Thursday, 15 September 2016

Festival of Love

There are just four more days for you to see the exhibition 'The Homeless Library' at Royal Festival Hall, part of the Festival of Love. It's open from 11am to 8pm everyday.

In October it's moving onto a showing in Glasgow as part of the Outside-in / Inside-out a festival of outside and subterranean poetry.

Then later in the year it will be showing at Bury Art Gallery and museum, more details to follow later. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry.  A  free ebook The Homeless Library can be downloaded here.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Monday, 12 September 2016

I've never been on a plane before.

The National Gallery of Art, Vilnius

The Sing me to Sleep exhibition opened at the National Gallery of Art, Vilnius, Lithuania, last Friday,  with a group of people who contributed to the project from Vilnius and Manchester meeting for the first time. 

Brian, Barry, Rytis, Peter, Amanda, Phil and Janine with the Sing me to Sleep quilt. Photo courtesy of Janine Obermaier

There is a real sense of pride and value in the work produced and the opportunity to come together with people from different countries, different cultures and backgrounds. So much to talk about, the time in Lithuania was much more than the exhibition.  I'd like to start with the contributors to the project from The Booth Centre,  in their own voices talking about our time together in Vilnius, Lithuania.   Whether we put our heads down to sleep in a house, hostel or cardboard, we all have a voice.

Phil B with the Sing me to Sleep quilt. Photo courtesy of Janine Obermaier

Phil B

Couldn’t have been any better. A slam dunk.  Its all been totally different than anything else. Even when I went into the water (a swim in the lake) and I swallowed, it was decent. 

I haven’t done them before (poems) I’ll turn my hands to a lot of things, but me letters- some I can’t spell. Thing with stitching, I can’t thread the needle, and me right hand being numb, I have to use my left- I stab me self more often than not.  It takes your mind off lots of things when you’re out in the streets. I enjoyed meself, I’m going to start doing more things at the Booth Now.

Sing me to sleep/ Padamuok Man Labanakt, at the National Gallery of Art, Lithuania


When I saw the quilt, (hung in the exhibition) I felt very, very emotional- so proud of what everyone had put into it- their heart and soul.  To see it being built up bit by bit every week, then to see it in the exhibition, with people from Lithuania coming up and taking photos and thinking we did that. Then seeing the Booth Centre name on the poster all over town, and our names up there, it was a proud day. Seeing the other artworks to- but the quilt was brilliant. 

I enjoyed the music with the sticks to, I didn’t get it at first, but then when more people joined in and I heard the rhythm I got into it. The power of music. By the end of the exhibition and our day out, bonds had been made across to countries, friendships made and Facebook details exchanged.  

Brian and David, making music from sticks.


It’s been an amazing project. On an immediate level to take people we work with away, it's giving opportunities to people who might not have been given choices or opportunities. My family was always so positive and supportive, but lots of people don’t have this in their lives, to have someone that says yes you can do it- get as far on that journey as you can. And that is what we have done with this project. Brian said to me on the way out ‘I’ve never been on a plane before.’ What a brilliant thing to be sat with him, on his first flight. He said to me, ‘a year ago I was sleeping on the streets,’ and now he has done this. On a deeper level, being able to connect to people from Lithuania. There are not a lot of groups of people you could meet that would be so open and accept you, make music and sing songs, not often would you be in that circumstance.

A public exhibition like this opens up a space for people to talk about homelessness, for the media to talk about it and people. It’s very important.

On a personal level, I’m on an incredible journey, so blessed, so lucky to do it, I appreciate every moment. Who gets to go on a plane with someone whose recovered for 6 months. Every moment has been great to be in and enjoy.

The quilt I love it, and what it means, seeing everyone’s work, you can see their voices in it, it’s weighty with movement. It’s also meant so much to me to see everyone’s names up there, (on the entrance information panel) I stood for ages looking at their names. Sad to, some people will never understand or hear that their work is here and their names up here, it’s the nature of the work.
Detail of the Information Board, National Gallery of Art, Vilnius.

Peter T

I enjoyed meeting the other group and going out to the country and doing what they’re doing- going to the lake and into the sauna and also the exhibition.  I liked the lightboxes, you couldn’t see anything till you put the light on- and the dusty windows, great and the quilt was fantastic.

I’ve never been in a gallery like that before, think I’d go to somewhere like Take Modern in Liverpool now.  You’ve got to expand your brain. Even sat here now (looking at people at the airport) there’s a picture, but you have to capture it. It takes a lot of thought, how do you know till you try. You have hands use them, ears use them, voice, feet, use them. Always look up. 

Peter T and Lois, at the opening of the exhibition
Barry L
Holiday Journal to Lithuania (exert)

At 6pm we went to the Gallery of Art for the arts and craft expo which once again was very well organised, impressive and went down exceptionally well.  I think that Phil and Lois from arthur+martha organised and put together an exceptional and very informative display and deserve a huge thank you and big congratulation for a job exceptionally well planned, thought out and presented, exhibition of arts and craft and poetry. 

Part of the audience for the exhibition opening event.

….We are now all on the plane on the way home and the trip has come to an end. I can honestly say it may be the end of this journal, but not the end of the story. In closing I would just like to say that it has not been a trip to forget, as for me it has been both enlightening and educational. As well as the fact that  some lasting bonds have been forged between the people and agencies both in Lithuania and Manchester. 

Some of the group of contributors to the project from Manchester and Vilinus

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Understanding a stitched fairytale

The exhibition 'Padainuok man labanakt / Sing me to sleep', opens on the 9th September at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, Lithuania, featuring our new quilt. It seems a good time to reflect a little on this art piece a collaboration with artist Lois Blackburn and visitors to homeless centres, The Booth Centre, Manchester and the Wellspring, Stockport. 
work in progress, Sing me to Sleep

The Sing me to sleep quilt has many stories stitched into it. Like a friendship, it becomes deeper as you get closer. Seen from a distance it is a snapshot of a woodland. But come near and you'll see birds and flowers, even snowflakes. Closer still, you see that people are here, their words echoing the shapes of branches and dancing in air. And when you're near enough to touch, you can see the marks that people have made, individual stitches from quiet afternoons in homeless centers in Manchester and Stockport. A few hours of respite from chaotic lives. A safe place to dream, a fairytale.

At some point in any of our lives we can lose our way in a dark and impenetrable emotional forest... we find if difficult to see the wood from the trees. The forest/wood is a recurring theme and backdrop in fairytales, steeped in ancient myth and legend.  Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, Beauty and the Beast... At the time these stories were first told, northern and western Europe was thick with woodland- (Lithuania still retains much forest.) The forest is a place of magic, it can feel dangerous, but is also a place of opportunity and transformation. It can offer refuge and protection. In the forest we flight the forces of darkness within ourselves, to emerge into the light.

Woods and forests also have another layer of meaning to our participants, as a place to live, to escape the demands of everyday life. A number of the people we have worked with on this project have spent time living like hermits foraging in the woods for day to day survival.

Birds are stitched into our quilt, they take flight then disappear in the trees. In fairytales because of their ability to fly, birds are often seen as messengers from the Divine. They also represent the ability to soar or rise above our problems.  Think The Ugly Duckling, The Bluebird, The Golden Bird, The Seven Ravens.  And stories that go back even further, perhaps the Greek story of Icarus.

The quilt has a wintery feel, paper cut snowflakes (we joined in making them at the Homeless Centre in Vilnius) are stitched, childhood memories of The Snow Queen.

Arthur Rackham, The Snow Queen.

The quilt design is inspired by the traditions of Welsh and Northumbrian 'wholecloth' making and Amish bar quilts. The stitching borrowed from the traditions Boro, Kantha and Sashiko embroidery.
The colour pallet and atmosphere from remembered childhood illustrations from favourite illustrators Jan Pienkowski and Arthur Rackham.

Overlaid are the stories of the homeless people themselves, their life stories. Danny spoke about the months spent in the woods- as he woke the sun rays fell in a diagonal beams through the trees- (the red squares on the tree trunks representing this)

Stitched onto the quilt are some of the participants names,  like names carved into wood, graffiti left for future generations.

Stitched between the trees the are the words from Paddy: 'If I was in the woods and I was cold I would go towards the sun.

Phil Barraclough wrote the poem that has been stitched around the edge of the quilt (lines from it are also stitched in Lithuanian):

Woodland in Winter

Woodland in winter it's bloody cold
icy crackling days, cold dark nights.

Winter in the woods came upon my life
by my own design, to sit here a lonely man
and there is sat a bird, a fictitious thing of all ways
in nothing to see a beauty in grey and green
its hungry eyes telling me to feed him
and all I had was bread to warm him
I used my coat and wrapped him in
yet unto my eyes he stared and to sleep I went.

(I wake from the cold and find I have shrunk
To a five inch fool.) 

 In Russian is stitched:

A seed fell into soil
A big tree has grown up

Andrej (LT)

Thank you again for everyone who has given their time and energy to this project to make it possible. This project was supported by Arts Council England, The Booth Centre Manchester, The Wellspring Stockport, The National Gallery in Vilnius and Socialiniai Meno Projektai.