Each month one of our Directors chooses an art.earth member to become ‘Artist of the Month’. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month’s selected artist is Myka Baum selected by Lucy Kerr (May 2020). For context, the UK and the rest of the world are still very much in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently running a fabric cutting hub where we make scrubs for the NHS. I responded to a call for home seamsters by London Scrubs Hub who initially supplied volunteers lengths of fabric for cutting and sewing at home.
With a background in garment production and operations management, and having grown up to factory life, I set up the N4 Cutting Hub in order to streamline the workflow and increase output. I happen to live in a church with a very spacious hall and a good number of tables and chairs and
so The Factory was set up. The fabric is cut in bulk at the hub and distributed by volunteer drivers to an army of around 150 people who donate their time to sew the garments at home before returning them to the hub for delivery to hospitals, doctors, care homes and the likes. Volunteers, with their respective skills sets, have been recruited through local Mutual Aid groups and our respective professional networks. We have quickly grown into a somewhat chaotic hub with around 20 hard- working devotees and a group of tea fairies who look after our physical well-being.
Like many an initiative during Covid-19 times, the project came about through necessity and without forethought, inspired by the newly unleashed power of the community.
Time for thinking has been short and intermittant. I have, however been asking myself fleeting questions such as whether this project is art, and if it is, what it is that makes it art? Is it just because I am an artist that it might be considered as such? I’ve been contemplating the astonishing power and generosity of the people: the coming together of communities that nobody knew existed; the generosity of local businesses who have loaned us serious kit in order to increase our efficiency and reach our common goal, to protect NHS staff and thus our species. I’ve been aware that I have flourished during this crisis. I would never have had the confidence to set up a project such as this had I had time to think it through and more so, had there been any finances involved. This leads me to think of the hub as an example of what an alternative economy might look like. And perhaps it is in the thinking about these alternative ideas for an economy and a society, that the answer to whether or not this project might be considered art lies.
What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?
My practice is inspired by the fragility of nature. Whilst the current project is not representative of my work to date, it is driven by my core values of compassion and empathy with the aim of protecting the overlooked and the disadvantaged.
Are there any particular artists / others who have had a profound effect on you?
With regards to this project there has been little time for reflection or research. Hence I’m talking off the top of my head. The project that has been at the forefront of my mind with relevance to both my work to date and the current project, is Art.Earth Soil Culture. At the time of seeing it and reading about it I largely considered it for for the ways in which the different artists, such as Daro Montag and herman de vries ‘[sic]’ expressed the sensitivities of nature. In the context of the current project I’ve been considering Claire Pentecost’s work in particular, in which she examines the idea of soil as a commodity. I have been sensitive to Assemble for their collaborative projects with communities. Last but not least, the N4 Cutting Hub, which is essentially the start-up of a garment factory, draws me to A Real Job Is To Make Something by AIR, highlighting the closure of a local factory, Wearite, in 2018, which had made country clothing, duvets and sleeping bags for 40 years. The project told the story of the sadness over its closure and the loss of community. It questioned the value of ‘making’ which has seen a u-turn since the current pandemic. I can’t help but think again and again, about the dismantling of that factory full of skill, specialism and expertise, its machines being sold off and dispersed. And then there is us: volunteers, some professionals, some amateurs, making cutting workstations by pushing together a few folding tables, borrowing a few machines, co-ordinating an army out of nowhere, making things up as we go along, and making a pretty damn good job of it. What could Wearite have achieved if it were still there?