Wednesday, 26 June 2013

TOTU in Newbury

April 21st we took TOTU to The Corn Exchange Theatre in Newbury. Ably assisted by two lovely theatre technicians as well as the ever-supportive Hugh and Steve we succeeded in building the Extravaganza in record time – a mere 6 hours.

It looked fantastic in the theatrical space. Set in the auditorium itself – the seats having all been cleverly folded away – it was stage lit for the first time on the outside as well as the inside. The result was really dramatic – the Extravaganza looked like a bright paper lantern floating in the darkness.

Another new variation from previous exhibitions was the Sewing Sounds Symphony, playing on large auditorium speakers, greeted visitors coming into the auditorium creating a lovely and evocative ambience. One male visitor said the sounds took him immediately back to his youth and his mother’s sewing activities. The Symphony really set the scene beautifully.

Some of the visitors were returning for a second, more considered look having seen us amid the bustle of Ally Pally last year. They appreciated the leisure and calm of this venue which gave them time to really examine and explore the work.

One of the most amazing incidents of the show was when one American Unfinishable contributor, Paulette Hayes, walked in with her husband. They were en route from the USA to Australia and had made a special detour in England to come and see us! Paulette had sent us the very moving embroidered foetuses which feature in our book as well as taking their place on the Extravaganza. Many visitors had admired the courage with which Paulette had told her Unfinishable story and quite a few felt an emotional resonance with it. It was a great thrill to meet and talk to her in person. What is more she had brought with her a most beautiful quilted piece which was the final resolution of what she had been trying to express with the initial Unfinishable foetuses. It was stunning and a privilege to see. It also strongly illustrated the point that Unfinishables can be necessary stepping stones and shouldn’t automatically be connected with feelings of failure.

The Newbury Touch to See group, a very lively, visually impaired crowd, to whom we had previously given a talk on the Unfinishable Project, happened to be visiting the exhibition at the same time and were delighted to engage with an actual contributing artist, her work and her story. Paulette was very generous with her time with them. It was a very emotional and quite electric event.

Alongside the TOTU exhibit, in the theatre foyer,  was  an accompanying exhibition showing the amazing outcomes of an outreach project on related themes. This had been organised by the Corn Exchange under the capable aegis of Sarah Gregson along with ourselves, and supported by Jackie Gray of West Berks Council who was interested in using TOTU as the stimulus to promote  ‘inter-generational conversation’ through craft activities.

The outreach project starting point was an ‘Inspire’ event, held earlier in the year at which we had given a presentation about various themes arising from TOTU which could be developed further to a gathering of interested groups. The groups were given inspirational packs to take away and were put in pairings to work together:
       Mary Hare School – with  Corn Exchange Theatre Stewards
       Newbury Embroiderers Guild with Trinity Trinkets School Art Club
       The West Berks Home Schooling Group – parents working alongside their children instead of
       teaching them
       The Clere School –  New Greenham Arts artists

Each pairing then worked with a newly-taught craft of their own choice and a craftsperson to realize their ideas around one of the Unfinishable themes. These ranged from sharing the making process to the personal significance of insignificant objects. The outcomes exhibition made a lively addition to the TOTU experience and was intriguing for us to see how our initial concepts had taken on new lives of their own.

Justyna Agacka, a local contributor, with her mother's embroidered tablecloth