Jane O’Sullivan, 26 January to 2 February 2019

I spent my amazing week of solitary isolation working on a project about the all-consuming news about Brexit. I set myself parameters for making the work: no use of electricity and my only access to news was via a selection of newspapers bought locally on a daily basis. I had no radio, television or computer but could make and receive phone calls and texts.

I set out to make something to send to every MP in the House of Commons. The divisions and concerns that are being caused by uncertainties around Brexit made me want to do something positive, to make connections, ease the tensions, perhaps help MPs take extra care over the decisions they are making.

I made luggage labels, embellished with die-cuts of butterflies which were made from brown and white paper, tracing paper and the articles I read from each day’s news about Brexit. They were stitched, painted, beaded or printed. I cannot know how each recipient interprets their gift but the butterfly motif was used to suggest the “butterfly effect” – the idea that something small can make a big difference. Butterflies are fleeting, only exist for a short while but often raise people’s spirits and hopes.

I used the dictionary in the studio to find words of encouragement to send to MPs. The words were typed using a Silver Reed manual typewriter. I wanted our politicians to return to old-fashioned, polite and considered ways of working and used words such as “decorum”, “measured” and “sincere” on each label. This was a huge project and at points I feared I may not finish it. I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction and confidence in my ability once my original idea was realised.
On my return I began the job of addressing envelopes to the long list of MPs. I understood I could not just turn up at the House of Commons with my large box of envelopes. I phoned the security office and had a very positive response. They said I could drop off the envelopes in East London where they would then be sent onwards for distribution in the House.

Prior to the residency I read “How to be a Craftivist (the art of gentle protest)” by Sarah Corbett. This project was carried out in that vein – to offer something handmade, with a message or suggestion for MPs to consider. I quote from the book: “A gentle protest approach is in line with our goal of doing activism in a beautiful, kind and fair way that models the world we want to live in”.   I will be posting photographs of the labels on Instagram in the days up to 29 March 2019 so hope to reach a wider audience.

And when all the wars are over, the butterfly will still be beautiful.”     Ruskin Bond
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