06 September 2017

Shambala 2017 - the shapes inbetween

Why hello there! Seeing as I haven't posted for nearly 6 months, I bet you thought I'd given up didn't you?! Well you're wrong, you couldn't be more wrong - I've just been busy. I've been busier than a busy person who's incredibly busy! In those past 6 month's I've moved house, changed jobs, and wrote a host of patterns (I'll write more about all that in following posts - when I get round to it).

But on the bank holiday weekend, I did something rather special. Any regular readers will know I'm a long time attendee at the amazing Shambala festival, and this year I got to be a bit more involved than usual.
I've made this quick video to show you everything first before you scroll down and read my ramblings. (WARNING - contains flashing rapid images and watch out for the kick drum)

This was my 10th year at Shambala festival, and ever since the first one I went to I've always loved and wanted to be involved in the enchanted woods. It's a magical space that focuses on putting on a visual and interactive spectacle of art, light and sound. It's a beautiful area to just go and explore, especially if you need to chill out a bit if the festivities are getting a bit intense.

So this year I got organised, submitted my idea and got a phone call to tell me my application was successful. And that was it, I'd signed myself up for a big project that I'd wanted to do for years, I was ecstatic but filled with mixed emotions - had I bitten off more that I could chew? There was only one solution, knuckle down and get on with it, failure wasn't an option, so I spent the next three month's crocheting like mad to get it done on schedule. (p.s. if you click on the images you can see a bigger version)

My piece was titled 'The Shapes Inbetween'. It was three square crochet pieces (I guess you could call them collages) that were hung in parallel. Each piece was a metre squared, and as I crocheted every shape individually and then hand sewed them together, you can see why it took me 3 months.

The images were essentially a continuation of what I've come to see as my signature style with my artwork - abstract geometric shapes that clash and dissect with each other. But with this project I tried something different. Many of the shapes were made using a filet-style grid stitch rather than my usual solid fabric dc's (although it had them too). This was so that when you looked through one piece, you could see through it and pick out shapes from the pieces behind.

Although I'd worked really hard on them, there were a lot of unknowns. In the days leading up to the festival I was so mixed up with emotions and nerves that I really struggled with keeping myself calm. I'd run out of time and good weather to try a test run, I didn't know exactly where they would be placed in the woods, where the trees would be positioned for me to attach them to, what the ground would be like for anchoring, etc. Eventually I just had to tell myself that I had several backup plans and that it would probably be fine. So when they were finally in place and I could look at them fully stretched and in position, I was overjoyed to see that I had actually materialised the idea that was in my mind and that it actually worked!

But seeing it in place was only the beginning. This wasn't like just showing work in a gallery, this was Shambala! And when the sun goes down, things go crazy. My work was no exception!

Much of the art in the woods either incorporates or uses lights of some sort. With my work I had specifically chosen colours and yarn that would react to UV light and would glow in the dark. I actually blushed with glee when I first saw it lit up, as again (being totally honest) I hadn't had a chance to properly test how much it would glow. I was shocked by how bright it was, you could see it  all the way from the other side of the woods!

The UV light transformed the work into a completely different entity, different shapes became the focus, different colours showed up through the gaps in the stitches. People tried to pick out shapes or find messages... there wasn't any, it was completely random bar some specifically placed shapes that I imagine only I could pick out (there's three squares hidden in a diagonal form).

You might be thinking, "that's great, but how is it interactive?" Well, this work was designed to be touched. From previous exhibitions of my work I know that there's something about fibre art that makes people unable to stop themselves from feeling it (even if there's signs saying not to). I deliberately made this and positioned it so that people could touch it, could walk around it, could see the front and the back as an object in three dimensional space.

As an artist it can be quite confronting to put your work into the hands of the public (especially at somewhere like a festival where not everyone is exactly sober), so I had to view this as an personal exercise in itself - this was a gift I made for the people, if it got ruined or destroyed so be it, it was made for what it was made for. I resolved to not let myself be bothered by how people treated it, as long as they enjoyed it, I doubted anyone would be willfully malicious to it. So other than going back in the mornings to perform some routine maintenance and make sure it was still safe to the public, I pretty much just left it for people to enjoy as they saw fit to.

People touched it, pushed it, pulled it, spoke through it, put their fingers through the holes, wrapped themselves in it, kissed through it...and eventually once this had all taken it's toll and the work had sagged a bit, some people even used it as a hammock and climbed on it. It was an interesting experience witnessing this, I don't look at it as a bad thing (I didn't want to be the fun police and tell people what not to do), it means it was played with and loved...and I got to learn some lessons too which is always a positive thing. Plus after all that it's taken on a slightly weathered and experienced look, I'm tempted to put them in some big frames now - rips, holes, mud and all!

So yeah, that's what I got up to. This was an incredibly important experience for me that will hopefully help towards my artistic direction in the future. I have a host of people to thank, firstly loveknitting.com who graciously supplied me with their awesome Paintbox yarns to make this with (it won't be the last time I use their yarn now that I know how well it works under UV lights). None of my usual festival companions could make it this year, but my friend Benedict who stepped up and became my assistant for the weekend truly was a legend, if it wasn't for his level headedness, companionship and sociability, I just know there would have been tears. Also, my friends, colleagues and wife showed immense belief in me and gave me so many encouraging words, which I'm thankful for as I do believe there were moments when I could have given up. And finally, of course I want to thank Shambala, especially Morgan and all the woodland crew - thank you for giving me this opportunity, I hope to see you all and work with you again in the future.

Oh yeah, and it wouldn't be a Shambala post without some recommendations (I've even made them as links to youtube vids so you can easily check them out), highlights for me were Vaudou Game, Derek Gripper, Bulldozer and STUFF. Oh and the deep fried okra from Zoe's Ghana kitchen and the cricket brownies from the garden 'o' feeden were delicious! Until next time, peace out y'all x


  1. Congratulations! What a wonderful work! I loved seeing your process and the pieces installed. It was thrilling to see the beauty of the colours in the UV lights.

  2. Wow that looks amazing. Well done for making your art and being brave enough to let go of control once it was up!

  3. Hey Mat, so happy to read your latest blog post, I had indeed thought you’d taken a break from it 😊 I hope everything is going well for you both...this post made me smile, the video is incredible and your piece is truly inspiring ☺️ Well done, I know how hard it must have been to relinquish control once the piece had been put in place, I don’t think I could have done that...Gray sends his best wishes too...look forward to more posts xxx