It’s been three weeks since I took down my MA show. It was a simple job: remove a pile of beach rubbish from the floor and take the art that had been made during the show down from the walls. This was the scene as I walked into the now-empty exhibition space that Sunday morning:
You can’t see all the rubbish on the floor in this shot but you can see most of the work: after two years of answering the question “do you make anything with the rubbish you find?” with a “no, not really,” my final show was a show of art made out of the rubbish I had found. I had not intended it this way, but my work has a funny way of taking me in unexpected directions – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I have had to learn to accept what is already happening rather than fight against it.
Earlier in the summer, I started modifying some of the plastic I had picked up on beaches, using yarn to wrap it or to knit cosies for it:
It was my tea cosy that got me started – by turning my hot, hard teapot into something more soft and well, cosy, it was not just keeping my tea warm, it was transforming the teapot itself. Maybe I could do the same with all the rubbish I pick up? Maybe, with the help of some wool, I could make it into something less sinister. Maybe I could make it into something valuable, or highlight the inherent value in a piece of plastic that we choose to ignore when we throw it away and call it rubbish.
So I started knitting, and wrapping. I even knit some bags to put rubbish into, a bit like the bags (or “pockets”) that people used to hang off their belts to carry money, or herbs or sacred objects.
I knew these would make good pieces for a show, but it was only when I showed the pieces to others with the pile of rubbish I was making them from right next to me, and they all insisted the pile of rubbish stay, that I settled on the show format: I would sit in the studio, wrapping and knitting and adding the results of my work to walls behind me until, with luck, two walls were covered in brightly coloured pieces of wrapped and contained plastic.
But it didn’t happen like that. The first day, I sat and wrapped rubbish, and added it to the walls behind me, just as planned. But on the second day of the show my friend Linda visited with her two kids, Sam and Amelie. Now I know they love art, so I asked them if they would like to wrap some rubbish – and before I knew it, the kids, Linda, my husband and son and a lovely stranger were all wrapping away!
Well, they really started something, and in doing so changed the show completely: for the rest of that day and the following two days we had all manner of people wrapping rubbish, banging nails into the walls, and hanging their work. The show was itself transformed from being a performance to being a collaboration, a shared project.
It also went from being serious to being fun. Everyone agreed that wrapping is therapeutic. Many people – including Dani, whose own excellent show was in the opposite corner – wrapped several pieces of rubbish. (That last photo is of Dani proving me wrong by wrapping a nurdle.)
Some decided against using the wool I had provided and wrapped plastic in nylon rope from the rubbish pile itself – wrapping rubbish with rubbish.
One person decided to make a garland using the rubbish instead of wrapping it, whilst another decided to embellish her wrapped piece with a tail of rope hanging down to the floor.
In other words, once I opened the show up to others they made it their way. Which is exactly as it should be.
What you saw in the first photo, then, are pieces of rubbish wrapped and otherwise embellished by myself and the friends, acquaintances, relatives and complete strangers who came to visit, talk and wrap during the four days of the show: 155 pieces, of which almost a third were not made by me.
And more, those 155 pieces are the result of a performance that turned into an experiment in making art: making art out of rubbish; making art out of conversation; making art out of having fun; making art out of a simple desire to take what we find in the world and make it special. Making art for and by everybody.
(My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped and participated in the show: to Harriet, Steve, Bowen and AP who helped set up; and to Linda, Amelie, and especially Sam, for shaking things up.)