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  • Linda Brothwell in her Studio, Jared Schiller

Linda Brothwell: The Magic Space

The interventionist metalworker talks to Clare Cumberlidge about Acts of Care and making connections

Directory maker Linda Brothwell is known for initiating a repair movement in the arts. She talks to Claire Cumberlidge, Curator and Director of Thirteen Ways, about Acts of Care, making connections and the rhythm of flintwork. 

What was the inspiration for your work?

Well it all began back in the early 2000’s when I found myself travelling regularly on night buses and tubes going home after work.  I would be tempted to darn the disintegrating seat fabrics and when I’d patched up a hole or tear, I would embroider a face, a character, or a greeting to a passer by to find. 

Most often people wouldn’t notice me doing this but sometimes people would sit down and talk about embroidery suggesting better kinds of stitches. It was a wonderful way to meet people. The more conversations I had the more I felt that talking to strangers was restoration as conversation. 

So, what is an Act of Care?

I use traditional techniques to perform acts of individualised care in the landscape – ‘Acts of Care’. I research the history of each place, learn local craft skills and develop unique tools and processes for each.  I make a repair intervention in each location and these works come together to create an alternative map of the UK.  The first was The Sheffield Edition, commissioned for Jerwood Makers Open in 2013.

Act of Care: Norwich, Build Your Own, Norwich Castle and Museum

So, how did you begin in Norwich?

I always begin with a visit, I do limited online research but I try to keep this quite light in the early stages so I can really respond to the place, rather than recreating wikipedia with my feet.  Staying in the unknown for much longer than is comfortable is important for me for my work.  I try to generate many, many ideas to keep pushing and prodding them forward before I decide the form of the work.  It can be a tiring almost physical process, which helps me keep the possibilities broad at the beginning so I can forge some exciting connections.

Walking around Norwich I was drawn to the flintwork on the buildings and particularly the galetting in between the main stones.  It’s such a textural and rhythmic effect, I think it really beautiful.  I take lots of pictures and I found myself photographing endless doors in Norwich, I don’t why but they have such a fantastic collection of doors all over the city!  The colour fades on church doors and lovely tiny blue shop fronts are all intriguing.  So I knew from very early on, in some way, these things would feed into the final work.

My practice is about connections; bringing together materials, techniques and stories. In Norwich I was particularly keen to create unexpected unions.  I wanted to take the techniques Norwich is known for and play with them mixing it up.

Linda Brothwell in her studio, Jared Schiller

You started your professional career as a jeweller and you now work in the public realm.  How did this change happen?

I have always been interested in people's relationships with the objects they own.  From very early in my career jewellery was the vehicle through which I explored those ideas.  I was drawn to the intimate connection that jewellery creates, as opposed to the external projection of what jewellery can mean – like status and wealth.
When teaching, I talk about 'the magic space' - the physical space between an individual and an object that is charged with connection, memories, possibilities when encountering or holding something that connects.  So that can be jewellery, but also it can be other things too. It's the connection that I strive for. As my work has developed I feel more and more comfortable using other means to communicate my ideas.  I use the materials and techniques I feel best express the idea, sometimes that is creating jewellery, but often it isn't.

As a student jeweller, I was disappointed that I didn't have a signature style; techniques or materials that were recognisably mine.  I’m drawn to really specific types of materials and techniques but there a lots of them. I began to feel that each time I learnt a new technique I was making my practice more diluted.  At some point (I think during my Bench Repair Project in Lisbon) I realised this was my strength, my capacity to use a wide pallet of materials and techniques.  Working in the public realm is something that fits with me; the ideas I want to explore give me the chance to keep learning and pushing myself.

Act of Care: Sheffield, Linda Brothwell

For you making jewellery isn’t enough; you create the chisels and hammers you use as well. Why? 

There is an incredible duality with tools; their ability to speak of both past and future.  They present heritage, skills and places and are beautiful objects themselves - they also hint at future possibilities inviting imaginative and creative engagement with what their use is and what they can make.  People and their heritage fascinates and I am also firmly rooted in contemporary practice - so I see a kinship.

My research involves meeting and speaking with craftspeople. Bringing tools to these conversations brings a relaxed gaze to the conversation. You are concentrating on making, but your hands have the muscle memory to allow your mind to open up.  So it is often the case that the tools act as a way in, the way to enable me to learn more about someone or a history of a place, whilst sharing our mutual love of making.

Clare Cumberlidge is Curator and Director of Thirteen Ways

Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing is on at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 3 October 2015 to 3 January 2016.

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