Over the last couple of years I have been working as a consultant for Creative Leicestershire, researching the future of the role of Made in Leicestershire, a network of local artists. Since this work has now finished, I have decided to try and take some of my recommendations forward through working in partnership with another Leicestershire artist network, The Leicester Society of Artists (LSA). In early October I put myself forward as Chair with the hope of taking some of my learning from Made in Leicestershire into this thriving, well-established group. I picked the busiest time of the year to do this, just before our Annual Exhibition opened in early November. The last few weeks have have been intense, with my focus being on the exhibition judges and prizes, the preview event, working with the museum staff and then some PR and marketing activity while the exhibition is open, as well as future planning with our President Lars Tharp and the LSA Council. The exhibition continues until 7th December and is open seven days a week. I have three pieces in the exhibition too and was awarded one of the prizes as well. But the best part so far has been handing over prizes to other artists, which is a joy – and can result in hilarious photos with Tim Fowler!
Earlier this month Creative Leicestershire was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to enable us (me) to do more on my Made in Leicestershire development project. I’ve been working on research and consultation for Made in Leicetershire for about 18 months and this grant has allowed us to extend until the end of September and run some exciting new programmes for Leicestershire and Rutland visual artists and makers.
We are piloting peer mentoring for artists, beginning with training next week and then facilitated meetings over the next month. Those taking part will also have the chance to have a professional photo taken of them with their work and apply for a small professional development bursary. There’s still time to sign up to the peer mentoring programme which takes place on Monday 19th August.
We are also hosting a larger networking event on 24th September, where I’ll be launching a new printed report which will showcase some of the finest creative talent in the city and two counties. There will also be professional development talks and business support 1:1s for new and established artists. Tickets are just £5 and can be booked here.
I love working with artists and it is great to be able to provide development opportunities and work on ways to make the network stronger in the future. It would be great to be able to expand this area of my work into other counties and regions and to work with agencies to create support networks. Hopefully Made in Leicestershire will take flight in the next few years and be the brilliant showcase I want for this creative county.
I’m almost at the end of my two-month library artist residency. For the last few weeks I’ve been in the village library / community hub of Newbold Verdon in rural West Leicestershire. I’ve been talking to volunteers, running workshops for over 50s and getting a feel for why so many people volunteer and why they love it so much. I’ve focussed my sessions around pattern-making; simple, everyday creative activities. We’ve had great time doing village walks collecting patterns through rubbings and photography, cyanotypes in the sunshine, drawing, stamping and simple embroidery, and have visited the local WI and run a session for the Forget Me Not dementia cafe.
Early next year I will be working on a commission for the library to keep, using digital patterns created from the drawings, printing and photos created during the workshops and some other ideas I am working on about volunteering and the sense of community the library creates.
Roll out the red carpet for the premiere of my new Criminal Quilts film!
This will also be shown at Festival of Quilts and most other exhibitions, technology-permitting.
Made by the lovely R & A Collaborations, filmed at Staffordshire Record Office and University of Wolverhampton, with thanks to Jan, Jan, Jan and Ann. Yes, I got all three Jans on one film!
I’ve created some new science-inspired work for a small group exhibition which will be opening on Friday 9th March at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester. This is part of the University of Leicester’s British Science Week celebrations. Find out more about the project and exhibition here. The exhibition continues until 31st March 2018. Some of the Petri Dish Project will also be shown in the exhibition.
My work is often around making ideas and concepts into visual form through textile and mixed media. My first career was working in museums, and this comes through now in my choice of exploring themes of memory, history and personal stories, usually taking historic objects or family history as my source. I was intrigued by the idea of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes having a role to play in ageing. This ties in with my previous work on genetics and other work around grieving, length of time expressed through linear pieces and of capturing ephemeral moments permanent through creating artworks.
Visiting Dr Nicola Royle and talking through the work she does sparked lots of ideas of how I might develop new work around length, ageing and repair. I wanted to explore some of the words and ideas which are used in genetics research and their resonance in the world outside the lab.
DNA is often referred to as strands, like hair or threads. I chose to work with this concept to create a new piece using long lengths of fine wool thread grouped and bound at intervals. Thinking about telomeres, the ends of chromosomes, gave me the inspiration to work with the ends of the thread, in this case knotted together in small groups.
I was also intrigued by the role telomeres play in DNA repair and chose to represent this through a textile repair. The microscopic imagery of chromosomes uses a bright pink fluorescence to highlight telomeres so I chose a similarly-coloured darning thread and used to repair a silk handkerchief.
During November I went through all eight photograph albums from Stafford Prison to record all the women featured in the photographs. The photographs begin in 1877 and continue until early 1916. The style of photography changes dramatically during this period as does the clothing worn by the women. The first set of images 1877-81 are all pasted alongside a written record giving details of each individual and a little information on their crime, trial and other convictions. The women are shown sitting down with their hands in their laps or enveloped in a large shawl. Many of the women in this album are photographed wearing a medallion with their prison number. Apart from the prison number medallion, these images look more like informal portraits than any of the later images. There about 100 records of women in this album. All the later albums just have photographs with a name, prison number and date of photography with no further details.
The album covering 1883-1887 contains the images which I used as inspiration for my previous Criminal Quilts, focussing on the hands, which in these photos are placed on the chest. It seems that hands were included prominently in prison photographs for a few years as hands, particularly damaged or missing fingers, could act as identifying features. This album has 12 photos per page including about 130 women in total.
The 1893-1896 album shows a change in the way prisoners were photographed. The early photos are taken face on but with a side mirror intended to capture the woman’s profile, though this is fairly unclear in most of the images. Their hands are still shown but by the end of the period this album covers a new style of photography has taken over with a profile image alongside the facing front photo, without hands. These photos, although less intriguing and personal than the ones with hands, still show clothing, and particularly hats with great clarity. These are black and white rather than sepia so also show a change in photographic technology. In most of the later (side on) images, women are shown without their hats and many are wearing prison uniform as shown below (arrow showing on her shoulder in the profile image).
Two albums cover 1897-99 and only contain 21 photographs of women. Why there are so few remains to be discovered as I do more research. These images are similar in style to the previous album although most of them are wearing hats.
Moving into the early 20th century the style of profile and face on images continues and the wearing of hats varies. In the last album 1911-1916, the hats are so impressive and stylish it is easy to be distracted by them and forget these are prison photos. A number of women are wearing similar outfits of gingham apron and mid-colour shirt with white collar and checked neckerchief which is surely prison uniform. A few older women are still wearing a Victorian bonnet rather than the modern large brimmed hat.
In all there are around 500 photographs of women in this collection of albums. I had initially intended just to focus on the earlier, Victorian-period albums where the hands are shown but I have decided to extend the research to all the women in these albums right up to 1916 as they are so intriguing and fascinating. A handful of women also appear across a number of albums and add depth to the stories I am aiming to tell with this project.
In the next post I will be showing the other side of the project – my own creative work developing alongside the research. You can follow the project research on Twitter @criminalquilts where new blog posts and snippets about the project will be shared.
This week I’ve installed and launched the exhibition of our joint McFarland & Singer artist residency in the Genetics Department of the University of Leicester. The work on show is very different from my usual work and includes work in glass and on paper as well as the amazing collaborative petri dish project.
My own work for this exhibition includes new work on paper including prints and drawings including pieces inspired by our research in the university herbarium combined with drypoint printing. I have also used scientific equipment to make textured patterned pieces. The exhibition also includes collaborative pieces Gillian and I have made together combining print, puncturing and stitch. The exhibition is now open daily 7am – 10pm until 22nd December and then again 2nd – 12th January at the Charles Wilson Building (Foyer) at Leicester University and is free to enter. Works in the exhibition will be listed for sale later in the year. A catalogue is available for £3 (+p&p) on request.
Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland-Boyle artwork
Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland-Boyle artwork
Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland-Boyle artwork
I also have other print-based work on show in Leicester Society of Artists exhibition at New Walk Museum from 17th November t0 16th December. These new pieces are created using patchwork, print and stitch. These pieces are part of a new ongoing series of work exploring textile processes and the stages in production of stitched work. These pieces were included in my recent Fragments exhibition.
This year I have been artist in residence at Leicester University Department of Genetics alongside Gillian McFarland. Our residency showcase exhibition takes place at Leicester University November – January and includes our sculptural glass work created in collaboration with the university’s scientific glassblower Gayle Price, works on paper, photography and the Petri dish project.
The exhibition preview takes place on Friday 10th November 5-7pm and all are welcome. The show continues until 11th January but is closed 22nd Dec – 1st January.
We are also showing a collection of glass pieces at the Berlin Science Festival in “Appealing to the Populous”, the international art/science exhibition for Evolutionary Biology.
In January 2018 we will be showing an expanded version of our Leicester exhibition, including pieces from Berlin and other new work at 44AD Gallery in Bath. We won the exhibition opportunity in Bath Open Arts competition earlier in 2017.
On Thursday 11th May our genetics artist residency was featured on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science which is available to listen again. There is also a gallery of images of our work on the BBC website.
Gillian and I spent our first full day at work as Artists in Residence at Leicester University Department of Genetics this week spending time observing in labs and extracting the DNA from a banana preparation to testing our own DNA later this week. For the next few weeks were are absorbing, observing, investigating, learning and getting to know the department as well as planning all the other parts of our project including schools project and exhibition.
For me it is a visual and intellectual feast, I’m finding the details of the labs fascinating and so completely new it is somewhat mind-blowing. The joy of this research stage is there’s no pressure to decide what the finished work might be and it’s great to bounce ideas around with both academic staff and of course with Gillian as we begin to scope out how we are going to approach our creative work.
I’m working on a new sketchbook with no fixed aim or direction yet which is very liberating. I am learning – fast- about the very basics of DNA and genetics, starting from knowing pretty much nothing, having not studied any science for 25 years! I’m overwhelmed by the generosity and support from the academic staff already and the enthusiasm shown for what must seem a pretty strange project to them.