I am a multidisciplinary artist working from my studio in Derbyshire. The theme of my work mostly addresses the relationship between the back-to-the-land movement, working northern hill farms, self-publishing and analogue photography.
I am particularly interested in the new understanding of the rural as a place of cultural production, exploring skill-sharing workshops, performances and self-publishing. I work with photography alongside useful traditional making methods, such as felting, weaving and hand-spinning wool.
You work with many processes and techniques, what is it that made you fall in love with your mediums? And what would you say links them all?
From a very young age I had an interest in photography, it was actually one of my Dad’s hobbies. He’d take me to “camera club”, a local critique group where you were praised for making visually pleasing pictures that stuck to the rule of thirds. It was slightly archaic and I was making images with no particular intentionality, however this is how I first developed my interest in the medium!
I went on to study Fine Art Photography at The Glasgow School of Art, where there were impressive darkroom facilities and I began to properly work with analogue cameras, medium and large format photography and analogue printing techniques. I also began to think more critically and in-depth about the medium. I went home from university one weekend and took a couple of rolls of film around the farm and in the static caravan that I lived in as a small child. I soon realised in the following critique, intentional or not, these photographs were a political documentation of farming in the North of England.
I started focusing on albumen printing (a technique from the 18th century using egg whites and silver nitrate) when I started working front of house at Where The Light Gets In after graduating. The chefs had a dish on the menu that only used the yolks and I used the whites to make portraits of my farming family, as a way to utilise the waste product.
My interest in incorporating textiles into my practice happened fairly recently. My mum and sister are both shepherds and in the last couple of years, the price of wool fell significantly, meaning tonnes of it started going to waste. I began to realise just how tactile as a material it was. I spent lots of time on the farm with my mum over lockdown, where she passed down the skills she had learnt throughout her life.
The link between all of these mediums is probably the rural. My projects are always political, and often pushing back from the usual notion and portrayal of quintessential ‘pastoral’ settings.
What inspires you to create?
I get my inspiration from various things!
I often look at other photographers for inspiration, my favourite medium to view images is in printed books. I am drawn to photographers who document the specific subculture that they are part of, personal images that can only be made by somebody with an inside understanding of their subject matter. Sophie Calle: The Hotel, Corinne day: Diary, Rineke Dijkstra: Beach Portraits etc.
I am particularly interested in useful art, Arte Util is a database with lots of great examples of previous and ongoing projects. Myvillages' work is a big source of inspiration for me. They address the relationship between the rural and the urban, looking at different forms of production, pre-conceptions and power relationships, whilst passionately questioning the cultural hegemony of the urban. The collective is involved in co-operative projects in various villages and landscapes around the world, with the aim to bring a new dynamism to solidified notions of local resources and production, agriculture and culture, internal and external perception.
I’ve also spent a lot of time looking through the archives at Salford working class movement library, particularly the boxes containing memorabilia from rambling associations and the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout.
We see you went to do a residency in Lithuania and would love to know more?
I saw an open call online, looking for a contemporary artist with shepherding experience, and thought it was too ideal not to apply for! The Shepherd’s Residency was developed in collaboration with the Curonian Spit National Park, co-funded and organised as part of Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2021.
For the month of August 2021, I was shepherding a flock of 30 Skudde sheep, taking them on grazing walks in dedicated forest areas, for several hours each day. The purpose of this residency was to protect the floodplain meadows and preserve the diversity of habitats in the Curonian Spit. Nestled between the forests is a patch of land named Grobštas forest meadow, which inhabits a variety of protected grasses, flowers and a sea of butterflies and insects. Lithuania is located in a mixed forest zone, meaning that it is the perfect condition for trees to grow. If left alone, open habitats would become forests over time. The meadows only remain meadows if there are permanent factors, like a flock of sheep, in these areas of land to prevent trees from taking root.
The flock of sheep belong to artist Laura Garbštienė’s, her practice encompasses temporal art forms and reflections on natural phenomena, ecological awareness, domesticity, and the decline of rural life. Since 2013 Garbštienė has lived in Šklėriai, a small village near Dzūkija National Park, with a small flock of Skudde sheep, where she promotes spinning as an anti-capitalist movement to unite people from diverse cultural backgrounds. In 2017 she started Verpėjos (The Spinners) – an artist run initiative to research and discuss rural traditional lifestyle and nature preservation on a local and global scale.
During my time in Nida, I borrowed Laura’s spinning wheel and practiced spinning for hours each evening. I also documented my time there through the medium of photography, and have been working on a book which is being published by Ceremony Press this spring!
Community and people seem to be a strong component of your making too, We would love to know more about the workshops you run and the most inspiring things you learn from working with people alongside your practice?
I run weekly creative workshops with Artworks South Yorkshire, a non for profit creative arts organisation, inspiring and helping adults with learning disabilities to achieve their potential. This is where I realised just how tactile wool is. The workshops are for a range of abilities, and wool really lends itself well to this.
I have also been hosting wet-felting bowl making workshops. The idea behind this was to create extra income to counteract the price of wool falling. The interesting thing that I have noticed in these workshops is the difference between each participant's bowl, even with the same instructions and materials, they all end up looking so varied. I have a theory that if you’re stressed when felting, the result ends up smaller and tighter.
What is it you love most about teaching other people your craft and skills?
I find solace in recreating the passing down of skills. It’s the perfect medium to deliver a piece of work, an opportunity to speak to people directly to engage them with the subject matter. During the workshops, I have the ability to reconnect people with lost rural traditions, which is exciting, especially when delivering workshops in the middle of a city!
Website - www.youcanleadahorsetowater.org