Introducing Lou Baker

My name is Lou Baker and I’m delighted to be part of seam collective. 

At the moment, I’m spending as much time as I can at seam’s research residency, A Visible THREAD. Being able to share the space and time that this opportunity offers with the other seam members, and with our visitors, has been a delight. Working alongside one another allows for meandering and in-depth conversation and comfortable, concentrating silences. I’ve spent much of my time installing, deinstalling and reinstalling my soft sculptures, suspending them in different ways from a curious contraption made of chicken wire and steel wire rope. It’s been fabulous to have so much space to experiment with different ways to hang my work, at times also wearing my soft sculptures and documenting other people as they interact with them. I’ve also been engaging visitors, inviting them to make something to add to the growing queer/subversive sculptural installation, ‘permission to play’, a participatory project that I’m facilitating with Oly Bliss. And then there’s the tidying, tending and sweeping…

I recognise that there are two distinct sides to my practice, and that this residency is enabling me to research them both at the same time. On one side there are my darker, sculptural installations and on the other, a brighter side of social engagement. There’s also a blurred space between them where these two sides meet and mingle and, at the moment, this borderline is definitely becoming more indistinct that usual. This is the space I’m most interested in investigating – those boundaries between self/other, presence/absence, embodiment/disembodiment, comfort/discomfort, and ultimately, life and death. 

I use knitting and stitch, predominantly, to make abstract sculptures. I’m interested in finding ways to subvert the stereotypical expectations of stitch, and in ‘sloppy craft’[L1] . My work often provokes a range of conflicting responses – attraction, repulsion, horror and hilarity. I’ve just finished an MA in Fine art where I have also been exploring other materials – concrete, steel, lead, wax, plaster, Jesmonite – combining them with my soft sculptures. The contrast between the hard/soft, masculine/feminine materials creates further curious and unexpected tensions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies in the last couple of years- my body, everybody, no body, nobody. Cloth, naturally, has strong associations with the body; it accompanies and surrounds us from the moment we’re born till the day we die… and even in death. It’s also linked to comfort and clothing, of course. 

I’ve been especially aware of this as I’ve been developing new work during the residency. There is a poignancy in creating a hanging installation with objects as intimate as my parents’ used bedding and towels. I’ve also been sculpting an abstract self-portrait with these materials, and as I manipulate and transform the cloth through stitch, the movement of my hands and body activates my mind through memory, smell, touch, grief. I’m sculpting me, but thinking of them, especially, actually, my mother, my (m)other. And I am thinking through my making. 

At any point a visitor can arrive in the gallery, and then I move into a different head space, from the dark side to the brighter side – smiling, greeting, listening, talking, inviting, and eventually, maybe, making alongside them, working now with anonymous used clothing from a local charity shop, using my body to rip, wrap, tie, stitch, play; making a sculpture to add to the growing, participatory assemblage. I’m making connections and building community. 

Throughout, I’ve been experimenting with documenting what I’ve been doing in the gallery through time lapse photography. Reviewing these short videos, I recognise clear performative elements and the mark of my hand and body in my making. I also see time passing. 

Curiously, though, I have done very little knitting during this residency. Usually, I knit whenever and wherever I can. It’s like breathing to me. I do know however, that there will be time to knit and reflect once this is all over. However, although there have been no knitting needles involved, I do feel there is a sense that I am actually ‘knitting together’ people, space, making, thoughts and conversations as I spend time at the residency. 

Do come and visit us at A Visible THREAD residency if you can and follow @seam_collective on Instagram for regular updates. The last day is Saturday 23 April. For more about my work visit my website and follow me on Instagram @loubakerartist.

Lou Baker