“I explore at how we find beauty, value and purpose in things that are old or discarded.” - the artist
Q: What led you to become a sculpture artist?
A: It’s been a long journey via the scenic route. I have always liked making things. I originally trained in Theatre Design. As well as the theoretical design side, the course covered many practical skills in model making, costume and prop construction in a variety of materials. Following college I worked freelance as a designer, scenic painter and prop maker in theatre, film and tv. After 4 years as Head of Design for Manchester Youth Theatre, I moved more and more into community arts but not just community theatre. I became co-creative director of street theatre company, Aqueous Humour, designing both professional and community projects with a particular focus on masks making and puppets.
Theatre design is about helping the audience to understand the message of the performance through visual clues and in community arts, I help people to express their voice and message creatively. It was though my community arts practice, that I reconnected with my love of textiles and fibre art and a desire to develop personal artwork. This took me back to college and I graduated in MA Textile Practice from Manchester School of Art in 2018. Over the MA I explored combining my interest in textiles with my prop making skills to create three dimensional textile sculpture. When I left school, I didn’t have a message of my own but now I do.
Q: What inspires your subject matter?
A: Through the creation of three-dimensional textiles, I explore at how we find beauty, value and purpose in things that are old or discarded. I investigate ageing and how things change appearance and shape over time, not just eroding or decaying but new layers of growth, giving interesting juxtapositions of structure and colour.
I have a longstanding obsession with the tones & textures of the seashore having moved from Manchester to Pittenweem, a village on the coast of Fife, at the age of 8. I love beachcombing and return from holidays back at my Mum’s with shells & rocks, twisted dried seaweed & old nylon rope from the fishing boats. My holiday photos have more pictures of rocks & seaweed than of my family. I particularly love layers and juxtapositions of structure and colour: I love the sedimentary rocks shaped by millennia of life by the sea, dappled with lichen, coated with patches of seaweed and colonies of limpets & barnacles; I love barnacles and how they cluster on other shells & discarded manmade objects; I love the flashes of orange & turquoise as old fishing rope & nets peak through the sand having been washed up & buried.
Q: Can you describe the materials you use and your creative process?
A: I am rather obsessed with waste both as inspiration and the materials I use. I use old clothes and scrap materials within my work for economic & ecological sustainability, choosing fabrics that hold some significance or connection to the work.
In the “Beached” series, I have used old suiting as my base, symbolising how it is our disposable urban lifestyles that are impacting on our coasts. I was drawn to the racks of grey in the charity shop like layers of rock. When our jeans become tatty, we find them a new purpose like gardening but office wear is just discarded. I choose woven fabrics, wool blends if I am lucky, with more than one tone as this reacts well in the embellisher, exaggerating the texture. I combine these with other old clothes, blending a variety of different colours and weights to achieve my target texture. I also dye old cottons with garden and kitchen waste to add to my palette. I use both machine and hand embroidery to add detail to the surface.
I stitch the textiles inside the litter prior to casting. As I use actual litter rather than making moulds, each piece is unique. I try to leave logos and symbols revealed as these are then captured by the concrete, leaving reminders of the origin of that waste to connect the viewer to piece more deeply.
The casts are natural in size but I also stage photographs of them. Using large scale photographs printed on advertising board, I like to play with material, scale and presentation to give this waste a greater physical and psychological presence that mirrors the seriousness of the ecological catastrophe we are creating with them. A coke bottle becomes an impossibly solid, gravity defying Zeppelin and a Calypso juice box looms up like a post-Apocalyptic tower block with no doors or windows - revealing the disconnect between the allure of the objects and the harm they cause.
Q: We were impressed with your Best in Show piece, titled Message in a Bottle, as well as the rest of the collection you submitted. Tell us more about this piece/series.
The “Beached” series highlights the issue of plastic pollution. As well referring to the coast, the term “Beached” refers to that which is washed up, discarded or left behind. It invites us to consider the packaging that we use and discard on a daily basis; objects such as drinks bottles, styrofoam cups and food wrappers that are so lightweight and seem so insignificant that we barely notice them. Casting concrete in actual litter transforms them into solid pieces with weight in line with the importance of this environmental issue.
The incorporation of detailed embroidery touches upon the way our waste becomes subsumed into the natural world around us. However, the pretty, colourful lichens, seaweed and molluscs fail to obliterate the hulking, grey, concrete bottles that peer out from beneath them. The damage we are causing to planet earth and ourselves may be hidden but it is there nevertheless and needs our immediate attention. Once plastic has made the journey to the coast sometimes, without looking closely, it can be difficult to distinguish the manmade from the natural but this does not diminish the damage it is causing as coastal wildlife are dying with stomachs filled with plastic as they mistake it for food.
Q: What do you hope for viewers to take away from your art?
I want to encourage the viewer to stop and look closer; to consider the beauty, value and purpose in the old and discarded through my photography and three-dimensional textiles. Hopefully “Beached” might get people to understand the permanence of these disposable everyday items and start to make different choices in their daily lives: simple things like reusable cups and water bottles or even just putting them in the recycling rather than the bin or the ground.
Sometimes I photograph the litter where I find it. I chose to return some resulting work to their point of origin and re-photograph to highlight the value of those things that could have been recycled and the permanence of those that cannot. As these are public places, sometimes people question me when I return to stage the ‘after’ photographs and it has been good to take a moment to engage in conversations regarding the litter: who left it and why, the effects on our planet but also just our community.
Q: How do you view your art career in five years?
A: In the past 5 years, the focus of my art career has changed dramatically. Through building a home studio and doing an MA, I have made the move from performance design into visual arts. Over the next 5 years, I hope to increase my profile as an artist and that more people will approach me to exhibit or to buy my work rather than just responding to call outs. I was proud to be selected to join Prism Contemporary Textiles Collective and would like to join other collectives to link with other artists in a supportive network as well as the exhibition opportunities this brings. Although I love my home studio, I do often feel isolated and out of the loop, so as my children move into high school and my work is not constrained by the school run, I hope to become part of a professional studio once more. The community side of my art career is still very important to me and I hope as my profile grows, that this will bring greater opportunities for community projects and public works exploring social, environmental and heritage issues.
About the artist:
Nerissa Cargill Thompson encourages the viewer to stop and look closer; to consider the beauty, value and purpose in the old and discarded through photography and three-dimensional textiles. Her work investigates how things change appearance & shape over time, not just eroding or decaying but also new layers of growth, giving interesting juxtapositions of structure and colour. She uses old clothes and scrap materials within her work for economic & ecological sustainability, choosing fabrics that hold some significance or connection to the work.
The artist invites us to consider the packaging that we use and discard on a daily basis; objects such as drinks bottles that are so lightweight and seem so insignificant that we barely notice them. Casting concrete in actual litter to give this waste a greater physical and psychological presence that mirrors the seriousness of the ecological catastrophe we are creating with them
Cargill Thompson’s incorporation of detailed embroidery touches upon the way our waste becomes subsumed into the natural world around us. However, the pretty, colourful lichens, seaweed and molluscs fail to obliterate the hulking, grey, concrete bottles that peer out from beneath them. The damage we are causing to planet earth and ourselves may be hidden but it is there nevertheless and needs our immediate attention.
Designer, maker and facilitator with over 20 years experience of professional and community practice. Originally trained in Theatre Design but through her community arts practice, her interest in fibre art grew and a desire to develop personal artwork. Recent graduate in MA Textile Practice from Manchester School of Art. She is a member of Prism Contemporary Textiles Collective.
Solo exhibitions: Beached (Art in Windows, Liverpool), TIME, Arc Centre (Stockport) with accompanying textile workshops. Recent group exhibitions: Fragility - Prism Collective (Hoxton Arches, London), Micro (AIR Gallery, Altrincham), Take Flight (MA exhibition Manchester School of Art), Thoughtful Planet 2 (Thought Foundation, Birtley), London Road Project (Plant NOMA, Manchester), Loss/Inheritance (Manchester Craft & Design Centre), Thresholds: The Adjacent Possible (Tapestry, Liverpool), Blowing a Gail (Old Town House, Warrington).
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