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Unpicking the Archive

When I was given the opportunity to participate in the Helen Storey Foundation’s ‘Life on the Outskirts’ project, the prospect immediately appealed to me.

As a fashion student in London in the early 90s, I followed Helen’s progress closely and have always admired her work. Already feeling a close affinity with the world of fashion and textiles, I imagined this realm would be my hook, and that it would be a straightforward task to produce a creative response to the call-out.
However, despite similarities in our undergraduate education and subsequent careers in the fashion industry, when I came to access Helen’s archive, I was completely overwhelmed. The wealth of source material was so extensive and diverse I initially found it difficult to know where to begin. But drawing on my notes from the workshop and using the site’s clear pathways to guide me, I started to navigate the various themes. I tried out a few ideas in my sketchbook, but nothing seemed to resonate. I persevered.
At this point in my MA in Fine Art I had begun to make pigments and paper from domestic and commercial waste, in order to scrutinise the materiality of paint and painting supports. At the same time I was helping out with Action for Refugees, a charity based in Bradford. During the autumn of 2017 I periodically revisited the HSF archive, continued my paper-making practice, and collected and delivered food and clothing supplies for the refugees. Slowly each aspect of this routine began to inform the others and an invisible thread started to bind them all together.
Fascinated by Helen’s ‘Dissolving Dresses’ I began to further experiment with paper pulp by incorporating discarded textiles into my work. Later on, the complicated issues (concerning global human displacement) behind ‘Dress For Our Time’ began to loom large in my mind. A particular image connected with this project stood out as it closely resembled one of my handmade paper squares.
Then one bitterly cold day in Bradford I noticed a glove on the pavement outside the Refugee Action headquarters. Unintentionally left behind, the singularity of its presence in the landscape provoked a strong emotional reaction in me. I photographed it where it lay, picked it up, and looked around hopefully for it’s owner. The streets were deserted, so I took it home with me.
I now have dozens of single gloves (they never appear in pairs) gleaned from my movements through cities and parks. Still carrying a trace of the shape of the hand they once protected, they are imbued with the sadness of human separation. I’m hoping the imagery they inspire me to produce will continue the conversation I discovered in the HSF archive about the distress of enforced migration, homelessness and displacement.

 

Helen Brayshaw, 2nd Year, MA Fine Art, University of Leeds

24th April 2018