During the restoration of Roker Lighthouse, the original flooring was too damaged to repair and was removed. North-east artist Helen Pailing describes how she turned the old flooring into works of art.
We interview North-east artist Helen Pailing about her involvement with Roker Pier and Lighthouse, and why she took on the challenge to make art from the old flooring from the lighthouse.
How did you first become involved with Roker Pier?
I'm currently based at National Glass Centre (NGC), University of Sunderland, studying for an AHRC funded PhD. My research is exploring what it is to 'recraft waste' and for the past two years or so I've been making artworks utilising some of the waste glass from NGC.
A fellow glass artist had passed my details to the Roker Heritage Group who suggested I might be interested in using the salvaged parquet flooring that had been replaced in the lighthouse.
What were your initial reactions on being told about the parquet flooring and what did you think when you saw it for the first time?
I said "yes" immediately to the offer of the flooring, without having any plans for it at the time. I could imagine the creative potential for using the boards - not only because the objects are steeped in history of place, but because there were hundreds to play with and I love working with multiples.
When I went to the storage container to see them for the first time it was the strong smell that struck me first. Many still had the layer of bitumen on them that would have been used to glue them in place.
I started to think about what it is to relocate a floor. A lot of my work is temporary and often looks precarious and so I began to imagine a work out of something that is often seen as stable and solid. The relocation of the flooring could be a way to explore the connection between the sea and the displacement of people.
Have you created artwork with other unusual items?
All through my career I have tended to use materials that have been cast-off or disregarded as waste. Using materials destined for landfill has become a way to acknowledge the value in all materials, a sort of gentle activism. The materials I've worked with include x-rays, landcoil pipe, spent cartridges, baler twine - all sorts! My background is in contemporary embroidery and so stitch often underpins the method of working.
Was the parquet flooring artwork available for members of the public to see?
A couple of months after I'd found out about the floorboards, I was invited to exhibit in a group show 'Materiality' in The Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick upon Tweed. I decided that this would be an ideal opportunity to make new work from the oak flooring. I arrived at the gallery with no fixed plan and worked intuitively with the flooring and other found materials. This exhibition can be seen on the tumblr site: https://materialityexhibition.tumblr.com/search/Gymnasium
Tell us about your involvement with the Roker Pier Glass Heap Challenge too
There was a relationship already established between the University and the Roker Pier & Lighthouse as Senior Lecturer Inge Panneels had arranged for student projects to happen with help from Matt Storey. We sat down to plan a symposium to conclude these student projects and the idea for the Glass Heap Challenge evolved from there.
The idea for the challenge was conceived by Matt Durran. His aim is to get artists and designers to use stockpiled glass to create inspiring or innovative work that encourages the discussion not only of waste glass but of waste materials in general.
I raised funds to bring Matt Durran to Sunderland as well as other glass artists to run demonstrations down at Holey Rock Corner. I also raised money for materials to transform an old ceramic kiln into a portable furnace. I coordinated staff and students who formed small teams and worked with various salvaged materials from NGC. All the work was then taken into the Pier & Lighthouse at the end of the day for a temporary exhibition.
Photo credit: Matt Storey