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Art & Design

STITCHED TOGETHER: THE POWER OF COMMUNAL ART

Communal art has existed for as long as human interaction. Think about storytelling passed down from dad to son, mum to daughter: tales that flourish under their new narrators, each one adding another layer. Who remembers being in school and writing a line across an A4 page, folding it over and handing it your classmate to blindly finish the story? Line by line, not questioning each other’s ideas, giggling with excitement at the thought of this finished ‘novel’ that you read aloud to your (long suffering) parents.

This is where it begins. The assortment of hobbled together ideas and thoughts are collected to create a patchwork of creativity. It all starts from childhood when we’re taught with crayons pushed into our grubby little paws that creating our own vision is not just fun but vital.

Fashion designer Molly Goddard is known for her whimsical tulle dresses, reminiscent of childhood daydreams. Her upcoming exhibition What I Like at the NOW Gallery highlights the importance of engaging with youngsters, “I like the idea that children will return to complete an image” she says.

The images she speaks about are six floor-to-ceiling length dresses attached to a pulley system where children and adults alike are invited to sew whatever takes their fancy. The room will be full of plastic sewing needles, easy-to-follow pattern instructions and endless coloured thread to suit the mood of everyone. Her intention? To teach a new skill and bring together an eclectic group of people into a space where they can stitch stick figures (or perhaps something a little more intricate for the artists among us) onto flowing gowns.

As a kid can you remember playing with something off-limits, your dad’s aftershave, your mum’s purse, your older sister’s toys? Beforehand, you felt uncertain; afterwards, you felt mischievous. In many ways the same applies to Molly’s exhibition – you can’t help but think, am I really allowed to mark this designer dress?

In anticipation of this, on the opening night of What I Like, guests will make the first stitches onto each piece, paving the way for others to make up something new, continue others’ stitched-up stories, or even sew on top of what is already there. Engaging with strangers’ ideas of art is key to What I Like, with the dresses eventually being auctioned off for charity so that even when the dresses leave NOW Gallery, they’ll touch more and more communities.

NOW Gallery’s current exhibition, The People’s Brick Company, parallels the past. A parcel of land on the Peninsula was originally named ‘Over Brickfield’, the buildings there were made from the clay that lay beneath the feet of the very first people of the Peninsula. And now, members of the community are able to collect local clay – wheelbarrow in tow – and hand-make their own, personalised brick. Andy Merritt, co-founder of Something & Son and brains behind The People’s Brick Company says, “everything comes full circle”. The exhibit allows the traditions of the Peninsula to live on through new means, created by the fresh and pioneering hands of our growing neighbourhood.

Anticipating around 3,000 to 5,000 bricks, each stamped with the maker’s initials, The People’s Brick Company collection will be built into a permanent folly on the Peninsula to stand as a reminder of the community’s closeness. A garden party for all budding brick-makers will take place on the 17th September, bringing together like-minded people for an intimate celebration – the bricks will stand on display as an example of simple and inclusive architecture, and of course there’ll be cake, Pimms and cider.

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“The People’s Brick Company collection will be built into a permanent folly on the Peninsula to stand as a reminder of the community’s closeness”

Community-led art projects like People’s Brick Company and What I Like are becoming increasingly significant: The Royal Academy of Arts’ Sensing Spaces (2014) saw artist Diébédo Francis Kéré create a white cavern, ready to be magically transformed by thousands of vibrantly coloured straws, attached to the walls by wide-eyed gallery-goers. Sculptor, Antony Gormley – whose structure Quantum Cloud (1990) is coincidently on the Peninsula – relied on 60 members of a Mexican family for his installation Field (1990).

Thirty-five thousand clay figures were fashioned by the Texca family. They were given basic instructions to create the figures (small enough to be held in the hand, head in proportion with the body, eyes closed), yet each remained original to the person who moulded it.

These artists shun the ‘look-don’t-touch’ approach. Their works are not protected by velvet ropes and beady-eyed gallery assistants, but encourage touching, playing, feeling and building.

The NOW Gallery’s exhibitions share a common theme; the freedom to play and rediscover our eight-year-old selves, all the while building for the people around us. From humble beginnings our neighbourhood is being built by the hands of pioneers, piece-by-piece, through life-affirming art.

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