Yesterday I was alerted to an inspiring direct action designed to draw attention to the ongoing destruction involved with the extraction of oil from the Tar Sands in Canada. Together with the UK Tar Sands Network artist Lucy Sparrow created a large scale felted artwork. Lucy describes how she put her plan in action…
After nine intense days of frantic sewing and knitting, I made my way with the guys from the UK Tar Sands Network to Canada House to protest against the Canada Europe Energy Summit which brought together Canadian ministers and heads of big oil companies planning how to push highly polluting oil onto the world. Ironically, there was also an exhibition on embroidery happening at the same time within Canada House so they were surrounded by fabric from all angles.
I created a fabric oil spill that would seem like it was spilling out of the building scattered with dead animals, toxic waste and a big stitched oil refinery. I think that often the best way to get people’s attention is in the most visual way possible which also acts as a way to soften the blow for serious subject matter. It was an installation as well as a performance piece that lasted just over an hour and caught the attention of all the people arriving for the meeting. We thought that by placing the oil spill on every doorway, it would create an inconvenient obstacle and truth to those entering. It was an amazing collaboration to be involved in and really highlighted some important issues through the medium of felt and wool.
What images and ideas inspired your craftivism piece?
I was particularly inspired by the vast landscapes of pure ruined earth. It’s that level of destruction that you can’t even fathom without having been there. It makes you feel very small, like a tiny ant in this huge colony of devastation.
How did you construct your artwork?
The main oil spills were made out of plain black cotton that I bought in a huge 100 metre roll. I then split this into three sections to sew together so I’d have a spill for each doorway that people visiting the meeting could possibly go through. We really wanted to cover all bases so that it would be symbolic of a dirty mess that you can’t escape.
How long have you been involved in craftivism and how did you first get involved with the Tar Sands Network?
I think my work has always been involved with tackling big issues but I’d like to think that I go about it in a kind of ridiculous and humorous way. I think people underestimate the power of humour when approaching big subjects because anything else can seem preachy and hard to swallow. I’ve always made big things that demand people to look at them. They’re always very blatant, a little child-like and have faces. I think you can’t get outraged at something with a cute face. Suzanne Dhaliwal from UK Tar Sands Network and I met through a mutual friend and on first introduction, within 10 minutes, we were planning to make enormous felt seagulls to chuck off buildings in central London. I think it was inevitable that we would join forces eventually.
What were the biggest issues you encountered in taking you art to Canada House?
The whole thing had to be kept incredibly secret so it was really hard creating all this stuff and not being able to talk about it but I think that served us well in that the Canada House security were probably expecting us to turn up with banners and signs. The police were there when we arrived but generally everyone was very accepting of what we were trying to do and I hope that in our creativity, we brought a smile to their faces and made them think a little.
What do you hope that this act of craftivism will achieve?
I hope that it will inspire people to accept that protest comes in all different forms. It’s not always a group of angry people with placards. When you meet anger with anger, the only thing that’s achieved is that you crash against each other. We’re simply offering them an alternative viewpoint which is sugar-coated so that they can accept the harsh realities of what they’re decisions are doing.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
Many… so many. I’ve just completed a grant for the Arts Council today so I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed because if that goes ahead, it’ll be wall-to-wall felt for a good while. I’ve also just completed a series of buildings out of felt in a series called Ministructures with Time Out London so I’m hoping to take that to other cities… New York ideally…. although that will involve sewing a lot of windows…
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