Tag Archives: map clothes

‘Whose Freedom, Whose Empire?’

There is a statue of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Storey Gallery and a tradition that artists add something to the statue during an exhibition.
I decided to run up a quick piece of map clothing for fun; an Empire Apron!

Whose Freedom? Whose Empire?

Whose Freedom? Whose Empire?

I ordered a map of the British Empire during her reign. The design of the apron was easy, using the northern hemisphere for the bib. I printed off sections of the Union Jack for the neck and waist ties as there was not enough spare map for that. The map had  a few British explorers, a lot of happy natives all around the edges, and lounging maidens across the top holding banners with the words Freedom, Fraternity and Federation: words written in all seriousness during her reign, but probably rather ironic for many British people (though not all) nowadays. I was concerned that I was just perpetuating and supporting the original myth and felt I had to do a bit more – so not such a quick piece of work after all.

I was given a book, recently rescued from a skip, London Illustrated Newspaper 1844. Plenty of black and white illustrations in there of less contented  and  passive natives. This could provide an alternative commentary.

I think the piece needs a different title; ‘Whose Freedom, Whose Empire?’ Rather than ‘Empire Apron’.

Wearable map clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Family history collar round my neck

Family history collar round my neck

Bolero in progress

Bolero in progress

What to wear to the opening? People have been encouraging me to make map clothes to wear since I blogged about it earlier. As usual there is the idea and then the practical limitations.

I have discovered about 95 ancestors in my family circle – rather than doing a family tree I have put myself at the centre and worked backwards and outwards, to get 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and so on. I have connections to the south of England (Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire), south east Scotland, Orkney, Ireland, Nigeria and Jamaica. One grandfather was born in Nigeria to missionary parents and grew up in Jamaica. A 3 greats grandmother, illegitimate but recognised daughter of a young army officer, got married in Jamaica at the age of 14 in 1800. These affiliations are rather outside my comfort zone, so I decided to make a huge collar for Nigeria and Jamaica – symbolic strangling perhaps.

I used maps of all the other areas as panels of a wrap-around skirt, and filled in family information as it related to each place. Sometimes it was hard to decide what to put in and what to leave out – the closer I get to the present the more family stories I know. It is still not finished as I can’t decide what map to use for the waist band.

Finally I thought about mapping me, my partner and our son. I did not map everywhere I have lived, just the most important; the various communities I have lived in, and the decade in Lancaster. This turned into a bolero. This was the hardest to make fit me, because I was not using a pattern, and I was trying to fit it to my body – using masking tape since I could not use pins as I would with material. Eventually I had to get help and have other people stick me in.

What is interesting about this piece of work in the context of the exhibition is the movement of people between the different countries within the UK and the mixing of people from different classes.
Among my ancestors I have a groom, a gamekeeper, farm labourers, a coal miner, factory workers, milliners, shoemakers, even a smuggler, members of the professional class and also  members of the owning class from esquires and lords to factory owners. I have various religious people from the Dean of Down, to vicars and missionaries. I have an MP (who is another skeleton in the cupboard). I have a pacifist who was imprisoned, and one of the early women doctors – the second wave rather than the first. And I have someone who lived in a Quaker community – my mum always comforted herself when I started living in communes by saying it was in my genes.

Why have I got vodka in my studio?

No its not for drinking

No its not for drinking

To make the plaques I put some damp sand in a bucket and placed my own bare foot on the sand to get a print, then mixed up some plaster of Paris and poured it in. It took a while to set because of the dampness of the sand. Then I had to get the cast out by upending the bucket and scattering sand everywhere. Then I had to order a whizzer online, (Chris having broken the previous one with hot soup.) Meanwhile I greased the cast with vaseline and carefully laid out the top layer of the final piece using tissue paper for the foot and newspaper strips for the surround glued together with acrylic medium. Finally got around to whizzing up some paper scraps into papier mache and adding it to the piece to make a thicker base. I wondered what would take the Vaseline off the top surface. Google told me to use rubbing alcohol from a chemist, but if none stocked it, I could use vodka instead. Well, guess what, I ended up with vodka in my studio.

I have learnt from the experience that I need to use a shallower but wider receptacle for the sand, so I can mould bigger feet or shoes, and get the cast out without so much mess.

I had a lovely time with a 7 year-old neighbour, showing him how to make a plaster cast of his feet. He was very impressed that he had to wear a mask while we mixed the plaster. It is getting interesting making the plaques, as I have to decide what news stories to paste around the edge, as well as what personal story to tell in the footprint. I found a good piece about the need for education in the refugee camps which felt just right.

the need for education

the need for education

Returning to paper clothes (as it takes so long for papier mache to dry), I took the story of the child drowned on a Turkish beach and conflated it with the current destruction of Syrian civilisation. So to tell both those stories at once, I made paper clothes for a toddler out of maps of Syria. When they were complete I crumpled them thoroughly, unlike the fashion clothes which I am trying not to crumple. I have stopped short of tearing or burning holes with joss sticks – but I still might.

Dying Syria

Dying Syria

Wearable paper clothes

I visited some artist friends who suggested that I look into using tyvek paper and think carefully about the lighting in the Storey Gallery.
A quick cruise through tyvek installation images on google was stunning. I especially liked the   Tyvek dress designs from Hila Martuzana.

http://www.ecouterre.com/hila-martuzana-translates-cycles-of-nature-into-stunning-tyvek-dresses/hila-martuzana-2/?extend=1

However getting hold of soft structure tyvek paper is not so easy in the UK, though I could get a small roll in the US.
I wonder if I should create some dresses to wear myself while I invigilate? I have a large collection of maps which relate to my family history, and have always had a personal map-clothes project in the back of my mind.
I have been suffering from cutting and gluing block, but have managed to get over it at last so the first dress is now on its way, but I need a lot of patience for creating pleats, and rather more ease with maths for the calculations.