Craft Kills

Craft Kills
Craft Kills

2002
machine knitted wool, knitting needles
2000 × 680 × 380 mm
installed at firstsite at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester

Craft Kills is a self-portrait based on the well-recognised image of Saint Sebastian being martyred. Instead of arrows piercing my skin I have knitting needles. The title immediately brings to mind the old adage of “dying for your art” but what I am much more concerned with is the stereotypical image that craft, and in particular knitting, has, of being a passive, benign activity. How would it be if craft was considered as dangerous or subversive?   Since conceiving of this piece the world suffered the events of September 11th and its aftermath. You can no longer fly with knitting needles in your hand luggage. Knitting is now classed as a dangerous activity.

(Statement written for Flexible 4: Identities catalogue, 2004)

Photography: Douglas Atfield

07 June 2003

Anyway

Anyway
Anyway

2002
machine knitted wool

1650 × 3000 × 3000 mm

Installed at firstsite at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester
In the collection of the Castle Museum, Nottingham 


Computer Aided Design and knitting development by Kate Sayer and Kim Mitcham at the William Lee Innovation Centre.

The William Lee Innovation Centre (WLIC) is a multi-disciplinary research centre in fibre structural assembly based at The University of Manchester (formerly UMIST). The centre supports artists and designers working with fibre and textile structures to make the most of virtual garment engineering. The WLIC closed in 2007. Made with financial support from London Arts and Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Photography: Douglas Atfield

07 June 2003

Knitted Homes of Crime

Knitted Homes of Crime

2002 Hand knitted wool, quilted lining fabric
Knitted by Jean Arkell
Commissioned by firstsite. Installed at firstsite at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester

These are the homes of female killers or the houses where they committed their crimes.

Knitted Homes of Crime

Christiana – 20 hours 

16 Gloucester Place, Brighton, East Sussex – 1871


Mrs. Beard – 21 1/2 hours 

64 Grand Parade, Brighton, East Sussex – 1871

Christiana Edmunds was a 43 year-old spinster who lived with her widowed mother. She had become infatuated with a married man, Dr. Beard. In September 1870 she brought a box of chocolates to the Beard’s house and insisted that Mrs. Beard eat some over a pot of tea. Christiana had filled these chocolate creams with strychnine. Immediately after eating one Mrs. Beard became severely ill. As a result Dr. Beard accused her of trying to poison his wife. Christiana denied the charge and set about trying to prove that there was a poisoner at large in Brighton. She would pay children to buy chocolate creams from the same sweet shop that she purchased the box of chocolates for Mrs. Beard from. She would inject these with strychnine, then re-wrap them and pay another child to return them. The innocent shop-keeper sold on these poisoned sweets. On 12 June 1871 this activity resulted in the death of 4-year-old Sidney Barker. Christiana even sent poisoned cakes and fruit through the mail, addressing some to herself, to try to emphasise her innocence. She was eventually caught and sentenced to death but when it transpired that she was mentally ill her sentence was commuted and she was sent to Broadmoor. She died there in 1907 aged 79. It later transpired that no less than four members of her immediate family had died as a result of mental illness.

Knitted Homes of Crime

Eleanor – 13 hours 

2 Ivor Street (formerly Priory Street), Camden, London – 1890

Mary Eleanor Wheeler, aged 24, was living with a Charles Creighton under the assumed name of Eleanor Pearcey. She was having an affair with a married man, Frank Hogg. On 24 October 1890 she invited his wife Phoebe to tea. In her own kitchen she battered Mrs. Hogg over the head with a poker and then slit her throat. She also killed the Hoggs’ 18-month-old baby daughter who Mrs. Hogg had brought along with her. Eleanor put the bodies into the baby’s pram. When it was dark she pushed the pram around disposing of the two bodies as she went. She was soon caught. Despite her claims that the blood in her kitchen came from a session of mouse killing she was found guilty and hanged at Newgate Prison on 23 December 1890. Her father had been hanged ten years earlier. Her last request was for a mysterious advertisement to be placed in a Madrid newspaper. It read “M.E.C.P. Last wish of M.E.W. Have not betrayed”

Knitted Homes of Crime

Ethel – 10 hours 

2 Council Houses, Kirkby on Bain, Lincolnshire – 1934

Ethel Major, aged 43, lived with her husband Arthur. In 1934, after 16 years of marriage and a child of their own, Arthur discovered that Ethel already had an illegitimate daughter, Auriel. Their marriage started to deteriorate and Ethel began to imagine that he was now having an affair. As a result of her suspicions she started to poison him. Arthur eventually died on 24 May 1934 after eating corned beef sandwiches containing strychnine. Ethel was caught on the day of Arthur’s funeral when the police received an anonymous letter claiming that a neighbours dog had died after eating scraps of food from the Major’s household. After an examination of Arthur’s body and the exhumation of the dog she was charged. Ethel was found guilty of murder and hanged at Hull Prison on 19 December 1934.

Knitted Homes of Crime

Styllou – 22 1/2 hours 

Ground Floor, 11 South Hill Park, Hampstead, London – 1954

Styllou Christofi, a 52-year-old cypriot woman, murdered her german daughter-in-law, Hella, at the family home on 28 July 1954. Styllou had moved from Cyprus to live with her son and his family but problems soon arose. Styllou became increasingly jealous of her daughter-in-law and ended up hitting her over the head with an ash-plate from the stove, strangling her, soaking her body in petrol and setting fire to her in the back garden. Styllou, who spoke little english, raised the alarm, stating that she left Hella in the kitchen, went to bed but was woken by the smell of smoke. She was hanged at Holloway Prison on 13 December 1954. After her death it transpired that in 1925, when Styllou was a young woman, she had been acquitted of murdering her own mother-in-law.

Charlotte – 14 1/2 hours 

Coombe Farm Cottages, Sherborne, Dorset – 1935

Charlotte Bryant, a 33-year-old illiterate mother of five, lived here with her husband Frederick. She enjoyed a drink and had a reputation as an amateur prostitute in the local pubs. Apparently her toothlessness and lice did not put the men off. Sometimes she even brought them home. One of these men was Leonard Parsons, a gypsy horse trader. Leonard became an occasional lodger in the Bryant household and Frederick did not seem to mind sharing Charlotte with him. Charlotte decided otherwise and started poisoning Frederick so that she would be free to marry Leonard. Frederick eventually died on 22 December 1935 after drinking a cup of Oxo containing arsenic. Charlotte was caught after the post-mortem on Frederick’s body. A friend also told the police that she had seen Charlotte trying to destroy a tin of weed-killer. She was hanged at Exeter Prison on 15 July 1936.

Ruth – 42 hours

The Magdala Tavern, South Hill Park, Hampstead, London – 1955

This is where 28-year-old Ruth Ellis shot her lover, racing driver David Blakely. Ruth, a twice married night club manageress, had been involved in a stormy relationship with Blakely for two years. When he tried to free himself from her she could not bear it and got herself a revolver to put an end to him. Spotting his van outside The Magdala Tavern on the evening of Sunday 2 April 1955 she waited for him to return. At 9.00pm, as he approached his van, she called out his name and shot him. As he tried to run away she shot him three more times. Apparently his blood mixed with the beer from a pierced flagon, that he was carrying, to make a frothy red river trickling down the gutter. There was much controversy surrounding this case. Just before she died she gave a sworn statement that her new lover , and friend of Blakelys, Desmond Cussen, had encouraged her to shoot Blakely. She was hanged at Holloway Prison on 13 July 1955, seven months after Styllou Christofi. She was the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Curiously the last two women to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis and Styllou Christofi, committed their crimes in the same road.

Photography: Douglas Atfield

07 June 2003

Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003

Britto is an autonomous, artists’ led organisation registered as non-profit. Britto was set up in 2002 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is part of the world-wide network of Triangle Arts Trust, an international network of artists and arts organisations that promotes dialogue, exchange of ideas and innovation within the contemporary visual arts.

www.brittoartstrust.org
www.trianglenetwork.org

The International Artists’ Workshop brought together 19 artists from Bangladesh, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Pakistan and UK to live and work side by side, at Tepantor Film City, Valuka, Bangladesh.

Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003
Britto International Artists' Workshop—Bangladesh 2003

Installation of Comfort Quilts and Long Arm of the Law
, 2003
cotton fabric, cotton wadding, cotton thread

Long Arm of the Law, 2003
cotton fabric, cotton wadding, cotton thread, handmade iron nails

Long Arm of the Law (detail)
, 2003
cotton fabric, cotton wadding, cotton thread, 
handmade iron nails

Bangladeshi Comfort Creatures, 
2003
yarn, plastic toys
In Private Collections

Leaf, Lips, Lipi, 2003
bamboo and plastic sieves, plastic wastepaper basket, yarn

I was filled with anxiety and apprehension about the two weeks that I was to spend in Bangladesh. I knew that there would be difficulties but nothing could have prepared me for what was the biggest difficulty of all – the dispersal of the Britto family and the knowledge that we would never be together again. I am left deeply affected by the relationships that I made and the different cultures that I experienced.

I worked on three projects for Britto which were initially inspired by the materials and skills which could be bought locally. For the Open Studio Day the projects were installed together in a building which was under construction. The entrance to my installation, The Long Arm of the Law, was marked by a hank of wool. This was the symbol used to indicate that there was wool for sale in the market in Dhaka, albeit unraveled from pre knitted jumpers!

My first project was a small series of dolls, which were related to a series of Comfort Creatures which I had made in the UK. These were made from plastic toys and the reclaimed wool. Making these new Bangladeshi Comfort Creatures was a way of dealing with the initial anxieties that I felt about working in an alien environment, in front of strangers and without my usual access to materials and skills.

The second project took the form of a huge embroidered face. This was taken from the cover of one of the many children’s’ alphabet books that I bought. The eyes were embroidered onto plastic sieves, whilst the nose was worked on a plastic wastepaper basket. The lips were represented by a leaf embroidered onto a round bamboo sieve. This image was taken from an educational chart, showing the parts of the human body, where the lips had been mislabeled as “leaf”. For me this mistake symbolized the many cultural misunderstandings that exist and represented my inability to speak even the simplest word in Bangla whilst everyone around me could speak my language.

The final project was a series of figurative quilts based on drawings that I had been doing just before I left the UK. The making of the quilts was inspired by how surprisingly cold it was at night and were a way of working with a textile process, other than that of knitting which I usually work with. Four distorted figures and a gun were made in conjunction with a local tailor and quilter. This was a very constructive, enjoyable collaboration, which also enabled me to spend a lot of time in the local market. I felt that I should re-title the workshop “Britto International Artists’ Shop”.

“Britto, better than the best”.

(Statement written for the catalogue for Britto International Artists’ Workshop – 2003.)

01 May 2003

Headlong

Headlong

2002
machine knitted wool

1800 × 580 mm
installed at firstsite at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester

Photography: Douglas Atfield

07 June 2002

Wise Monkeys and Gobstoppers

Wise Monkeys and Gobstoppers

2001
machine and hand knitted wool, cotton and elastic, pompoms, buttons, glass heads
installed at firstsite at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester

This series of work was inspired by the 17th century “scold’s bridle” which was used to punish scolds or gossips. These were, of course, primarily women as are the majority of knitters. I became interested in the idea of producing your own form of torture or punishment. Sitting down and doing something passive, creative and “useful”, such as knitting, only to have it used to punish or torture you. These cute, friendly, fluffy pieces beguile their actual use. Having the pompom in your mouth is a revolting experience, which would soon choke you. In “Wise Monkeys” the idea is taken further to also prevent you from using some of your other senses. You hearing is muffled by the pompoms. You eyes are blinded, being replaced by the traditional knitted toy’s eyes, the button.

The large bridle piece is based on an actual “scold’s bridle” in the Royal Armouries in The Tower of London. This piece contrasts pleasure with pain. The bridle is “plated” (lined) with cashmere yarn and, where as the original bridle had a serrated iron tongue for insertion into the mouth, this has a cashmere and mohair pompom. This piece also has pompoms to muffle your hearing and fastens around the face by the use of buttons instead of an iron padlock. The title “Wise Monkeys” comes from those Three Wise Monkeys who could “Hear no evil”, “See no evil” and “Speak no evil”.

(Written statement for Ikons of Identity, 
a Craftspace touring exhibition, 2001 – 2002)

07 June 2001

Adorn, Equip

Adorn, Equip
Adorn, Equip
Adorn, Equip

Mat Fraser wears “SHORT ARMED AND DANGEROUS”

2000
Machine knitted wool

730 × 480 mm

Catherine Long wears “AT ONE
2001
Machine knitted wool, hand embroidered cotton yarn
460 × 400 mm

Commissioned by The City Gallery, Leicester
for Adorn, Equip, an exhibition discussing issues surrounding design and disability.

BODY 
NO BODY 
S0ME BODYANY BODY

Wordplay formed the basis of these two commissions made for, and in conjunction with, Mat Fraser and Catherine Long. Strong, confrontational wording with an element of humour and the unexpected.

Disability has long been the butt of jokes. I can remember the one about the one legged, one armed man who was getting on the bus and the bus conductor said to him, “Hop on, you look (h)armless”. I wanted to turn these and other “accepted” jokes and sayings upside down. With Mat, who has short arms, we also wanted to challenge the commonly held assumption that disabled people are passive and somehow harmless. I originally had the wording ARMLESS AND DANGEROUS in mind, a play on “Armed and Dangerous”. Mat is far from harmless but, as he corrected me, he is not armless either. He is in fact SHORT ARMED AND DANGEROUS. This exactness of language is very important. It is not about political correctness, it is about thinking, caring and acceptance. Catherine has one arm, she does not only have one arm. The “only” implies some kind of loss or deficiency which is far from the truth. We used the word ONE on both her sweater and glove. Her glove has the word ONE embroidered across the knuckles, where you might otherwise have “love” or “hate” tattooed. When she holds her clenched fist up and flicks out her thumb it has the word UP embroidered on it. She is ONE-UP. The tattoo theme was taken through into her sweater. She has a butterfly and a bunch of daisies, symbols which have significant personal meaning for Catherine,   embroidered onto her shoulder. There is a banner running through the daisies, which reads AT ONE. She is at one with her one arm, why aren’t you?

(Written statement for “Adorn, Equip”, a Leicester City Gallery touring exhibition, 2001 – 2002)

www.adornequip.co.uk

07 June 2000

Headcase

Headcase

2000
machine knitted wool
1510 × 580 × 700 mm
installed at Sotheby’s, London

07 June 2000

Back to top