Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Design in Middlesbrough

I spent a few days in Middlesbrough last week at a conference about Victorian Cities. The town has a really interesting history and some wonderful Victorian architecture. In 1800 there were four houses and about 25 people living there. By 1890, mainly as a result of the iron industry boom, the population was around 90, 000. It was the perfect location for a few days of thinking about industrial history and heritage.

On the second day of the conference, I got a few hours to explore. I went along to the Dorman Museum to see the Christopher Dresser (aka. 'the father of modern design') collection. The collection contains a range of Dresser's own designs as well as pieces from his time in Japan. It was such a treat to see Dresser's inspirations alongside his own work, and objects which were created by some of the many companies he worked with. One of my favourite pieces was a ceramic teapot made to look like paper (pictured below).

I ended my afternoon stomp around Middlesbrough with a visit to the jewellery gallery at mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art). It took my breath away. The purpose-built permanent gallery, which opened earlier this month, contains a diverse and downright amazing collection of contemporary jewellery. Mima describe the collection as 'one of the finest publicly-owned jewellery collections in the UK ... featuring beautiful, provocative and fascinating pieces.' There are over 200 pieces on display from designers including Wendy Ramshaw, Felieke van der Leest and Gijs Bakker.

The gallery is an absolute must-see for any budding jewellery designer. In fact, I think it will become a place of pilgrimage and an important learning resource for designers and makers of all sorts of things. It's basically a little slice of design heaven on earth.

Here is some of what I saw in Middlesbrough:

Victorian buildings...

Christopher Dresser Collection...

The jewellery gallery at mima.

Thank you, Middlesbrough, for an inspirational, design-filled few days.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts

It's been very quiet around here recently. Very quiet indeed. But what better way to break the silence than with some photos of the opening evening of the new Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts studios in Edinburgh. The studios and gallery in Blair Street (just off the Royal Mile) opened last year with 23 makers, and the new place at Abbeymount (in an old school overlooking Arthur's Seat) has provided space for another 50. These images show the opening of Abbeymount a few weeks ago, when the doors were thrown open and makers gave hoards of visitors access to their equipment - a brave move. I was invited along by my lovely weaver friend and fellow wool fanatic, Fiona Daly, who showed me around the place (you can spy her in front of her loom in the second picture).

Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts has been built by and for the makers who work in it along with a strong team of volunteers. Apart from a small grant from Creative Scotland, it is largely self-funded. The project started in 2011 with just 5 makers and its growth over the past 3 years is testament to Edinburgh's vibrant craft world and to the hard work and determination of Louise Smith, who established the project and is behind its success. Louise studied craft at university and continues to make alongside running the studios, gallery and courses. She has built something really special, from scratch.

The makers who work at Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts, many of whom are recent graduates, will tell you just how transformative the project has been to their careers. Under the roofs of these two buildings are textile and fashion designers, ceramicists, weavers, upholsterers, product designers, furniture-makers and jewellers. The variety and diversity of makers, materials and techniques are brought together by shared space and a commitment to working alongside each other to develop their work and careers. It really is an amazing and inspiring place. 

Thank you for having us, Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts, and congratulations on your new home.

All photos copyright Damien McGlynn.

Monday, 18 August 2014


It takes double the time to get anywhere. You frequently end up being shunted off the kerb into the path of oncoming buses and bikes, left to the mercy of drivers and cyclists on the verge of road rage. Then there's the constant bombardment from pavement performances: pipers playing the Star Wars theme tune, a brass band covering ABBA, some African drums, and a tone-deaf busker thrown in for good measure. This is Edinburgh in August.

Exhausted and in need of caffeine, I end up at the door of Dovecot Studios. Inside, I find myself in a haven of calm and tranquility in the exhibition, Tumadh: Immersion, by Dundee-based environmental artists, Dalziel + Scullion. Their work explores 'the ecology of place' and 'mankind's relationship with nature'. Leaving behind the madness outside, the serenity is almost hyper-real and encountering it feels like a relief; like closing your eyes and taking a big deep breath.

The exhibition has been designed and curated to speak to the urban environment that surrounds it, and to a partner exhibition at An Lanntair in Stornoway. It advocates a more sensitised connection with the world around us, with landscape and nature and elemental forces. Tumadh: Immersion presents ideas while also creating a feeling or a mood within the space that instills a sense of those ideas in the visitor. You enter the gallery and come up behind four figures, soaked in soft light and staring out into the distance as if taking in the view from the top of a hill. An enormous skirt flowing across the room puts you in mind of a crumpled, dimpled, mountainous landscape.

The garments on display have been designed in such a way as to enable the wearer to experience the elements rather than avoid or outwit them: 'These garments instead encourage immersive natural experiences, for example a rain jacket that has a hood which is open to the elements and only allows you to look up so that you can focus on the rain falling on your face, and another with a padded back that allows you to lie down in rocky landscapes.'

The garments are not only thoughtfully designed - they are outstanding on a technical level. A beautifully-shaped seamless hood is just one example of the level of skill that has gone into the pattern cutting, and the quality of the construction of the garments is evident in the level of finishing. The fabrics themselves are central to the work: Inspired by the relationship Tweed has to the landscape of Lewis and Harris – Dalziel + Scullion explore how the tactile and physical qualities of textile can mimic and enhance the feeling of immersion in the natural world.' The origins of the materials and their production in Lewis and Harris, together with a display of rocks from the islands, creates a dialogue between city and island. 

It strikes me that this exhibition also speaks to the Ruskin show across town in the National Portrait Gallery. In the mid-nineteenth century, Ruskin inspired an increasingly urban population to get out of town, to place oneself within the landscape and to connect with the natural world. Tumadh: Immersion poses questions about how we engage with the land and the climate through the things we wear, and the materials they are made of: 'The on-going thesis throughout their practice is to do with our increasing dislocation from the natural world and that real immersion in nature requires active concentration and involvement. This is something that the they aim to guide us towards, with this show in particular concentrating on how textile and clothing can both reflect natural spaces and dictate our experience of it.'

In short, Tumadh: Immersion is nothing short of brilliant. This is a minimalist show packed with big ideas. It fuses craft, art and design, and offers a considered and thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between the things we wear - materials, design and making - and the places we wear them. But this show isn't just about pondering abstract notions about man and the world. It also presents practical tips, from being aware of your body and your breathing to carrying a nature diary to collecting feathers and stones. A gathering bag is available to buy/make, which challenges visitors to take some of their ideas on board and put them into practice.

Perhaps most importantly, the conversation between urban and rural, together with the links between the two exhibitions in Edinburgh and Stornoway offer a fairly rare example of a real partnership between the arts in Scotland's central belt and the arts in Scotland's islands. The exhibition is part of GENERATION, which is a collaborative project between various arts organisations and venues, led by National Galleries Scotland, Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland. There is often a hint of condescension underlying projects run by centralised organisations which claim to make links with, or 'celebrate', the arts outside the central belt and surrounding area. But this is certainly not the case here.

Dalziel + Scullion, together with the Dovecot, bring the island into the city, and vice versa through the sister show at An Lanntair. The Edinburgh exhibition captures a particular draw of the islands: the paradoxical feeling of freedom they can evoke as a result of being isolated, cut-off and hemmed in by open water. The works represent Scotland's landscape in a way that is neither romantic or over-wrought and they project the feeling of being the product of a mutually beneficial relationship, underpinned by a genuine respect for the natural beauty, and a shared passion for the arts, of Scotland's islands. How refreshing.

Tumadh: Immersion runs at Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh until 13 September 2014 and at An Lanntair, Stornoway until 30 August.

All images copyright Michael Wolchover.

EDIT: Since publishing this post, Matthew and Louise of Dalziel and Scullion have kindly pointed out that the garments were made by Tracey Stewart Thompson of MIN Scotland.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


It's been just over a month since we got back from our honeymoon in Stockholm, and I'm only just getting round to sorting the photos. I'd already forgotten just how beautiful it was. We flew from Shetland to Edinburgh on the monday evening after the wedding, then out to Stockholm the next afternoon after our flight to Paris was cancelled on our way to the airport. One of the first things we noticed was how similar the light conditions in Stockholm were to how they had been in Shetland. This isn't particularly surprising, given that they're on the same latitude, but even the way the sky moved and the sea smells and the boat noises made us think of home. 

The similarities ended there. Stockholm towers above you. The whole city is drenched in colour. The bright earthy-tones of the buildings pop out against the muted backdrop of the sea and sky. I think all northern towns and cities should have a Stockholm paint-box makeover. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We split our time exploring lovely antique stores and craft shops and coffee shops, and visiting the city's museums (warning: there's more to come on that front) and we just had the most lovely, relaxing time. We didn't intend on ending up in Sweden when we set off for the airport but I'm so glad we did.