I have been holding onto this news for a while as the project has been emerging. Last week I did a Facebook live in a private group for Cas Holmes so the 'cat is out of its bag' so to say.
Stitched Stories has been asked to make a contribution to an exhibition that Cas Holmes is putting on in Antwerp in 2022. It is to be in the Sint-Anna-ten-Drieen church. Its focus is migration and 'what we miss' and 'what we value'. Up until recent times it would be hard for any of us to comprehend what migrants fleeing their home country experience. And while, mostly, that remains impossible 'lockdown living' has separated us from our loved ones and restricted our freedom. Cas passed on a strong briefing document called 'the shipping forecast' and some members from the Arran group (with a few from beyond the island) started to make a response.
The Isle of Arran is a small Scottish island with approximately 5,000 people living on it. At times, we are very much adrift from the mainland due to bad weather preventing our life line ferry from sailing. Storms play a large role in our lives and how we can move on and off the island. They also bring damage to buildings and roads. Living on a small island means you develop a more intimate relationship with shifting weather patterns. The distance from us to the mainland is approximately half the distance from Calais to Dover. Travelling in a small boat packed full of desperate people across such a distance in, often stormy seas, is a thought too difficult to contemplate. You can then add to that the fact that the route crosses one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.....
My intention, therefore, is to create a piece that focuses on stormy seas, perils of travel, and the very real experiences faced by migrants if they manage the crossing. Responding to the brief from Cas, the fabric has found me in some way or another and, generally, I am working with fragments of cloth. I have, at times manipulated these fragments by dyeing some of them using plant dyes from plants grown on the island. The collaborative element involves some members of the stitched stories community making their own response to this brief. Beyond some of the island members other members all live near the sea but stretch from the northern edge of Scotland to the tip of the Cornish coast. They have been given my research alongside the shipping forecast brief from Cas and I am in the process of working with each person individually. These pieces will then be stitched onto the main piece. My fragments are taking shape. The one below is a deconstructed child's dress that has been dyed. Stitched onto it is the phrase '400 lone children'. That is the number of lone children who landed in England in the first 8 months of 2020. I struggle to get my head round that so that must go on the piece. I am keeping a research journal which I hope to share pages from as I update members on the progress of the piece.
There is an interesting creative working dynamic as I am, in part, working blind. To get round the challenges of that I am working up sections without stitching them onto the background cloth. Once everything is in I can turn my attention to that. The background cloth is hand painted and features the blues of the sea into the greens and gold of the land. I will be overprinting part of the background with a lighthouse. To most people a lighthouse represents a warning of danger but I would imagine if you are in a small overcrowded boat the light offers hope.
Another section depicts the story of a very young child who was rescued with her parents from an overcrowded small boat. Her words were 'my ribbon got dirty so I dyed a piece of ribbon and then made some marks using rust so that the ribbon looks dirty. . My preoccupation is to stay as authentic as I can and let the people speak their own truths while we bear witness. The title of the work is 'a story cloth of our time' and this is designed to make us all stop and think. Almost 80 million people have been forced to flee their homes and in our modern world that can not be right. The research I have done has been harrowing as stories have been told that I don't want to hear. I hope this exhibition speaks the story loudly and clearly for all to understand. I wonder how different we will all 'read' it after experiencing recent times?
It is a complete honour to be working with Cas. She has supported Stitched Stories from the very beginning and a lovely wee friendship has developed. We have a strong shared understanding and an even stronger intention to shine a light on a story in the modern world that often gets lost in translation. I will keep you all posted.