Friday, 6 July 2012

MEND*RS SYMPOSIUM: The work & the event

On 29th June- 2nd July 2012 I attended the MEND*RS research symposium which was hosted in the various out-buildings of a beautiful farm in Docker, South Cumbria. This event was first ever large-scale gathering dedicated to mending in the UK, with a series of events, publications and activist projects around mending. Visit the MEND*RS website here.

The site at sunset on the first evening, and a handmade sign in situ on farm building

My contributions to the symposium included hand-made signage for the site, a set of artist’s multiples in the form of ‘Helping Hands’, both of which were created before the event to be installed on-site. Throughout the duration of the symposium I worked to create the ‘MEND*RS toolkit’ which became an assemblage of practical & usable materials gathered on site as a document of activity. More about the separate pieces of work below:

The printed hands on canvas before being cut out to go their seperate ways
Helping Hands
These were a series of life-size helping hands, carrying out direct (mending) action. The images of working hands were taken from household repair manuals of times gone by, and aimed to bring ideas of craftsmanship and mending into the future to promote positive direct action and the idea of ‘leave this place better than you found it’- a permaculture principle. 
The collection of 12 Helping Hands

A Helping Hand at work to highlight an area in need of repair
The hands worked on-site wherever they were placed by visitors and participants to highlight mending activity that needed to take place or were positioned to highlight a completed repair job. The hands were distributed by participants at the symposium and it was great to see the hands re-appear across various locations on-site.
Mended Rug: Repair job higlighted by tomofholland

Repair needed on upholstery fabric of an old chair

Some remained on-site: in the library (seen above), which also housed a selection of books that consituted the MEND*RS library

The Library

One of the hands became a gift to the farm’s resident mender & Folk musician Steve Grundy as a thanks for the folk music, singing, & stories he offered, his lathe workshop demo and his friendliness. 

I also enjoyed being shown his father’s signwriting set, (seen above, with one of his father's postcards)

I hope the remaining helping hands will find equally suitable homes too. 

I also intend to develop more of these ‘helping hands’ as interventions to highlight areas in need of mending in various locations.

The signs I created were made from canvas scraps, natural resin-based emulsion, emulsion paint, food colouring, natural beeswax, found wool, & recycled paper. I was originally inspired by the MEND*RS theme and made use of graphics of working hands (the same used for the Helping Hand Artwork) taken from old DIY & repair manuals- in keeping with the MEND*RS theme.

I enjoyed making and installing these. They fit in well on the site too, amongst a patchwork of brick, stone, wood, and metal of the buildings that have been functioning workshops and barns for many years.

The process of making these signs was a return to working with textiles and some painting and printing methods I love.  The stencilled lettering was created using ‘The Econasign Super Outfit’ sign writers set from 1928, which is always a pleasure to use. I took the stencils on-site for people to have a go with too, to create labels for the MEND*RS Toolkit...


The MEND*RS Toolkit was intended to become assemblage of practical and usable materials, including swatches, tools, index of artists, handwritten instructions & techniques, collected on site to  document the activity at the MEND*RS Mending Research Symposium.

Contributions were invited from all practitioners involved, resulting with an assemblage of site-specific materials truly representative of the mending activities that happened on site throughout the duration of the symposium. 

The box for the toolkit was completed on site and was created from a salvaged kitchen wall shelf and scrap ply wood, I created hinges using the left over canvas scraps from the sign-making.

I had intended to paint the whole toolkit black, however I did like the look of the scrap wood remaining on the outside, with pencil marks and notes from the making process. I am still debating whether or not to paint it black.

The toolkit also contains a hand bound booklet which is where the conributions were archived. Each contributor labelled, numbered and descibed the material along with any related processes and techniques.


Thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute and archive their material. The toolkit is still being compiled with some contributions to arrive by post. 

Below: Contributions coming in (left to right)
tomof holland writing up his darning technique
MEND*R Jonnet Middleton
Steve from Flowering Elbow

The complete toolkit and each individual item/materials with corresponding labels and info will be photographed and mapped for an on-line version to exist. I hope the toolkit will provide a visual & physical documentation of the 1st MEND*RS symposium, that can become an accessible resource and archive of the activity that happened there. 

Some of the mending activity that became documented in the toolkit:

tomofholland reparing Jonnet's trainers with jute string & darning wool

Clare Thomas' Rubbish Walk

Resident Mender Steve Grundy in the workshop

Unfortunately part of the MEND*RS site had been flooded the day before the Symposium was due to start, due to the rainfall, and a cobbled yard 150 years old had been churned up and destroyed. In true MEND*RS style a group got together to level the ground once the water had receded. 

On a personal level, the toolkit became a means of meeting individuals and exchanging conversation & materials. It provided a great platform to meet other menders and gain insight into their working practices and methods of mending. The toolkit assemblage really shows the vast variety of materials and processes being discussed and put into practice by many skilled menders throughout the symposium. I will treasure it whist it remains in my hands, however I am still thinking about where the completed toolkit should reside and any suggestions would be welcomed.

I think I should also mention the amazing food that was created in the MEND*RS kitchen, which fuelled the MEND*RS throughtout the weekend- Thankyou!

And we were treated to folk songs, music and antics each evening Thanks to Bill Lloyd and Steve Grundy, amongst others & a gaint tea pot full of local ale!

Old tools ready for the 'guess the tool' game
This teapot was huge- picture doesn't do it justice

I will be writing another follow-up blog post about my personal experiences and thoughts about the MEND*RS Symposium, and also look out the online version of the completed MEND*RS Toolkit within the coming months.

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