I signed up for this project back in January, with only the vaguest notion of what it was all about. In fact it was a direct offshoot of BARB HUNT's work - she had an installation on display at the Phoenix in Exeter during March and April, called "Vigil". Barb hails from Newfoundland, Canada: a rural environment with a rich tradition of 'domestic textiles'. This connection with textiles was completely accidental - I love that kind of synchronicity!
"Barb is worried about the way many rituals are cut short to return to work or other commitments that leaves individuals and communities carrying unreleased grief.
Her home in Newfoundland, an island area of Canada, is near a graveyard and she admits to being fascinated by how the floral tributes left at the graves makes these resting places the most colourful areas in an otherwise rugged landscape.
The strong coastal winds often blow the remains of these flowers out of the graveyard and spread them across the nearby countryside. Whenever Barb sees these she has made a habit of collecting the lost fabric flowers and washing them, sorting them into colours and styles. She's now decided to use her ever growing collection of fabric mourning flowers to create a new body of work.
Large swatches of veil-like fabric have been decorated with these flowers and other natural materials such as beach rocks. According to the artist she hopes it creates "space for moments of reorientation where living and dead intertwine, reflecting on loss, grief, healing and continuance."
So this was our inspiration and starting place. Our two intrepid leaders, Nicci and Chrissy, artists from the Phoenix, led us through the installation: We started in the shaded, veiled womb like room - I thought the white blobs on the material were soft - then realised they were hard beach pebbles when I got closer. The hangings create interesting shadows on the floors and walls. From there we stepped into the light and the 'tree of life'
Having arrived at Dawlish Warren, we walked through the dunes to a deserted section between the 'groynes'. It was a beautiful cloudless day. The idea was to make our own installation on the beach - first the collection, then the creating.
Beachcombing, gathering on the beach: takes us back to our hunter/gatherer roots. I found shells, round pebbles, black rocks, and flints, and pebbles with stripes in.
Sue had also found some rocks with stripes, so I put mine with hers and got engrossed in lining up the stripes. I liked getting lost in the detail. It also reminded me of the threads dangling down from Barb Hunt's veil like creations.
Having brought back our collections, we then discussed what we wanted to create, what we wanted to concentrate on bringing together. Stripes got it: The connection to Barb's work in the dangling threads, the link with networking, knitting together of links and pulling together. Nicci had a rock with a hole in it - and suggested the structure should mirror this: a womb like hole, a representation of the feminine with threads wrapping around it. But someone (either Suzanne or Jane) suggested we build our creation around the remains of a fire on the beach - there was a group of blackened stones and twigs next to us. It reminded her of the hearth, the heart of the matter; the burnt remains also resonated with death, ashes to ashes. (How appropriate for a project stemming from the phoenix!),
The remains of the fire would be the heart of our piece and we would collect any pebbles with stripes in, no limitation of colours, we would just start collecting and create our work organically. Let it grow!
I was amazed at how amicable the process of decision making and subsequent creating was. The project was as organic and freeflowing as the result. There were conversations about death and grieving and agreement that we had indeed lost our ability to mourn in this country Hallowe'en and all saints day have been buried in commercialism. Christianity sanitised pagan rituals.
This all struck home with me: I put work commitments first when my Dad became ill at the end of his life, and he died the same day I'd arranged to go to him. When we die it is family and friends who will remember us - and not because of the work we do, or the fact that we have a big house or car.
I wonder what's left of it? Nothing I expect.