Maker Project 2019

You might remember I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a chair project with a fellow artist. Well it’s now complete and the work is about to be exhibited at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, Manchester in October, as part of Maker Project 2019.

We applied for inclusion in a research project run by assistant professor, Tom Sutton, for Bolton University looking at learning through practice and the demise of craft skills teaching in education. Nine makers across England and Ireland were selected to work on a Cox’s bandstand chair frame. The seat and back were removed and makers were asked to choose a finish for the frame.

Krystyna Pomeroy is a sculptor and maker from Southern Ireland and she and I have been collaborating on this project over several months. We have had to work out how to do this from opposite sides of an ocean and how to get ourselves together to do the making, all of which has been an interesting challenge as part of the research project. We both had the best time, finding out more about each other, using each other’s skills and strengths and testing out ideas. The project was a great opportunity to work at depth and I haven’t collaborated like this before, but it was really successful and we have already been planning further work together. Our journals and interviews, photos and record of process are the main body of research and whilst photos never quite do justice to a piece with far more to see close up than a camera can show, here is our artist statement and a few images:

‘What is a chair – an invitation to rest, personal space, a prison?

The artists agreed a perception of ‘chair’ as intrinsically safe and then challenged this view through an exploration of common past experiences.

Knowing each other for a brief period of time only, the collaboration began with a small exercise to test and explore feelings arising from subsequent actions on each other’s responses to a shared creation which was posted across the ocean several times. This laid a foundation of trust and excitement for the Maker Project 2019.

For both artists, an enduring dualism of ‘contain/constrain’ resonated throughout the project. At what point does caring containment, parental or cultural, tip over into limiting constraint? Inspiration and early ideas were captured in journals, each artist sharing these digitally. These ideas were explored through phone calls, emails, sketches and models. Initial thoughts included a bound, seated figure, various surrounding structures, cutting up of the frame and binding the pieces. The notion of eyes was explored and discarded at this point. This period lasted for some time resulting in a feeling of being blocked until thinking moved to finding ways of expressing ‘safe/unsafe’ which whilst similar, was different enough to allowed the artists to move forwards with more clarity of intent. Several components of the chair were explored in parallel. We understood the constraints of a collaboration at distance and planned for elements to be made in such a way that they could travel. It is interesting to note the dualities of ‘safe/unsafe’ and ‘contain/constrain’ present throughout the creative process as well as within the final piece.

During the final phase, eyes re-emerged as a central discomforting motif, expressing experiences of being watched or held in place. Music score is employed within the construction, echoing the original function of the chair. The intrusive watchfulness of the surrounding eyes is compounded by figures visible in the pupils, made ghostly by being prints of old black and white negatives. Wire, rusted with age, entwines around the frame, encroaching and uncomfortable. Small pieces of the frame were cut away thus rendering the frame unsafe. These became less visible as other elements were added but demonstrated the tension released from the chair as the frame warped slightly over time. This serves as a useful metaphor for the healing of time and cathartic nature of creating the piece. Memory, by its nature fragmentary and insubstantial, is evoked by the pieced textile work and scraps of old, disintegrating lace. In order to visually complement the rusted, worn appearance of the chair frame, rust and tea- dyed fabrics were woven and hand stitched; the panels held in place by rusted, vulnerable wire.

The viewer is invited to consider notions of personal memory, safety and unease.

‘Please Be Seated’

Some of the steps along the way:

You can look at the other makers and their profiles at

The project pages are still being built, so pop back over the few weeks as folk finish projects ready for the Great Northern. They are all utterly different, from more conceptual fine art to exquisite craftsmanship in metal, leather, paper, concrete and more. Some are still chairs and others are not. I can’t wait to see them together!

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