Human life in a coastal town is literally kept moving along by buoyant objects. Leisurely sailors and working commuters alike are protected by the presence of lifejackets and held proud of the water by buoyant design. For the coastal dweller such objects are part of the vernacular yet on a broader scale, buoyancy has accrued associations of human risk and political ideology. Against this symbolic backdrop, buoyancy for me also has a personal resonance; it’s the language of where I come from but it’s also the language of survival in turbulent times.
During a research and development residency at Aspex Gallery, I documented the evolution of the lifejacket over an eighty year period using the archives at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and began to play with form and symbolism. I developed a hand knitting lifejacket pattern that utilises end of line Axminster carpet wool. The work explores the role of the individual citizen and amateur maker in providing their own support system in contemporary society and through the use of specific materials, explores a resourceful reinterpretation of British identity. More information about the research can be found here on my blog.
The following images show the beginnings of investigating forms and graphical symbols in relation to the lifejacket and include initial experimentation with Pine tar as a painting medium. Pine tar was historically used to waterproof rope and wedged between deck boards of naval vessels to prevent leakage. This process of caulking is still the preferred conservation method used on historic ships.