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 – 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]









Thursday 18th September saw the opening of my hand printed wallpaper and origami birds installation at Castle House. As the doors to the ex-department store opened and the walls rippled in the breeze,  I held my breath.

Working with Castle House has been an excercise in patience, trust and adaptability. The perfectionist in me has groaned over the wrinkles, warps and wefts in the walls. But now, as the wallpaper stands brazenly facing the central staircase, I can begin to see it as others may do. The lights cast beautiful shadows across the walls, catching the tips of the birds. The pattern in the paper moves with your eye as you navigate the curved wall. People seem drawn to the birdbox I placed in the central panel asking for orders/expressions of interest to be posted inside. I watch secretly, hoping they comply.

Of course there are errors and there is so much more I wish I could have done. I wanted to cover the ceiling in birds over the course of the show. As if they were ripping the walls apart and flying up the staircase. For me, the piece remains too decorative and still. But I am limited by the time that has been shortened due to unforseen structural problems and the fact that I cannot access the ceiling during open hours. Instead I plan to make more birds and attach them via the walls this week.

The great thing about doing an exhibition though, however much you feel you have failed to do, is that the idea you started out with grows and changes over time. So that by the time you finish the show you have something new, and hopefully improved, based on where you started. For me, this is a chance to pilot an idea that has yet to be fully realised. I hope to find another space, one to which I can bring all my experience and knowledge gained during the Castle House show, and create a wallpaper installation that pushes the tensions between art and interior space even further.

Over the next week I intend to use this blog as a space to note down thoughts surrounding the content and research of this piece of work. Moving from a journal of practical documentation to one of insight, commentary and speculation.

You can see When the Walls take Flight at

Castle House, Angel Street, Sheffield.

18th to 28th September, 10:30am to 5pm daily.


My wallpaper for Sheffield Bazaar at Castle House is inspired by the up/down motion of the lifts it surrounds. With two opposing arrows against the tops of the doors which signal the movement of repetative behaviour, once enacted in the busy store of Sheffield Co-Ooperative, the vertical arrangement of my pattern is a hypnotic affirmation of the remaining space. Up. Down. Up. Down.

Situated at the bottom of the spiral staircase, the paper might be luxurious decor or a forgotten memory. It is made of two tiles: birds and squares filled with stripes. Nature and geometry. Nature for the wildness of the building’s abandoned interior, flown through by dust, rubble and now my swallow like creatures, who echo the same fligh path as the previous public journeying on the lifts. Geometry for the 60’s modernist grids of shape, line and blockiness. Castle House boasts columns and walkways and boxed rooms from floor to ceiling.

I wanted to play with the idea of a vertical pattern set against a decidedly horizontal wall. Birds that flock outward from the walls will eventually deviate from their path in origami form.

Making the paper was the resultof a carefully mapped process and an unpredicatble rhythm. Ink, print, pull. Ink, print, pull. Ink, print, pull. Hang, Repeat. Coming back again and again to fill in the areas of unmarked surface where the ink was waiting to dry. Like laying a table first by fork, then knife, then spoon and circumnavigating each place before moving onto the next.

In the studios at APG Works Sheffield, I watched and learned the art of a lull and a flurry – slow waiting and methodical movement, furious printing at the fast hurried rolls of paper. I hope this is echoed in my work as the walls are soothed with the familiarity of a vertical motion and made alive with the frantic flight of birds.


I went to look around Castle House a few days ago. The building stands entirely empty in the once bustling market area of Sheffield. Since Castle Market re-located to The Moor (the opposite end of Sheffield’s town centre) the area has suffered a decline into abandonment that is not un-noticeable. Fast food chains and second hand pop up stalls are all that populate the streets, alongside Argos, Primark and a handful of barely noticeable shop fronts.

Castle House itself is an imposing build, languishing on the corner of the block like a tired animal. The facade is granite with a zigzag canopy and the windows are occupied by disused signage. It is simultaneously imposing and blank.

I met my contact (I find it amusing to refer to them as such) outside the main entrance on the street and, when a few more artists arrived, we headed into the dark cave like mouth of the former shopping centre. The corridor was wide and bright, suddenly I could recall the stalls, people and products that had occupied its walkways. Upstairs, old cashier desks formed the remnants of the old bank and mini-market stall displays stood ready in hope of new ownership. We followed the overtly grand spiral staircase into the first floor where our exhibitions will be.

I must admit I found the sheer size of the space overwhelming. There were so many corridors and rooms that I was reminded of the book House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, in which a house interior impossibly exceeds the dimensions of its exterior and becomes an all-consuming mystery. By my second visit, however, it had started to feel a little more familiar and the walls became less like silent strangers and more like pleasant acquaintances.

I paced the floor in search of a suitable wall for my paper. Most of them flaunted cracks and rubble, dented surfaces and broken plaster. My contact stood me in front of a large, marble facade facing the entrance to the staircase and boasting two large lift doors. “I think this would be great for your work!”  After a lot of hesitation, frowning and open-mouthed gawping at the grandeur of my new wall, I knew that my contact was right. This was a feature wall, a wall for an occasion. Just one problem… was made of marble.

So, here I am three weeks from show date and preparing to wallpaper an enormous marble wall. With much help from the University (and a theoretical plan to temporarily resurface the walls with boards) I hope to make this wall my own. I would have loved to work directly on the surface of the building, creating something that spoke to the abandonment of a space by covering and exposing its nakedness. I would have loved to peel back the wallpaper and reveal a marble interior. But, as this project is teaching me, there are some obstacles that have to be worked around, not papered over. The marble wall must stay intact. Perhaps my paper will offer an interesting shroud, a secret covering of something hidden and precious: the essence, the value and the unchanging steadfast nature of a place.