Endings and beginnings

Sadly, it’s the end of A Visible THREAD residency… but the beginning of the next phase of planning for our touring exhibition.

“It was so lovely to see so many of you making work in the space… it was exactly the type of project that I imagined when we put out the call.”

Will Cooper, curator of the Holburne Open 

I don’t think any of us really had any idea how rich and full our time would be at our recent residency at the Holburne Open. Our proposal was to facilitate an experimental research residency and that’s precisely what it was! It was open to the public whenever we were there, part exhibition, part working studios, with a participatory project, permission to play, as well. We also shared the space with Jack Lewdjaw, who was exploring concrete casting, so that provided an interesting counterpoint to seam’s emphasis on textile materials and processes. 

It’s hard to capture such an energising and dynamic time, but here’s a video snapshot to give you an idea of some of the things that happened during the residency:

On some days there was just one seam artist in the space, on a couple of others, just Jack; at times, a small group of us were able to work there together, which was especially wonderful. Many of the seam artists have said that the most significant thing they gained from being part of the residency was the chance to work alongside other seam members and the side-by-side conversations we had whilst working. Here’s what some of them say:  

“Ideas and inspiration through conversations and making alongside the other seam artists, our visitors, Jack and the curator.”

seam member Helen MacRitchie (right) talking about her work to the curator Will Cooper

“An explosion of inspiration, ideas, materials, techniques and textiles. Working and exchanging ideas with fellow textile artists in seam, especially new members.”

seam members Joy Merron and Jane Colquhoun ((centre and right) discussing Joy’s work with Eve, Jane’s daughter, who was a guest artist-in-residence for a couple of days
seam member Oliver Bliss working and talking with a visitor
seam members Julie Heaton, Nina Gronw Lewis and Oliver Bliss working in the gallery

“It’s pushed my research and experimental practice on.”

“I’ve gained the opportunity to let go and just explore with no need to create a final product. It’s been fantastic for that. I’ve really gained insight to a lot of different processes and methods of working just by being in the company of the rest of the collective which has been invaluable!”

“I was able to work more slowly without an end product in mind and because I had interruptions to my flow – to just follow what came up – the pauses were actually beneficial, and I want to work in this way more often.”

It really was a very unusual combination of working individually and working alongside the other seam members and Jack. Thinking about creativity and ambition, various seam member describe it like this: 

“It really took me out of my personal practice and allowed me to adopt the processes of other artists and trial their methodologies. It also makes me want to explore installation further and scale up my practice in terms of collaboration and working in a participatory setting.”

“Ideas grow as part of a group rather than working in isolation. Spontaneous feedback from fellow seam members and audience feedback, safe space for vulnerable visitors to engage and benefit wellbeing.”

“Getting away from my rather socially isolated home studio space allowed me to feel less pressurised to be productive as a ‘maker’ of craft objects to sell and enabled a more research/play based focus.”

seam members Joy Merron (centre) and Jane Colquhoun (right) working with Eve
seam member Nina Gronw Lewis (centre seated) and visitors making

And one artist now has an ambition to make a ‘monumental installation of these surreal forms suspended with meat hooks and chains, possibly in the Tate Turbine Hall?’

seam member Lou Baker changing her installation

The fact that the gallery was open to the public all the time we were in residence meant that we also had many fantastic opportunities to have conversations and to make alongside our visitors. This is what some of the seam members say about these interactions: 

“I always get a buzz and a sense of validation from interacting with audiences. It reminds me who I am making work for and the types of discussion I want the work to spark. I was also surprised and delighted how people interacted and adopted the ‘permission to play’ space. You could tell that people really valued being able to get involved and become a part of something that was organically evolving.”

seam member Julie Heaton (right) working with visitors
seam member Joy Merron (centre) and her collaborator Gill Bliss talking with the curator Will Cooper (right)

“Having an audience meant that I had to slow down rather than having my eye on getting something finished, which felt a bit weird – but then gave me more time to reflect and adjust. The pauses were actually good.”

“It somehow helps me to see my work differently when I see it through other people’s eyes. It helps me to discover whether what I’m intending to communicate through my work is actually what people read in it.

“Facilitating real participation, in a shared space again, has been such a privilege. Side by side conversations with participants as we’re making together have a very particular and special quality.”

Many of our visitors stayed for a couple of hours of making and conversation. And what did they think about it? Here is just some of the lovely feedback we’ve received:

“Being able to play at university felt really fun and different from expectations of the day.”

Trying something new – backstrap loom weaving

“Freedom! There are other non-traditional textile appreciators.”

“I like to sew myself, so it was very inspiring to see the work of other contributors too. The mixture of clay and stitch I hadn’t seen before, and I found that very thought provoking and memorable.”

“Wonderful evolution of ideas, diverse voices, and tactile making. Lovely to be involved in play and to talk textile talk.”

Visitors adding their completed work to the ‘permission to play’ installation

“I have learnt how to do basic weaving which is something which I have always wanted to learn.”

“Lovely open conversations…. Mindful creativity and fantastic work.”

“It’s the first time I have collaborated and added work to an ongoing exhibition, which has been lovely. I also have to say the welcome & conversation … was delightful – thank you.”

Working together!

“Non-conventional and experimental art and conversations.”

“Excellent project, excellent artists with great ideas and great social engagement.”

“I liked the use of materials from charity shops, it was very sustainable.”

“I loved it and so did my kids.”

“I enjoyed the chance to stop and engage in material exploration without pressure or a larger goal.”

Visitors working at the ‘permission to play’ making station

“Meaningful thoughts and conversations around a variety of topics: is art ever not art therapy? Is there a difference between the 2? Incorporating life events using related textiles and reimagining them into a new structure and discovering the underlying theme of metamorphosis, a new life stage emerging, in art reflecting life. Personally enlightening!”

We’re obviously absolutely delighted that the residency has had such appreciative and enthusiastic responses. A big thanks to all our visitors.

So, what next? As a collective, we will, of course, now reflect further on what worked well and what could be improved. Some things were outside our control, of course, but others we will modify and apply to our next exhibitions and events. We have more feedback and figures to process and so many ideas to develop.

We are planning more participatory events in the next months. Lou and Oly are delighted to have been invited to facilitate permission to play at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery on 26th May from 7.30pm – 10pm. It’s The Museum at Night event which runs alongside Grayson’s Art Club exhibition and will be a wonderful spectacle of creativity. Come and join us! Book now so you don’t miss it. seam is also planning another participatory event as part of Somerset Art Weeks, in Bath, in September. 

In the next few months, each of us will also be reflecting individually on what we’ve learned, continuing our research and explorations from the residency as we develop new work in preparation for our touring exhibition, A Visible THREAD, due to open at ACEarts, Somerton in November 2022. Exciting times!

Many thanks, of course, to Will Cooper, the curator of the Holburne Open and to the wider Holburne staff for this wonderful opportunity and for their support. Thanks also to Jack and to the University of Bath Security team.  

And a final word from one of our visitors: 

“The diversity and professionalism within the group is really dynamic and energising. You all deserve success, and I will follow the exhibition tour with interest.”

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Lou Baker