Friday 18 May 2012

Plaiting and Coiling Workshops, Harley Gallery

Coiling experiments
If  the last blog has inspired you to have a go,  there are two workshops planned to coincide with the last showing of Urban Baskets in the UK at the Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire.
On Saturday 28th July I will teach you how to plait tetra paks (among other things) and on Sunday 29th July it’s looping and coiling with recycled materials. Both are open to anyone, beginner or not. For full details look here. Bookings are now open.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Tallers and Tetra Paks

 Plaiting workshop at the Taller Cestaria, Lugo 2009
It is almost two years since I last taught at the Taller Cestaria run by CENTRAD in Lugo, Galicia.  It was, as usual, great fun, a recycling workshop (you can see pictures and read about it here) with very creative students. But, towards the end of the week the atmosphere began to change as rumours had begun circulating that the administration of the Taller was to be taken out of the hands of Carlos Fontales, who, in the opinion of anyone who had ever had the pleasure of teaching or learning there was the reason why it all ran as well as it did.

Although it was always hard work and exhausting for me to teach there (due to my very poor Spanish) the students always engaged fully with an enormous enthusiasm to learn, experiment and share these experiences in each others company. All of which contributed to the special atmosphere that existed there. In retrospect we know that the changes that subsequently came about were really only about the financial situation in Spain. But, at the time, many of us who knew how good the place was, sought to prevent them happening by protesting vociferously and publicly, none of which had any effect, of course! CENTRAD runs very few basket making courses now and those that take place lack the breadth and depth of topics of those that Carlos organised.

Flors shoes for a wedding
Recently I have been reminded of all this because a couple of my former students there have contacted me, they are as sad as I am that this once excellent environment for basket courses has been so diminished. One of them, Flor Perez, was a regular in my workshops, a teacher of, and activist for, people who have problems of various sorts in their lives. Flor initially came to my workshops looking for things that she could teach to some of these people and she always surprised me, and everyone else, with her creativity; a pair of tetra pak pointy shoes for a wedding, a somewhat surreal looped lace umbrella (given the propensity for rain in Galicia) and a cardboard suitcase were just some of the delights.The other student was Zoila Gulin who makes  bags and baskets out of tetra paks when she isn’t using her advocacy skills helping 'creatives' with intellectual property rights!

Jose Manuel with part woven basket!
Flor contacted me because she wanted me to see some pictures of work done by a friend of hers whom she had subsequently taught to plait tetra pak baskets. Jose Manuel now seems to fill all his spare moments with cutting and weaving tetra paks into bags and baskets of all kinds, inventing new forms and apparently getting a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction from doing so. A large pull-along basket on castors, to carry towels from the family run centre for alternative therapies to the laundry, is my particular favourite. It is both functional and attractive and I don’t doubt that if Jose Manuel continues to enjoy making baskets with tetra paks more gems will appear.

Pull along laundry basket by Jose Manuel
It feels as though tetra pak weaving has always been part of my life but, in fact, I first used juice cartons to make baskets with in 1991. I had not seen them used by anyone else in the same way but, as the internet was still a dream for most of us at that time, it was of course always possible that someone somewhere else in the world had also spotted their potential. My use of them was, however, part of a logical progression in my work because I had started to look for materials that were already coloured so that I could move away from using dye and paint. The first baskets I made with tetra paks were assembled rather than woven, each whole carton being stitched to the next to create sheet material for bowls and laundry baskets.
Apple juice carton laundry basket 1995
In 1991, London, where I lived, was still a back-water as far as recycling went. A recently published article about my work suggested that I had raided my ‘recycling box’ for materials at that time; nothing could be further from the truth. We certainly did not have recycling boxes then and even after they were finally introduced it was still some time before tetra paks could be recycled. The layers of aluminium, paper, printing inks and plastic used to make the cartons were, and still are, a challenge for industrial recycling requiring considerable energy to separate the various elements. The cartons came into my house full of juice and left as baskets. If I had been able to put them into a ‘recycling box’ it is entirely possible that I would never have used them. I think it was the fact that they were being thrown away in almost mint condition that both upset me and inspired me to try and make things with them.

Handbag 1997
It wasn’t until 1995 that I discovered a way to cut the cartons that gave me long strips to to plait with. It seemed a perfect match of material and technique, the tetra pak being flexible, strong and relatively waterproof it also had, for me, the added bonus of colour. Since then many baskets and other objects made with milk and juice cartons have come and gone through my hands. Through classes and books I have also taught many other people how to do the same yet, I rarely hear what effect this has on other people lives. As a teacher one accepts that the knowledge passed on to others becomes theirs to do what they like with, without any expectation of further acknowledgement or credit.  Nevertheless, it is always a delight to hear of the ways in which this knowledge has been passed into another pair of hands, and how it has been adapted, or added to, by them. Even if the Taller is no longer the place it was, it is good to know that the knowledge imparted there lives on in the hands of Flor, Jose Manuel and Zoila, among others.