A small search began for a shelter. Emerging from the desire to live off the land, the project has now become a key part of my MA project: exploring the creative possibilities inherent in establishing a place to live and work, and the ability to move on to new pastures. Craving a caravan, I left scribblings on people’s camper vans pleading for their sale, even slipped notes beneath doors of any house which had a battered-looking wagon on the drive. Neither method had positive results.
The yearning to live with the outdoors was still present upon starting my studies at West Dean. Requests to farmers asking if I could borrow a corner of a field, perhaps looking after chickens in return, were unsurprisingly met with kind refusals. The dream seemed to be slipping away until I came upon this hut in the woods:
For a while it became a haunting image and I fantasised about the logistics of sleeping in such small space, with foldaway chairs and trestles. The prefab shelter seemed full of possibilities. Countless sketches and ideas for textile-based insulation emerged. However, it seemed that the hut already had an owner, so I waited for fate… and the happy helpers Ian Graham and Robin Sheehan to find another:
This was a much more involved proposition, with rotting stairs, bare electric cables, even asbestos included. Inspiring more bodywork than just a textile touch up, the vehicle was a bit bigger than my modest means required and could not be moved! This structure nonetheless became a refuge that I could indulge in my imagination and, whilst providing no long-term prospects, offered its own ideas.
The bubble was burst with alternative offers of a nearby ‘toilet hut’, almost as a consolation. Whilst the properties – both medicinal and creative – of urine have been an intrigue of mine for a while now, that may have been taking it too far.
Soon another proposal came to light, this time a basic chassis, with ivy covered wheels and red paint rusting to reveal spots of yellow. Discovered on the crest of Singleton Hill Plantation, in the depths of the West Dean Estate, the abandoned agricultural trailer was soon extracted with the kind assistance of a tractor and a timber trolley:
The rescued trailer, having been immobile for almost half a century, soon underwent cosmetic consultation from various different departments at West Dean: interest spreading through Conservation of Metals and Furniture, attracting welding enthusiasts and joiners. Supplemented with secret sprays of WD40, the object continued to function as general dream food.
There comes a point when research has to rest and ideas have to happen of their own accord. Inspirations of bender wagons, yurts, sheds and shanty towns, artists’ islands and community living have been put to one side to let materials do the deciding. This is the stage I am at now, and it is with a slight hesitation that I must admit that the way I work does not follow a set plan or design. They are always there in the background but realistically once I have conceived of an object, I feel it to exist and that it is unecessary to actualise it. Hopefully people will have patience with this method and not be disappointed if the end result is not a recognisable hut – perhaps it will grow to be something like a Trojan horse or even a mobile botanical garden. The important point for me is to experiment with how I might apply textile materials and processes to different modes of living, as well as exploring different ideas of secure spaces.
Mobility is also an important issue for me at this moment as this project initially emerged from my broader intention to explore the creative possibilities of a nomadic-artistic life. With the road-worthiness of this vehicle seriously in doubt, the outcome of the project is inevitably having to change: perhaps moving closer to something like a sculptural object, a repository of ideas for other projects, or even a platform upon which to stage events?
At least the wheel is now moving, thanks to the help of John Privett (Conservation of Metalwork programme tutor), and the trailer has a new spot in the back garden of the Visual Arts department. At least for now this can function as the parking space for my mind at West Dean. On leaving, I can only take myself and what I can carry, which may only be knowledge. With the words of many, everything is borrowed.