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The Drift by Eloise Moody

Posted 16.07.21

When a friend of Turnbull and multi-disciplinary artist and maker, Eloise Moody, contacted us to get involved with her latest installation project, we could not help but oblige. Investigating memory, absence and belonging, through a socially engaged practice, Moody has worked with The Museum of London, Kettles Yard, Metal, Kew Gardens, the Art Lending Library and BMAG, among others.

Her newest work, The Drift, available to view at the London Wetlands Centre until November 2021, and supported by Turnbull & Asser, explores migration and exchange. We caught up with the artist following a week installing the work in the torrential rain.

Turnbull: We are delighted to have contributed Turnbull shirts to your latest project, The Drift, at the London Wetlands Centre . Please tell us more about the project, how it came about, and how our shirts have gone to use?

Eloise: I began by tracing the migratory paths of all the birds that visit the London Wetland Centre in spring, compiling a thorough list of countries that these incredible birds travel from or journey onwards to.

As some birds take flight, their wings beating sound almost identical to the snapping of shirts drying on a line on a windy day. I wanted to draw delicate correlations between the journeys that the birds make to those of humans.

People from all over the world come to live in London, so I found 40 Londoners who either originate from or have lived in the countries from my list. I asked each participant to do a shirt swap – an old one for a beautiful new Turnbull & Asser shirt. Each old shirt was recut into a windsock, and all 40 now fly in formation at the Wetland Centre.

The Turnbull shirts were not surprisingly very happily received. Like any 40 people you may pluck off a London Street – some will own and happily buy genuinely nice shirts themselves for others it will be something they wouldn’t be able to afford. Some of the participants were seeking asylum and told me how they had arrived in the UK with only the clothes on their backs, relying on charities for more clothes, so the Turnbull shirt was a lovely exchange to make. (For participants not in a position to spare a shirt, we substituted one on their behalf)

What was the most intriguing thing you found while working with people from all over the world who all chose to settle in London? Is there a shared thread between them?

The youngest participant is 1, and the oldest is 91. Thirty-six countries are represented, and people are from all walks and stages of life: diplomats, refugees, children, retired people, poets and security guards, writers, scientists, and baristas. People have moved here for a change of scene, a new job, to study or find love, while for others, it has been imperative. One woman fled the Nazi’s over three-quarters of a century ago, whilst others have fled dangerous and unliveable situations very recently.

Although this work is ostensibly about migration, it is more simply about people. The shared thread is quite simple and applicable to all of us, whether we have moved across the world or down the street. People will continue to seek ways to improve their lives – by moving to where opportunity or safety can be found. I find it a supremely hopeful act.

Can you please explain what a socially engaged art practice is? And where do you get your inspiration for this kind of work?

For me, it means creating projects with people, often from specific groups or communities. Sometimes this is just talking, understanding different perspectives, and gathering new things to think about. Other times, the participants are more central to the outcome – like with The Drift. There must be exchange and agency for the people I work with. I want them to get something back that is worth having, whether that is a beautiful object or a meaningful experience. When I planned The Drift, I wanted to give all the participants the best shirt possible in exchange – which I why I approached Turnbull and am completely delighted that you said yes!

I have worked with all sorts of people, from nuns and senior citizen cyclists to security guards and those who are last in the family line. Everyone has something extraordinary to share, and when it’s all added to the melting pot, the flavour of the work becomes, without fail, much richer.

As well as your art practice, you are a renowned milliner – showing in London and Paris Fashion Week. Can you tell us a bit about your time at Moody & Farrell (and dressing Paddington), and I wonder how our relationships with clothing and accessories relate to the themes explored in The Drift?

I spent seven years making hats under the name Moody and Farrell. I loved the variety of materials and techniques you can explore in millinery - particularly with straw. Hand sewing is quite a meditative act, and the outcome is a direct expression of the time and care that went into it. For The Drift, a large section of each windsock is hand sewn, using different techniques, including knotting. It takes much longer, but I wanted to give time and attention to the garments I was working with. They used to be belongings of the participants, worn against their bodies, and now given to me. By applying artisanship to each one, I reinforced their value.

And of course…. Paddington! It was such a pleasure making the hats for the Paddington films. What a lovely hat to make and what a polite young bear to dress!

During the lockdown, you created The Caretakers. You worked with institutions and the workers protecting dormant galleries and collections. Please tell us a bit more about this project and how you stayed creative during the pandemic.

During Lockdown no. 1, when our national collections lay suspended behind locked doors of museums and galleries, I thought a lot about the only people who did have access to these treasures – the security and buildings teams. These are people that know cultural spaces and their collections incredibly well – although not necessarily in conventional ways.

I worked with six museums, including the Museum of London, Kettles Yard and Royal Museums Greenwich, recruiting a security/buildings team member from each. Although remotely, I worked closely with them, and I taught them how to make recordings of themselves talking whilst walking through the empty buildings while on shift. I turned the recordings into six eight-minute audio pieces. Each person spoke about something that resonated with them within the collection they look after because they were alone and essentially talking to themselves, the results are intimate and funny and moving. They feel like a gift. As a listener, you feel as though you are invisibly perched on their shoulder, noticing what they stop to consider as they go on their rounds. I really recommend a listen.

Finally, how long do we have to go and see The Drift, and have you got any more works in the pipeline?

The Drift will be at London Wetland Centre in Barnes until November. Then I am keeping it local as I will be an artist in residence at Orleans House in Richmond this autumn. I will start work on a second series of The Caretakers – this time working with museum and gallery cleaners.

Find out more about Moody’s practice here.

Image credit, Julian Abrams. 

Daniel Challis

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