Postcards from Shetland
HVA Member Connie Flynn records her experiences whilst studying for a Contemporary Textiles (hons) degree in Shetland via a monthly 'Postcard' ... the latest postcard appears at the top of the article.
THE LAST POSTCARD FROM SHETLAND.... Final thoughts!
As the last four years of studying for a Contemporary Textile (Hons) degree in Shetland comes to an end, it is time for reflection. The twenty six hour journey from door to door, leaving supportive friends and family is something I will not miss. However the fresh smell of the sea and stimulating views in contrast to the light polluted skies and sounds of the city I will miss. Nevertheless I feel richer for the challenge I took on.
My choice of studying in Shetland was due its location and rich textile history which I explored, researched and still continue to be inspired by. My inspiration has been taken from many aspects of my experiences, the natural environment, fascinating tales, local dialect to the exciting and challenging changeable weather. Shetland is truly a magical and mystical place, which I urge all to visit. Sometimes hard to believe with the distance that it is part of our country, so near but so far!
I never believed that I would study in higher education, having now completed ten years in total. Part of this time has been on the mainland, then Shetland as well as previously in Sweden and Slovakia. During my textile degree I was funded to research textiles in Norway, encountering different materials and techniques, together with the cultural differences, which gave me an enhanced understanding used in my own work. I was pleased to have been able return to studying when I did and give thanks to those I have learnt much from, as changes with very experienced and skilled staff leaving and the combination of extremely high tuition fees, sadly means that I don’t think it would be a possibility now.
Packing my home and studio up in 2011, then condensing my world into the size of my car and hitting the road north, seems a long time ago. Looking back the physical and mental energy needed (by me and others who supported me) to be organised enough not to forget essential items or even just to complete those long journeys even without the commitment of the theoretical or practical deadlines. I can recall many times I had a sketchbook or sewing project to do in transit while hours on the open seas. During my studies I continued my own practice to exhibit textile work and share my experiences, I remember hanging my work made in Shetland in an exhibition on the mainland, standing back and thinking all this work here has actually been carried that distance on my back.
Due to the limitation of words for my last Postcard from Shetland, an unknown poem I came across during researching Shetland’s textile history and culture, sums up my feeling on my time there.
'Truly it is a withered desolation – not a tree, not a shrub, nor creeping thing for miles and miles. It is intersected, nay almost cut in twain at parts, by a thousand sea-lochs. . . .
And yet these pleasant people smile upon it, and call it beautiful. . .'
It is time to put the multitude of skills and techniques learnt to the test by offering them in the form of workshops, arts projects or residencies. I am also planning to develop more power point presentation talks showing my varied photographs of recorded experiences while studying and living in Shetland, together with unique examples of Shetland textiles collected.
And to conclude, the last ‘Postcard from Shetland’ during the four years I missed the Aurora Borealis on a number of occasions, hearing about how fantastic they were from others who saw them. In June 2015 I was the artist in residence staying in a Shetland lighthouse, the views, sunsets and changing skies were a point of interest for me, routinely recorded them using my camera. Near to the end of my time, well the fourth night before I left after the fourth year of studying in Shetland I looked out at about 11pm to see the most amazing spectacular natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights. It felt like I was given a gift at the end of my stay.
If you would like to see my recent body of work, it can be seen in my Apron Strings! exhibition at Courtyard Arts in Hertford 1–12 Sept 2015.
by CONNIE FLYNN
JULY 2015 - LIGHTHOUSE RESIDENCY IN SHETLAND
JUNE 2015 - HONS DEGREE SHOW IN SHETLAND
MAY 2015 - TIME FLIES AND CONTINUES TO FLY
APRIL 2015 - OLD WIVES TALES EXHIBITION
MARCH 2015 - SHETLAND EXHIBITION
A review of the exhibition of textiles by Connie Flynn at The Upstairs Gallery in Berkhamsted, Herts 19 – 31 January 2015 by Rosalind Castling
After working in the Arts for 20 years, textile and stained glass artist, Connie Flynn decided to relinquish her position as an artist in residence to return to university to study for a degree in Contemporary Textiles. She chose to do so at the University of Highlands and Islands in Shetland. An area of wild,natural beauty with a rich history in textiles. A place she knew well, which had inspired and influenced her textile art in the past. This exhibition is the culmination of those three years of study and was part of her final degree show, for which she received a distinction.
The pieces exhibited reflect the influence of the landscape, traditions, culture and history of Shetland upon Connie’s work. Her ideas, thought processes and working methods are explored in her sketchbooks, coursework and samples. All of which are on display and provide a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration and the development of the final pieces.
The first few panels depict the colours of the landscape and the different materials used on the island - stone, wood, earth and textiles.
In these, colours have been blended and layered onto muslin and then felted. Needle felting, hand and machine embroidery are used to achieve various density of texture and different surface effects. The wood sample includes a screen print of a photographic image taken of a brilliant blue door found on one of the island’s houses. Seasonal colours of vivid greens, wine reds, rust and peat browns with a slash of yellow are used in a large nuno felted landscape which sets the context for the exhibition.
Already an accomplished feltmaker she learned the new skills of weaving, braiding and knitting. There are examples of all of these techniques on display. They include a heather coloured embroidered Harris Tweed flat cap, peerie pattern machine knitting and a sample of moss green Shetland lace,” knitting so fine that a shawl could be passed through a wedding ring.”
A research visit to Norway highlighted the textile links which Shetland still shares with the Nordic countries. This common heritage is reflected in the knitting pieces inspired by her research. These are worked in a striking colour palette of red, black and white. Small samples of knitting in traditional patterns are felted onto a background of felt, deconstructed and embellished with hand and machine stitching. Adjacent to these are contemporary samples where the same designs have been deconstructed and become striking, machine knitted abstracts.
In Worn Cloth a piece of almost transparent white nuno felt is stretched over a canvas to suggest the fineness and fragility of cloth that has been well worn and constantly washed and repaired. Darning and stitching in a contrasting yarn helps to suggest age, long usage and the value cloth would have had in the past when it had to be laboriously handwoven.
This exhibit also relates to her installation, Old WivesTales, which is inspired by Shetland’s textile history and is a homage to the women who, “knit their souls into woollen masterpieces.” She has taken the apron as the symbolic article of clothing upon which to illustrate these ideas. This enables her to link with history and tradition as the apron has been worn for hundreds of years in both a domestic and working environment. Each one of the series of aprons which she designed and made, utilises a different textile technique. On some, as a play upon the word ,”pinny,” she has used pins to replicate Shetland knitting patterns. This fascination with the use of language and dialect is alluded to in a jar of cut out words from an old edition of Great Expectations, into which are pasted old knitting designs. This evokes the practice of the passing down of treasured family knitting patterns to future generations.
Throughout this absorbing exhibition Connie has successfully linked history, culture and tradition and given long established textile techniques a contemporary reinterpretation. Above all the beauty and lure of Shetland permeates the work and inspires a desire to go and see it for oneself.
FEBRUARY 2015 - 'SHETLAND, A SUBJECT ON MASTERMIND'
DECEMBER 2014 - 'WARMTH AT WINTER'
NOVEMBER 2014, 'WORLD'S FASTEST KNITTER'
OCTOBER 2014, 'GRADUATION & LECTURE'
SEPTEMBER 2014, 'LONDON-SHETLAND'
SUMMER 2014 -'OLD WIVES TALES'
MAY 2014 - SPRING IN SHETLAND
APRIL 2014 - DAZZLE CAMOUFLAGE IN SHETLAND !
MARCH 2014 - NET MENDING IN SHETLAND
FEBRUARY 2014 - NO BOAT, NO FOOD IN SHETLAND !
JANUARY 2014 - NEW YEAR, NEW TERM, NEW PROJECT!
AUTUMN/WINTER 2013 - SHETLAND'S RAINBOWS
OCTOBER 2013 - TEXTILES HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE !
SUMMER 2013 - SHETLAND TO NORWAY
JUNE 2013 - POD IN THE BOD !
MAY 2013 - 'An end of year trip to Fair Isle'
APRIL 2013 - 'Shetland in London'
MARCH 2013 - 'Thoughts on Shetland'
FEBRUARY 2013 - 'Hand Stitching in Shetland'
JANUARY 2013 - 'Shetland's Fire Festival'
DECEMBER 2012 - 'Weave, Weaves, Wove, Woven in Shetland'
NOVEMBER 2012 - 'Wool Week in Shetland'
OCTOBER 2012 - 'Chain, Chain, Chain at The Knab'
SEPTEMBER 2012 - 'Felt in the Broch'
I lived in Hertfordshire as an Artist in Residence for six years. During this time I visited Shetland in 2008, fascinated by the beautiful landscape and variety of weather I returned to do a residency in Shetland the following year. My plan while in Shetland was to walk, draw and take photographs these were later used for my textile work. A focus on colour and texture from the landscape was inspiration for my handmade 2D & 3D felt work. This work was later to become the front cover of an international Textile magazine.
After many exhibitions, residencies, commissions, community arts projects and islands trips. I am now studying a degree in Contemporary Textiles in Shetland, learning different techniques and developing new skills. Shetland has a rich Textile history which I am exploring and researching. I continue to be inspired by the pure natural beauty of this rather challenging environment. Whether using the colours or textures to create new work or to use the landscape as a back drop for my work.
One of the places I like to visit in Lerwick is the Clickimin Broch. The setting is mystical and depending on the time of day the light can give a very different impression. In about 1000BC a bronze-age family built a small farmhouse on a grassy islet near Clickimin Loch. Walls were built to enclose their cattle and sheep. The Loch of Clickimin was cut off from the sea and ceased to be tidal. Although over time the Broch was developed, it was never finished. The broch was originally much taller than today, up to approx 12-15m high. It is an amazing place to explore with small rooms, enclosures and stairs within its thick, dry stone walls.
This was where I chose to place my work to see how it presented itself beside the dry stone walls. My soft cream felted hang hanging with a variety of round and oval shapes cut out hung beside the tonal matt textured stone. I used many areas of the Broch to see how the felt hanging worked or did not work within the inside/outside space. Playing with how the height of the walls or light changed the setting for the work. As well as how the wind moved the work, sometimes further than I wished it to be moved.
I continue to be a member of HVA as I regularly travel south. It has been suggested to record my experiences in Shetland in the HVA monthly newsletter, do look our for the ’Postcards from Shetland’.
Article & photographs by CONNIE FLYNN