Maggi Toner-Edgar, Viri Sica and Rebecca Beinart worked together to create costumes for a performance and film in Crow Park in Keswick. This was part of the National Trust’s Desire Lines project. Desire Lines was conceived by Rebecca Beinart, and the work included filming by R L Wilson. Here, Maggi reflects on the work, and the collaboration, in the context of Artful Ways, and she, Rebecca and Viri share their answers to the three Artful questions.
“My name is Maggi Toner-Edgar, from Cockermouth and my stitching colleague was Viri Sica who works in the repair workshop of Alpkit, Keswick and she lives in the town.
I made my Artful Way walk through the ‘Desire Lines’ in Crow Park, starting at The Theatre by the Lake, as a reflective moment after the filming of an art project. It really is an important space for me and my husband, as we walk there at weekends, often around the lake and into the footpaths up local fells. Also I remember way back, when the Blue Box was still there (the forerunner of the Theatre by the Lake) and it was part of exciting summer evenings out. Even in my teenage years I did seasonal work in Keswick and lived with my sister in the town. It is all full of happy memories linked to the amazing environment. When I found out that Rebecca was doing the ‘Desire Lines’ National Trust project I felt that it was perfect for me and me for it – especially as it was linking sculptural fashion to the outdoors. I love the the newspaper article which called them ‘Outlandish Costumes’.
I was chosen by Rebecca Beinart to help her and Viri Sica design and make 7 costumes, including hoods, for performers to wear as they acted out the findings of Rebecca’s community-based art project. On reflection, the best bit about this for me was meeting Rebecca and Viri, and Jessie, who is a National Trust worker. Rebecca and I worked in a collaborative way and we were both inspired to make the 7 pieces using recovered tents, outdoor clothing and gliders that would normally be for landfill.”
Answering the 3 Artful Ways questions
Creativity – What do creativity and culture mean to you?
Rebecca: To me, creativity is a fundamental part of human-ness, and is present in so much of what we do. I often work with other people, and I really enjoy the creativity of conversation – responding to each other and coming up with ideas that you might not have come to on your own. It’s a way of remaining playful, and open to the unexpected. Spending time working in Cumbria, I was really interested in the term ‘cultural landscape’ – reading the histories of different cultures in the landscape, and understanding the ways that cultural traditions, agricultural and industrial histories have shaped the landscape.
Maggi: My creativity is my reason for being and the landscape I live in has impacted on me a lot. Every Fashion shoot I do happens in an open air, Lake District environment, every garment I make is usually from natural fibres – using slow hand-made non-environmentally damaging processes. I do cherish Culture – the tracked walk passed by the Theatre-by-the-Lake – which has sadly been pretty much in darkness for 2020.
Viri: I’ve always felt, since I was a small child, that I had the power to create the world, environment, toys, siblings that didn’t exist with whatever was available to me. Creating things that don’t exist out of what’s already there is the most satisfying feeling. Creativity is and has always been a lifeline, but also a way to not get drawn into materialism. Where there’s no creativity there’s a big void, that more often than not is filled with buying new stuff.
Connectivity – Covid-19 has forced us all to reimagine ways to connect. What have you missed – and what new possibilities have opened up?
Rebecca: It’s been really challenging to develop a socially engaged art project during a pandemic! Lots of the ways I would usually work have been impossible, so I’ve had to find different approaches. Over the past year, when I couldn’t visit Keswick, I ran online workshops and talks, devised explorations for people to try out on Crow Park, created podcasts with RL Wilson that capture the themes that have come up in conversations throughout the project; and made a temporary artwork as an exchange point in the site. As restrictions have eased, it’s been great to work in person with small groups again, and so exciting to creating the costumes and film with amazing collaborators. As Maggi says, we might not have met and worked together in this way if the project had happened as planned last year. There’s been something about working on this project, where despite the challenges, it has felt like the right people and connections have happened at the right time. I’ve met and worked with a whole range of brilliant creative people in Cumbria through ‘Desire Lines’ and these connections will lead to more conversations and collaboration in the future.
Maggi: I began to forge a new social enterprise during lockdown, its aim was to encourage people to be more mindful of what they throw into landfill sites, encouraging people to learn how to repair and renovate through stitch. During the pandemic the earth seemed to breathe again more freely – with fewer exhaust fumes – wildlife flourished. Unfortunately, creative venues closed and livelihoods have altered, I have missed my creative connections with others. BUT, I don’t think I would have met you two wonderfully creative women, Rebecca and Viri had it not been for lockdown. Rebecca’s commission for the National Trust on the Desire Lines project meant she searched for supporting makers, so it was a project made for Viri and I, as it was all about repurposing new from old and creating theatrical and sculptural shapes. This was a great opportunity as an art project with strong environmental links. The resulting performers looked amazing.
Viri: Connecting has been harder in the last year and a half, but in a way its importance has also become cemented. We have all become aware of what we have missed, and have found new ways to connect. Having said that, physical connection with friends through good old fashioned hugs and dancing are still a long way off, but repairing kit for people, making things for the local eco shop, meeting for walks/swims, and being involved in the Desire Lines project with a bunch of awesome people have all helped forge new unexpected connections as well as keeping many old ones safe from the danger of being lost.
Place – How can we, collectively, and artfully, better care for our environment?
Rebecca: During the development of the ‘Desire Lines’ project, I’ve walked this same area with lots of different people. There’s something powerful about getting to know a particular place through different seasons and from may different perspectives. An important part of the project has been experiencing the same landscape through many different people’s eyes, and also paying attention to more-than-human experiences. Taking better care for places and our environment means paying attention to the many layers – and sometimes conflicting needs and opinions – that are always present in our complex and entangled world. I think that art can play a role in bringing these multiple stories into view, and offering a space for imagining different ways of doing things, listening and or collectively creating different stories for the future.
Maggi: I feel that my sense of pride in the place I come from has become heightened, even more cherished. It feels like my knowledge has never been more relevant than the present for endeavours to protect the environment. As a designer, stitcher and pattern maker, I feel that my input on the ‘Desire Lines’ has helped me to be more determined about using my ‘Re-Create’ learning programme to teach people to care for their garments and repair, repurpose and re-create them. The Desire Lines project outcome was very timely for me as I have been working on repair and repurpose right through lockdown – and finding methods to teach people to do it themselves. The contacts made with two like-minded, community artists/environmentally-minded makers was invaluable. We wanted to record our individual answers to your questions collectively.
Viri: If it wasn’t already painfully obvious, it should have become so even more now. The environment/planet we live in is in mortal danger and we need to act fast to save it. We need to replace streamlining with diversity, and we need to stop equating success with financial growth. Education and creativity are at the centre of this; if we can inspire other children to be happy through creating their own world, repurposing what they already have, rather than buying it, then we’re half way there.
The Desire Lines project is part of ‘Trust New Art’, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts, supported using public funding by Arts Council England. You can find out more here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/desire-lines
And you can find out more about Maggi Toner-Edgar’s work here: https://www.toneredgar.com/