This was exciting, of course, because my work was in the exhibition, and because, I got to see some great creative people with whom, what with one thing and another, I’ve not been able to meet up for what feels like a very long time. But most of all it was exciting because I got to see the amazing work that has resulted from the international collaborative programmes supported by Applied Arts Scotland over the past couple of years.
These brilliant programmes have brought together Scottish makers like myself with our counterparts in Mexico, Thailand and Canada. Spending time on residency with each other, and later communicating at a distance via digital means or, in my case, by physically exchanging letters and objects, we collaborators began to develop shared practices which, from the starting points of our own makerly places in the world, eventually enabled new spaces of creative dialogue to emerge.
This dialogue was apparent in the collaborative creation of brand new materials with which to make the work . . .
. . . by the literal weaving of a place’s soundscape into the work itself . . .
. . . by the development of innovative new objects interrogating the very idea of spatial and cultural belonging
. . . or by pieces in which the sense of place itself might be powerfully challenged by ideas of inbetween-ness and liminality.
A particularly thought-provoking strand of work addressed the collaborators’ enviromental connections as makers, and the idea of responsible human interconnectedness more generally.
In The New Kind of Rock, for example, Kawisara Anansaringkarn and Stefanie Cheong explored the global problem of e-waste, specifically the deportation of UK waste to Thailand, through the creation of a new type of creative material.
. . . while Prach Niyomka and Lynne Hocking Mennie addressed the problem of rapid and violent climactic change in pieces based on the weather pattern over the course of one hour during Storm Chiara (February 2020)
For the collaborators on the residency of which I myself was a part, it seemed particularly appropriate that the exhibition was taking place at Banchory’s wonderful local arts centre and true community hub, the Barn . .
As this was where, back in September 2019, we all enjoyed a spot of outdoor weaving with found, local materials . . .
. . . picked some natural dyestuffs, used them to dye some wool . . .
. . . and together explored different ways of using wool in our work.
In their individual contributions to a collective triptych, Fiona, Dalila and Sol all featured the yellow tansy we picked together that day at the Barn.
It was wonderful to see this work come full circle!
Throughout the exhibition, what really struck me was the depth of creative dialogue evident in the work, and the truly open spirit in which that dialogue had taken place. Much of the work spoke to the thoughtful and highly productive way in which collaborators had engaged with difficult issues of cultural and personal identity: raising questions and posing challenges rather than providing easy answers.
There were so many pieces to admire and to think about (and I’ve certainly done a lot of thinking since viewing the exhibition!) but for its resourceful and creative use of materials, its conceptual depth, and its truly beautiful, completely spectacular nature, I think my favourite exhibition piece has to be the contribution of Carol Sinclair (Scotland) and Rebecca Hannon (Nova Scotia) – Bird of Passage.
Taking the form of the wings of a bird that’s common to both Scotland and Nova Scotia (the siskin), and each working with a palette inspired by the other’s landscape, Carol and Rebecca created a piece in which each individual feather offers a different take on the theme of sustainable, cross-cultural collaboration.
In her wing, Carol explored creative activity as a ‘closed loop’, using found and waste materials together with the clays and glazes which she routinely uses in her practice. Recycled plastic sits alongside polished porcelain, perished elastic bands leave marks on handmade paper and recycled clay.
Rebecca’s wing, meanwhile, brought local craftspeople into her process, developing a collective creative response to the colours of the Scottish landscape which Carol had provided in photographic form. Her wing brings together natural dyes with scraps of laser-cutting; pieces of copper with printed plastics.
It’s a piece whose small hand-made, repurposed and combined elements speaks very powerfully to the big idea of our shared natural environment, and the protective, creative and collective actions we might take.
I feel very humbled that my masks are included in this body of thought-provoking and inspiring work, and highly recommend a visit to the exhibition if you are in shouting distance of Banchory! (Be sure to book your slot to view it here)