I am not sure exactly why, but as far back as I can remember, I have been obsessed with derelict buildings.
The first place I remember was when I was a little girl, we would go to a derelict house up from where my grandparents lived, it had burnt down long ago and was home to owls! I loved that place and always wanted to visit it. Me, my family and friends have explored many derelict spaces since then, always delighting in finding new ones to explore and take photos of.
I love finding elements of how the places were used, who was there and how nature has now taken over. I am a bit of a dark tourist too, loving to wander into dark, creaky buildings armed with just a torch, a camera and naïve enthusiasm.
I have never broken into a space, I much prefer to “wander in” as I am not one for real danger, and the thought of actually getting arrested for breaking and entering would ruin the experience for me. So when I would find a space which I could walk into, I would visit it….a lot!
My piece Mayflies has always been at home in abandoned, overlooked spaces. They are ghosts of thoughts, memories and time, that take residence in unused or ignored spaces.
Mayflies was a created by going back to my roots. I was heading into my final project at the end of university, I was underconfident, stressed and had no ideas. I made myself go through old school work and realised I needed to go back to my true love, nature. I was reminded of the flying insect, the mayfly, and straight away started making them out of what I had to hand – paper, and there it was! I obviously continued to worry and stress about it for the rest of the year, but the piece stayed the same.
Mayflies is an art installation which is made up of white paper mayflies, each around 13 centimetres long. I would make hundreds of them and attach them directly to the walls spaces in a swarm-like formation. All the mayflies were hand-cut in twos, meaning that each pair of mayflies is unique.
Mayflies are flying insects famed for their short adult life which in some species can be as short as a day, an hour or even a few minutes. The piece was made as an exploration of time, of how it is used and thought about. I wanted to encourage people to think about their own use of time and whether they cherished it. At university I made two installations, one in a barely used old lift, the other was in a massive fabric den I had built (my sanctuary!).
After university, I had a break from art and it was thanks to family, friends and a local arts initiative – C-Art (which is sadly no more…) that I was encouraged to exhibit the mayflies again. I exhibited them in 5 places around Penrith, 4 of which had a few hundred mayflies and one of them had 5,000 in. I also designed and ran a community arts project called Project Mayfly. All this launched my career, made me feel like a “real artist” and led me to discover my love for community projects!
Mayflies have been exhibited in many places so far including; a church, a community hall, a library, a tourist information centre, a museum and a tourist centre. All places chosen because general public visit them, so most people would encounter the piece unexpectedly.
I have wanted to exhibit them in a derelict space for a long time. Despite many attempts to get permission to do so, I have only managed one. But a very appropriate one – an old paper factory. I knew it was due to be destroyed, so saw no harm leaving a bit of a mark in the place. This piece was about the end of the life of this paper factory, I knew no one would see it, but I wanted to make it anyway. I took photos, but this was a piece for me.
Since then, I exhibited other work (Project Pig) and then took a big break from exhibiting. Over the last many years I put my energy into other passions: community art, events and learning about running organisations.
I had begun to miss making art and felt that I should get back into making it a while back, but I had no ideas and little enthusiasm for it. Then I had a big kick in the arse, which has really given me motivation.
That big kick, was unexpectedly loosing my mum. She had been living with heart failure for many years, but after a series short illnesses, her heart had had too much. We were lucky, we got to spend a couple of days in hospital with her, and even enjoyed champagne with her before she slipped away peacefully.
I knew that in order to survive my grief, I had to find a project, and boy did I find one!!
A derelict WW2/ Cold War Nuclear Bunker, minutes from my house. I got in touch with them, told them about what I do and the owner immediately invited me in to see how I could use the space. The Barnton Bunker, the place is amazing, a gift, full of so much potential. There is an amazing group of people working to renovate it and make it into a community space and museum.
It is a perfect place to install Mayflies!
I find the process of making the mayflies relaxing, it give me time to think while being productive. Making them is mostly muscle memory after making so many, so I don’t need to think about making them at all. It leaves my mind able to wander and process.
Making this installation of Mayflies is interesting as so many different feelings will surround it. I know I will be processing the grief of loosing my mum. But I will also be processing my return to making art, encouraged on by love for my mum as well as my family and friends who are so excited about this. I will also be exploring what this bunker means; used to prepare for nuclear war, then used as council offices, then a venue for illegal raves, a dumping ground, a fire, now being renovated by passionate lovely people. It will be a complex experience and I am excited for it.
Most of the times I have created Mayflies, it has been for free. But this time, I am going to try and get funding, so I can do this and still eat without breaking myself!
I also hope that funding would enable me to take others on this journey with me. I would love to invite people to join me to make the piece and share a discussion about what making art means to people. I would also love to run workshops afterwards, making new paper out of the mayflies once they are off the walls.
I have already started making the mayflies, and it might be anti-growth to go back to a piece I made so long ago, but let me tell you, for me, it just feels like coming home.