Monday, August 23, 2010

Seema speaks!

Here is some information on the project in Seema's own words (instead of my mumble jumble!):

The Lovely Weather Project is a thematic residency sponsored by Donegal County Council Public Art Office along with Leonard√łOLATS. The purpose of the residency is to explore how art can address issues around global warming and climate change, specifically in County Donegal.

My project, Carbon Footprint, uses wool and spinning as the primary metaphor to articulate the intrinsic relationship between climate change and economics. Locally, sheep wool has become valueless and is a zero profit material for the farming community. Yet this material has incredible versatility, history, and worth if explored. This project works to rejuvenate the use of local wool framing it as a political act that separates the green house gas emissions graph from the GDP graph.

Carbon footprint has several components:

Inspiration for the project:
When I first decided to apply for the residency I looked for my own connections to Donegal. I went to my closet and pulled out my Donegal cable sweater. Reading the tag gave me my initial direction for the work. Where was Donegal in this object? Like many textile traditions, Donegal sweaters have particular patterns referencing the landscape from which they emerge. I considered remaking these sweaters with contemporary references to climate change and weather patterns using local wool.

The wool is a type of portrait of the place. Made up literally of Donegal (earth, air, and water), I feel this material is as representative of the area as it is possible to be. Once I came to Inishowen the piece shifted to be more about the relationship between climate change and economics as exemplified by material values and uses. In the instance of my Donegal Sweater, the name of the object replaced the need for it to actually come from the place, so a complicated and carbon heavy web produced this item in Thailand which was later sold in Canada. In Inishowen, wool was once a material that had use and value but is now superfluous. I was shocked to learn I could buy a whole fleece for 2 euros and wool is treated as a waste material, sometimes thrown away because it has so little value here. I wanted to understand the relationship of locals to the sheep and wool.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that wool is a form of local carbon capture. It successfully sequesters a significant amount of atmospheric carbon which isn’t later released through consumption (unless left to moths etc.). Using this material challenges the current dismissal of it as well as the global market forces which insist on large scale industry and global economics. This is an opportunity to use a material that is ubiquitous (and synonymous) with Ireland, and actually find a way to “act locally.” (no small order when you think about it). Shifting the scale of the problem and action to an intimate personal level.

The work is a public engagement piece. As such, I am not sure what the final piece will look like but I do know it involves people! Here are some of the parts. Firstly, I audited a grad class on climate change at NUIM taught by Dr. Rowan Fealy. While this is a very academic way to engage in the subject is is also one of the most important. Not only did this help to develop a
better understanding of the science and become familiar with the visual language of the data, it also reminded me of the hurdles in translating such overwhelming information into something tactile and personal.

The next thing was to figure out my material. I’m now the proud owner of an Ashford and a Luet spinning wheel as well as a beautifully made drop spindle. I was fortunate to find a spinnig workshop led by Mary O’Rourke, an artist of tremendous vision, skill, and warmth.

I’ve also collected almost 50 kilos of local Texal, Suffolk, and Jacobs fleece. I’m now teaching people how to spin and am discovering an unexpected but much appreciated enthusiasm particularly among knitters and crocheters. Most local people tell me they have never even seen a spinning wheel in action even though the last Irish maker of spinning wheels lives in Carndonagh and Ireland was once home to a significant cottage industry of women spinning flax in their homes.

Spinning in fact helped Irish women develop some economic independence and was a symbol of Irish perseverance and creativity, (I usually go on a rant here). At the moment I have a public action planned for August 28th where a large group of people spin wool on drop spindles in front of empty shop-front spaces in Carndonagh as an act of resistance to global economics, to the recession, to a trade system that erodes local production of goods, and to the idea of helplessness in the larger picture of economic disaster. It is a reminder that there is opportunity and industry available, but these things will not come to us without our own efforts and active choices. If you want change, you have to make it.

I have also secured a studio space in Carndonagh! You’re all invited to drop in. I have a kettle for making tea and a tin of cookies ready for visitors. This space will be used as a spinning and knitting space for the next 10 weeks where anyone can come by and learn to spin or use the hand-cranked knitting machine to churn out a pair of socks. These will include design motifs which reference the climate change data from the Malin Head meteorological station and other sources.

Objects have trace. While the phrase Carbon Footprint usually references our measure of consumption, it should also take into account the carbon fingerprint - that is where that carbon comes from. This work emphasises the importance of a materials history, not just in terms of its production and transportation, but also its history and inherent meaning. A locally made thing created by hand rephrases that material, object, and place as precious.

All the wool spun will be knit into socks incorporating climate change data. The work will show in Letterkenny in November at the Regional Cultural Centre. Gallery viewers will also have the opportunity to make themselves a pair of socks during their visit.

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