject matter is intriguing. And through that interaction, other things will be revealed.’

Over the last few years, Cas has used this process to create works for a number of major projects .

Cas Holmes: 40 yards - detail from 'Cup and Dandelion'
Cas Holmes: 40 yards – detail from ‘Cup and Dandelion’

40 yards
Cas’s ’40 yards’ project started more than 10 years ago, when after returning from work in Australia, she found a piece of cloth outside her house with the words ’40 yards’ on it. It triggered an idea for an exhibition for the 20th European patchwork meeting. She decided to create a body of work using only found materials, from her travels, and to include only images  of seasonal changes and daily observations from the street, gardens and park within 40 yards of her home.

‘It was that idea of paying attention to the world again and it was an exploration of the ways in which travel and home, intersect for me,’ she explains.

You can read more about the creation of one particular piece, Cup and Dandelion, here.

Cas Holmes: 'What we value - What we miss' in the studio
Cas Holmes: ‘What we value – What we miss’ in the studio

What we value -What we miss
What we value – What we miss also looked at how people travel through the world. Focusing on migration and identity, Cas posed the question: What would you put in a small bag, that is of value to you, if you had to up and leave at a moments’ notice, and what would you miss that you couldn’t take with you?

For two years as she travelled the world, Cas stitched her reflections on the question to include in the piece. But as the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced, she decided to ask the global community to send her their words, or stitched pieces, reflecting on the effect of lockdown on human connections, that she could include in the piece.

Cas Holmes: 'What we value - What we miss' in the studio
Cas Holmes: ‘What we value – What we miss’ in the studio

‘The pandemic reversed the original question for many of us,’ Cas comments. ‘Now we had our lives restricted like many migrants may have, in terms of where they can go, what they can do, where they can work and how they can live.’

Spaces, Places and Traces
The Spaces, Places and Traces exhibition in 2020, for the Romani Cultural and Arts Company gave Cas the chance to reflect on her own identity. Three larger wall hangings and a series of smaller pieces used fabrics with cultural significance, figurative elements from memories and images from photographs, to explore Cas’s Romany heritage and how it has shaped the person she has become.

Since that exhibition, the project has developed, picking up on the ideas explored in What we value – What we miss but focusing more explicitly on the human cost of migration to Europe from troubled regions across the world. The exhibition will be shown in Antwerp and Northern Ireland in 2022.

 

You can watch Cas talking about this body of work in this You Tube video. 

Cas Holmes: 'The Shipping Forecast' on LV21 2021
Cas Holmes: ‘The Shipping Forecast’ on LV21

The Shipping Forecast
The Shipping Forecast installation, which you can see on LV21 now (see dates and times below) is part of the ongoing Spaces, Places and Traces project. It is created out of printed and painted cloth, paper and lace and contains stitched words relating to the themes of migration and the movement of people.

The text stitched on the piece was triggered by a shocking sound bite from the BBC news, which Cas overheard in 2018, reporting that,  since 2014, 17,700 people had drowned in the waters around Europe .

Since then, while travelling, Cas has been stitching into linen or other pieces of cloth gathered while travelling, snatches of broadcasts or overheard conversations about migration – many of them negative or inflammatory.

For The Shipping Forecast installation, this text has been incorporated into larger panels, which have images of the shipping forecast overlaid, along with bits of clothing and other flotsam and jetsam, some of which Cas picked up on the beaches of Folkestone or Dover. She chose the shipping forecast as an organising theme because of its significance to her when she is away from home.

Cas Holmes: 'The Shipping Forecast' on LV21, 2021
Cas Holmes: ‘The Shipping Forecast’ on LV21

‘When I’m travelling, I often tune in to the shipping forecast on BBC radio,’ Cas says. ‘The rhythms and its mantra of words to help keep those at sea safe reassure me during the times I struggle to sleep. They make me feel secure and safe. But however useful and comforting the shipping forecast is, it does nothing to keep migrants safe at sea in their fragile boats.’

The Shipping Forecast installation also refers back, once more, to Cas’s immediate and more recent heritage.

‘My great aunts and uncles would have been related to some of those who fled Europe, from the end of the 19th century right through to the second world war, and who have continued to need to move because of their status in society ‘ she says.

Cas Holmes: 'The Shipping Forecast' on LV21 (detail)
Cas Holmes: ‘The Shipping Forecast’ on LV21 (detail)

Those viewing the installation approach it from the back, where the text appears asemic. From this perspective, they will appreciate that it is about the shipping forecast, but it is only when they return and pass the installation from the front, that the text, and the full message of the piece, is revealed.

‘I feel moved to use my voice as an artist to echo what is happening,’ Cas says. ‘I don’t think I have any answers but I want to make it feel very present. I want to create a visual voice for migrants so that they are not unseen. So they can’t be forgotten. And they should never be forgotten.’

You can hear Cas speaking about The Shipping Forecast project in this You Tube video.

Further information

The Shipping Forecast
https://lv21.co.uk/whats-on/places-spaces-and-traces-shipping-forecast/
You can view the installation on LV21 on the following dates. Admission is free.

Cas Holmes: 'The Shipping Forecast' on LV21, 2021
Cas Holmes: ‘The Shipping Forecast’ on LV21

Thursday 25 Nov 12:30-15:30
Friday 26 Nov 12:30-15:30 – if you would like to meet Cas, she plans to be there between 1-2pm
Saturday 27 Nov 12:00-16:00
Sunday 28 Nov 12:00-16:00
Tuesday 30 Nov 12:00-16:00
Thursday 2 Dec 12:30-16:00
Friday 3 Dec 14:00-18:30
Saturday 4 Dec 14:00-17:00
Sunday 5 Dec 10:30-12:30

 

Cas Holmes - 'Spaces, Places and Traces'
Cas Holmes – ‘Spaces, Places and Traces’

Website
https://casholmes.wordpress.com/

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/casholmestextiles/

Publications
Cas has published 5 books featuring her work:
https://www.pavilionbooks.com/contributor/cas-holmes-2/

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The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society

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Apologies for the time that has passed since my last post. As things have opened up, life seems to have got busier for everyone.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Robbie Humphries
Robbie Humphries

The last series of posts that I wrote featured the SILTings festival and the many ingenious ways that LV21 found to continue bringing high quality cultural experiences to Gravesham, despite restrictions on indoor events and social gatherings outside.

Well we’ve come a long way, and on 28th October LV21 are hosting their first onboard ticketed performance since lockdown in March 2020, and it promises to be a most interesting and entertaining evening.

The Plant is a ‘devised play’ with live traditional music, written by Greg Lawrence and Jeremy Scott, directed by Dave Turner, and performed by other members of The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative .

The Nissan car plant in Sunderland

It explores the impact of the Brexit referendum and the divisions it intensifies in an imagined community.

Based around a car factory, known as The Plant, the story has at its centre a young couple, Maddie and Niall, and their attempt to build a life together in the shadow of change.

Three performances, the first on LV21, pay tribute to Robbie Humphries, the play’s original director, who died of cancer in February 2019, before he could see his vision realised.

 

How it all started
In 2016, after the UK had voted for Brexit, Greg Lawrence, a writer living in Whitstable, wrote a short story Heads or Tails in the Darkness about a young couple. One had voted leave the EU while the other voted remain. The story explored  the impact of their differences on their relationship.

Sunderland votes to leave the EU

From that story grew the idea for a play, inspired by the experiences of the workers at the Nissan car plant in Sunderland, before and after the EU referendum.

On Brexit night, Sunderland was the first district to declare for ‘leave’. This was a surprise to many people, as Nissan was the main employer in Sunderland  and employees had  been warned time and again, that a vote to leave could jeopardise their jobs. Nissan said that World Trade Organisation tariffs would render its business in the UK unsustainable.

Greg  Lawrence was intrigued.  ‘I thought, wow, I wonder what’s going on there?’

Fascinated, Greg followed the developing situation in Sunderland, thinking that it might be a possible source for a story, and he wasn’t disappointed.

In the weeks following the ‘leave’ vote, behind closed doors, Nissan and the Government held talks about the future of the car plant.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Developing the script through improvisation
Developing the script through improvisation

‘I got an image in my head of these people waiting outside the negotiations for a decision that was completely out of their hands,’ Greg explains. ‘And the fragility of the situation, where someone else is making a decision and your entire future is hanging on it, reminded me of so many things that have happened in our past – the primary industries going and all those communities being broken and dying out.’

Greg approached Jeremy Scott, a musician, writer and an academic at the University of Kent, and two theatrical professionals, Robbie Humphries and Dave Turner, to discuss turning his ideas into a play.

‘Rather than just writing the script myself, I wanted to develop it through improvisation, using lots of theatrical devices and tools to see how it would grow,’ Greg explains. ‘And based on a couple of very powerful theatrical productions I’d seen, I wanted to explore how we could use music  to help set the scene – the time and place.’

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Jeremy Scott and Greg Lawrence
Greg and Jeremy wrote the script in  pubs and drinking holes in Whitstable

All three collaborators loved the idea. They contacted a group of local actors who already met regularly to improvise, and secured some rehearsal space through Jeremy’s connections at the University of Kent. Then, once a month The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative got together to work on the project.

Later, after they had secured funding from Arts Council England to perform the play across Kent, the Cooperative held auditions, drawing their cast from Kent and South London.

The process
Robbie Humphries was to direct the play. It was his job to explore, through improvisation, the impact of Brexit and the issues it stirred up for the factory, the community and individual characters.

‘We had a few characters in mind,’ says Jeremy Scott. ‘There was a young couple, Maddie and Niall, from very different backgrounds and with opposing views on Brexit, who have come together in this context and tried to forge a relationships. Then there was Niall’s dad, the union representative; Niall’s best friend; the factory manager, the local MP and the workers themselves.’

Niall

The improvisation sessions were filmed,  and afterwards Greg and Jeremy worked together to select the most interesting parts of the improvised dialogue, and turn them into a written script.

These extracts, Are You Calling My Workforce Diesel, illustrate how much the final production drew upon the improvisations of the actors. In these clips they are: Jane Bowhay, Adam de Ville and Grant Simpson.
Improvisation

Performance

Production was fluid and dynamic process. As well as receiving footage of the improvisations,  the writers were able to feed ideas for the narrative back into the improvisation process, via director, Robbie.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Maddie and Niall
Maddie and Niall

‘We realised that we needed a scene where the two main characters meet for the first time,’ Greg remembers. ‘So Robbie worked with the actors, using a drama technique to get that for us. He did the scene three times – one where the characters weren’t allowed to say anything, one where the couple could use just one word, and a third where they could talk normally. For the script Jeremy and I preferred the second option, as we liked the use of body language and movement in the play. It was lovely, so natural and romantic.’

There was also a research angle to the project. A cast member, Jonathan Fitchett, was studying for a PhD looking at improvised dialogue and how it can become dramatic, and interesting to people in a theatrical setting. The videoed improvisations fed into that research and the outcomes of the research helped inform the acting and writing process.

From script to performance
After about a year, the script was ready and the Cooperative took stock.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: First performance script-in-hand
First performance: script-in-hand

‘The first reading of the play that we did was about three hours long and it was awful!’ Greg laughs. ‘So Robbie suggested that we perform extracts from the whole, just enough to give a sense and the essence of what the play is about. So we did that and we thought that it worked really well as a piece in itself.  Sadly, Robbie passed away by the time of the performance in April 2019. And although we developed it a little more since, that version is pretty much what we have now.’

The final play, which lasts about 90 minutes,  now contains some written elements, others taken directly from the improvisation sessions, and some that are a little bit of both. The writers have also quoted verbatim, some remarks from the people of Sunderland, about the referendum, the vote and the negotiations.

In April 2021, the Cooperative performed The Plant, script-in hand, to some acclaim, as part of the Union season at the Gulbenkian  Arts Centre at the University of Kent.
Performance

The music
An essential element of The Plant is the traditional music, so much so that the writers refer to the music as ‘the  seventh cast member’. Four musicians perform on the stage throughout the piece.

‘I’d always wanted to write a musical but I have no musical talent,’ Greg laments. ‘Jeremy on the other hand plays and sings in folk bands and is fluent in folk music – its chords, its lyrics and its significance.’

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Musicians Martin Kember and Jeremy Scott
Musicians: Martin Kember and Jeremy Scott

But the play is not a musical, both writers insist. It is a play with music.

‘The cast perform the music themselves, but it is definitely not a singing and dancing number,’ Jeremy says. ‘In The Plant the songs and tunes don’t come from the characters, except on one or two occasions. Rather they come from the air. They bring out some of the central themes and are the voice the community, retelling their lives, stories and experiences, which are just as relevant now as at the time the music evolved. Just as you might use a soliloquy in a play to expand on a particular theme, the songs and tunes in the play are the soliloquies of the people.’

You can read more about how music is used in the play and listen to some of the songs used, here.

A long time coming
The Plant has been a long time in the making. It started with Brexit in 2016 and although performances were booked for 2020, these were cancelled because of Covid. The Cooperative kept the spirit of the production going online during lockdown but inevitably with such a long break, some participants moved on.

But the delay also had some very positive consequences.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Director, Dave Turner
Director: Dave Turner

‘When Robbie passed away in 2019, we lost our director but we were lucky that the actors rallied and stepped up to help put on a great performance,’ Greg says. ‘We really wanted Dave Turner to take over as director but Robbie and Dave were best friends and, at the time, Dave felt that, emotionally, he just couldn’t do it. Later, he did feel able to take on the role and has directed the current production, which I’d always hoped he would do.’

Robbie’s wife, Becks Hill, has also returned to the production, as Maddie.

‘So every step along the way has been a sort of tribute to Robbie,’ Greg smiles. ‘We’ve mentioned him in programmes, in the script, everywhere we can. The Plant is a tribute to him and everyone else who has been with us along the way.’

The Cooperative believe that five years on from Brexit the play will still appeal to a wide range of people, as the themes and issues the play explores are timeless – they have persisted throughout history, are still relevant today and will continue to be so into the future. Also, the writers have been careful to keep the play balanced. It is neither pro-leave or pro-remain.

‘In fact it’s not really about Brexit at all,’ Jeremy explains. ‘It’s about what that debate has done to us as a group of people and how we negotiate our way through it. It’s about questions of Englishness, belonging and identity and I think these will come to the fore more and more as we move forward.’

‘The play also looks at ideas of community,’ Greg adds. ‘The communities that I knew when I was growing up are not there as much and I think we need them back. They are there but we need to appreciate them, nurture them and be part of them to make them work, and the play explores that as well.’

Future plans
The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: PosterThere are three performances of The Plant at the end of October (dates below) and the Cooperative is applying for more funding to tour the production nationally in the future.

‘I was watching a documentary about Julie Walters talking about the early days of the Liverpool Everyman,’ Greg says. ‘She said they would rehearse a play, jump in the back of a van and turn up at a pub, jump out, put the play on, jump back in the van and go to the next venue. And that, for me, is what theatre is all about. That idea of theatre as education. Theatre that talks about politics, enlightens people and gets communities involved. And I think  that’s what we should be doing with this play.’

The writers see The Plant as only the beginning of a journey.

‘What I want to do eventually  is to take the idea of this play into other communities and leave them with it so that they can do their own version,’ Greg explains. To say right, here’s an idea – you’ve got a community, a set of characters, there’s a division, there’s an aspect of fragility and there are these themes – now you do what you want to do with it. It could be any issue – vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, anything. These are such divisive times. We’re living in a binary world at the moment. You’re either in or you’re out. Yes or no. There’s no grey.’

The castThe Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: cast
Becks Hill as Maddie
Harvey Almond as Niall
Paul Marlon as Gary
Denise Wilton as Jane
Jonathan Fitchett as Geoff
Lauren Mills as Gemma

 

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: ImprovisationMusicians
Tom Horn
Martin Kember

Performance dates
LV21, Gravesend  – 28th October 2021 – SOLD OUT (all ticket enquires to the Cooperative, please)
The Churchill Theatre, Bromley – 29th October 2021
The Aphra Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury – 30th October 2021

Links
The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative – https://www.plantassemblytheatre.com/

 

 

 

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SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
In the dark winter evening of February 2020, just before the even darker days of the first lockdown, Winter Gathering, a community festival produced by
LV21 for Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, brought a welcoming glow to Ebbsfleet Valley, a new town in Kent.

Ruth Payne: Welcoming Hands, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2019
Ruth Payne’s walk through double arch of welcoming hands

I was there leading a Small Town collage workshop, with fairy lights twinkling behind a sheet of my ‘Small Town’ Liberty print fabric.

But the real magic of the evening was created by illuminated art pieces commissioned from Filaments Art Collective, a group of five Kent-based artists – Elizabeth Burman, Karen Crosby, Rosie James, Ruth Payne and Linda Simon.

Visitors were greeted by Ebbsfleet residents from long ago, depicted in old photographs projected large across the community centre, before joining the Gathering via a double arch of welcoming hands, made from latex gloves lit by fairy lights.

Elizabeth Burman: Miniature light boxes, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2020
Elizabeth Burman’s miniature light boxes

 

Inside, was a display of tiny, intimate light boxes, allowing pinpricks of light to filter through vintage photographs while, in contrast, an interactive, life-sized reflective textile work lit up with the flash from a phone camera.

Winter Gathering was Filaments’ second group exhibition. The women had known each other through local art networks for years before the opportunity to exhibit together arose.

Their first collaboration, a two-night event at St. Mary’s Church at Burham Kent, in January 2020, was called Filaments. It explored thread and light and opened to the public only after darkness had fallen.

Rosie James: Reflective textile installation, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet, 2020
Rosie James’s reflective textile work lit up at the flash of a camera phone

Installations used textiles, installation, candlelight, reflective materials, light boxes and projections, and the whole was created and curated to complement the church.

Afterwards, the artists agreed that the name of the show encapsulated their work perfectly, and adopted it as the name of their collective.

Filaments Art Collective‘s work is site specific, telling stories about locations and the people and activities associated with them.

‘We approach a brief in our own unique way,’ explains Linda Simon. ‘Some of us are textile-based artists, others focus on projection and light, so we each draw on our particular interests to interpret a brief. But our work is not completely individual. There are always threads that link everything together.’

Exhibiting aboard LV21 for SILTings

LV21 with Linda Simon's 'Tethered'
Filaments are exhibiting on LV21 as part of SILTings

After more than a year when they’ve been unable to exhibit together because of COVID, Filaments are finally bringing their magical, creative touch to LV21 in Gravesend, as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

‘Filaments is one of the jolliest artist collectives I’ve met and a joy to work with,’ says Päivi Seppälä, co-owner and director of LV21. ‘The site-specific nature of the group’s work and the invisible thread that runs through their collective, yet distinct, approach and which joins their individual practices together, fits the collaborative concept of SILTings perfectly.’

Elizabeth Burman, artist, LV21, Filaments
Elizabeth Burman: Magnetic light boxes on LV21

Originally SILTings was due to take place during Estuary Festival in September 2020, so the initial commission ideas were focused on outdoor projections and illuminated artworks to brighten up the dark autumn evenings.  But all this changed when the festival had to be rescheduled for May/June 2021 when the evenings are much lighter.

‘Filaments were unfazed by the challenge,’  Päivi  continues. ‘The group quickly responded with clever new ideas inspired by local stories and created a wonderful body of new bespoke works for people to enjoy both on and off the ship.’

The Filaments exhibition runs throughout the SILTings weekend, from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

More details about how you can visit the exhibition in person or virtually can be found below.  But for now, sit back and meet the artists.

Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth Burman, artist
Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth decided to study art when her youngest daughter went to primary school. Her background is in pottery and printmaking but her work for LV21 draws on her passion for old ephemera and discarded photographs.

‘An afternoon leafing through strangers’ once treasured moments in a junk shop is heaven to me,’ she says. ‘I love rummaging around the all the unusual objects, textures and images and I feel I replicate the mishmash of paraphernalia when I make collages. It’s instinctual to me to place particular shapes and colours beside one another. The manipulation of photographs and paper materials fascinates me, particularly as we increasingly move towards a paperless culture.’

Elizabeth Burman: Filaments on LV21, 2021
Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

 

Elizabeth’s  work for SILTings focuses on Bawley Bay, which is a tiny piece of riverside adjacent to St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend, next to where LV21 is moored. It was once the heart of Gravesend’s fishing community.

The Bay was named after the shrimp boats that used to moor there. During the 19th century, over  a hundred Bawley boats worked from this one small stretch of the river. Gravesend was a tourist resort then and Victorian tourists loved the local delicacy of brown shrimps.

‘Bawley’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘boiler boat’ because the shrimps were cooked on board so that they were ready to be sold as they were landed. My Great Aunt Hilda used to work in Warners Shrimp Merchant on Cross Street, near the river in Gravesend, preparing shrimps to sell to tourists in Rosherville Pleasure Gardens.

Elizabeth Burman, artist, Filaments, LV21, 2021
Another of Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

For her first installation for Filaments on LV21, Elizabeth used old photographs of people enjoying Gravesend as a riverside holiday destination. She mounted these in magnetic fish tins, to be displayed on the steel surfaces around the lightship.

‘I made holes sporadically around the photos with pins, and put a light in the back so they’re like little light boxes,’ she says. ‘When I visited the LV21, I took some of the tins with me and they were sticking to the boat walls wherever I went. It was fantastic. It was like the whole ship was a gallery. I’m going to make as many as I can and put them all round the ship and move them around every day, so the display is constantly changing.’

Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier
Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier

 

 

Her second installation references Gravesend’s shrimping heritage directly. She has constructed a magnificent chandelier, made up of over a thousand hand-made paper shrimps. The chandelier will hang in front of the base of LV21’s lantern tower in the lower deck space and will be lit to cast mesmerising shadows on the walls.

Karen Crosby

Karen Crosby, artist, Filaments
Karen Crosby

After working in retail for 25 years, Karen Crosby’s life changed direction when she took a new job in a secondary school. Seeing that she was good at art, the school placed her in the art department and then supported her to get a BA so she could become an art teacher. She was an ‘A’ student. Her BA degree show, a film Traces of Snodland Mill was showcased for the Platform award 2012, at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

After her BA, Karen went on to do a Masters, where her success continued. In 2015, her MA work was selected for the tour of France, as part of a cross-border collaboration between Maison de l’Art et de la Communication in Lens, France and 51zero Festival  in Medway, Kent.

With her MA completed, Karen left teaching and set up as a professional artist, working from a studio in Sittingbourne, Kent.

Carol Crosby, artist, Traces of Sittingbourne projection
Karen Crosby: ‘Traces of Sittingbourne’

‘It was while I was there that I got my first funding to do some projections showing old photos of Sittingbourne  in the places they were originally taken,’ she recalls. ‘I love playing with images, mixing the past and the present. Using projection is simple and interesting and it looks great.’

From there Karen was commissioned to do a similar projects in London’s Brick Lane, featuring people and cultural change in Brick Lane over a hundred years ago. Another projection event, The Last of the London, took place at the derelict site of the old London Hospital in Whitechapel Road and told the story of the hospital.  Point of Arrival was a series of projections at the Tower of London, charting the arrival into Victorian London of Jewish immigrants,  fleeing persecution and hardship in eastern Europe.

 

Karen Crosby: Last of the London - A tribute to the former Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road
Karen Crosby: Last of the London projection
Karen Crosby, Point of arrival projection, Tower of London, 2019
Karen Crosby: Point of Arrival projection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her work  with Filaments on LV21 is also a projection. Like Elizabeth, Karen is using old photographs.

Filaments, LV21, 'Ivy Rose'
Ivy Rose on holiday in Gravesend

She had intended to research people who worked or lived near or on the River Thames at Gravesend, but COVID made that difficult.

Instead, she used photographs of the famous Gravesend riverside family, the Sutherlands on their Bawley Boat, The Thistle, which is now being  refurbished in Faversham, along with pictures of sent in by the daughter of Ivy Rose, whose late mother spent her WRAF leave in Gravesend, with friends, during WWII.

‘I like things that dissolve that you can’t quite see,’ Karen explains. ‘I took some film of the water and  it was a really sunny day, so I’ve got lovely, sparkly water reflections. And I’ve put old pictures of boats, places, people, shrimpers, going in and coming out, so they look like they’re submerged in the water.’

Karen’s projections will be shown in the engine room on LV21, which houses the lightship’s original rotating lantern.
‘When the lantern is on, its moving light will make the images appear and disappear as well, so it should look quite magical,’ Karen says.

Rosie James

Rosie James, artist, Filaments
Rosie James

Rosie worked as a radiographer for years while she was, as she puts it, ‘faffing about’  trying to decide what to do with herself. She then studied for a degree in textiles and an MA in Art Textiles at Goldsmiths, before going on to teach fashion and textiles.

It was attending a course about a subject that she didn’t want to teach and which, as it turned out, nobody wanted to learn, that determined Rosie’s future artistic direction.

‘Someone asked me to teach free machine embroidery which I didn’t do and I didn’t have a clue about,’ she laughs. ‘ But they insisted that I teach it, so I did a week’s course in it at City Lit in London and it was brilliant! And as I was doing it I was thinking, Oh wow! I can do lots of things with this. The course I was supposed to teach didn’t happen because it didn’t get enough students but by this time I was off – I’d just decided that this was brilliant.’

Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail
Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail

Rosie’s stitched drawings pictures often feature people and crowds but more recent work has seen her, increasingly, finding ways to make statements through her work.

‘When I’m stitching figures, I have lots of loose threads dangling off them, Rosie explains. ‘And I’m becoming more and more interested in using these loose threads to actually say something. So they’re becoming bigger and bigger and more part of the scene’

In her exhibition The Power of Stitch at Ideas Test in Sittingbourne, Rosie used the trailing threads as power lines connecting pylons to stitched images of women sewing

I  was linking the loose threads to pylons that were creating energy,’ she says. ‘So basically, the women were powering the world through their sewing.’

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Olive Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

For her Filaments installation on LV21, Rosie has used thick cords and threads and various coloured fabrics to produce four large-scale stitched sails, featuring the Sutherland family and their Bawley Boat.

‘I used the photos of the Sutherlands – Eileen, Olive and Bill – to stitch drawings on old dinghy sails and then I thought they needed some words,’ Rosie explains. ‘There is a poem by TS Eliott called The Dry Salvages, which is beautiful and has some lovely words around work – about bailing and hauling. So I used those words to get across the poetics of what the people are doing. The words are appliquéd on in watery, slithery, shiny colours.’

For SILTings, two of Rosie’s sails will be hung the outer hull of LV21, billowing in the wind for passers-by to see, while the other two (Eileen and Olive) will be inside as a backdrop to one of Karen’s projections, featuring an image of the Sutherland’s Bawley Boat The Thistle disappearing into the water.

Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021

Eileen Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

Rosie’s embroidered sails, inspired by old photographs, are installed inside and outside the lightship

Ruth Payne

Ruth Payne, artist, Filaments
Ruth Payne

‘I am currently obsessed by diatoms and coccolithophores,’ says Ruth Payne. ‘The smaller things are, the more I love them. As soon as Päivi mentioned SILTings and stories, I thought instead of doing human stories, I would explore the life cycles of the tiny things that live in the water and make up the sediment and the silt of the Thames Estuary. They’re what everything else is based on. The things that I’m drawing are what the shrimps and other water life would be eating.’

Ruth Payne: Digital Collage - Digidiatom 2
Ruth Payne: Digidiatom 2

Ruth’s installation on LV21 with Filaments has arisen through her collaboration with Dr Anna Freeman, an environmental scientist. It involves intricate, enlarged drawings of microscopic images of phytoplankton, which she uses to play with ideas of scale and importance, and how we often conflate the two.

Ruth’s  digidiatoms are a series of magnetic digital collages of diatoms that will be fixed to the inside of Lv21’s hull

Ruth Payne: Installation for SILtings, LV21, 2021
Ruth’s installation on LV21

 

Her main installation for SILTings, however, is in two parts. Each is laid out in a circle on the main deck  in the lightship’s Recreation Room.

There are 6 drawings of diatoms on circular mirrors.

‘Diatoms float encased in silica shells – their own little glass houses – they are found in all water habitats, and around the world, diatoms are responsible for producing a large part of the oxygen that we breathe today,’ Ruth explains. ‘They are stunning!’

The mirrors, which reference the surface of the water and the structure of the organism, also use the viewers’ reflected image to place them within the work, so they become part of the organism’s life cycle.

There are also 6 drawings on plaster.

‘These are the coccolithophores, which live in marine environments, but flow up the estuary with the tide as far as Gravesend,’ says Ruth. ‘I’ve magnified images of these beautiful little organisms onto plaster using carbon paper. They have little plates made of calcium and when they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor, over millions of years they are compressed to form chalk, limestone and gypsum crystals, which are the materials that make up the plaster that I’ve cast the discs from.’

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth Payne: Diatom Campylodisca, Coccolithophore Emiliana huxleyi and Diatom Stephanopyxis

Ruth has been working as an artist since she graduated in 2002.

Drawing has become important to her over the last few years, but Ruth’s work also includes large-scale installations, digital collage, performance and textiles. Her work is often associated with the psychological charge of difficult domestic environments or the impact of invisible illness, and the psychology of creativity.

Ruth Payne: House
Ruth Payne: House

 

‘I have a fascination with psychology that feeds into my work,’ Ruth explains. ‘For a long time I seemed to be making work that you physically could go into and hunker down. I was making the shelters for me but I wanted to share them so people could escape the sometimes difficult outside world.

 

Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid
Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid

‘I made an installation called ‘House’ which is a 6 x 6 ft house shape of rough timber. The walls are constructed of patchwork fabric offcuts, which were destined for landfill. Inside are handmade cushions and blankets and a little bowl of sweets and you can go in, get cosy and hide.

‘And I also made another translucent patchwork structure Pale Cuboid, filled with 42 of my haiku that I’d written out many, many times on little bits of tissue paper. And they were like leaves. Viewers can go inside and sit on the stool and leaf through the haiku. It is a space to reflect, to be outside of the usual world.’

 

‘But of late, that kind of work is sort of passing through,’ she concludes. ‘I’m concentrating more on drawing and the building blocks of life, on ecology, the natural world and how we humans inhabit and interact with it.’

Linda Simon

Linda Simon
Linda Simon

Linda Simon has been working as an artist since she graduated from UCA, Canterbury in 2013. Before that, she held various positions in IT which, she believes, have influenced the kind of work she makes.

‘I often work with encoded information and I like to use alternative communication systems,’ she says. ‘So when Päivi was talking about the ebb tide flag system that is used by the Port of London Authority to alert people to the dangers of the estuary, I was immediately drawn to that as a possible subject for my SILTings installation.’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags
Linda’s fluffy flags are based on the International Code of Signals

However, while Linda was researching the fluvial flow warning systems and finding very little information, she stumbled across the International Code of Signals – a series of nautical flags used to communicate vital information to sea-faring vessels around the world.  She decided to design a series of flags to be hoisted up aboard LV21 for people to view from the shore.

‘I had been using a traditional latch hook rug tufting method to interpret a number of drawings I’d made by using a set of rules determined by the throw of a dice. The strong graphic elements used within the flag imagery really lent themselves to translation using the latch hook method, and thus my ‘fluffy flags’ were born’.

Linda Simon: Fluffy Dice Drawing No 8 with the original Dice Drawing

‘I love the fact that each flag is a letter or a number so you can spell out individual messages, but also that each flag or pair of flags have their own distinct meanings,’ she says. ‘So my fluffy flags are composed of two flags, and each pair has a different meaning. I chose meanings that either amuse me, such as ‘I am on fire’ or that can be read metaphorically to reference situations we’ve found ourselves experiencing this past year. For instance, one says ‘No-one is allowed on board’. Another says, ‘You should not come any closer.  I also did a combination of eight flags that spelled out ‘StaySafe’’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags on LV21
Linda’s fluffy flags on LV21
Linda Simon: Fluffy flags 'Stay safe'
Stay safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Simon: No Entry
Linda Simon: No Entry

‘Often finding an unusual material is the starting point for my art,’ she explains. ‘I’ve been working with safety materials for the last three or four years. Some of the work I’ve made for the ship uses hazard warning tape and I’ve made two big signs – No Entry and Caution which are going to be used to help direct visitors around the lightship.’

Linda’s final piece for SILTings is a flag constructed from yellow plastic barrier mesh and red and white hazard tape, entitled Tethered. It was conceived during the first lockdown and refers to the restricted feelings experienced by many people during this period.

Linda says, ‘It just felt so perfect for LV21 and I’m thrilled to be able to fly it from the flagpole at the stern of the ship.’

CLICK TO EXPAND THE VIDEO

Further information

Filaments
The Filaments exhibition runs from 4-6 June 2021 and can also be viewed online. There will be a limited number of facilitated 30-minute group visits to see the artworks aboard LV21 between 12 – 4pm each day,  if C-19 restrictions allow.

Pre-booking is recommended as places are very limited.

Details of how to book will be available from 28th May on the event website . For any enquiries please email TheCaptain@LV21.vo.uk.

A series of live online IGTV recordings will provide a digital tour of the artworks with behind the scenes interviews with the artists and audiences during the festival weekend.

There will be accompanying creative activities, and meet the artist opportunities. Resource packs can be picked up along the quayside between 11am-4pm on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th June.

A short video featuring all SILTings artists and their artworks will also be released online after the event,  later in June.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/filamentsartcollective
Instagram: @filaments.art  https://www.instagram.com/filaments.art/

Future exhibitions:
– LV21, Gravesend as part of SILTings  – 4th-6th June 2021
– St. Mary’s Burham, Kent – October 2021

 

 

Elizabeth Burman
Instagram
@Eliza_ink
@thedailyink
@earth.spinned.and.fire


Karen Crosby
Website:
http://www.karencrosbyart.com/
Instagram:  @karcro1
Facebook:  Karen Crosby Artist & Photographer

Rosie James
Website: http://www.rosiejames.com/
Instagram: @rosiejamestextileartist

 

Ruth Payne
Website:
https://ruthpayneartist.wordpress.com/
Instagram: @ruthpayneart
Facebook: Ruth Payne

Linda Simon
Website: www.lindasimon.co.uk
Instagram: @linda_simon_artist
Facebook: Linda Simon 

 


SILTings
https://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

See also my first SILTings blog SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

 

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SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

At 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021, blue porcupines will start to appear at various secret locations around the streets of Gravesend. The porcupines will hide in plain sight for a week.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021

Together they form a two-mile trail around the town. But to discover the porcupines and complete the trail, porcupine hunters must decipher a series of clues.

The trail starts at LV21 and to take part you will need your smartphone, so that you can communicate directly with the Blue Porcupine HQ.

Each blue porcupine that you discover will reveal a password which, when keyed into your smartphone, unlocks a video clue. If you solve that, it will lead you to the next porcupine.

You can complete the trail in one outing or you can tackle it in stages, over the week.

And if you are not up for a walk or you’re not in the area, well there’s no excuse. You can also follow the trail remotely, from the comfort of your own armchair, via Google Streetview. The online resources will also go live on June 5th.

All you have to do is find and photograph all the hidden blue porcupines, to win a chance to become one of three, first ever porcupine hunters to be inducted into ‘The Order of the Blue Porcupine’. Inductees will be presented with a rosette at a special ceremony aboard LV21 on Saturday 12th June.

The mysterious blue porcupine

Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975
Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975

The blue porcupines marking the Trail are inspired by the mysterious blue porcupine that has featured on Gravesham’s Coat of Arms  since medieval times.

On the current Coat of Arms, originating from 1975, it appears as a ‘sea porcupine’ – a heraldic mythical creature, part porcupine, part fish – and stands opposite and facing ‘Invicta’, the white horse of Kent.

On Gravesend’s first Coat of Arms (circa 1568) the porcupine appears as a land creature , with legs rather than a fish tail and a chain around its neck, at the helm of a boat.

 

Image from 1568 Coat of Arms, reproduced on the gate of Milton Church, Gravesend

This earlier Coat of Arms has been described as:

…..a boat with one mast….a sail furled, proper, rowed by five rowers hooded and cloaked, with oars and anchor, steered by a porcupine, azure, chained and quilled…

As far as I know, there are only a few places around Gravesend where you can find the original Coat of Arms. It is reproduced on the gate of Milton Church; there is a magnificent mosaic in Gravesend Market; and it can be seen embroidered on banners in St Andrew’s Church.

It has been said that the imagery on this Coat of Arms inspired Edward Lear to write his nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussy-cat.

Mosaic in Gravesend market

Edward Lear’s father, Jeremiah Lear, lived in Gravesend for many years, so Edward was a frequent visitor. Lear senior was buried in Milton churchyard in 1833, although the plot is not marked.

When I was a schoolboy, the emblem moved around the town, emblazoned on the chests of scruffy youths, including my own, on the blazer badge of Springhead School. I didn’t realise the creature steering the boat was a porcupine, though. I thought it was a bear!

Duncan Grant: Springhead School
Me as a Springhead yoof
Springhead School blazer badge
Springhead School blazer badge

 

The porcupine is native to the Americas and Africa, and is also found in Italy, so how on earth did it come to be on Gravesend’s Coat of Arms?

Well, one explanation might be that there was a link to the Sydney family of Penshurst Place in Kent, who added the porcupine to their family crest in the 16th century, as a result of a connection with King Louis XII of France.  In France the porcupine was a symbol of invincibility and Louis XII adopted a porcupine as his personal emblem.

Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey
Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey

In particular, it’s use on the Gravesend Coat of Arms could be a tribute to Sir Henry Sydney and may refer to his authority in governing and regulating barges and boats on the Thames at that time.

The River Thames has always been a leading character in the history of Gravesend, so the portrayal of a boat on the Coat of Arms is not unexpected. A bit of searching on the British History Online website provides a possible explanation for the rowers.

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

 

 

In 1377, Richard II commanded the sheriffs of Kent and Essex to erect beacons on either side of the Thames, at Gravesend and Farnedon. These were to be lit to provide early warning of enemy attackers coming up the river.

Unfortunately, the beacons proved useless. Soon after they were in place, the French sailed up the Thames and plundered and burnt Gravesend.

To help the town to recover from its losses, Richard II pronounced that the people of Gravesend should have the sole privilege of rowing passengers by water from Gravesend to London, a journey known as ‘the long ferry.’

It is probable that the rowers in the Coat of Arms represent the Long Ferry rowers, although why they are hooded is unclear – although, you’ll probably have noticed, the hoodie remains a very popular item of clothing in Gravesend even today!

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine
The Trail of the Blue Porcupine was devised collaboratively by Gravesham-based poet and spoken-word artist James M’Kay and London-based artist Sarah Sparkes. Sarah made the porcupines, while James worked out the trail and devised the clues that porcupine hunters will solve as they walk.

LV21
LV21

Although they have both been fascinated by the blue porcupine for some time, James and Sarah had never met or worked together until they were introduced by Päivi Seppälä of LV21. She commissioned them to produce the trail as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

SILTings runs from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston
Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston

Sarah Sparkes is a visual artist and curator, whose work is inspired and informed by myths, folklore and, particularly, ghost stories. Currently, she is painting 101 ghost stories in 101 weeks. She also runs the visual arts and creative research project GHost which explores guests, ghosts and hosts, through seminars, exhibitions, screenings and performances.

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 - 'and this is where I saw it' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 – ‘and this is where I saw it’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

‘Myths are histories that have become stories,’ she explains. ‘They travel lightly by word of mouth from generation to generation. The hierarchy will put things in writing and say, this is our history, this is what you have to believe. But folklore is a way that everyday people can own their histories and carry them forward.’

‘And quite often, they stand testament for things that have been suppressed or repressed,’ she continues. ‘Folklore is where that stuff is hiding. That is why these stories are so powerful and that’s why, I think, the blue porcupine is such a powerful character.’

Sarah first encountered the blue porcupine  back in 2013 when she visited Gravesend with a group of walkers and artists to plan the Inspiral London Walk which finishes in Gravesend. Inspiral London are now partners on the Trail of the Blue Porcupine and are also listing the Trail on their website.

Banner in St Andrew's Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes
Banner in St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes

‘I was walking around Gravesend and I saw in St Andrew’s Chapel, a banner with this extraordinary creature, like a big rat at the front of a boat, and I wondered what on earth it could be,’ Sarah remembers.

The mystery of the blue porcupine caught her imagination and she began to research the heraldic symbolism, its place in the history of Gravesend and how its story might be developed and made relevant through art.

‘I like the idea of art that is really centred in the community and captures people’s imagination,’ Sarah says. ‘Art that makes people see something about where they live, celebrate it, embrace that and then make work about it themselves. I really want to make this magical, wonderful creature, the blue porcupine, a significant part of Gravesend, for the people of Gravesend.’

The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020
The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020

In 2020, Sarah was invited by curator, Caroline Gregory to contribute to Hell or High Water a weekend of art on LV21, exploring transitions, adversity, survival and transformation.

The art that Sarah planned, Azure, Chained and Quilled, was a performance piece portraying the blue porcupine being released from its chains and navigating the lightship to safety. Sarah made a blue porcupine puppet and head dress for the performance, which moved from the Gravesham Arts Centre, along the Thames foreshore and on to the deck of LV21.

Because of Covid the event took place virtually. Sarah’s live performance did not go ahead but it was filmed and is still available to view.

 

James M'Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew's Church, Gravesend
James M’Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend

If you live around here, you may know poet James M’Kay from his live spoken word performances at venues in London and Gravesham, or through Reverb Chamber, the monthly neighbourhood poetry nights that he hosts at Cafe No.84.

James first encountered the blue porcupine when he moved south from Newcastle.

Over the last year, during his lockdown walks around Gravesham, James has occupied himself by inventing a parallel, fantasy landscape, imagining fantastical  stories about the areas he walks though.

He is excited by the lack of ‘facts’ surrounding the story of the blue porcupine because, he explains, it leaves space for people to imagine their own stories.

‘The blue porcupine is a Rorschach Blot,’ he says. ‘It’s a tool for telling stories, which can be whatever people want, to express however they feel about the place. I have my own ideas. I think I know why the porcupine is in that boat, who it is that are rowing, and why they are going away, but I don’t think I’m prepared to say just yet.

‘Everything I’m planning to do with Blue Porcupine is encouraging people to make up stories because I think a little playfulness is what we need after all we’ve been through recently.’

Before they collaborated, Sarah and James had each imagined different stories about the porcupine in the boat. To Sarah, the porcupine is female. James sees it as male, so they have agreed to use ‘they’ as a pronoun when talking about the porcupine .

Sarah is troubled by the porcupine being, apparently, tethered to the boat.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021

‘The porcupine seems to be both a slave and a heroic figure,’ she say. ‘It has got a chain around its neck, like a collar, which I think is really sad. But yet it’s a kind of figurehead. It’s the navigator. It’s the seer. It’s finding the way. The oarsmen aren’t looking where they are going but the porcupine is.’

James disagrees. ‘Yes, the blue porcupine has a chain around its neck,’ he counters. ‘But I think it is a mayoral chain. I think the blue porcupine is in charge. He is steering the boat.’

James and Sarah are hoping that through the Trail of the Blue Porcupine, they will perhaps uncover new information about the story behind the porcupine, or that people will report new sightings of the image around the borough. They certainly hope that the event will stimulate many new imaginings of the porcupine’s story.

If you have any information or wish to share your stories, factual or imagined, please either comment on this blog or contact James and Sarah directly, through the links given below.

A Blue Porcupine Festival

Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020
Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020

For the future, James and Sarah are hoping to organise a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend.

‘Ever since I saw the blue porcupine in St Andrew’s Chapel, I’ve had been harbouring this ambition to do a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend,’ Sarah reveals. ‘I imagine it to be like Jack in the Green in Hastings with costumes, parading and everyone getting involved. When Päivi talked to me about doing this project, I sketched a costume based on the mosaic that is in the old marketplace and I imagined that at some time in the future, this could become part of a blue porcupine festival.’

 

James believes that the blue porcupine movement is going to have a momentum of its own.

‘I think we’re going to have trouble catching it!’ he says.

As the blue porcupine is part of the Coat of Arms, there are no copyright restrictions in relation to the use of its image.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020

‘One of the things that I absolutely love about the blue porcupine is that it doesn’t belong to anybody – not to any particular community, organisation or group,’ James says. ‘If you’ve got anything to do with the Borough of Gravesham, you’re entitled to use the blue porcupine to tell whatever stories you want with it, which I think is great. I’m looking forward to Blue Porcupine Bitter, Blue Porcupine cocktails, Blue Porcupine tattoos. I think the people of Gravesham need to start running with it. It’s our porcupine!’

James has started the ball rolling. His blog is called Blue Porcupine Poems and Things.  And he has one more idea, inspired by his own experience of the success of The Angel of the North in bringing the community together in Gateshead.

‘The week before they put it up, everyone in Gateshead was saying, what a load of rubbish, but a week later they were calling it, “our Angel,”” James recalls. ‘So I think, at the very end of the promenade, that little bit that juts out, would be the perfect place for a massive 30-foot, major, iconic piece of porcupine art – illuminated at night obviously so that all the ships coming up the Thames would see it.’

‘That’s where I think we should be going with this!’ he laughs.

More Information

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The trail launches at 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021 on the quayside outside LV21 and is available throughout the following week. It is also available online. Clues for the Trail of the Blue Porcupine will go live on YouTube on Saturday 5th June 2021 

Join the Blue Porcupine Fan Club on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Blue-Porcupine-Fan-Club-100823918862979/

Follow the Blue Porcupine Instagram: @theblueporcupine

Sarah Sparkes: 'Azure, Chained and Quilled', on LV21
Sarah Sparkes: ‘Azure, Chained and Quilled’, on LV21

 

SILTingshttps://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

James M'Kay ©Tim Goddard
James M’Kay ©Tim Goddard

 

James M’Kay

Blog: Blue Porcupine Poems and Things
https://blueporcupinepoemsthings.substack.com/

Soundcloud: Poet and Reciter James M’Kay
https://soundcloud.com/mckay_poetry
https://grandbabybeat.bandcamp.com/releases

Sarah Sparkes 

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 - 'Licht Und Blindheit' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 – ‘Licht Und Blindheit’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

Instagram: @thesarahsparkes

Website: https://www.sarahsparkes.com/blog/

GHost website: https://www.ghosthostings.co.uk/

Liverpool and Taiwan ghost stories:  http://www.theghostportal.co.uk/

Senate House Ghost Stories: http://ghostsofsenatehouse.blogspot.com/

New Art Projects: http://newartprojects.com/artists/sarah-sparkes/

 

 

 
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Invitation to Pull Up A (virtual) Chair with Anne Langford

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
You get to know the place where you were born and brought up, don’t you?

Duncan Grant: Brewery
My version of the old Russell’s brewery which was by the river

You know what you like and what you don’t like. And have a picture in your mind about what that place is like.

But it’s not often you get the chance to see that place through somebody else’s eyes.  As a proud born and bred Gravesender myself,  I’m very interested to see how our community is perceived by somebody – ‘an outsider’ – with a fresh perspective on the very familiar.

At the beginning of March, artist Anne Langford issued an invitation on Facebook for residents of Gravesham to get in touch with her. She wanted to hear about what it is that people living in Gravesham take pride in, and  what it is about the borough that makes them proud.

Anne Langford © Gary Weston
‘Pull Up a Chair, Gravesham’ is a collaboration betwen Anne Langford and LV21 © Gary Weston

Anne admits that she ‘loves chatting and is a little bit nosey’, but her request was not made just out of idle curiosity – something to keep everyone amused during lockdown – but to initiate a month-long Arts project that she is undertaking, in partnership with Gravesend’s independent, floating art space and performance facility, LV21.

The Arts Council England funded project, called Pull Up A Chair, is  a research-focused project run by Brighton-based organisation Quiet Down There, exploring how residents and communities participate in and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) arts and cultural activities. A longer term objective for the independent arts organisations involved – in Gravesham’s case LV21 – is to plan what more they can do to involve local communities in arts and cultural activities.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
To mourn the loss of her ‘live’ project, Anne I decided to burn a matchstick chair on the foreshore of the Thames – the river that connects her to Gravesham.

Pull Up A Chair  offers a new spin on the familiar concept of an artist-in residence: one that was developed through a collaboration with Apexart based in New York City.  In this model, instead of embedding an artist within an institution – a university, museum or art gallery, for example – artists are asked to immerse themselves in a community for a month, experiencing what it is like to live, work and play there.

Artists are paired with locations of which they have no knowledge, and which they have never visited previously. The idea is that they approach their work with no pre-conceptions about a place or its communities.

During their residency, artists are asked not to produce artwork but, instead to follow an intense programme of activities around the locality, to meet the people, and to report on their activity via social media.

 

The Gravesham project, which has a loose theme of ‘pride’,  is one of three linked residencies each of which has been affected by the pandemic.

In Luton, a collaboration between artist  Alex Parry and Revolution Arts has now been completed but was cut short by the pandemic.  And the project in Swale, Medway, with artist Chloe Cooper and Ideas Test,  was reimagined because of Covid, and took place in June 2020. You can read Anne’s reflections on the loss of Arts projects during the pandemic on her blogpost Resorcing the Ruins.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
This chair Anne found in the street has become the focal point of her virtual residency from her London flat

Pulling up a virtual chair
Anne Langford’s residency in Gravesham was due to begin in March 2020, but COVID put paid to that. Funding constraints meant the project had to be completed this financial year, so Anne has been challenged to develop the model even further, by looking at what can be a achieved through a ‘virtual residency’.  In fact, Anne has only visited Gravesend twice – once before the project started to meet everyone at LV21 and once, as part of the project, for a solitary walk around Trosley Country Park which she reported on in her blog. The rest of the time, she has explored Gravesham via her computer, from her home in East London.

Anne Langford: PullUp A Chair, Gravesham
Inspiration from Anne’s visit to Gravesham

‘It’s been interesting finding out how to do this remotely, and how to get some sense of immersion in the project when, essentially, I’m in the same flat I’ve been in for a year,’ Anne says. ‘So I’m sitting here with a little bottle of water from the Thames at Gravesend and a little pot of soil from Elizabeth Gardens. I’ve got  some ropes from LV21, a piece of  flint from Trosley Country Park and some chalk. I’ve been on a Google Earth tour and let myself get lost in Wikipedia.’

If the project had run to plan, Anne would have lived in Gravesham for a month and followed a schedule of events – maybe volunteering at the Food Bank, or joining a yoga class – talking to people she met. She was particularly looking forward to ‘ship spotting with Betty and Arthur’! But  beginning the project in lockdown, although she had a number of telephone calls lined up with notable residents, Anne wasn’t sure she was meeting the people she really wanted to reach.

David Banfield: Woodlands Park gates.
‘Beauty abounds in the Borough. History around us. Great buildings’ said one Facebook respondent.

‘I thought how do I get out and meet some of those “other” people, because the project is about starting new friendships and relationships with people that don’t know about LV21, or LV21 don’t know about them,’ Anne explains. ‘So I asked, do you mind if I just go on Facebook – there are a lot of Facebook groups all over Gravesend – and let me see if they’ll let me post and say hello. And it’s turned into this phenomenal source of  people who I probably wouldn’t have met another way.’

Through her Facebook page, Anne has begun to make contact with the everyday community groups that meet around Gravesham.  She’s discovered the Harvel Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem); the Chalk Village Gardeners Club; the supper club in Higham Village, run by a chef that, in normal times, sells out just from people in the village; and a local Beaver group. She’s also spoken to some local personalities, like Genny, The Confidence Queen , a conversation that left Anne ‘fizzing with energy and joy’.

‘At the beginning of the project I was feeling a little despondent,’ Anne says. ‘And now it has turned into a really joyous thing. I’m just loving connecting with all these people ready to share – sending in photographs and saying, I’ll put you in touch with so-and-so, or I’d love to meet you for a socially distanced walk. It feels like at the end of a long Covid year, Gravesham is giving me a real gift!’

It is the often overlooked stories that Anne is looking for, the ‘ordinary everyday’.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
Sri Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara

‘I read an article about how a lot of Scandinavian countries work on the basis that most of us will live an ordinary, rather than a extraordinary life,’ Anne says. ‘And because of this,  they make the ordinary things in public spaces, comfortable and beautiful, as well as functional. And I’m interested in that – how if we just valued the ordinary and the everyday, our lives would be so much richer.’

Anne Langford
Anne grew up in a small town in Worcestershire. Originally, she dreamt of being a jockey but later decided to become an English teacher.  But while at university in Aberystwyth, Anne ‘fell in love with drama’ and decided that her future lay there.

After she left university, Anne landed her dream job (‘living in a caravan in the middle of Wales and earning peanuts’) working for Equilibre Horse Theatre, a company that made art and theatre productions in communities with horses.

 

The company, which no longer operates, presented classical riding as a theatrical art form, involving  performance artists to explore the centuries-old relationship between people and horses

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair: Gravesham
Horse lover, Anne, spotted the Romany racing Sulkies on her visit to Gravesham

‘It combined my first love, horses,  and theatre,’ Anne recalls. ‘Mid-Wales is a really creative world – all the farmers are poets and musicians. It’s part of their life.  So when we did an open day where dressage trainer, Georges Dewez, shared how he trained the horses and local musicians played some music and a poet performed a poem, everyone said they loved it and asked us to do it again. And from that it grew into this big theatre performance.’

When the company took a break, Anne returned to the Midlands and worked in a call centre for a bit, before moving to Belfast for a couple of years, as a producer with a small touring theatre company called Kabosh.  After that, she came back to the UK, to work as a local government arts development officer for Worcestershire County Council.

‘That job was amazing!’ says Anne. ‘It’s one of the things, professionally, I’m most proud of. Because, after  growing up in a small town without any theatre, I set up a rural and community touring scheme that took professional performing arts into village halls and community centres.’

Anne Langford: The Resilience Project. Anne in the water through an antique lens)
Anne Langford: The Resilience Project © L.M.H.C

But although Anne was working in the Arts and doing important work to increase access to theatre, something still niggled with her.

‘I knew I loved the theatre and I loved performing,’ she explains. ‘But I didn’t have much confidence in my own ability as an artist. I would get involved in productions but as a volunteer, rather than professionally. And then finally, in 2005, I got the confidence and the guts to put myself through drama school.’

It was a great move. She emerged from E15 in London with a Masters in Drama and her own theatre company.

'You Were Us / We are Here' - a performance by Yard Youth photo by Edith Whitehead
You Were Us/We are Here – a performance by Yard Youth © Edith Whtiehead

 

Since then, working mainly freelance, Anne has mixed up working as a performer, with producing and directing shows.  And, increasingly, she has become interested in making work for people who wouldn’t necessarily think of going to the theatre, telling the stories of those whose voices, otherwise, might not be heard.

More recently, she worked for 18-months with Clean Break a theatre company who work with women affected by the criminal justice system, on a show about loneliness and belonging for young women on the edge of society.  She also completed another project with young people at  Yard Youth in East London, looking at their experiences of being in public spaces and the treatment they receive from adults and those in authority. And she has worked with a group of LGBT+ emerging artists at the Park Theatre, in London.