Thursday, 24 March 2016

Swords into Plowshares: Laura

Staying in hostels, sofa surfing or providing cat sitting services were a few of the ways Laura found places to stay in London. Throw in some stressful Visa issues and you have a potent mix that would make anyone feel unsettled. 

Laura adapted to this situation by carrying around loads of stuff at all times - always with at least one knitting project in tow. I suspect knitting provided Laura with a little bit of domesticity that didn't require an actual home, just a comfortable seat, often next to some friends who were also knitting or crafting. 

When I asked Laura to share a story for this project, it was agreed on the condition that I make a nostepinne instead of a dibber. A nostepinne is a Scandinavian tool for winding wool into centre-pull balls and the name literally translates to "nest-stick". It's very fitting because when I picture Laura settled, it would definitely be in a cozy nest made of wool.

Anyway, imagine being homeless for a while and when you finally find a long-term place to live you end up with an absolutely shocking letting agent. The kind of letting agent who has no respect for either privacy or private property (but not in a good anti-capitalist way). You've got to listen to Laura's story to believe it. 

This is the second story featured in the Swords into Plowshares series, where I exchange hand crafted things made from the posts that once held estate agent signs for stories. If you have a story of estate/letting agent woes - maybe they stole your fees, or your deposit, or just engineered you out of your home because someone else was willing to pay more rent than you - share it in exchange for a dibber or nostepinne. Write a comment below or contact me. And make sure you listen to the first one.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Swords into Plowshares: Charlie

Many people who rent in London (and beyond) would love the opportunity to grow their own vegetables, fruit, herbs or just some flowers. For most of them though, that feels impossible because of the insecurity they experience in their rented homes. The people at fault for this are not tenants, it is landlords and their parasitic estate agents who are in the business of raising rents as much as they can, as often as they can.

Swords into Plowshares is a project that began in 2015 as part of an exhibition about housing in East London. After learning how to use a lathe, I decided I wanted to make dibbers out of the posts that hold estate agent signs. I saw the abundance of these as a symbol of how quickly my neighbourhood was changing and the anxiety/instability this creates that prevents people from putting down roots. Think of it as an oral history of estate agent fuckery.

Charlie used to be my neighbour. She had a pretty awful buy-to-let landlord when she lived down the road from me. But the story she chose to tell in exchange for her dibber was from before I knew her and is far more uplifting. I think it's a great introduction to this project. Have a listen.

Do you have a story of estate/letting agent woes? Maybe they stole your fees, or your deposit, or just engineered you out of your home because someone else was willing to pay more rent than you. Get in touch if you have a story to share in exchange for a little extra encouragement to grow something - even if you understandably decide to keep it in a pot. Write a comment below or contact me.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Final Shape and Situate poster: Caroline Leneghan

This is my poster for the very last issue of Shape and Situate: Posters of Inspirational Women in Europe, the fantastic zine curated by Melanie Maddison for many years. I'm going to miss this zine. Ever since I started contributing, I've read books about radical history and thought about women in my community a little bit differently - basically with 'maybe that would make a good S&S poster' permanently in the back of my mind. So I thought I should end it all with a bang.

As a result of personal experiences, I've been thinking a lot about abusive men on the left for a while now, specifically how piss poorly the left deals with these men. At the same time, there has been an increasing backlash against marginalised people speaking out and challenging historical and current abuses of power. 

Caroline Leneghan's situation isn't unusual in the sense that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. But her abuser is a high-profile leader in one of the most powerful trade unions in the UK - a bastion of militant and radical workplace activism. Apparently what unites small, horizontally organised groups of activists and big, hierarchical trade unions who ascribe to very different ideologies is their shared failure to listen to, believe or support those who experience abuse in their ranks*.

But this is nothing new and everyone who speaks out knows very well that it could happen to them if they do. Choosing to do it anyway is my personal definition of inspirational and why I've profiled Caroline for my last poster. It is also a gigantic middle finger aimed at not only abusers but at those so-called lefties who cover up abuse, make excuses for abusers or stay silent by claiming it's 'none of their business'.

Read Caroline's story in her own words (content warning: images of the effects of physical abuse) and get yourself a copy of the last ever Shape and Situate

*There are some good examples from the left, like the stance Clapton Ultras took against Steve Hedley/in support of Caroline last year.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Foraging for pottery

Set of two nesting bowls with sand from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands wedged into the clay.
Lately I've been trying to find ways to combine the things I enjoy doing. Maybe it's related to getting older. On the one hand, it's facing up to the reality that there isn't an infinite amount of time left. On the other, it's about making quality time the priority over the time spent on things that 'need' to be done. Either way, I've successfully combined three things I love into these pots.

The first and most obvious is pottery. The decision to take it more seriously required getting to the point where I believe that I'm good enough and that it's worth the effort. This becomes more difficult with as more time passes. It's also difficult without any formal education or training and before anything in the way of sales. Nevertheless, in September I took a job at my pottery studio, allowing me to work at my 'day job' one less day a week and focus more on working with my hands. I also started selling my work more regularly.

Vase with stripes made of clay foraged in Whitstable. Known as London Clay, this was traditionally used for brick making.
The second is foraging. I love searching for edible and medicinal plants when I'm out in the countryside. I've been faithfully looking for edible mushrooms I can confidently identify for years. Over the last year, I found and ate two delicious porcinis and one giant puffball, although chanterelles still elude me. It was only after a trip to Iceland a few years ago, where I picked up some beautiful black sand from a secluded beach near Húsavík when I figured out that I could also forage for materials to use in my pottery.

Bottle with sand from Húsavík in the north of Iceland wedged into the clay. 
So the third thing that is incorporated into these pots is traveling. I've started collecting sand, rocks and even clay everywhere I go. Whether it's on a day trip to Whitstable or an extended road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, I bring home weird looking baggies of unidentifiable stuff.  I'm sure being a white woman with an American passport is the only reason I'm able to get these odd things across borders without any fuss.

Bottle with large sand particles from Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula glazed transparent.

The rocks and sand around Lake Crescent are high in basalt from ancient volcanic eruptions in the Olympic Mountains.
I've developed a particular interest in places with unique geography, especially volcanic and formally volcanic sites. The sand and rocks from these places do particularly interesting things in a 1200ºC kiln. They not only melt but spread out in beautiful patterns and react in unpredictable ways with the glazes.

Jade green glazed bottle with a trail of volcanic sand from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands.
There is a lot of experimentation involved and often the results are not great. With the initial excitement of seeing how the Icelandic sand looked, I wedged it into the clay so it was incorporated evenly throughout entire pots. I've moved away from that and started to use these foraged elements as more subtle details to enhance the shape of the pots.  All pottery for sale can be viewed in my shop.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Riso prints galore

For the last couple of years, I've been involved with the wonderful Riso Print on Friday at Common House. It's given me an opportunity to play around with a risograph, work collaboratively with others and focus on art as part of my activism. Here's what I've been making.

"Work is the cause of/solution to your problems"

"Working harder, getting nowhere - start jamming!" This is the squirrel that the risograph displays when it's working.

"Let's Kick Misogyny out of the Left" Although this is self-explanatory, there is little background for this one.

"All Cats are Beautiful" Obviously!

"A little less passive consumption, a little more active participation"

"Hands off our city!"

"Don't I deserve a good home?"

From the successful campaign against the Public Space Protection Order in Hackney.
"Messy hearts made of thunder" from Mountains Made of Steam by Silver Mt. Zion

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Updated shop with pottery and wood

In addition to paper based arts, I've been working with clay for many years and have just started working with wood. I finally got around to updating my shop to include some of my hand thrown pottery. I'm making new pots on a regular basis and continually adding them to the shop.

  I've also started a new wood turning project called Swords in Plowshares where I turn the posts holding estate agent signs into useful things like dibbers and nostepinnes on the lathe. These are not for sale but will be available to trade with anyone who is willing to share a story of being messed around by an estate or letting agent.
At the moment, I'm only shipping the pottery within the UK because international shipping is prohibitively expensive and I want my work to be both functional and affordable. Have a look around and see if there is anything for you. If you live in London or are planning a visit, you can save yourself shipping costs and come pick it up from my pottery studio in Hackney, East London. 

All my zines are available in the shop and I can easily ship those anywhere in the world. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Free educational minizine

I developed and riso printed a new mini-zine. It's fairly simple and self-explanatory. If my lifetime of experience is at all representative, I think it will be relevant to many people in many situations. That is unfortunate.

I truly hope you will never have cause to use this but you probably will. When that times comes (maybe it's right now), it will be here for you. You can give it directly to someone you think needs to read it or leave it lying around in a space where theory bros hang out. You can even share how it goes down by posting a comment below.

This is on the inside when you unfold it. If you want, you could just print this out on another sheet and keep it for yourself. The whole thing is a copyleft publication so you are free to duplicate and distribute it. 

Print it in black and white, on exciting paper, in different riso colors or even embellish it with your own drawings or hand written notes. Seriously, do whatever you need to do.
Free A4 pdf black and white download here
Folding and cutting instructions here

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Man Called Uncle Tim #3

The third issue in the series of zines about my uncle who lived in a queer polyamorous household is now published. Based on conversations I've had with my Aunt Judy, it is a further exploration into Uncle Tim's family/community and the values that influenced his life. To find out more about the project, you can read about issues #1 and #2.

Aunt Judy was there when I conducted the oral history interview with my Grandma that features in issue #1. In fact, it was Aunt Judy's suggestion that we talk about Uncle Tim in the first place because she was so proud of how her had mother supported him. Since that talk so many years ago, we've had a long and fascinating correspondence about Uncle Tim and about what this project has meant to our family. Any silence that might have existed around his life has been well and truly broken. 

Although I've obviously been itching to find out more detail about Uncle Tim's life in Raven Rocks and the make-up of his unique family, what I found most rewarding was hearing about Aunt Judy's relationship to him as a sister. It was especially interesting to hear about how that relationship evolved up until his death. 

This issue features plenty of new information that sheds light on Uncle Tim's life though, particularly about why it ended up being so separated from his biological family. Aunt Judy provides personal insights from her visits to Raven Rocks over the years as well as philosophical reflections on the life they chose to live. In this issue, I have made the choice to move the focus on from Quakerism and start looking into some of the other influential values embraced by the J. Hartzelbucks.
These will be available exclusively at DIY Cultures at the Rich Mix in London on Sunday the 24rd of May. After that, they will be available to buy through my store.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Princess Hijab: Shape and Situate #6

My submission to the latest issue of Shape and Situate: Posters of Inspirational Women in Europe. I have been in awe of the work of Princess Hijab for a while and excitedly looked for some of her work on the Metro while I was visiting Paris (sadly I didn't see any). If you are not familiar with her work, this is what it looks like and as you can see, it's not just images of women that get "hijabized":

When the latest call out for poster submissions arrived, I was right in the middle of a long-term, painful wrist injury that was stopping me from doing most things. The most upsetting thing was not being able to draw but using Princess Hijab's super fast, drippy style, I was able to draw this simple shape using my giant tagging marker, which was the only thing comfortable enough for me to hold. Creating something again helped pull me out of a worry-filled funk. I guess inspiration can mean lots of different things.

Order copies of the zine here and keep up to date about the zine by liking the Facebook page (or maybe even contribute a poster to the next issue yourself).

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Man Called Uncle Tim #2

This is the second issue in a series of zines about my uncle, who helped to found an intentional community in rural Ohio in 1970, where he lived in a queer polyamorous household until his death in 1995. I never got to know my uncle while he was alive so these zines are my attempt to understand how he lived and loved during his brief but extraordinary life. Issue #1 is based on oral history with my Grandma and this issue is based on conversations with my dad.

A major factor that led me to start this project was the general silence about my uncle that existed throughout my childhood. To be honest, there was a lot of silence in my family when it came to anything that was difficult to talk about. But it wasn't just not knowing about how Uncle Tim lived, I had no idea what it felt like for my dad to lose his brother so young.

Talking to my dad openly about my uncle was revelatory. Not only did I learn about how close he and Uncle Tim were when they were growing up, it was the first time we'd had a real, profound conversation about things like death, sexuality and difficult emotions. It may have taken more than 35 years but it was also the first time we communicated about what it feels like to be the weird kid desperately searching for a different life, something Uncle Tim and I shared.

As important as anything was hearing how he felt about Uncle Tim's death, especially after such a long period of not being in contact. There is still so much more to learn about Uncle Tim's life from the other people who were close to him so the search continues. For now, pick up a copy of issue #2 in my shop.