*For details of my socially engaged projects and further information, please scroll down*

                                   The beginnings of a socially engaged practice?

The Tate website defines socially engaged practice as ‘art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work. It's also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program, but many independent artists also use it within their work. 

The participatory element of socially engaged practice, is key, with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them. 

Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with. The artists’ aim could be to help this community work towards a common goal, raise awareness and encourage conversation around issues, or perhaps to improve their physical or psychological conditions.’

Tate, date unknown, Socially engaged practice, Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/socially-engaged-practice

As I have described elsewhere, I have always been a maker, and I still am, but increasingly some of my work has a socially engaged element.

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Safety net at Synecdoche's [dis]place residency at The Vestibules, Bristol, September 2017                                                    (Scroll down for further details and more images.)

What I call my accidental introduction to social engagement happened in 2015. I was awarded The Embroiderers’ Guild Scholarship so was invited to exhibit at The Knitting and Stitching Shows in London and Harrogate. These are large trade shows for everything to do with textiles, with an art gallery area; this is where I was exhibiting. I was expected to be there with my work from 10-5 every day for 9 days in total.

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Do you mind if I write that down? at The Knitting and Stitching Show, London, October 2015                                                    (Scroll down for further details and more images)

I was, frankly, rather nervous about exhibiting in this context as I thought that most visitors would want to see traditional, decorative, beautiful, benign textile art and my large, body like soft sculptures are far from that! I had planned to sit quietly and knit and try to avoid any awkward interaction but I realised, almost straight away when I saw how people were responding, that if I did I’d miss an amazing opportunity to engage with my audience. So began the most wonderful few days. I had to make myself quite vulnerable as my work is very personal but I found it cathartic to talk to people who had had similar experiences. There were hugs, tears, lots of laughter and many stimulating conversations about life, and art. There were also some people, inevitably, who disapproved, or couldn’t understand what I was doing, or couldn't see the point, but that was all part of the diverse range of responses. 

And I wrote down what people said. I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything so I captured what I could in a sketchbook. It was very interesting to see how people responded when I said ‘Oh! Do you mind if I write that down?’ It seemed to validate what they were saying and most people then elaborated and wanted to say more. It was an astonishing experience! I have written more about it further down this page and when I describe my experience during my clothing installation, Don't wash your dirty laundry in public in September 2016.

Have a look at the documentation of the comments and conversations from the Knitting and Stitching Shows, which I have called, appropriately, ‘Do you mind if I write that down?’

I was addicted! I subsequently began to think of ways to involve the public more actively in my work. Have a look at the other projects on this page. I see this as a beginning. I still have a lot to learn about social engagement, but I do find it very exciting! I’m looking forward to finding opportunities to expand this part of my practice further. Watch this space!

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                                                                             Don't wash your dirty laundry in public 
                                                                                at
Synecdoche's Bodies residency

                                                       in an empty shop in a busy shopping centre in Bristol, September 2016                                                                                                     (Scroll down for further details and more images)
                                                                      

2018
Living sculptures
at Make space, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 18th July


Living sculptures is an interactive, participatory installation of wearable, hand knitted and stitched soft sculptures. Normally, in an art gallery, there are signs saying ‘Do not touch’; what happens if the viewer is not only encouraged to touch but is invited to become a living sculpture by wearing an abstract soft sculpture? What would it look like? How would it feel?

I trialed the participatory aspects of this idea as part of a day at Bristol Museum’s Make Space alongside The Woman’s Hour Crafts’ Prize exhibition on 18th July 2018. I invited my visitors to become living sculptures by trying on a soft sculpture, or several!


An invitation to participate! 

I set up the Make space room, making the new, more wearable sculptures easy to access along with some of my original soft sculptures which can also be worn.

My first stitched, wearable soft sculpture, Living sculpture, furry.


Part of the Make space, set up with a number of my soft sculptures, including the Living sculptures.

Have a look at this video walk through of the space at the beginning of the dayI rearranged it later in the day so that it looked like this.

I documented the event with photos, videos and interactive feedback. It was wonderful. I especially loved the conversations I had and the fabulous ways that people moved when they were wearing my work. It’s clear that the participants found it playful but also thought provoking. Many thanks to those who took part!

Here's a video of one of the participants wearing Living sculpture, furry. I love the way she starts rocking! This visitor started spinning as soon as she put on No animals have been harmed in the making of this garment, this lady began to dance and so did this one as soon as she put on Heart of  darkness I!


One visitor exploring Living sculptures.

Identity is often communicated through the clothes we wear, but, at a deeper level, the multiple selves we reveal to the world can conceal our true sense of self. Living sculptures investigates this disconnect.

Another visitor wearing The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Most of my static soft sculptures are technically wearable, and at some point during the process of making, I try on all my sculptures. It’s part of making them me and is also part of my ongoing research into the links between clothing, body and identity. Yet they are, realistically, utterly unwearable. Have a look at the wonderful, quirky images of me wearing them, Wearing the unwearable.


Me, wearing Nobody 3. 
Living sculptures is the beginning of a larger body of work in progress where, using traditional garment-making skills and unexpected materials, I am developing a selection of more readily wearable sculptures which can be put on and removed independently by visitors. I am merging my making with my social engagement! The passive viewer can choose to become an active participant, a performer; or, for the onlooker, the space will be transformed into a dynamic, ever-changing, interactive experience.

Carl Jung describes individuation as the process of finding meaning in life, and ultimately of finding our self. It involves balancing our multiple selves with the dark side, or shadow, of ourselves; failure to acknowledge and accept this shadow can result in fragmentation and associated mental health issues. Exploring this sense of being ‘other’, Living sculptures offers the viewer the opportunity to take on various temporary identities by trying on a selection of bizarre, handmade, wearable soft sculptures.

My youngest visitor enjoying wearing No animals have been harmed in the making of this garment!

Encouraging participants to post selfies on social media provides valuable feedback, documentation of the experience and extends the project’s reach. This playful, interactive art adventure interrogates the boundaries between self and other, changes the balance of power in the gallery setting and questions the true value and authorship of art.

Have a look at a delightful video of this participant wearing Living sculpture, furry!

The sculptures also make an intriguing static exhibit. They have garment-like elements, but are clearly not functional clothes. They can be exhibited it any number of ways – on hooks, hangers, clothing rails, suspended from meat hooks, displayed on mannequins…. The list is endless. They could also be exhibited alongside photos of some of the wonderful participants who have worn them!


My new knitted series of Living sculptures.

The Living sculptures day at Make space was very valuable to me. Not only was it hugely enjoyable, but it was also very useful as research and I was able to gather some interesting feedback, both oral and written, about the experience. I’m now planning to add to this series and provide further opportunities for a larger, more immersive experience. I envisage a room full of  my hanging soft sculptures, maybe like the installation at the PRILIC exhibition, amongst which the active participants, the Living sculptures can move. I’m looking forward to developing this idea further, maybe using CCTV to record and play back the visitors’ interactions with the sculptures.

A room full of my hanging soft sculptures at PRILIC, Jacob's Wells Baths, Bristol, Dec 2017

For more about the works in progress, have a look at my knitted Living sculpture, pink, blue, orange, turquoise and green and my new stitched Living sculpture, furry.

Here are more photos of the Make space and more of the wonderful images of the Living sculptures being worn:


1. Make space at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
2. Living sculptures: an invitation to participate
3. My first stitched wearable soft sculpture - Living sculpture, furry
4. A series of knitted Living sculptures, displayed in the space
5-10. Views of Living sculptures at Make space
11-26. Some of the wonderful participants wearing the Living sculptures and some of my other soft sculptures

2017
Safety net
at Synecdoche's [dis]place residency at The Vestibules, Sept 

Safety net at [dis]place is the 3rd iteration of the Safety net idea. The first was part of Refuge: in search of safety at Fringe Arts Bath in May 2017, the second at St. Werburgh’s Primary School in June. At the school it had a different focus as it was part of an Aspiration Day for Year 5s and 6s. There I called it My future. Scroll down the page for more information about both of these installations.

Each time I have set up Safety net it has been very different. At Fringe Arts Bath I was given half a room in a semi derelict shop and I was able to staple the netting to the walls, ceiling and floor. I think this has been the most satisfying set up so far as it felt as if I was sculpting with netting and a stapler and was very intuitive. It was utterly site responsive and has been the most aesthetically pleasing installation so far.

Safetynetday1
                                       Safety net, Day 1, at Refuge: in search of safety, Fringe Arts Bath, May 2017

At the Primary School the set up was, possibly inevitably, much more limited in that I was asked to set it up over some climbing equipment. It obviously made it into a very different space, but was adequate for the setting and the students responded with curiosity and thoughtfulness. The Safety net concept ticks lots of boxes in terms of accessibility; it’s a provocation, it’s kinaesthetic, and it's differentiated, it will suit different types of learners.

Myfuture11
                                  My future at St Werburgh's Primary School, Bristol, Aspiration morning, 6th July 2017
 
For Safety net at The Vestibules, I knew I wouldn’t be able to use staples as it’s a listed building so I planned to create the netting structure by tying it to a couple of tall garment rails. I found this was much less aesthetically pleasing than the installation at Refuge, but in the circumstances it worked. Each Vestibule was quite an awkward space to use, in some ways, as we had to keep clear gangways from each inner doorway as they were fire exits. We also had to negotiate space between 7 artists. 

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                                              Safety net, Day 1,5.9.17 at [dis]place at The Vestibules, Bristol, September 2017

My little safety net was dwarfed by the size of The Vestibule though! I would be thrilled to set it up again in that space. Next time I’d see if it could be more sculptural and site responsive and I’d attach it to the infrastructure of the building. I would probably need very tall ladders, or a scaffolding tower, maybe a couple of technicians and definitely the whole space! 

The garment rails have wheels and I had planned to wheel the structure outside onto the open public space outside The Vestibules, College Green, on dry days to see what would happen. Needless to say, once the structure was set up, I realised how hard it would be to move it, especially alone, so it didn’t happen. I also became engrossed in my displacement activities and was busy doing other things most of the time.

It’s interesting to compare Safety net at [dis]place with Safety net at Refuge. At [dis]place it was in place for 20 days, at Refuge it was up for 17 days. At Refuge the changes from Day 1 to the end are much more evident. The written responses are similar in both settings, although there were fewer labels and fewer pieces of cloth attached at The Vestibules. I think there are a number of reasons for this. At Refuge, the footfall was much higher, Safety net was the only participatory piece in the exhibition and I also spent some time adding pieces of cloth to the net when I was there as a kind of performance. At Refuge, Safety net was a more private space for reflection because of the way the exhibition was set up. Also the focus of the whole Refuge exhibition was on safety and, as many of the pieces of work on show dealt with troubling issues, it seems to me that some viewers used the labels to reflect on the whole show, not just on Safety net. At [dis]place, on the other hand, we had fewer visitors, there were several other interactive pieces and I decided not to add pieces of cloth this time. Although the focus of the residency at The Vestibules was [dis]place, the ways that the artists interpreted that term were very varied. I also wonder if the set up and aesthetics of the piece at The Vestibules made it less appealing.

Day037.9.172
                                                                            One happy participant! 

The responses to Safety net at [dis]place were still very positive, nonetheless. I have kept all the labels and at some point I’ll document them, but in the meantime have a look at the record I made of the residency, Displacement activity. It includes some reactions to Safety net as well as the documentation of my other displacement activities. I have also included photos of a number of the labels in the gallery below.

Day048.9.1712
                                                         One of the labels tied on to Safety net at [dis]place

Leaving Safety net to do its thing is another example of change in control. I found at Refuge that if I talked to people about their responses to the net they became inhibited, but if I left them to it they would spend more time inside the net and more time reflecting. I hope it’s a non-threatening way to enable the viewer to find their voice, which can be anonymous or not. Sometimes, however, people didn’t want to write, but talked to me instead, so I have scribed some of the labels. This was particularly true of a group of adults with learning difficulties. I was delighted too that the wheeled rails meant that we could expand the entrance and the space so that one of them, a wheelchair user, was able to go inside! 

Inviting the viewer to write a label is also a very useful, and hopefully not too intimidating, way to get feedback on the work. Feedback by stealth?

Day048.9.173 
                                                                       Safety net, a private space for reflection?

Another change in control is how the structure changes with each interaction. Apart from setting it up, tidying the space from time to time, taking photos and occasionally talking to people about it, I did nothing and yet with each added piece of cloth or label the space changed. It’s hard to categorise this piece of work and it raises a number of possibly unanswerable questions. It’s obviously an installation, it's site responsive, it’s participatory and interactive but should it also be called a collaboration? Is it social engagement? I see myself as the facilitator, but the idea is mine, so I am also the artist. But are the participants artists too? Co authors?

Friends who work in Early Years education call this a provocation; apparently that’s a thing with pre-schoolers. I think it’s a fitting term for my work as well.

Day1828.9.172
                                                                       Safety net at [dis]place, Day 18, 28.9.17

An unexpectedly poignant aspect to Safety net has been the deconstruction of the net each time. Taking it down the first time, after Refuge, I only had time to bundle the nets into a bag, with the labels and cloth strips attached, and bring it home. Have a look at a video of me bundling the nets into a bag. On reflection it became clear that it’s temporal and site-dependent too, a transient piece, so it no longer has an identity when it’s no longer in situ. I think this makes it especially poignant; it is the setting and accumulation of interactions that make it what it becomes. As a time- and site-responsive piece, inevitably the documentation is critical. Keeping the piece intact defeated the object, it needs to be a blank canvas in each new setting and so I began to unravel the cloth and untie the labels….

safetynetunravelling
                                                     Beginning the long, slow process of unravelling Safety net

Making work can be cathartic and satisfying and ‘un making’ can be similarly therapeutic. This work was repetitive, time-consuming and oddly reflective as each time I did it with a group of friends and we read the labels to one another as we untied them. It felt strange though to be undoing the effort of others, but also like part of the circle of life. It makes me think of the myth of Penelope who wove by day and unravelled by night.... 

And what is left each time? 2 unadorned pieces of garden netting, with traces of coloured threads still attached, three bin liners of strips of coloured cloth and a pile of responses on labels. It seems appropriate that most of it can be recycled and significant that a safety net is so transient….   

However it is defined, Safety net does seem to be an effective way to enable people to reflect and respond to a particular subject. I’m looking forward to having opportunities to set it up again in different spaces and contexts, maybe with a different title and focus.  

Gallery of images of Safety net at [dis]place:

1-7. Day 1, 5.9.17: Sculpting with netting, elastic and two garment rails!
8. Day 1, 5.9.17: Safety net at [dis]place
9. Day 2, 6.9.17
10-12. Day 3, 7.9.17
13-27. Day 4, 8.9.17
28. Day 6, 12.9.17: How small Safety net seems!
29, 30. Day 8, 14.9.17
31-33. Day 9, 15.9.17
34-39. Day 10, 18.9.17
40. Day 12, 20.9.17
41. Day 13, 21.9.17
42, 43. Day 16, 26.9.17
44. Day 17, 27.9.17
45, 46. Day 18, 28.9.17
47, 48. Day 19, 29.9.17 This little boy spent some time inside Safety net with his mum and did some drawings. He wanted to take this yellow label home with him so he could remember the experience!

2017
My future
at St Werburgh's Primary School, Bristol, Aspiration morning, 6th July 


I was asked to take part in an Aspiration morning for Year 6 students of 5 local primary schools. It was about inspiring the children so that they could find out about different careers. I was there to tell them what it’s like to be an artist. I thought it would be fun (for them and for me!) to set up a version of Safety net, but with a different focus so that the students could be actively involved. I decided to call it My future and invited the students to think about their future and write down one thing they were excited about and one thing that worried them.

Myfuture27
                                                        My future at St Werburgh's Primary School Aspiration morning

This time I used the moveable climbing frames to make the structure, draping the netting over them to make it den-like. It meant that there were in fact two spaces, which worked well as, at times, there were lots of children who wanted to join in. I don’t think it was as aesthetically pleasing as Safety net at Refuge, (see below), but it worked well in this context.

The students seemed to really enjoy writing or drawing their thoughts on the labels and then attaching them to the netting with the strips of coloured cloth. It was very lovely to see them being engaged - thinking, talking and having fun! I was very grateful to Alice Smith for coming to help. She was especially good at getting the children to talk to her.

Myfuture18
                                                                        'I'm excited about secondary school.'

I still have to document their responses, but predictably, the most common thing the students were excited about was also the thing that worried them – starting secondary school. There were some wonderfully aspirational labels as well!

Here is a video of My Future.

And here is a gallery of images:



2017
Safetynet
 
at Refuge: in search of safetyFringe Arts Bath, May 26th - June 12th 

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                                              Lou Baker inside Safety net at Refuge, Fringe Arts Bath, Day 17, 12th June 2017 

Safety net
is a site responsive, temporal installation made with garden netting. At Fringe Arts Bath, I was able to create the piece by stapling it to the walls, ceiling and floor. It definitely felt like drawing or sculpting with netting! The viewer is invited to go in to the den-like space and reflect on safety, and then respond to it by adding strips of brightly coloured, torn cloth to the structure and also writing their thoughts an a label and attaching it as well.

Safetynetday1

                                   Safety net at Refuge: in search of safety, Fringe Arts Bath, Day 1, May 26th 2017

It was thrilling to see how the installation was transformed from a public place to a more private space over 17 days and how the actions of the participants changed not only the look of Safety net, but the form too. It was thought provoking to read the reflections of the participants - some frivolous, some funny and some very poignant.  Have a look at the documentation of Safety net's development over 17 days at 'Refuge; in Search of Safety.'


Invitation
                                                               An invitation to participate....

'It’s hard not to become desensitised to the images we see daily on TV and social media of displaced people living in temporary shelters as they flee war and famine. What would it feel like to have to leave everything, in fear and desperation, to find shelter in a tent, where the only protection from the elements is a thin sheet of canvas and there is no privacy?
 
#Safetynet is a site specific, temporary shelter. It’s an interactive and participatory experience. Constructed as a walk-in space made with garden netting, the public will be given freedom to go in or stay outside and will be invited to interact with the structure by weaving or tying a selection of materials onto the net or writing a response to the idea of #safetynet on a luggage label, which can also be tied to the structure. The space will be transformed with every interaction; it will make a difference.

SafetynetatFABday12
 
                                                                  Safety net, Day 12

Most of us made dens when we were young, with blankets and washing racks and our imagination, that gap under the hedge at the bottom of the garden or the space under the bed. It was fun, it was play. Often it was about hiding, being unseen, invisible to the eyes of supervising adults, sometimes it was about having a space of our own. Sometimes, however, there was also a frisson of fear at the prospect of being unseen…. What happens when a temporary structure becomes the only place of safety? 

SafetynetatFABday14.2

                                                                         One visitor came back, bringing her sister, Day 14

Initially, this net structure provides no privacy, no shelter, it’s just a minimal, see-through barrier to the inside. As time passes and the work develops, the accumulation of responses will obscure the inside of the structure and make it a much more satisfactory hiding place or shelter; or will it? As it changes, how will that change the reaction of the viewer? As passive viewer becomes active participant, how will their interaction change the space for others? Inhabiting it, being still there, sharing the space, interacting with the structure; for each person it will be a different experience. 


SafetynetatFABday15
                                                                       Safety net, Day 15

A seemingly superficial participatory interaction becomes a provocation which explores the liminal space between safety and danger. Where some feel safe, others will feel claustrophobic, where some feel calm, others will feel uncomfortable. It will question our security and make public things that are normally private. It will also give the viewer a glimpse into the experiences of the many people who are forced to live in a world of transient shelters. It will highlight the vulnerabilities and insecurities of an ephemeral resting place.


Is it a trap or a den?'
 
Dimensions: Variable, site specific
 
#Safetynet is the development of a collaboration between Lou Baker, Gina Baum, Helen Acklam, Laura Waite, Maura Zukina, Nicola Pearce and  Alice Jennings which took place at  Synecdoche’s  Bodies residency in Bristol, September 2016. See Tethering our thoughts below.


2016
Don't wash your dirty laundry in public
, during
Synecdoche's Bodies residency at The Unit, Bristol

Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public is part of the art work I produced at  Bodies: a group residency by Synecdoche. It’s based around a series of temporary installations of used clothing which took place between 1st and 30th September 2016 in an empty shop in a busy shopping area in the centre of Bristol, UK. The space was open to the public for 4 days a week. It took on a life of its own and became part social engagement, part performance but was also participatory, confessional, interactive, and highly conceptual.
Clothing is often thought of as a second skin; it makes us think of bodies. It’s quite unusual to use it in art. It’s soft and impermanent and can remind us of our mortality. It also somehow mixes up the senses of touch and sight. There are strong links with memory too. Clothes, when worn, take on the shape of the wearer and become sculptural. When they are empty, they can suggest absence. Hanging them increases this sense of loss. When the clothing is second hand, other elements come into play, including abjection and contamination anxiety.  

I have, essentially, spent a month hanging out the same clothes again and again in different ways in an empty shop, arranging them in body bags, talking to people, writing down their comments and taking photos. The clothes belong to my family and I’ve been giving them away. It has made me feel very vulnerable at times. I have been making public things that are normally private. I am delighted that it has provoked a range of conflicting responses - attraction, repulsion, horror, hilarity, grief, comfort, understanding and incomprehension, amongst others.

Have a look at thepresentation I made at the end of the residency, Don't wash your dirty laundry in public, which documents some of the comments, conversations, photos and reflections on my series of temporary installations of used clothing at The Unit Bristol. Thanks again to everyone who so generously shared their thoughts with me and allowed me to write down their comments and take photographs!

I've also written a blog post with some of my thoughts about the experience. And here is a  video of me talking about my work.

#whatdoartistsdoallday
#everydayisdifferent
Gallery of images of Don't wash your dirty laundry in public:


1. Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public, used clothing, shoes, pegs, washing line, hand written title
2. Second hand clothes, mind map accompanying the installations
3. Day 4, 4.9.16 Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public; it begins! Some clothes hung from meat hooks; a pile of clothes and shoes, the FREE CLOTHES sign
4. Day 4, 4.9.16 Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public, members of the public looking at the free clothe
5. Day 4, 4.9.16, one corner with clothes pegged on the washing line
6. Day 6, 6.9.16, with some clothes hanging from hangers at the front
7. Day 6, 6.9.16, two members of the public trying on clothes
8. Day 8, 8.9.16, sagging lines!
9. Day 8, 8.9.16, trying on a t-shirt in front of the mirror  
10. Day 9, 9.9.16, unpegging
11. Day 9, 9.9.16, more unpegging
12. Day 9, 9.9.16, a different performance installation
13. Day 11, 11.9.16
14. Day 11, 11.9.16
15. Day 15, 15.9.16, reflection
16. Day 15, 15.9.16
17. Day 15, 15.9.16, rearranging
18. Day 15, 15.9.16, another performance installation, clothes in body bags, still free
19. Day 15, 15.9.16, detail of clothes in body bags in front of the chalk wall
20. Day 16, 16.9.16, members of the public rummaging through a pile of body bags to look at clothing
21. Day 16, 16.9.16, shoes
22. Day 16, 16.9.16
23. Day 16, 16.9.16
24. Day 16, 16.9.16
25. Day 16, 16.9.16, trying on a shirt
26. Day 16, 16.9.16
27. Day 16, 16.9.16, being zipped in to a body bag
28. Day 17, 17.9.16
29. Day 17, 17.9.16
30. Day 18, 18.9.16, a member of the public getting into a body bag
31. Day 21, 21.9.16, tidy shoes, FREE SHOES
32. Day 22, 22.9.16
33. Day 22, 22.9.16
34. Day 23, 23.9.16,another of the many performance installations
35. Day 23, 23.9.16, some of the artists trying on clothes
36. Day 23, 23.9.16
37. Day 25, 25.9.16, BODY PART-y, Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public, final installation
38. Day 25, still from the video of me talking about my work

2016
Tethering our thoughts: a collaboration between Lou Baker, Gina Baum, Helen Acklam, Laura Waite, Maura Zukina, Nicola Pearce, Alice Jennings, at 'Bodies: a group residency by Synecdoche', 24th - 29th September 2016.

In September 2016, 12 members of Synecdoche took over an empty shop in the centre of a busy shopping area in Bristol, UK for a month. It was open to the public for 4 days a week. We set up studio spaces, made work in the space, held workshops and interacted with the public. We called it 'Bodies: a group residency by Synecdoche'. 

For most of the month the focus of my work was on Don’t wash your dirty laundry in publicseries of changing installations of my family’s used clothing which I hung out in the space and then gave away. I invited the viewer to try on the clothing and take it away. I also encouraged them to tell me what they thought about the experience, wrote down some of the comments and conversations and took lots of photos. I have documented it here.

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                                                              Tethering our thoughts, 24th September 2016

Alongside this, I was interested in using the space for a collaboration. I had an idea that some of the artists could work together to make a large scale, participatory, walk in, textile installation. Others were keen, so we planned it, but in fact found that we were so busy with other things that we ended up installing it on Day 24, the day before the closing party. 

Its form was site responsive and intuitive. We used garden netting, hooked and stapled to walls and ceiling, for the structure and had cushions inside. We provided a selection of materials to tie and weave into the netting, and a clip board with the question: ‘Trap or den?’ We then started adding to it and encouraged our visitors to join in.

We called the piece Tethering our thoughts as that was what I was reminded of as we set up the tent-like structure; Louise Bourgeois describes drawing as a way to tether her thoughts and we saw this participatory installation as a form of three dimensional drawing.

The response was delightful. Some people came and just sat inside the space on the cushions, some alone and others in groups. Others became absorbed, weaving pieces of fabric, yarn and pipe cleaners into the netting. 

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                                                                               More participants! 

It was thrilling to see how the work changed over just a couple of days; how would be transformed over a couple of weeks? Giving permission for the public to touch and to participate brings a change in control in the art setting and also questions the value and ownership of art. Each participant becomes sculptor and performer as they interact with the installation. Each interaction changes the space. It becomes a temporal piece. It would be exciting to record these changes using video or time lapse photography and also to document the feedback of the participants. It was a shame that it was only available to the public for a couple of days. It’s definitely an idea I’d like to explore further at a later date. 
 
Gallery of images of Tethering our thoughts:

1. Materials
2. Planning
3. - 5. Setting up
6. - 12. Participation
13. - 19. Details of the installation

2015
Do you mind if I write that down?
My accidental introduction to social engagement, Oct and Nov

In 2015, as Embroiderers’ Guild Scholar, I was invited to exhibit my work as part of The Embroiderers’ Guild Graduate Showcase for 5 days at The Knitting and Stitching Show in London in October and 4 days in Harrogate in November.

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                                                                            Lou talking to a visitor about her soft sculptures
                                                                     at The Knitting and Stitching Show, London, October 2015

I was, frankly, rather nervous about exhibiting in this context as I imagined that most visitors would want to see beautiful, colourful, benign textile art. 

My abstract, hanging soft sculptures are far from that; they explore the possibilities of there being a dark side to the idea of embroidery as a gendered, decorative, safe, clean, perfect and private pursuit. 
 
Made using skin-like materials and rough, gestural stitches, my work is troubling and emotive, with an undercurrent of dark humour.
 
I call it the dark side of stitch.
 
My intention was that my sculptures should be provocative and, at The Knitting and Stitching Shows, I quickly realised that I had been successful! 

As the show opened I wanted just to sit and become absorbed in my knitting but I quickly realised that if I didn’t actively engage with the public, I’d miss an unprecedented opportunity to get valuable feedback; in a gallery setting the artist might usually only be present for a couple of hours during a private view or when invigilating. In this setting I was with my work from 10-5 for 9 days over the 2 shows. 

Because it was so busy and I felt it was very important for me to record the responses of my public, I began to ask people, as we were talking, whether I could write down their comments. And so it began; it hadn’t been planned, but it became something invaluable to me – documentation of the event and the fabulous range of responses to my work mixed in with my reflections of our conversations. 

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                                                                  Just a few of the wonderful responses to my work!
                                     For more, have a look at the full documentation, 'Do you mind if I write that down?' 

It interests me how those scrawled notes can conjure an image of the person I had been talking to, and prompt a memory of other things they said. I was thrilled with the connections I made with so many people, some with whom I am still in contact. 
 

There was definitely an element of performance in it.  My interest in each person’s thoughts and opinions was entirely genuine, and I also made myself vulnerable and discussed private things, but over the course of time, it became performative as I reached for my sketchbook and pen and asked ‘Oh! Would it be OK if I write that down?’ For more about the performative aspects have a look at my Performance page.

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                                                         In conversation at The Knitting and Stitching Show, London

 
Also, I observed that asking for permission to write down people’s comments seemed to give them confidence to say more because what they’re saying has been given value. It changed the balance of power. 
 
I have documented many of the responses to my knitted and stitched soft sculptures, The Others, Nobody 1 and All the babies I might have had II at The Knitting and Stitching Shows in London in October, and Harrogate, November, 2015 in the presentation, ‘Do you mind if I write that down?’
 
It felt like such a privilege to be part of these conversations. I met many lovely people and my work received a wonderful range of conflicting responses; much hilarity, a few tears and hugs, many, many inspiring conversations, shared stories, some disapproval, some revulsion, some horror, shock and incomprehension. I was delighted!
 
Many thanks to those who took the time to talk to me. These conversations have inspired me to develop my practice; now much of my work has a socially engaged element. 
 
Gallery of images of me in conversation with the public at The Knitting and Stitching Show, London: