Tell us about the show, where did the idea come from and what inspired the collaboration with Karen and Jane?
I think we all wanted to do something that felt DIY and be able to rely on doing things ourselves, we started talking about doing something around Christmas. I just decided we were going to make it work, as January and February are already a really busy time for me at CSM because of the MA show, so It was really important for me to set some parameters about what the work would be.
Was it difficult to organise the whole exhibition whilst also creating a new body of work?
I like making a body of work, and that’s what I wanted to do, I didn’t do this to make money. I was just going to do my thing, so obviously I didn’t have a budget for anything except for having to hire the gallery space, so I made all the work out of things I already had.
I think that energy is something we’ve just had for three years with covid, like having to just use what we’ve already got, and it was weird because I was teaching students that, so it was interesting to practice what I’ve been teaching. I don’t think anything new comes from known endings, do you know what I mean? You can only find interesting innovation in experimenting, it doesn’t come from anywhere else.
So some of the pieces I made, I would set myself parameters like: “You’re going to make this but you’ve only got half an hour.” I was forcing myself to get out of the way I usually work, and I work a lot with print designers, weavers and embroiders, so I was going to do all of it myself. It felt very fun and much more creative.
“When you’re making work, it can’t feel like work, that’s not the reason you’re doing this. ” – Louise Gray
Hold Fast was an exhibition focused on reflecting on life’s challenges, and responding to them in a, like you said, playful way. Why was that such a poignant subject to work around?
It’s not thinking that it needs to be playful, it’s like understanding that within setting up. When you’re making work, it can’t feel like work, that’s not the reason you’re doing this. That’s not the reason I’ve made my life this. There has to be an area where you’re enjoying your job. It’s what I say to my fashion students all the time, it would be very radical for you to just enjoy your job because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s not supposed to be difficult or the most taxing hideous thing you’ve ever done, where everything is last minute, that’s just people not wanting to do work, you just avoid it.
So what happens if you radically choose to enjoy what you’re doing? That’s the approach I took to this. It was like, I’m just going to play with colour today, I’m not going to overthink it. You just have to take your feet off all pedals of opinions or the things which feel comfortable.
On the opening night, you also staged a performance piece with two dancers and hats created by Nasir Mazhar, what was the creating the performance like?
I wanted them to choreograph their own pieces, I wanted nothing to do with what they did. I just told them to completely do whatever they want, which I don’t think people get to hear very often. It’s always ‘Oh, you do this good thing, can you do that for us?’ then you end up with an outcome that’s known and been seen. So I knew I had to give them that, but I hate the word empower, but I wanted them to feel a version of themselves which felt free.
Nasir is a long-term collaborator, but we made the hats years ago and didn’t end up using them. The idea is that there’s movement in the top of the hat, so when the person wearing it is moving the hat is also moving. It’s got a really beautiful flow.