HMP Styal / National Trust Quarry Bank Mill
Commissioned by Quarry Bank Mill, central to this project was the collaboration between two artists; one in prison, and one out of prison – me. We worked together to create two pieces; one to be exhibited in A Woman’s Work is Never Done and the other to be exhibited and donated to, Her Majesty’s Prison Styal.
As the lead artists, one of our aims was to reach out to other women at HMP Styal to encourage their participation and their contribution. In our conversations, we found parallels in what we experienced as women, prisoners, and artists, when confronted with limited resources; we are very practical, creative and productive. We found that this experience often went unnoticed both by us and the larger community and created a gap in the full picture of what we contribute.
I was told that women in prison are incredibly creative with one of the free resources they have in prison; sanitary ware. They created a list of some of the uses, and we made artwork out of the resource.
Here is the list they made for the exhibit;
• Used to create sheep for an artwork
• Used as insoles in boots and shoes
• Used on windows and doors to stop them from banging
• Used to put foundation on
• Used on the feet when cleaning the floor
• Used on mirrors for a streak free shine
• The insides used with rizlas to make filter tips
• The insides used as snow on the windows at Christmas
• Used to revive a broken lighter
• Used to apply blusher
• Used to dress wounds
• Used on partitions to stop coats from falling
• Used on windows to block out light
• Used to spin a taper
This was an important example of the skilfulness and adaptability of these women. The various uses are skills passed on from woman to woman as they come and leave the prison: decorative, useful and sometimes essential. We decided to use sanitary ware as our art material. It created no risk to the prisoners we were to work with. It would illuminate to the women their ingenuity and creativity. It became the thing that reflected back to us the gold thread that we each have within us but can easily forget, the work we carry out that is just what we do, not paid for or recognised externally.
This artwork was site specific and is now part of Quarry Bank Mill’s collection.
The second artwork is a blanket created with designs that the two lead artists created. It now lives at the prison.
Here is the prisoner’s response to being involved in the project;
“I appreciated and benefitted from being involved in a different way of making art – it’s not just about drawing and painting. I think it will influence my artwork in the future.
It was exciting having something exhibited in such a public place. I especially liked the idea that the exhibit created debate because of its medium – sanitary ware. We didn’t make this obvious so people had to work hard to find out what it was about and it stirred many conversations when Lauren and I were installing.
I enjoyed the collaboration with another artist and would do this again.”
The artwork highlights and celebrates this rich vein of resourcefulness demonstrated by women, be they mothers, artists, prisoners or scientists.
Artist Pam Armstrong also kindly contributed two pieces that she created from tampons. One was integrated into the piece at Quarry Bank, and the other exhibited at HMP Styal.