This floating installation is a participatory piece made in response to a year of being the 'Artist Educator in Residence' at St. Luke's Community Centre as a part of a wider Islington Heritage project.
In 2022 I was delighted to be the first artist to take part in this three year project by Islington Heritage and with St. Luke's Community Centre. I had a beautiful studio space where I kept my new Ironbridge printing press and then delivered workshops in the community centre to the wider community and with local schools exploring ideas and information I uncovered about the local area in my research trips to the archives. My research and the participants became central to the development of my final artwork, I was so lucky to meet so many amazing people from all walks of life and to hear their stories and invite them to be part of the project was what I think is important about a participatory art practice.
Having studied many beautiful maps of the Bunhill area over the centuries my research drew me towards the people who worked nearby, the people who walked through the burial ground everyday, the people who found quiet refuge there after a hard day's work. I discovered that many creative industries and artisanal jobs happened here in the 18th and 19th Centuries and many exciting jobs I had never heard of either! It turns out that printing was one the major industries of Bunhill from the 19th Century, De La Rue printers, famous for printing bank notes, had their factory on Bunhill Row from 1874-1940 when it was destroyed in the Blitz during the Second World War, as a printmaker you can imagine how this discovery felt pertinent.
Together with the students of local primary schools and my own interest in symbols we learned about other prominent professions and trades formerly found in the Bunhill area, including metalworking, textile mills, dye makers and ropemakers. Inspired by Adinkra symbols from West Africa, each student designed their own symbol, created it into a stencil and then printed them on my printing press 'Blake' (named after the one and only William Blake, buried in Bunhill Fields), these symbols became the main part of my final piece.
The symbols became banners and then my own etchings which I had been making in response to being in this beautiful graveyard throughout the year became banners too and with the wizardry of Richard Hackney who made me a large aluminium printmaking wheel I began to draw and make mock-ups of this final floating collection of artworks and ideas.
During the project I met so many people and learned so much, it felt as if I was gathering stories, places and people who are all hidden in the artwork in some way, they became a collection, and the final piece, a 'Collector'. Bunhill Fields is such a magical space, where headstones like pillars emerge from the undergrowth, where historical non-conformists are interred on the bones of many and the ghosts of the people throughout the ages who have walked through the pathway and found sanctuary to rest and think live on. It is the traces of humans on the landscape that my art practice is inspired by and this work is like a drifting stone circle... Heaven reaching down to Earth.
I would like to thank all the participants in the project and everyone at St Luke's Community Centre, particularly the amazing Carol-Ann McArdle! Thank you to all the wonderful artist friends I have who have advised me and listened to me ramble on about graves and 19th Century trades and finally to Sean McGovern for helping realise this project so fabulously.