Áine Kelly – Adapting Materials + Practice
Bricks has kindly commissioned me to develop my work for the next couple of months. For the past 5 years my work explored camera-less photographic processes. This includes camera obscura installations, sculptural light prints, and photograms of ice and plants. Many of these works touched on environmental concerns. The method to create these works was hypocritically not very environmentally friendly. I was using numerous photographic chemicals that eventually joined the water system and unrecyclable photographic paper coated in silver. Like many others, living in the age of climate breakdown has brought on a guilt of my environmental impact, that has now seeped itself into my artistic practice.
There are a lot of really great photographers out there who are also questioning the environmental impact of photographic processes and discovering new ways of processing film and paper with safe household ingredients such as cafenol and using natural materials with photographic properties such as chlorophyll prints. Saying that, over lockdown I found it difficult to continue working in my makeshift darkroom in my home studio. There was something about lockdown that triggered a need to shake up my practice and adapt to this new way of life we’re all finding ourselves in.
I’ve been a knitter and occasional sewer for the past 10 years. It’s always been a hobby and never really found its place in my studio. I watched a short documentary about a weaver who lived on Clare Island in Ireland. She sheared the sheep, processed and hand dyed the wool and then weaved it with her floor loom. This slow process appeals to me as it allows a dialogue with natural materials and hand work whilst remaining low impact.
Over the next couple of months, I intend to make new work that confronts the environmental impact of art making. This includes using natural and repurposed materials within a sculptural and textile context. I will be sharing test pieces, sketches and research towards developing my work with this line of thinking.
I have heaps of yarn and textiles from previous projects. They’re all random awkward sizes that often can’t seem to fit into any new projects. So the heap just gets bigger and bigger by project and project.
Weaving with scraps of yarn allows me to weave in short strips easily as opposed to weaving with a continuous ball of yarn. I wove the strips with the ends coming towards the middle and frayed the ends in order to keep the structure of the weave. The yarn is 100% sheeps wool so combing out the wool produces a lovely matted coat. It’s almost reversing the wool’s properties back to how it was when it was sheared off the sheep. It keeps together quite well and has the potential to become more sculptural.
I tried another small piece with various types of leftover yarn scraps. This includes cotton, hemp, wool, linen and acrylic. All yarns frayed nicely apart from a particular cotton. I also experimented with combining plastic into the weave. It’s a bit of a mash of two ideas but I wanted to see how these two materials would work together.
There is something satisfying about incorporating an object into a flat weave. It gives the appearance of floating among the warp (vertical threads of a weave). Adding objects into the weave is something I think I’ll experiment with more.
Some scraps are so small that it’s not even worth trying to weave with. So I’ve started to collect these micro scraps until I have a big heap to card with. Carding yarn untangles and intermixes the fibres to produce a continuous web of fibre. After that I will attempt to spin the fibres to make a continuous ball of yarn to weave with! It will be a concoction of various natural and synthetic fibres so I’m curious to see how well it will hold together.
Doing this in combination with buying sustainably made natural yarns and second hand yarns could be a really good solution to lowering my impact. Repurposing even the smallest of fibres avoids landfill and reduces the need to consume more. It might sound insignificant which I’m sure many of us have felt when we make the effort to minimise our impact but making these small efforts are effective collectively.
3. NATURAL MATERIALS
Like many people this year, I’ve been outdoors enjoying nature much more than I have before. On my walks I found myself asking could this be a weave-able material? Seaweed seemed like a good contender…
I collected what I think is bladder wrack, egg wrack and dulse. The flat seaweeds like dulse were easily cut into straight strips and it wove quite well. The more ropey seaweed like egg wrack was harder to work with, especially with trying to fit in the bubble like sacks. The lighting isn’t great in the photos but you can see how much the seaweed shrank and separated when it dried after several days. It became brittle and I’m not sure how well it would hold up over time. If I tried using seaweed as the warp instead of yarn then maybe the entire weave would shrink in together and it could make it more stable.
I love the idea of making a seaweed weave that could be presented in water or the sea. I found a couple of egg sacks embedded in the seaweed and I was amazed at the amount of little insects I inadvertently brought home with me. The handful of seaweed that I took from the shore was teeming with life and I’m not sure how I feel about interfering with it like this. Next time I will need to be a bit more careful and clean off the seaweed before taking it away to ensure that all little critters are left alone. I also like the idea of weaving in situ and leaving the woven seaweed in the sea which could become a sort of living tapestry.
I also collected a few stones that were relatively flat to weave around. I started off weaving a patch on one side of a tiny pebble. I tried again with a larger rock and this time I encased it in wool to follow the form of the rock. Weaving in general is a slow process but this felt particularly slow going as I was using the rock as a loom and had to make more of an effort to keep the warp in line and evenly spaced. Not to mention fraying each individual strand like I did in my previous Scraps post. The act of making this felt nurturing, like I was making a protective layer for the rock. By using a tapestry needle to weave, this added to the feeling of mending it. And now when I look at it, the white wool has the appearance of a bandage.
I also like this idea of using another material as the loom. I intend to experiment more with making structures that act as a loom whilst also allowing me to present the weavings as free standing structures.
I touched on reducing the need for consuming in my previous post about scraps. Following on from this I began to save materials that were destined for recycling and refuse which has really taken a toll on my studio space!
I built up a lot of packaging materials this year. I did this test piece to see how well different packaging materials would hold up. I like how the colours of the materials are muted so there is more emphasis on the varying textures.
These cumbersome inflated packages dominated the corner of my studio for months and I finally decided to try weaving with them. There was no way to avoid releasing air once snipped but the layout of the plastic gave a lot of potential for different structures. Setting up the warp with the plastic threaded through was practically a days work in itself, even for such a relatively small tapestry. I decided to leave one side of the tapestry unwoven so as not to obstruct the view of the plastic piercing through the warp. However, I’m not sure how it will hold up off the loom. I think next time I will need to weave it on a loom to be presented with. I prefer that this weaving doesn’t necessarily look like it’s been made by a packing material as opposed to the previous weave. I would rather the weave look beautiful first and then on closer inspection that it may be a bit more clear as to what type of materials I’m using. I suppose in a way I want to trick people into seeing how beautiful these kinds of highly disposable and ordinary materials can be and to encourage viewers to look at these materials more creatively.
5. STRUCTURE AS LOOM
I’ve played around with replacing the loom with an object previously in my Natural Materials post. Continuing on from this I decided to make some structures to allow me to make a particular weave whilst also pushing the weave into a more sculptural piece. All the materials used to make the structures were leftover materials from previous artworks.
I started off making a cube out of balsa wood. There were lots of different ways I could have set up the warp on this and which areas to weave. I tried out setting up two u shaped warps on either end that interconnected by weaving together in the middle.
Then I tried making a deconstructed cube with wire but it didn’t really come out as I had imagined. I wanted it to show the joining of two different yarns coming together to form a weave. I added in coloured thread, pink along the black yarn and intended to add in another colour along the white but I don’t think it was working out so I left it unfinished.
I also took a sheet of acetate and threaded it through to act as the warp. The tension remained surprisingly taut which enabled me to leave a circular gap in the weave without affecting it’s shape as it usually would do once off the loom. It has a lot of potential to make some interesting forms and the transparency allows for so many ways for the weaving to be viewed. So I will definitely continue to explore this method.
6. FINISHED WORKS
As many of the pieces I’ve been sharing over the past few months have been a work in progress, I thought it would be a nice way to end the blog with a collection of some finished pieces.
Here’s the rock weave that I first covered in the Natural Materials post. This piece took much longer than expected to finish. Fraying each individual strand that I pulled out from the weave was challenging and required a lot of patience! But I’m happy with the result and it was worth the time. I think I will definitely explore this idea further of making protective barriers for natural materials.
Here’s the plastic and linen weave I first showed in my Waste post. This is probably one of my favourite pieces I’ve made for the micro commission and will definitely try some larger scale versions of this down the line. It was satisfying to allow the plastic to influence the pattern and flow of the weave. I was worried once I took it off the loom it would lose it’s shape too much as one side of the warp is left bare but I’m happy with how it holds off the loom especially when laid down horizontally on a surface.
Here’s a new weaving I made with acetate. It consists of linen and various threads of yellows, greys and whites. This was the most freeform style of weaving I’ve done yet and I really enjoyed it. I’m keen to try out a larger version of this with acetate again.
Lastly, I would like to thank Bricks Bristol once again for offering me this micro commission and giving me a platform to share my journey! You can see more of my work on www.ainekelly.com or follow me on instagram.