Heather Connelly                                                      homepage    about   current   projects  exhibitions  research  contact 

Coming of Age

funded by University of Nottingham, ACE East Midlands & Loughborough University School of Art & Design

grand italian fireplace with embroiled place in it's hearth  'Growing Up' seen through doorway  embroiled hung/suspended in small room in castle
'Embroiled' maskingtape, newspaper & thread                 'Growing Up' handstitched photocopies & velvet                'Bound' newsprint, maskingtape & silk

photographs by Andrew Robinson Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire - July 2000

'Coming of Age' was conceived whilst I was living in the United States in 1995. The experience of crossing cultural, physical and emotional boundaries acted as a catalyst for the work which came to fruition later in 1996 when I took up the residency at the Djanogly Art Gallery at the University of Nottingham (1996-1999). Where I was given a purpose built studio to develop my own work and was invited to put forward a proposal for an exhibition. 'Coming of Age' was an ambitious exhibition which involved collaborations with and commisions for other artists, photographer, writer, poet and a composer to explore and examine similar themes - from their own position,practice and points of view. The work is described in depth below in an essay by Debbie Hillyerd. Each piece was incredibly labour intensive to make and were essential to how the work is viewed, the processes and materials were carefully chosen and many of the pieces were begun whilst studying in the USA.

My aim was to create an accompanying education programme that was as broad and as inclusive as possible - so that it would reach out to different members of the community, students and academics that I had worked with over the duration of my residency. There were different workshops designed to
explore the themes, processes etc aimed at different age groups and abilities, related films screened at the broadway and
a symposium that explored the nature of textile art - 'Fabrications' (bringing together the four textile exhibitions & artists that were on at the same time in Nottingham). In addition to this a mail art project was launched and exhibited in the Angear Visitors centre (adjoining the Gallery) alongside 10 specially commissioned dresses. There was a catalogue published to accompany the exhibition (funded by Loughborough University School of Art & Design) which featured photographs of the work in progress in the studio, taken by Andrew Robinson alongside his own photographs taking my work as a starting point, alongside poetry by Andrew Wilson.

The show was a great success commanding the largest numbers of visitors to a contemporary exhibiton that the Gallery had ever had. It then toured to Rochdale Museum and Art Gallery in January 2000 and finally to Bolsover Castle in July 2000 were it felt as if it had found it's rightful home

wooden screens with small gap - with pleated red velvet   nest made from photocopied feathers, sat on red velvet cushion seen through opening in wooden screens   multiple twisted wire drawings of decorative iron fencework hung infront of narrow leaded window of castlecastle
'Cursed' wooden screens and velvet with interior nest made    'Cursed' detail                                                                 'Twisted' florists wire
from photocopies feathers.                                                  

room filled with different sized balls covered in feathers seen through doorwayin  room with tear drop shaped 'fake' chandeliers' made from scellotape & cling film dark green wooded panel shelf lining castle room filled with bound letters
'Gathering' masking tape, newsprint & feathers                    'Rapt' clingfilm & scellotape                                                 'Tied' envelopes & audio tape

photographs by Andrew Robinson Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire - July 2000

Extracts from essay by Debbie Hillyerd published in the catalogue to accompany the exhibition at the Djanogly Art Gallery, 1999

'Stemming from her previous background as a textile artist, this work draws widely on the entire spectrum of contemporary art,craft and design practice. Today we tend to maintain that conception and idea are paramount; artists move freely between the different forms of visual exploration, such as video, performance and installation. However Heather Connelly also believes in practical skill. Drawing and handicraft play an equal role in the constitution of her work; a concern for making is crucial, the process which links both her intenton and her expression'. The work 'demonstrates a concern with both personal and shared experiences; journeys, the home and particularly the enchantment of the fairy tale, are combined with an unexpected approach which stimulates our imaginative senses. It is a complex fusion of ideas, objects, memories and attitudes, raising issues to do with art and identity, skill and craft, the hand-made and mass production, and the found object in art; all that is both contemporary and traditional.'

'...Growing up stands approximately five meters high. It's a magnetic piece, tall and elegant, flowing down and skirting the floor of a square room surrounded by elaborate mirrors hung salon-syle on the walls. It is a dress but it is unwearable. Meticulously fabricted by handstitching together paper photocopies of a human spine, the image is rhythmically repeated, creating a huge expansion of pattern as it grows from the neat bodice to the voluminous folds of the skirt. Within the paper structure there is a luscious red velvet lining, adding a rich and exhuberent dimension to an object which is otherwise modest and rudimentary. Growing up embodies many of the issues central to Heather Connelly's work: the use of the commonplace materials such as paper, black thread and fabric; the manipulation of these materials to create a sculptural presence; the sense of nostalgia invested in the found object, picked up and kept, removed from its original context. And equally powerful is what might best be described as a kind of child-like intrigue, the drive to explore objects and the possessions of others with intense curiosity. It reminds us of rozika Parker's reference to stitchery in The Subversive Stitch, as both an 'individual test of skill' and part of a child's progression to womanhood.'

'In the manner of the fairy tale or mythological saga, Coming of Age takes the viewer on a journey. There is a filmic theatricality to the installation, it arouses a sense of apprehension and excitement about what lies ahead.'

'The relationship between women and craft is acontested issue, however Connelly shows no trepidation in her use of materials, processes or subject matter. On the contrary, she appears to take pleasure in exploiting the texhniques of what some may desribe as incredulous techniques and imagery. her work manifests two main concerns; an appropriation of earlier techniques of women's craft and the exploration and reinvention of the methods of making contemporary art.'

'Connelly lovingly aetheticises her materials, whether paper or thread, glue or wire. The scale and fantasy of the installation enforces the childhood intrigue and the intricate fabrications heighten our curiousity. her influences are wide reaching; we could cite the interiors of palaces and stately homes, Arte Povera, Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager, Mona Hatoum, the use of domestic in contemporary art, the writings of Marina warner and much, much more. The Mythical and fairy tale enchantment seduces the participant as the story unfolds....The fairy tale is an acknowledged genre in literature. It represents a realm of human fantasy. We lapped it up as children and never forgot the twisted tales. But there is nothing purely child-like about fairy tales. they relate both to the present society and history, to experience and to the unknown.'

'Just like the fairy tale, Coming of Age invites many literary possibilities, but also invites the many polymorphic readings which must lie ahead.

'Deeper meanings reside in the fairytales told to me in my childhood than the truth that is taught by Life'

(Schiller, the Piccolimini in P. Dormer, The Art of the maker, Thames & Hudson, 1994)