Cascade (in Electric Blues)
Commissioned in 2011 by the then principle, Mr Alex Alexandre, this site-specific work of contemporary art textiles measuring approximately 300 cm by 150 cm was designed as a talking point for the main dining room of Higham Hall College, Bassenthwaite, Cumbria. Higham Hall is an independent adult education trust that offers a wide-ranging program of creative courses housed in an 19th century neo-gothic mansion, and a much loved and inspirational venue known to me over many years as a tutor.
The design brief was open-ended, with two practical requirements; that the piece absorbed sound, and that it was to be hung on the centrally-located stone -faced wall which divided the serving area from the main dining room (providing a workspace measuring approximately 1800mm by 3600mm).
To set the scene, there follows a brief description of the dining room. Looking outside there are dramatic views of the northern fells and Skiddaw, while inside, the high ceilings and gothic windows house an eclectic mix of existing art works, tapestries, wooden furniture and mirrors, the latter running below a colourful large-scale abstract landscape painting reflecting the stone wall.
My aim was to create a contemporary, vibrant and colourful piece combining traditional working methods with modern technologies, and one that worked visually within this challenging space.
Taking my cue from the painting and tapestries, a colour story began to emerge: this picked up on areas of blues, to balance the reddish colours that dominated the room. For example, dark inky blues, purplish blues, bright ultramarine blues, green-blues dominated, with tiny amounts of magenta and crimson added.
Thinking about the diverse nature of courses on offer at Higham, from music and dance to the arts and the great outdoors, I wanted Cascade to stimulate discussion and be open to a whole range of interpretations.
Compositionally the piece called for strong vertical lines. This in turn suggested visual musical scores and notation, and hinted at a piece speaking of visual and tactile soundscapes. Drawing whilst listening to music produced rhythmic patterns and textures with a strong linear format, which in turn referenced growth patterns in the natural world and the Fibonacci number system as a compositional aid.
Once the concept was established, dye tests and techniques were sampled and the logistics of creating a large-scale piece were considered. The long, cascading lengths were individually constructed, each unit being made from a core of thick sisal string, hand-wrapped with dyed viscose ribbons, and bound with dyed gimps. The loops and swirls protruding from the central core were organised in threes, fives or eighths. Focal points and surprises were introduced in magenta and crimson, contrasting with the overall electric blue colour story.
The final piece is a double-layered construction, the outermost layer comprises twenty-five cascading lengths each hung separately, so that they could be grouped in different configurations. A digitally-printed canvas in vertical stripes of varying proportions based on the Fibonnacci number system formed the underlying layer. A sound-absorbing layer sandwiched between the printed cloth and the stone wall solved the practical issues of deadening the sound of the dining room.