Another year, another impressive clutch of work on show at the increasingly essential Liverpool Art Prize – with, encouragingly, artists working in a healthy variety of media represented on the shortlist.
At last week’s winning ceremony held at the Grand Hall in the Albert Dock, Tabitha Moses managed an impressive double: securing both the judges’ and the people’s prize for her exhibit, including ‘Be My Parent’ a moving piece weaving together embroidered pictures of children waiting to be adopted, and exploring the artist’s experiences in trying to have children of her own.
The exhibition, running until Saturday 8 June, is managed by the excellent Metal gallery. Get down there this week.
Can you give us a little background? You come from a costume-making background, yes?
My first degree was in Embroidery at Loughborough College of Art & Design, back in the early 1990s. Then I worked in film and TV costume until about 2001. Sometime in the mid-90s I did an HNC in Fashion and Pattern Cutting at Leeds College of Art & Design.
The TV costume work is less concerned with making than washing and ironing! The job of costume supervisor involves continuity, maintenance and alterations. Organisation and social skills are important too.
In fact, I decided to go back to college and make things when I was working on Liam, a Stephen Frears film about 1930s Liverpool dockers. The costumes (designed by Alexandra Caulfield) were so beautiful I was inspired to get my creative juices flowing again. The following year I began the Textiles MA at MMU.
I still do the odd TV costume job, most recently on Sue Perkins’ Heading Out.
Your work has a fragility and ephemeral nature to it – yet it packs a powerful punch. Do you enjoy that juxtaposition of materials and message?
I don’t consider my work to carry a ‘message’. I just make work about subjects, and with materials, I find interesting.
I do, however, enjoy using the language of materials – the references and allusions that come with different materials. I enjoy subverting and manipulating those allusions.
Can you tell us a little about the creative process? Where does the spark come from?
Most often the impetus to make work comes from a looming deadline. If I hadn’t been shortlisted for the Liverpool Art Prize I’m sure I wouldn’t have made the work that’s in the show. I have loads of ideas that are sparked by people, objects, newspaper stories, charity shops, photographs, museums, boxes of fabric and junk in my studio…but there isn’t enough time to manifest these ideas, what with having to earn a living.
A deadline focuses the mind and gives the work a reason to exist.
With the Liverpool Art prize exhibition coming up I knew I had to make work about the experience of the past few years trying to start a family. This is the first body of work I’ve made about my personal experience – any other subject seemed flimsy and unimportant in comparison.
Are you keen on telling stories? Or do you prefer us to take over, and interpret where you leave off?
I most definitely don’t want my work to overtly tell stories. During the making process I remove all the unnecessary elements so that what is left is more a suggestion than a narrative. I’d rather the viewer brought their own stories and associations to the work.
What about the discipline of being a working artist – how structured an artist are you?
I would dearly like more time to work at being a full-time artist. However, the mortgage has to be paid which necessitates doing paid work in the form of lecturing, workshops and TV costume. I do enjoy the combination of jobs – they each stimulate different areas of my being – but it is difficult to fit in working as an artist.
When I’m making art I love being in the studio where exciting things happen and the work takes unexpected turns. Sometimes it’s slow to develop and exciting things don’t happen – that’s scary – but it is still important to go and work in the studio every day.
Tell us about your winning pieces –
The Wish – the lightbox photo – is made from images of me and my husband Jim (winner of Liverpool’s Best Beard Award 2012, no less) when we were children. The resulting imaginary, elusive child is exactly 50% me and 50% Jim. (pic)
In Vitro I & II – two lightboxes with pricked drawings – show the embryos transferred during two cycles of IVF. You get to see the actual embryos on a screen before transfer. It’s astounding. I thought they looked like they were floating in space surrounded by constellations. The pricked images were made with syringes I had used to inject the IVF drugs. We had one IVF in autumn and another in winter – the corresponding night sky is shown in each piece.
Be My Parent is a series of five embroidered portraits of children awaiting adoption or fostering. Be My Parent is a national organisation that matches children with families. In the embroideries the eyes of these children are obscured by lines of thread – making them somehow inaccessible, out of reach.
What’s life at the Bridewell Studios like? Is its future secure now?
The future of The Bridewell is by no means secure. Through rent rises and dedicated fundraising we have managed to secure payment of our business rates in the short term. Bridewell artists have pulled together during this time of crisis, organising events such as an auction, film screening and live music nights. We are a non-profit-making organisation which shouldn’t be subject to business rates. We do have a pending application to become a charity which, if successful, would cut our rates bill substantially.
The Bridewell is run entirely by member volunteers – treasurer, secretary, caretakers, cleaners, administration, directors – many hours of work each week.
Amongst all the doom and gloom, life at The Bridewell is good. We have a thriving gallery programme, thanks to the brilliant and hardworking gallery committee, and our members are busy around the city and region making art and working with children and adults to further enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts.
I’m not sure you could say I’m part of a ‘scene’. I do have many friends who work in the arts in Liverpool – does that count?
I was probably more part of a scene a couple of years ago when I co-curated The Bridewell Gallery. We exhibited work by artists from other Liverpool studios and held events including music and poetry as well as visual arts. I really enjoyed that but had to give it up in order to concentrate on making my own work.
What does winning the prize mean to you – and the public’s vote too?!
Well, it’s just wonderful to win them both! I hope I didn’t just get the public’s sympathy vote (I’d hate my work to tug on the heart strings in that way). The LAP gallery assistants did tell me that the work had touched several visitors and prompted them to tell of their own experiences. That means a lot to me, though it wasn’t intentional.
I hope the prize has exposed a wider public to my work, as well as curators and funders. I’m keen to make and take opportunities which may not have been possible before LAP.
What next for you?
That’s a difficult question to answer – I’m not sure. I’d like to exhibit the LAP work further afield than Liverpool. As for new work – I haven’t started making any yet. I need a deadline!
More info: Tabitha Moses
The Liverpool Art Prize
Grand Hall, Albert Dock
(until June 8)