Karen making vessel frame with sea rope
Balanced-Earth Biography (and Karen’s)
I started to explore ideas which later became, “Balanced-Earth” in October 2017, finally believing it to be ready to reveal in March 2020, an inauspicious date …
Although named “Balanced-Earth” my kinetic sculptures are really about imbalance. Pivotal points are deliberately positioned in a state of instability. Environmental factors – a breeze, a breath, a person passing – generate movement. With my sixth decade on the horizon, I can look back and see that my creative life contained these pivotal points, moments of interaction and imbalance – which triggered movement and change.
My love of experimenting with materials and processes, began with being introduced to nylon as a jewellery student, my tutor suggesting I include it as an alternative material to metal. By 1992, I’d designed a range of jewellery and was selected for my first Chelsea Crafts Fair, an event in which I exhibited for six successive years. This led to working with galleries internationally, touring exhibitions in Europe and the USA and having my neckpieces included in museum collections.
Imbalance and Responsibility
During this time two incidents occurred. Epilepsy came into my life. No obvious reason. Stress a suggested cause. I tried to understand triggers, could there be anything in how I was living and working which could be adjusted to improve my health?
Then, when clearing out my studio space, I gathered two large, overflowing boxes of nylon offcuts to take to the waste depot. I was informed that all this plastic would go into landfill. It shook me. I was responsible for this. On reflection, I am staggered I hadn’t previously considered what would happen with this waste. From this point on I saved my offcuts, hoping to find a purpose for them, but having no idea what that purpose would be …
It was here that I became interested in working on a larger scale, exploring nylon to make lighting, leading, in time to an MA Degree in Design by Independent Project. Although still working with nylon to make lighting sculptures, I included found objects to convey the narrative. This was new for me. A few years later, in 2004, I created my first Alexander Calder-influenced artwork, a visual connection to what would later become “Balanced-Earth”.
Nylon offcuts from making jewellery
Artist residency at Harris Middle School, 2008
Work. Life. Balance.
Nylon was replaced by waste plastics in my sculptures as my knowledge and concern about climate change grew. I learnt about how to reduce CO2 emissions from environmental scientists at the University of East Anglia during an education project for artists working in schools.
Activism entered my life, generated by fear and sadness but also hope. This was balanced by becoming part of an amazing artistic community at the Barn in Rockland St Mary, a village near to Norwich, which helped me appreciate the joy and relevance of my creativity and the importance of stillness.
During these years, I had to accept the personal tragedy of infertility, followed later by the debilitating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Again, I tried taking responsibility for my own wellness.
In a cafe, having coffee with my mum, I noticed shelves of second-hand books. My attention was drawn to a title “Papier Mâché Style”. I’d had an intense couple of years putting together a project called, “Hope Calling”. The sculpture produced from this, “Nest of Hope”, had just been exhibited in the Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail. After such an intense period, papier mâché sounded relaxing. I bought the book.
Little did I know then that this seemingly unimportant purchase would become a springboard for a new creative adventure …
Nest of Hope at Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail, 2017
My progress reflected in vessels
It was in October 2017 when I first attempted to make papier mâché vessels from torn newspaper with a balloon as a mould. A journey had begun, one that ultimately led me to “Balanced-Earth”.
By this point I was working from home. Despite shedding some of my collected waste materials, those with creative potential remained. I was determined to use these resources for the new idea. What would become “Balanced-Earth” was an alignment of my technical experience, previous inspirations and a passion to be as low impact on the environment as I could manage. And I wanted to include houseplants. My own family of houseplants inhabits every room of my home. I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn’t have them, although never as many as now! Houseplants are a link to the natural world, and this precious connection is represented in my work: plants are both protected and framed. And there is an added dimension, in my sculptures the natural world is protected, not harmed, by the potentially destructive waste that is repurposed.