This project is part of The Sheffield Bazaar/Festival of the Mind 2014. Artists and organizations with a passion for contemporary art were invited to submit proposals for The Sheffield Bazaar, with successful events being given financial support from Festival of the Mind through Arts Council England Grants for the Arts funding.
When the walls take flight is a wallpaper installation and performance by Sheffield based artist Helen Cocker which, during the exhibition, transforms into a flock of birds. The installation explores how the fabric of a building changes over time, creating something new and untold from the destruction of something familiar.
Having just found out that I’ve been selected to take part in The Sheffield Bazaar my mind is already racing. As noted above, my proposal is – ultimately – to create screen printed wallpaper which, during the course of the exhibition, I gradually tear down and transform into a flock of birds.
– Castle House, Sheffield
For my first blog entry (which will also appear on my website – http://ehcocker.com) I would like to introduce you to a text. I have been reading this particular text on and off for several months and, as with most affecting texts, it has gradually taken hold. I believe it to be one of the main influences of my practice at the moment. It is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A brief synopsis:
The story is written as a collection of journal entries by Jane whose physician husband has confined her to the upstairs bedroom of a colonial summer house. She is not allowed to work or be involved in any mentally stimulating activity in order that she might recuperate from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression, – a slight hysterical tendency.” With nothing to do Jane becomes obsessed by the pattern and color of the wallpaper. “It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper – the smell! … The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.”
At the moment I am fascinated by the physical relationship Jane develops with the walls. She sees images, another woman and movement in the pattern as it mutates around her cell. Her life is a literary reference to women whose emotional wellbeing has so often been misunderstood by medical professionals or society at large. I would like to further explore the personal anxieties that I feel are often associated with being hormonal, emotional or misunderstood, which are still so strongly linked to the identity of a woman.
Often, when making work, I find that it can be weeks if not months before an apparent area of interest emerges. Over the last few months I have found myself painting and drawing birds. At first this worried me. So many people, especially in Sheffield, seem to be painting birds. Perhaps it is by default as the city is surrounded by countryside, wild moors and brick. Birds occupy our lives here and bring a notable awareness of wilderness creeping into civilized, more domestic spaces.
Then I became aware of my more particular interest within the subject of ornithology: birds of prey. I had just returned a pile of books on female astronaughts and fighter pilots when I came across The Books Interview in The Guardian one Saturday, which featured a review of Helen MacDonald’s recently published book ‘H is for Hawk’. MacDonald references the relationship between fighter jets and birds of prey:
“That sense of fear and awe and being problematic in terms of being involved in death is very much the same feeling people get when they see hawks. It’s mesmerising.”
And now it’s as though things are starting to click into place. My painting ‘Tigress Falcon’ stares down at my as I write this, the hooded falcon emerging from the embrace of the masked woman. The woman is based on an image of Tiger Morse, aka Joan Morse (American, 1932–1972), a New York socialite, Warhol girl and mod fashion designer in the mid 1960s.
– Tigress Falcon, oil on canvas 2014, Helen Cocker
Warhol filmed Morse in Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****) which had her delivering a 33 minute monologue on the weary nature of love, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Morse was obsessed with mirrored disco balls, and talks at length about the reflective orbs that were hanging from the ceiling in her shop.
There’s something that capitavtes me about the wild, melodramatic nature of birds of prey and the similarly destructive characterisation of women like Morse. When I chose to paint Morse I did not invest in her personality beyond representing the masked face of a woman who, consequently, cannot be read as a personality at all. Now, however, coming to cross reference my interest in these overlapping subjects, I can see that the drive to explore a compelling narrative between confinement, masked women, walls, flight and wild birds is at worst, familiar and at best, open to debate.
H is for Hawk opens up a new way for me to approach The Yellow Wallpaper. For my installation at The Sheffield Bazaar I will be occupying Castle House – an old, now derelict shopping centre in Sheffield. It has a staircase, at the top of which sits a scultped bird. I would like to find out what type of bird this is. My Wallpaper is something which will directly attach itself to the space but as I gradually tear it away, I might be reminded of Jane, who finds herself tearing at the walls in order to escape. Castle House’s future is as yet unwritten, now that it is empty it is slowly becoming wild. In the way that Hawks sometimes approach houses, I hope to explore the relationship between nature infringing on the city and the wild/animal-like nature of myself.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****) (1967) by Andy Warhol
If you have any texts/references that you think would be relevant to my project, please do get in touch! [email protected]