Adopted as a means to make floor coverings from humble, recycled materials, rug hooking enjoys a long and creative history in Canada. For this exhibition, Calgary-based artist Yvonne Mullock, along with members of the The Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts, will transform Esker’s project space into a live, functioning workshop. The artists will produce a hooked rug over the course of 10 weeks using materials sourced from local neighbourhoods, such as threadbare clothing and old household linens. This collaborative and performative community-based project will continually evolve over the course of the exhibition’s run and public interaction and discussion will be welcomed throughout. The object produced from this collective labour will be a form of community portrait and will address notions of materiality, collectivity, authorship, domesticity, and the activity and performativity inherent to the act of making.
Yvonne Mullock’s multi-disciplinary practice spans diverse interests in nature and craft and incorporates drawing, sculpture, ceramics, video, and textiles for both gallery and site-specific installations. Her work is often informed by a research process that involves both people and their surroundings as a spring-board for the creation of context-specific works.
Over the past thirteen years Mullock has participated in artist-in-residence programmes within Scotland, England, Canada, and the United States. Recent projects include an on-going residency with Fogo Island Arts and Shorefast in Newfoundland, which involves collaborations with a local community of quilters (2010-13); solo exhibitions such as Groundwork for Action (2014), Pith Gallery, Calgary; Beaver Fever (2013) Glasgow Project Room; and group exhibitions in Oregon, Calgary, and Glasgow, amongst many others. Recent co-curatorial projects include WE, a three-part geographical exhibition featuring artists based in Glasgow, Scotland, and Calgary.
Mullock graduated from the painting department at Glasgow School of Art and is currently based in Calgary.
Interview with Yvonne Mullock
Shauna Thompson: Much of your work is concerned with history and tradition, or traditional materials or techniques, such as coal carving, heraldic banners, taxidermy, bird calling, rug hooking, and quilting. What is it about these methods and materials that draws you to them? Do you think about discrete ideas of “tradition” and “contemporaneity” when making your work?
Yvonne Mullock: I am drawn to those processes; it’s true. There is something I find fascinating about the craft of these traditions, that it takes years to become an expert, and the quiet beauty held within them. But, more importantly, my interest is with the individual, or group, that is accomplished in a particular field. The people that posses these skills are often not trying to champion them. These skills are often developed through knowledge passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter, or acquired through an empirical method. Like birdcalls to lure in prey, or net making, I’m drawn to these crafts and traditions because I hold a deep respect for the persistence that it takes to be good at them.
Often I feel I’m not doing anything ‘new’ or contemporary by referencing these traditions; it is more of a slight shift to highlight the splendour and time-intensive nature within the fabrication of these wonderful things that are so entrenched in traditions and customs.
ST: The act of collaborative working or collective making also plays a prominent role in the projects you undertake.
a) Why is collaboration important to you? How do you approach initiating these collaborations, such as with the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts?
YM: Collaboration is an integral part of my practice. I love to seek out people and learn more about a subject or point of interest. Rather than reading a book about a subject, I prefer to go to the direct source – the person or group. The relationship I develop by collaborating carries more meaning this way and can often lead to other things of interest. I love getting mixed up in people’s soup.
It often starts with a phone call or an email, which will then probably develop into a visit. And then it will spiral from there. The Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts was on my radar for a while, ever since I saw a rug hooking themed exhibition that some of the CGFA members were featured in. It got me thinking about working with a guild and the performative act of making. When the opportunity presented itself to show in Esker’s Project Space, my first thought was to work with the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts to make something collectively over the course of the ten-week exhibition period. I spent the five months leading up to the exhibition working closely with the guild to develop our HIT & MISS project.
b) You’ve initiated projects in many places in the world. What do you think about in terms of working within particular places, or how do you consider place and the roles of context and community?
YM: Context is everything. How a ‘place’ works and the community operates within it is part of how I understand why things are made the way they are and how traditions and crafts are developed. I believe that coming to a place with an open mind and curiosity is invaluable. When I go to a place I start by asking questions. The product of my time spent in a place might not necessary answer those questions, but perhaps results in something subtler, a quiet reflection similar to holding a mirror up to what was already taking place.
ST: An activity like rug hooking is ordinarily a domestic act that is usually somewhat private and solitary—a labour of love redolent with the presence of the hand. In HIT & MISS you’ve moved this activity into the public sphere and in the process have invited many people, including strangers and passersby, to participate in the act as well (in terms of both the making as well as by donating clothing to the project.) Why did you decide to open the project in this way?
YM: Often with hand-made things like rug hooking, the celebration of the article is done at the end of the production, a showcase of the finished thing. I wanted instead to celebrate the fabrication of the rug – to make visible the very act of its making. I was interested in rug hooking as a type of clock and in showing the slow increments of its progress throughout the duration of the exhibition. This I believe speaks of the time intensive nature of rug hooking, which is rooted in making humble floor coverings from recycled scraps of household fabrics such as worn-out clothing and bed sheets. Similarly, the HIT & MISS rug is made from donated fabrics from the local communities of Ramsay and Inglewood; it acts as a ‘portrait’ of the countless people who gave articles of unwanted and worn clothing to the project.
In keeping with the tradition of rug hooking in making practical and useful textiles, the HIT & MISS rug is made to fit Esker’s front door on the fourth floor. It will become a welcome mat to serve the countless feet entering and leaving the gallery.
ST: This rug, HIT & MISS, like your earlier project, USE ME (2013), has a sort of Alice in Wonderland quality through the inclusion of written language; it almost lends the objects a sense of sentience or agency. What are your thoughts on our relationship to objects, especially made objects, and, conversely their relationship to us? What demands do we make of each other?
YM: I am interested in the idea of something being useful and how it may operate to serve us, whether it’s ornamental or practical. Hooked rugs pricked my interest because, traditionally, they would have been made out of countless fabric items, like sweaters, wool skirts, and tablecloths that have come to the end of their ‘useful’ life. I love the idea of a thing being constructed out of other things, the sum of parts that somehow speaks of the ingenuity of the maker.
My use of language within these fabricated objects lies in my interest in giving these articles a voice. Whether it’s voicing an instruction or a statement, there is something poetic and potent in this. Perhaps it’s because this statement has the potential to be read after you die, that you are still communicating that thought posthumously, or that you are giving the object life by enabling others to say the words aloud. Either way, I would like to continue exploring this with future works, I feel like I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with this interest.