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Lou Baker Tethering our thoughts a participatory installation at Incendiary, Stroud Valleys Artspace, Stroud, Feb 6th -10th 2019

Tethering our thoughts is a site-responsive installation made with red string.

I loved making it. It was magical, like drawing in space or stitching the room!

It was utterly absorbing. It’s my favourite kind of work; repetitive actions with plenty of intuitive decisions, making it meditative as well. I quickly entered that state of flow, where time flies. Bliss!

I especially enjoyed the unexpected ways that the string behaved. At times it looked as if the string were creating spontaneous drawings alongside my considered ones.

The ends of string where I knotted the vertical strands created distinctive, self-supporting marks in space. I found it mesmerising. Next time I want to stitch a whole room!

Incendiary was a multi-site exhibition ‘responding to the firing of industrial incinerators and combustion fallout on human and more than human ecosystems.’ The focus of Incendiary at SVA was ‘Waste’.

As well as being a drawing in space, my installation, Tethering our thoughts, was also interactive. The viewer was invited to become an active participant by adding fruit nets to the structure and by writing their thoughts about waste on a label and tying that to the installation too.

Tethering our thoughts an invitation to participate: Please touch. Walk into the space. Sit, stay a while. In the UK, we use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and only 1/3 of that plastic is recycled. We send over 15 million tonnes of waste from our homes to landfill every year and much of that ends up polluting landscapes, rivers and seas. Write your reflections about waste on a label. Tie it to the installation. Add some fruit nets to the structure. Post photos on social media. Come back and see how the space has been transformed. Thank you for being part of #tetheringourthoughts #incendiaryexhibition #incendiary #waste @SVA__ @loubakerartist #loubakerartist

Day 1, 6.2.19

I added cushions, clipboards, pens and tie-on labels so that visitors could sit and reflect inside the space if they wanted to and left the installation to work its magic‌

Why the title, Tethering our thoughts? Louise Bourgeois describes drawing as a way she tethered her thoughts. I consider this installation to be a form of drawing or mark making - with string, fruit nets and labels!

I also wanted the installation to become a collective tethering of thoughts about waste, almost ritualistic, symbolic somehow of the power of the few to instigate change, a form of art activism.

And why fruit nets? Maybe slightly strangely, I’ve been collecting fruit nets for several years. They fascinate me. They retain a sculptural form even when they’re empty – a ghost-like trace of their former shape, a memory.

For me, they become oddly alluring and unexpectedly ethereal when they’re suspended. They are transformed.

However, they’re actually also a significant yet insidious part of the plastic problem. They’re ubiquitous and they cannot be recycled.

I still find them weirdly compelling and I will reuse my collection in my work but I’m definitely going to stop buying fruit in them from now on!

On Day 2, I decided to remove the cushions, clipboards and labels. When I proposed the installation, I had expected the space inside to be more distinct, a place to sit and reflect, but actually it wasn’t, possibly because it was so close to the door.

Day 2, 7.2.19

I think that this decision changed the work quite significantly for the better. It became much more aesthetically pleasing and more sublime without the visual distractions of the functional elements. It was also site responsive, so needed to be adaptable to whatever space it was in.

The clipboards, labels and pens were still available nearby, however‌.

One unexpected delight is that being by the open door made the fruit nets and string move with every gust of wind. It was captivating.

The string also created more spontaneous drawings which changed as the wind blew and as people interacted with the space.

On Day 2 I also added some more string, partly to make the installation more dense, but also because it was addictive. I wonder what it would be like to set up an installation like this as a durational performance? I’d love to do that‌..

I added some labels with my own reflections about waste to the installation too. I saw them as provocations, a way to start the conversation‌

‘I want to have less plastic in my life but where do I begin?’

‘Being part of Incendiary has really challenged me.’

‘How is it possible to be plastic free?’

‘Putting out the recycling, dutifully, every week made me feel I was doing my bit…..’

I wasn’t in the gallery every day, but, when I was there, it felt like a great privilege to see the different ways people responded to the installation and to talk with them about my work but also about issues surrounding waste.

The reflections written on the labels also offer an alternative, poignant and accumulative response to the installation.

‘It has to be the problem of every company using plastic - cost it into each piece of plastic - so the price will automatically go up and organisations will finally seek alternatives.’

‘A legacy we leave our children to address. Change starts one piece at a time.’

I really liked the fact that some people made their own sculptures with multiple nets‌

.. and some wove or stitched the nets with the string.

‘Jewels, sequins and sparkly wrappers. Babybel bags.’

‘Plastic straws and other things are mostly thrown into the sea. They harm animals who eat them thinking they’re food and get tangled in them.’

‘Stop pointless packaging now if you want my custom!’

‘My eyes are being opened to how we waste and wrap fruit unnecessarily.’

‘I can change, we can change, but policies also need to change.’

‘Stupid plastic!’

‘I hate plastic IN THE SEA!’

I was especially interested to see how young children interacted with the space and materials. It was delightful!

‘Don’t use plastic toys and bottles.’

‘Plastic bags can entangle creatures and animals use them as homes, suffocating them and when a creature licks them they are poisoned.’


‘Insidious plastic….’

‘Can I sew these together to make something new? I’m going to try….’

‘Less plastic more love.’ (in German)

‘Green should be the colour of nature but here it’s plastic.’

‘We build tanks out of cardboard and extinct animals and plants. Caleb Porter’

‘Even small actions, such as choosing not to take your coffee away in a disposable cup, but sit and enjoy in the café in a china cup, make a difference! We all need to make better choices.’

‘Bad plastic. Plastic to jail.’

‘Waste not, want not.’

‘Waste, trash (in Danish). Let’s reuse and not waste.’

‘Pretty but evil.’

I loved the fact that each interaction was different and each changed the installation in some way.

Day 5, 10.2.19

Each day was different as well and over the 5 days of the exhibition the installation was transformed.

It became a collaborative piece. Each engagement influenced how the next person responded. It had momentum....

My dream is to set up a similar but much larger, walk-in participatory installation elsewhere and for it to be in situ for much longer. How would it change over time?

Day 1, 6.2.19

I’d also like to be there all the time, to change the space myself, to engage with participants and also to document their responses and the ways in which the structure would change with time. Maybe I could use CCTV or time lapse photography as well?

Day 5, 10.2.19

As a result of Tethering our thoughts at Incendiary, I have a number of aspirations: 1.Reduce the single use plastic in my life, one area at a time 2.Set up a similar installation somewhere else for much longer 3.Stitch a whole room!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in Tethering our thoughts, to the curator of Incendiary, Patricia Brien, to SVA for hosting us and to all the other artists I met and worked with during the exhibition.

Watch this space! Instagram, Twitter, Facebook @loubakerartist

Profile for Lou Baker

Lou Baker, Tethering our thoughts, 2019  

‘Tethering our thoughts’ is a site responsive installation made with red string. Setting it up was like drawing in space or stitching the ro...

Lou Baker, Tethering our thoughts, 2019  

‘Tethering our thoughts’ is a site responsive installation made with red string. Setting it up was like drawing in space or stitching the ro...


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