Introducing our 2018 Artist in Residence

Jane Hellings Bits Out.jpg

Jane Hellings - 9 Stitches

My working practice is always drawn from my lived female experience, it is domestic in nature.

In keeping with the domestic subject matter of my work, my materials of choice are everyday, predominantly found and repurposed, and my techniques low-tech.

My work is usually interactive and I often work collaboratively.

Susan Merrick achieved amazing things as our inaugural AIR in 2017. You can read about her project here.

Now, we are proud to introduce Jane Hellings as the FiLiA Artist in Residence for 2018-2019. Her residency project is Nine Stitches.

9 Stitches has been ten years in the making, cobbled together, dropped and picked up again, at intervals. Taken from the phrase A stitch in time saves nine, it is not the one efficient stitch, but the nine, just in time stitches, which characterise my life. Those nine stitches, so often  employed by women, whose lives are fragmented by the demands placed upon them, to be, simultaneously; worker, carer, mother, partner, lover, home maker. This lack of opportunity for focus is one of the reasons that women's voices, have been, and often still are, absent from the public sphere.

9 Stitches is the child of two earlier pieces of work; Jane Hellings is a Slag and Slag Sofa. Jane Hellings is a Slag is a fibre representation of a toilet door, circa 1976, in the girl's toilets at my secondary school. The resulting banner is roughly life size. The door was blue and the words, writ large in black marker pen, filled the available space. I was fourteen years old and getting through boyfriends quite quickly, because I wouldn't have sex with them.

Not much appears to have changed across the decades. Slut shaming is designed to shut down and silence women, so flying the flag 'Jane Hellings is a Slag' and publicly owning that label, is an act of resistance. On past showing, overwhelmingly, women viewed it as an act of solidarity. From men there were more mixed responses, these fell broadly into four categories; Ironic Sexists, Mansplainers, Knights in Shining Armour and Opportunists. Ironic Sexists' continuous streams of sexist jokes are made ironically, because they understand the tenets of feminism. The Mansplainers earnestly and in some detail explain the cause of female oppression (it is never them). The Knights in Shining Armour are eager to save this 'Jane Hellings' from the terrible wrong done to her. The Opportunists hope that if Jane Hellings really is a slag, then she might be up for a fuck. Hate patriarchy, love the patriarch. 

Slag Sofa is an interactive installation which offers women the opportunity to be photographed for the Slag Sofa Gallery and to share their experiences of being Slut Shamed.

Ten years ago when I made Jane Hellings is a Slag, I was angry, now I view the title as a badge of honour. 9 Stitches was an opportunity to collaborate with many more women through making, performance and discussion, to explore our feelings about our own and each other's bodies, in the context of patriarchal culture.

9 Stitches launched in October 2018, at the FiLiA Conference in Manchester, with a small number of stitched body parts and body coverings, made by myself and fellow artist and collaborator, Cathy Dunbar, and over the course of the weekend, we signed up potential future collaborators.

FiLiA is an international organisation and 9 Stitches has entered into collaboration with artists from Norway, New Zealand and Greece, but it was also important to me to work close to home. For reasons of my own mental health and for sustainability, I like to be embedded in my local community, which, through a series of mishaps, happens to be the City of Cambridge.

Every summer, Cambridge is host to Strawberry Fair, Europe's biggest free, one day festival. In collaboration with artists; Carmela Arbelaez-McCarthy, Cathy Dunbar and
Helen Judge we took Front Bottoms at Mrs.Fubb's Parlour to the Strawberry Fair Arts Area. This was euphemism on a grand scale, we dressed up, shared tea and dainties such as Little Shrimp and Split Baps and discussed the female form, from a feminist perspective, with over two hundred guests. 

More intimately, Rude Consequences is a collaboration initiated by a young woman, shamed by her step-father, at the age of ten, for, when playing with her cousins, putting a 'rude' twist on the traditional drawing game; Consequences. Told she was 'dirty' and 'disgusting', these labels followed her into adulthood. We have been playing Rude Consequences, encouraging others to do so, and archiving the results, as an act of defiance. 

All of this has been crammed into a 9 Stitches Zine (available from no good bookshops)  get yours from FiLiA 2019. Amazing value at just £5, roughly £4 of every purchase goes to feed starving artists.

9 Stitches will continue to have a life after FiLiA 2019, if you want to join in, let us know.

It's a long fight for our human rights, but are we downhearted? No we are not. We shake our vajazzles at misogyny and wave our nipples at patriarchy!