As part of the upcoming exhibition A History of Unnecessary Developments, made together with artist and poet S J Fowler and which opens on 19th April at the Willesden Gallery in London, I became interested in working with frottage.
This surrealist technique, often used by children, is in fact a wonderful way of getting to know a place through touch.
The ongoing Wormwood project seeks to capture and preserve (on film, and in words) the liminal zone of Willesden Junction, Wormwood scrubs, Kensal Green Cemetery and the adjacent areas of NW10 London, which have become the epicentre of a new redevelopment called Old Oak Common Regeneration. This means that many of the areas we have been exploring and filming since 2015, will be transformed beyond recognition.
Frottage is a method which enables me to literally transfer some of the unique textures and qualities of this overlooked in-between land onto paper. It is a perfect technique to archive a place and keep alive, present because it is precisely these textures, imperfections, uneven surfaces, blemishes and hidden tactile treasures that give it its sense of identity, embodied memory, history. And these are the qualities which will be wiped away, made clean, generic, making Wormwood amnesiac.
The first frottage excursion took place on 23rd March. It was just two of us, and it was a cold day and our hands hurt as we took the various rubbings around Willesden Junction station. I was immediately intrigued to appreciate how my relationship to the place changed through this process and how I got to know this familiar location anew through this process of rubbing. Having to kneel down on the bridge for instance created an unusual distortion of the existing soundscape, with the sounds of trains reverberated differently. Taking these imprints also meant being closer to the ground or the wall, not only feeling the textures with ones fingertips, but also smelling various odours (not always very pleasant). A very intimate knowing.
The second excursion took place on 31st March and it was a glorious day of sun and heat, unusual for March. There were 5 of us this time, all women and all artists and/or local residents with either a direct interest in the area, or in the method of frottage and sense of touch in general.
We begun by taking imprints of the tunnel under a bridge just behind Willesden Junction station, focusing on the glazed and crumbling bricks and the ground just next to it.
The second location was the ‘trainspotter’s bridge’, where two gentlemen were getting excited by trains whizzing below (it was a Tuesday and apparently that is the busiest day for train traffic). It was a curious encounter between two groups of enthusiasts with two very different goals: Yet despite the difference there were also resonances in our shared focusing of attention on something that most passerbys ignore.
The resulting works will be assembled into a textural representation of Wormwood, a kind of map, bearing the marks of the place, the weather and the hands that have impressed them. The textures will also become part of an animated film.
If you are interested in the project and want to join me for the next frottage walk, please get in touch HERE
To read more about the overall project and the exhibition, please HERE.
Thank you to fellow frottagists: Layla Murga, Adonia Bouchehri, Sue Saunders, Elaine Gristock, Harriette Meynell And to artist and curator Nadia Nervo for the opportunity to exhibit at Willesden Gallery.