Monday, 18 November 2013

Need/Make/Use tent panel community art project

Oxfordshire-based artist Anne-Marie Cadman reflects on her experience working with four adult community groups to create large decorative panels for the Need/Make/Use 'pop up Pitt Rivers' tent during 2013. We think the panels look stunning so thank you to Anne-Marie, Fusion Arts and all the participants. You'll be able to see the tent in action at venues in summer 2014 so look out for news on where we'll be! 

The project is now complete and I’m finally able to look back and jot down some thoughts about how it went and the different groups I had the pleasure to meet and work with.

This was the first group and before we started I couldn’t help wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew considering the size of calico we were about to work on 3m x 2.5m!

I needn’t have worried.

The group meet in the most fantastic light, large and well equipped room at the top of the Old Fire Station – I confess to having studio envy!

The participants were all very accomplished artist in their right and we soon settled into a core group who saw the challenge through to the end.

We started with a trip to Pitt Rivers for inspiration – one member returning with over 100 photos. Once we got going it was great to see the piece (which had to be climbed on to get to the middle) progress week by week and become more detailed and layered with dyes, fabric markers and stencil prints.

It was truly a fantastic start for the project and a very high bench mark for the other groups to match.

Artscape meet at the studios at Fusion Arts on a Tuesday morning. They are a group of older art enthusiasts and so clambering onto the table was not an option for this group. My other challenge was that we only had three sessions to work on the banner, so some creative thinking was needed. 

The answer was to do something different each week and bring all the elements together at a later date. Inspiration came from two chance conversations. The first was from the group’s coordinator asking if we could somehow incorporate some photography they had been doing in previous sessions, the second from one of the Pitt Rivers staff who wondered what a contemporary take on a totem pole would look like. The answer was the central ‘totem’ of the finished banner, which by turning the photography into a silk screen enabled the images full of memory, ancestry and heritage to be printed onto a totem inspired painted background.

In other sessions we created borders with hand painting and stencil printing techniques. Our third process was the production of individual pot shaped textile collages which were sewn onto the background surface with the top edge left unsewn to make pockets which could hold artefacts or information when the tent was out and about.

This group is a self advocacy organisation of adults with learning difficulties who meet in Oxford at The Jam Factory. We decided we would produce the banner at the Fusion studios as we would need more space.

Again this banner would be made in sections and I was able to work with the Banbury wing of the organisation and they produced the central section.

We had an initial inspiration trip to Pitt Rivers and this time we were able to work with the handling collection, which enabled the group to produce some effective rubbings which would be later turned into screen prints and added to the banner.

The group was keen to publicise its involvement in the project and wanted their logo included. This was balanced with the ‘Need, Make,Use’ VERVE logo and worked effectively in the final piece.

More textile sandwiches or collages were made, this time circular. Again to be used as pockets. This banner took on a circular and stripe theme to give it its unique identity.  We worked hard during the sessions and a well-earned rest and cup of tea with a biscuit was essential!

My favourite section of this beautiful banner was the ‘hands’ stripes. Participants painted designs onto the fabric, then stencils created from their own hands and arms were overlaid and printed around with a darker colour to produce this striking element. It also helped to reinforce the sense of the ‘handmade’ that is such an important feature of the Pitt Rivers collections.

This was the last group and summer was well and truly upon us.  A picnic in the park during our Pitt Rivers visit was a good way to get to know the participants better and great lunches were one of the highlights of this group, provided by Aida, one of the organisations enthusiastic and lovely coordinator.

This banner worked in a similar way to the Crisis one, in that it was created in one piece, this time on the large floor space at the BYHP headquarters. We had lots of different people working on this piece and like the Crisis banner strikingly depicted specific pieces from the collection.

A line of animals travels across the background as a final stencil print. This was influenced by one participant being particularly taken with a tiny carved object spotted in one of the cabinets at our museum visit.

I was particularly thrilled to see the finished and adorned tent on the Need/Make/Use Day event at the end of the summer. You really got a sense of it as a vibrant and working space and I think a very fitting advertisement for the Pitt Rivers Museum. It was also a good opportunity to catch up with some of the contributors.