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Artist Helen Pailing makes do, mends and then exhibits

Tarset's artist-in-residence is exhibiting the results of a year of making work in Northumberland, and finding value in everything


“I always say that there is value in every material. You can appreciate the tiniest thing.”

And make an exhibition out of it, if you’re Helen Pailing who has been enjoying her time as Tarset’s artist in residence for the past year or there abouts.

Having arrived in the remote Northumberland parish last October, after being selected as the 14th holder of the VARC (Visual Arts in Rural Communities) post, the 32-year-old has been making good use of her surroundings, its rich industrial heritage and the generosity of the local community ever since.

Now an exhibition, Warp - the culmination of the project - is showcasing all the new work which has resulted from the artist’s residency at Highgreen, from which Helen has been living, working and falling in love with the North East.

“I had been to the Northumberland coast once as a child, but the whole region was completely new to me really and it’s a real gem,” she says. “I thought I would have a lot of time on my hands, but it has completely flown by.

“I have fallen in love with the area and am hoping to stay around after the residency is over so I can explore more of the North East. It’s a special place to be.”

But before she starts to plan future creations, there is much to look back on, as any visitors to the barns and outbuildings of Highgreen will see until August 17 when Warp closes.

Anyone who takes the time to take in the exhibition will be treated to two big installations in the barns, which have been created in response to, and inspired by farming-associated items such as drainage pipe, baler wrap and wire fencing as well as the industrial heritage of the area.

Artist Helen Pailing
Artist Helen Pailing

“Soon after I arrived I approached a few companies and managed to get a stock of materials to experiment with throughout the year,” says Helen.

Warp is the large scale piece that fills the Dutch barn at Highgreen and responds specifically to ideas and objects associated with wool making.

Monofilament thread is used to represent the warp of a loom that works its way across the length of the barn. As visitors weave between the thread of the installation they will unknowingly fulfil a performative role, acting as the weft of the cloth.

“It is a really subtle quiet piece,” says Helen.

The second installation uses coils of plastic drainage pipes which are balanced overhead - a reminder of the abundance of rain that drenched the UK this year - and reconfigured wire fencing, which questions the idea of boundaries.

“It is a more dominant piece. I thought the other barn was a lot dark and gloomier and needed that,” she says.

As well as the larger installations, the exhibition also gathers together Helen’s Object A Day collection, which - as the name suggests - has seen her make an object for every day of her residency.

“I have done 20 before and have worked in this kind of discipline - doing something over a set period, but never for a full year,” laughs Helen.

“I thought it would be a good way of making history during my time here.”

Spent bullet cartridges, defunct ear tags, tenterhooks, glass-making wastage (courtesy of National Glass Centre in Sunderland) all feature throughout, as do the artist’s own used light bulbs, contact lens cases and soy sauce sachets. Helen may be the ultimate recycler.

She laughs.

“I made use of all that I had or had been given or had found. Nothing has been bought. There’s definitely a sense of make do and mend with this collection. It’s been about finding the materials and then letting them tell me how I will join them together and create the object.

“Many of them act as little memories too - the one which includes wheel bearings reminds me of the day my wheel bearings collapsed,” she laughs. “Or another came from the day a wasps nest fell down in the barn when I was working there.

“When I first arrived I put out an appeal for donations of sheep tags in the newsletter which goes out locally,” Helen continues. “So I think people knew I’d be asking for their help while I was here.

“The residencies have been going on for a long time now, so the community is always anticipating the arrival of the next person and were very open to getting involved.”

And they proved this with another of Helen’s ideas which became The Stars of Tarset.

“When I arrived, the dark skies were the thing that had me first. The contrast of coming here after living in London, which has so much light pollution... it seemed incredibly dark and the stars were just amazing,” says Helen, who grew up in Leeds, studied in Manchester and settled in London after doing her masters in the capital.

“I brought a little music box with me and starting thinking about the music of the spheres and the idea that everything has a vibration and sound.

“I thought it would be nice if I could play to the stars, so I punched in existing constellations and played them (on the music box). I wanted to get the community involved so I asked them to design their own constellations and name them. Then I punched them in and we could play the Stars of Tarset. I got a really good response with some interesting constellations.”

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see and hear them for themselves, courtesy of light and music boxes in another of the many displays.

“It’s been great to be able to experiment with all the different exhibition spaces at Highgreen, it makes me really interested to see how the work with sit in a gallery setting,” adds Helen, who will be taking a slimmed down version of the exhibition to the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre in Hexham from September 6 to October 11 before taking the Object A Day collection to the National Centre fpr Craft and Design in Sleaford from November 22 to March 29, 2015. www.helenpailing.com


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