Lois Walpole: Weaving Ghosts is an exhibition that focuses on ghost gear*, basketry skills and sustainability. The work of Lois Walpole is intrinsically linked to the materials used to create it, and tells a powerful story of our attitude to the environment, exploring the artist’s personal history to express universal issues. Using ancient and almost forgotten basketry techniques, Walpole’s cheerful, colourful vessels belie a deeper truth and stand as silent testaments to the problems facing our planet.
From the artist, “My great grandfather was a fisherman and crofter on the island of Yell (one of the larger Shetland Islands, the most northerly islands in the British Isles). He had 13 children, which was not unusual at the time, and he was necessarily resourceful. He made his own ropes and baskets from the materials he found around his home, which at the time was straw, marram grass and field rush. Today, washed up on the beach below his house are plenty of strong colourful polypropylene ropes and assorted plastics, commonly referred to as ‘ghost gear’, that he would have been excited to find and would have made good use of. It is these materials combined with some natural leaves and rushes from the same locations, that all the objects in the exhibition are made of - I do not buy materials.”
The discovery that plastic could be made from hydrocarbons in oil, which made these polypropylene ropes and plastics possible, was the same discovery that proved to be a major contributor to the demise of rural basketry traditions in Britain and elsewhere. Many of the ropes and containers used in fishing and farming that were once handmade out of natural materials, are now manufactured quickly and cheaply out of polymers and plastics. The two things are inextricably linked and this connection is a major source of inspiration for this body of work.
The exhibition is made up of installations and individual items, and is a deliberate mix of both functional and conceptual pieces in order to create a visual dialogue about both basketry skills and material values. Whilst these skills are no longer required to create the baskets and ropes that were once the tools for living, they are transferable in many ways and as such it is beholden on us to use them in creative ways in order to preserve this valuable empirical knowledge for future generations.
*‘ghost gear’ is the name that has been internationally given to all the ropes, nets and plastic debris that finds its way into the sea, most of which, but not all, is there as a consequence of commercial fishing practices. It is not only polluting the environment but is also dangerous for shipping and wildlife.
About the artist
Lois Walpole was born in London of Anglo Scottish heritage. She graduated from Saint Martin’s School of Art, London with a BA (Hons) in Sculpture in 1975 and obtained City and Guilds qualifications in Basket Making from the London College of Furniture in 1982. In 2003 she completed a Doctorate in the Design department at the Royal College of Art in London. Since 1982 she has worked full time as an artist/ basket maker taking part in and curating national and international exhibitions, working to commission, designing for production, teaching and writing. From 1972 to 2005 she lived in London. Now she divides her time between the Shetland Islands and the Charente, in south west France, where her studio is based.
Main Image: (Detail) North Atlantic Drift (2014 - 2019) © Lois Walpole
Install photography © Corey Bartell Sanderson