I am so thrilled to be able to announce we are moving forward with full funding for a project I conceptualized with my friend and colleague Rebecca Graham…. Rebecca wanted to learn to weave big… I want to travel further on my bike for workshops, our friend Martin ( who makes our videos) sent us a link to the tradition of Vardo’s, and that of course took us to the idea of a woven cart that could be pulled by bike (electric assist) and be used as a weaving wagon- a pop up studio for use any place we could park and be able to carry either loads of green waste for weaving from site a to b, or all the things required for an outdoor weaving workshop.
Yep, the project is a go! With much gratitude to the British Columbia Arts Council who are funding the project through an Artist’s Production grant, and Vancouver Park Board, Arts Culture and Environment Dept. that gave us a bit of seed money to cover some of the hard costs. EartHand Gleaners Society also pitched in, and the cart will be used not only by myself to travel to teach, but we have already booked it for community weaving gigs, and have the young, but mighty-skilled, Nicola Hodges working with us delivering workshops around the city later this year.
Getting notice that the grant was successful was cause to go back and reread what I had written- I must say, it was the most fun of the 5 grants written in the last 5 months! To give you a taste of what I was thinking about in regards to what the cart will mean, I figure I may as well post the content here- to describe the journey ahead of weaving and using the cart. and gratitude to Rebecca Graham, my grammar queen and co-writer extraordinaire….
A vehicle (literally) for performative actions.
The Weaving Wagon brings together contemporary craft and design, thought-provoking concepts of local travel and environmental art principles that are bound to our personal choices in daily living.
It is a performative prop, a means to travel and a merging of form to function.
As an artist, my practice has long teetered between craft, conceptual art and community engagement; but has always had at its core an environmental awareness — a sensitivity — that the means must fit the message.
After eight years of solid work as an eco-based artist in Vancouver and an increasing profile in engaging communities in my process, project opportunities in other lower mainland municipalities and coastal locations arise frequently for me.
For years my artist’s statement has read ‘A one-mile-diet’ to sourcing art materials, a nod to Smith and MacKinnon’s book The 100 Mile Diet: a Year of Local Eating, at the root of the local food movement. Known principally as a community based artist, I am aware that in some small way I am at the centre of a ‘make with local materials’ movement in Vancouver. The one mile diet concept is mostly true; but Stanley Park and Means of Production Garden, which are both primary harvesting locales, are actually closer to five miles from my home and studio. Riding a bike loaded down with fifteen pounds of tools and harvested materials much further than this is currently beyond my capacity.
But how that travel happens has always mattered.
The ritual of walking as a connection to the land and the shoes we wear for protection has featured in my work of late, but for most travel I use my bike. With my front basket loaded down and layered up it looks more like a bike one finds in places where bikes are used as pack horses. As often as possible I haul work tools on public transit if my destination is a place beyond my bike range. Booking a Modo car or a Car2go is always my last choice; arriving in a car to lead an eco-based arts programme has always felt inappropriate. I am more inclined to strap my spinning wheel and the bongo drum that attaches to it for fibre processing performances onto my bike basket, and consider my bike ride through town and the curious glances it garners as a pre-show to the actual work.
The Weaving Wagon will allow my commute method to fit my personal choices, support my eco-arts practice and widen the geographic scope of where I travel; primarily it extends and enriches the performative interactions I have on the street along the way.
Riding a bike during rush hour at the end of July in beach season, riding past Kits beach, riding faster than the cars are moving. My bike is loaded down with large armfuls of green, freshly harvested flax that will be turned into linen. Imagine how the mini field of green in my view contrast strongly with the street sounds, glaring reflections off metal surfaces and the smell of car exhaust through which I rode.
In that moment in 2013 I was a bucolic agricultural vision juxtaposed against the dense urban environment. The effect galvanized others; people stopped in the midst of crossing the road or rolled down windows at red lights to ask, to talk. What was I carrying? And on a bike! And then the conversation, linen? Linen is a plant?
It was after this particular commute from a project that I realized that my commute is not just a mundane pragmatic choice but a social interaction, an unfolding performance that plays a role in breaking down the country/city schism that Le Corbusier outlined so rigidly in his idealist city planning models and that we now try and escape through community gardens and the urban food-growing movement. And, if breaking down stereotypes of country and city, why not blend medieval travel methods like a woven ox cart with urban green delivery technology?
How can I extend and repeat the performative, social interaction of that bike ride, a daily commute carrying local agricultural crops- so people keep stopping to talk at lights and when I park?
AESTHETICS: A sculptural shape which references the classic travel caravan and medieval English woven carts. An inspiring object and beautifully made, form must still meet function in how it travels. A woven door that opens on the side panel will reveal a mini-gallery of small woven objects that serve as samples of techniques and materials found readily at hand. The back door opens to access both the centre area for material and supply cartage; the door itself is a tool bay for the weaving and gardening workshops that transpire upon arrival. Local willow allows for the use of traditional cart and fence methods, worked on a welded metal frame with an aluminum plate base for both longevity and road-safe construction.
CONCEPTUAL CONTEMPORARY ISSUES: How do environmental artists reconcile our lifestyles and work requirements with the subjects we explore? Scottish artist Ellie Harrison researches this now in The Glasgow Effect, a UK state-funded piece causing mild uproar for her receiving money ‘to not leave home,’ as some taxpayers see it; but what are the effects of her living a carbon debt-free life for a year during which she only travels where she can under her own power? How does she survey and analyze her choices and limitations? How will she move forward at the end of her year?
As a contemporary artist working with both local and global communities I am aware of my own travel impact and the irony of my weighty footprint when I board a plane to work elsewhere. I desire to be more locally-based, but with a broader travel range. A basic cart would serve the pragmatic purpose of travel for work, but what if I make the trip itself also a recurring performative action? Could the vehicle, the means of arrival, speak by itself of other possibilities? Could the journey be a whimsical, beautiful inspiration, with a wagon that arrives in style and then functions as a mobile studio. Allowing me, the rider, to extend my one mile diet to a twenty or thirty mile commute? How might I change my own patterns of work and choices of communities I can work in while documenting and celebrating my travel to and fro?
CHALLENGE: The Weaving Wagon has to be jaw-dropping in scope. Visual splendour that is theatre, the backdrop and the costume to its own performance of movement on wheels, it also has to be extremely high functioning to serve the purpose of travel down city streets attached to an electric bike. I have never woven something this large that needs to move down a street quickly and go over speedbumps without falling apart; I would not even begin to attempt this on my own for the weaving and technical challenges it provides. As a community based artist, I am lucky to have in my world the people with the skills and expertise to build this by working together.
MY TEAM: Alastair Heseltine: Alastair is a sculptor working with willow, wicker, steel, wattle, felt − evolving from a master basket maker to a freeform artist whose pieces are powerful and sensual. He draws from the full spectrum of routines and activities that support his life in design, craft production, farming and rural life on Hornby Island. Alastair will facilitate instruction for the specific traditional willow weaving methods required as well as design consultation. Geoff Hibbard: Trained in engineering and now works as the mechanic, designer and bike cart builder for Vancouver’s premier electric tricycle company, Shift Delivery. Geoff will do the welding of the frame and hitch and consult on wagon size, design for road worthiness as well as for bike compatibility.
Rebecca Graham: Weaving assistant. Rebecca brings years of precision weaving skills to the project as well as her design ideas and good humour and experience working with myself and other artists on complex technical challenges.
Martin Borden: Documentary film-maker. Martin has been making short documentaries of my work since 2012 with showings at film fests in Canada and the US. Embedding Martin in this project from the start ensures we capture how we meet the technical challenges in the production as well as future street interventions. Film footage ensures a method of sharing the project with a broader audience, beyond where the wheels can travel.
The last few years I have had projects both personal and collaborative that have involved growing clothing, weaving footwear, travel packs and even making kites completely from local plants. All of these items draw attention to how we live and what we use in daily life and recreation. Working directly from the land is hard, toiling, slow-going work. Recognizing the performative nature of my seasonal agricultural work patterns, I have been collaborating more and more with dancers, musicians, and choreographers to bring celebration and culture-making moments back to the root of where culture came from: the drudgery of daily work leading to the work song, or the storyteller ‘spinning yarns’ for the spinners making thread.
To have my mode of travel to the place my work is unfolding become an intentional performative action feels like the natural progression in continuing this conversation of daily life, and how acts of living can unfold in creative and meaningful ways.
And so now…. we are getting closer to the weaving bits beginning, meanwhile, here is a draft of Geoff’s working drawings for the frame!
Our next steps… waxing cotton for the cover and helping Geoff cut aluminum ready for the welder. AND… electric bike shopping! Rebecca and I head to Hornby Island to work with Alastair the end of May, exciting times indeed.