It has been an unusual and interesting experience being involved in this project. The subject matter, timing and exhibition location is hugely sensitive which has created challenges in terms of time scale, communication and process. I thought it might be interesting to share some of my experiences and process with you in a blog post.
This piece has evolved somewhat from my original proposal. I was very interested in the influence of poverty on vulnerable families and how it affected their relationships. I had initially thought that I would like to focus on the child’s perspective, interpreting and recording the research onto children’s objects; car seat, clothing, blankets or toys in the form of an installation. After attending the initial meeting in London in February, which brought together many of the artists and scientists at the beginning of the project. I came away wanting to somehow represent fathers within my work as I felt that they were not significantly visible within the existing projects. I re-wrote my proposal with a focus on the family unit, using jumpers to represent the different experiences of the individual members of a family.
With such a tight time scale for the exhibition it quickly became apparent that knitting the base jumpers was going to be problematic. I felt it was important for them to be hand knitted and also knitted in the same colour to represent visually a family but knew there was no way I was going to be able to knit 3 jumpers and cover them in embroidery in just 3 months! After a bit of brain-storming I contacted all the local knitting groups with a plea for help in a collaborative art project. After 10 days with no response I started looking further afield and contacted everyone I knew. Fortune shined upon me as a friend of mine was working as a community builder in Devon and knew of a community knitting group. After a couple of visits by the community workers for Torbay Community Development Trust and a quick trip to Devon for a presentation on the project from me, we managed to convince some of the group members to help me knit the jumpers. It was a big task and a tight time schedule so I would like to take this opportunity to extend a HUGE thank you to my knitters Pam Power and Karin Parker and my mother Christine Guy who knitted an arm when I was running out of time! Thanks also to Brixham Does Care who house the community group Knit Together and Victoria Campbell from the Torbay Community Development Trust. I could not have completed this project without them.
The process for being matched to a scientist was tough. I was particularly keen to focus on the difficulties for UK familes living in poverty or low incomes. Despite wanting to connect with a scientist working with vulnerable families, it was a difficult task and nearly 3 months into the 4 month project, I still had no scientist to work with. The alternative option at this point was to look for some existing research that would fit my concept for the piece. After a lengthy bout of internet trawling and report reading, I found the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s study of destitution in the UK April 2016. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk This Study and in particular a report written about the study: 1.25 million people are destitute in the UK by Rachel Case https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/destitute-uk form the text that I have embroidered into the jumpers. Whilst not being entirely visible upon first glance the inconspicuous text embroidered into the jumpers is key to this work, recording the struggles of those most vulnerable.
These jumpers explore the effects of poverty on families in the UK. The jumpers represent a father, a mother and their baby. They are embroidered with text and imagery that offers the hopes, dreams, pressures and anxieties from the perspective of each.
The Father’s jumper identifies with the pressures involved with providing for his family on a low income, his sense of self and the impact that these have on his family.
The Mothers Jumper explores the positive and negative aspects of pregnancy and small babies. Reflecting on the fact that whilst for some women it is a wonderful time, for other women it can be a very stressful and anxious experience.
The Babies Jumper reflects on the importance and quality of family relationships and the potential impact of those relationships on its future. The textile badges are interchangeable and removable to highlight the babies vulnerability to it’s environment .
All in all it has been a really busy few months, with trials and tribulations throughout but I am delighted to have been involved with this engaging project and support its really important message. Lets hope that this exhibition has the impact it deserves.