London based designer, Ella Doran, has created an exhibition based on wool.
Emily Ashworth meets her before the opening of her new creation at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to talk sheep, sustainability and art.
For an exhibition focused on sheep farming, you may be surprised by this particular one at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) and, as far as first impressions go, it is noticeably colourful. The gallery space, a small room sitting on the top floor in the main building, is stylish, light and airy.
The walls are adorned with a selection of vibrant textiles, fabrics and outdoor photography; there are two originally designed chairs placed in the middle, all of which are inspired by the sheep that graze some of YSP’s 200 hectares of land.
Titled Sheep to Seat, Fleece to Floor, the exhibition is the brainchild of Ella Doran, who wanted to showcase the challenges faced by the sheep and wool industry and, more so, how society can become more sustainable in the products we chose to, for example, use, wear, and eat.
A textile and homeware artist at heart, Ella has managed to elegantly highlight how entwined farming is around us all, by allowing visitors to witness the stunning wool creations she has made while viewing Fabric of the Land by Paul Wyatt, a 12-minute-long film and short documentary featuring the farmer, Charles Platts, through to the scouring of the wool and, finally, showcasing the end product.
As a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Ella was inspired by one of their projects, The Great Recovery which, she says, ‘looks at circular economy and expands into food, fashion and much more.’
“It was about raw materials and waste – and why we even still have that word,” says Ella.
“We need to move on and realise we have to be more regenerative.
“That has been the seed of what I wanted to explore.
“I came to YSP in the summer and the sheep had just been sheared. It was the magic moment when I just thought about wool and its fantastic biodegradable qualities.
“It has lost its value over the last few years when really, it built Britain over hundreds of years.”
The exhibition has been two years in the making and, after raising enough funds, is now supported by the likes of Campaign for Wool and British Wool.
She also worked closely with Charles, whose family have farmed at YSP for more than three generations.
He runs about 160 predominantly mules or Texel crosses which are put to Beltex or Suffolk tups, breeding butchers’ lambs for market and the wool is sold to the wool board.
The flock graze the 36-hectare country park section of YSP and his family, who bought Home Farm in 1954, have grazed the land from the park’s inception in 1977.
He says: “Normally we clip the wool, deliver it to Bradford and that’s the end of the journey for us.
“It was nice to see it as a finished product in the exhibition and I think it’s important to stress the range of goods that can be produced from regular commercial sheep.”
All in all, Charles says Ella used about eighteen months’ worth of wool from his flock, which was all purchased through the wool board.
He also feels the message she is trying to convey is a good one.
“Sustainability is a buzzword at the moment and I can appreciate the angle Ella is coming from,” he says.
But for two people with such different back stories, both Ella and Charles are aiming towards the same thing, which is to make that connection with the public who are more removed than ever from farming processes and their integral link to how we live.
Charles says: “People don’t have a connection with finished goods, but education is probably where we fall down the most. I’m getting used to people coming up to me more and asking questions about the sheep.”
It was also about showcasing the versatility of what is one of the most natural fibres in the world.
Ella says: “I wanted to show how we worked with the wool and how much you can do with it – and this is just from the sheep that graze here at the park.
“It feels really manageable for the public to understand that through the exhibition.
“They can view the film, they can see the sheep, watch the process and then they are surrounded by the artefacts.”
To encourage people to think more about how they live is quite clearly something that makes Ella tick – and right at the start of the exhibition is a circular image which denotes the cycle of farm to finished product.
“It has been fascinating for me to learn more about the husbandry of the sheep and how the industry has changed over the last century, too,” says Ella.
“Even the manufacturers I’ve worked with have said, for example, ‘I am not sure we can use this as it might be too coarse, so we will have to use it for carpets.’
“There has been a real downgrading of wool and the more we educate, the more the individual can be conscious and changes can happen.”
She also believes times are changing and, as people become more environmentally aware, we are ‘going to see more connection with farmers as time goes on.’
She says: “I do think it is about celebrating what the land has to offer and keeping it local – I like the saying, think globally, act locally.
“I want this exhibition to show that way of thinking via the way we collaborate with people and the way we use materials.
“Value – that is the word that comes up.
“How do you value the things you have in your life and home? I am about homewares and I wanted to show provenance, so you can really track what is on display here.
“Change can only come about by all of us individually becoming a bit more aware of how we operate.”