I was one of thirteen British fashion designers invited by English Heritage to respond with art installations rather than garments to the neo-classical architecture of Belsay Hall.
I chose to respond not to the grandeur of the building but to its hidden history, that of its former employees. My project explored how a designer can excavate traces from the past and use them in a creative format to pose questions about class and working people in pre-war Britain.
I started with the oral history archives of English Heritage, listening to interviews with Belsay’s gardeners, huntsmen and domestic staff in the 1920s and ‘30s. I then created a two-room installation that consisted of thickly padded walls using 10 tonnes of fresh white laundry sourced from a London recycling centre so that the fabrics already had a past life and a patina of age. My use of recycled ‘poor’ fabrics underlined my focus on the lives of working people rather than the landed gentry.
I thus pin-pointed traces of history and the past through the material memories and evocative associations of old cloth. For the sound, I collaborated with the sound artist Scanner who mixed fragments of stories told by the original staff.