Together with Cordelia Rizzo and Mario Barragán, we arrived to begin our residency at Flowerfield Arts Centre on the 19 June. Even though we had already worked together to create Abrazo Entramado 1.0 (Woven Hug) last year at LABNL, the Cultural Lab from Nuevo León state in Mexico, we were not quite sure about what to expect… The mornings begun too early, and we could still swim in Strand beach until late hours in the evening as it seemed like the sun never wanted to say goodnight.
Woven Hug is a participatory textile installation, inspired by Conflict Textiles’, and particularly the ‘arpillera’, a traditional South American embroidery technique over burlap, to bring a community together to create a large-scale hug with recycled fabrics. We had spent a year coordinating the project with different partners but our biggest concern was knowing if the local community were going to have an interest in getting involved…
The workshops begun well, as through our four collection points at Flowerfield Arts Centre, R-Space Gallery, Ulster University and Queens University we collected over two cubic metres of recycled fabrics. We started receiving more and more proposals from collaborators wanting to engage with the project. From groups like Can Can Coleraine wanting to include adults with disabilities, to VAST (Victims & Survivors Trust) using stitching as a non-verbal method to share their sad memories of the Troubles, to students, artists, families and a group of textile artists involved with the Linen Biennale Northern Ireland. Suddenly the power of the needle to stitch stories together activated word of mouth attracting nearly two hundred participants in three weeks of embroidery workshops.
Workshops were not designed as a traditional craft course, but stitching became a storytelling archive. Some attendants to the workshops used the space to embroider the invisible divisions that might still persist after the Good Friday Agreement, others remembered stories of the Linen Industry in the region, others used the ‘arpillera’ as a political tool for resistance, and some attendees used Dr. Cliff Henry (National Trust) presentation to embroider Northern Ireland’s coast biodiversity and how it’s being impacted by Climate Change. The large scale of the Woven Hug, 20 m long, gave a space for everyone to feel included.
The day of the installation arrived, and the rain didn’t cease. I kept telling the team of volunteers that this just added more drama and that it would make the evening more remarkable. In contrast to Mexico, we made sure to cover the inside of the structure with heavy duty plastic and we filled the structure with recycled plastic and bottles to make it waterproof. Thanks to the support of the Arts Council England, the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and the Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, we managed to finish this community effort on time, which will not only embellish the façade of Flowerfield Arts Centre, greetings its visitors with a hug until the end of August, but it showed how waste can be transformed into something beautiful when communities come together.
The Woven Hug community textile will be installed on the façade of Flowerfield Arts Centre until 31 August 2023.
Find our more about the Woven Hug project:
Find out more about the work of artist and facilitator of the Woven Hug project, María Teresa Chadwick Irarrázaval MRSS:
Text by Tere Chad