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.