Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Talking Rubbish with Fran Crowe

Some of you may remember my excitement over the wonderful and thought-provoking exhibition that I visited at Landguard Fort in May, called Walking to Save Some Sea. If you missed it, click here to read my review .

Well, here's some more excitement because I have managed to catch up with the Suffolk artist behind it, a lovely lady called Fran Crowe.

After a couple of busy months, we finally managed to meet last week in the picturesque setting of Ipswich marina. And for two hours we chatted like a pair of old friends who hadn't seen each other for years. You would never have guessed we were strangers.

And yes, we talked about rubbish and as you can see for yourself, I couldn't wait to ask Fran about her art, her inspiration and her recycling and I am pleased that she was able to oblige.

You address a number of pertinent issues through your art. What inspired you to start expressing yourself in this way?

Whilst studying for my degree (which I completed in 2006), it became clear to me that I did not want to be the kind of artist that creates beautiful things. Lots of artists already do this really well and in any case I think nature does a much better job of beauty than I possibly could. Rather, I wanted my art to ‘create waves’ and to provoke people to think differently about the world - but in an engaging and often playful way. I am concerned about the damage our lifestyles are doing to the world and am really interested in the ways that artists might use their creativity in response to the massive problems that we are facing as a result of this.

If you could pick one project, which has been the most significant and why?

Definitely the marine litter project ‘Walking to save some sea’. As well as being my most ambitious project to date (it took me a year of walking on the beach just to collect my 46,000 pieces of litter), I was also able through this project to connect something local and that I could see for myself with a global problem about the state of our oceans, caused by our runaway consumption (and careless disposal) of plastics, in particular. Also I really love just being by the sea, and collecting, so it was good to do too.

I loved the Walking To Save Some Sea exhibition, could you tell me more about the project?

I started the project having no idea what I would do with all the rubbish I collected but sure I would come up with something! I was then really lucky to be awarded a bursary and solo exhibition by Babylon Gallery in Ely which was a great opportunity to do something really creative with the rubbish. Initially I was just going to dump it in one big pile iin the gallery but realised this might shock people but would not give me the chance to engage people with the issues. So I spent hours sorting the rubbish - by colour, by material and by use (eg paintbrushes, pens and pencils etc). I used these to create huge floor displays as well as a museum-style area of ‘collections’. I really wanted to bring my exhibition back to the Suffolk coast and was lucky to secure Landguard Fort for this. The fort is a stunning place with amazing huge rooms and lots of character - and I was more-or-less given the run of it, an artist’s dream! I was able to extend the exhibition and create some really eye-catching installations.

How long did it take to set up at Landguard Fort?

It took months of preparation and the actual installation took several days. I had so much choice of space and a third of a tonne of rubbish to create things with. It took a whole day to take down too... I was lucky that the Suffolk Coastal refuse collection service agreed to deliver all my rubbish to the fort too which was rather appropriate.

So where do you store the items you collected?

I am lucky to have an outbuilding which is meant to be my studio. Unfortunately it is mostly filled with rubbish and other stuff I can’t bear to throw away these days. It’s hard to find space to work!

You were recently featured on Radio 4's MidWeek show. What was that like?

I thought I would be really nervous and was terrified I’d say something stupid but the other guests really made me feel quite at ease. It was a great experience!

What impact has your work had on your home-life in terms of managing your household waste?

We have always recycled as much as we can but my research into the impact of plastics, in particular, has made me quite obsessive about trying to recycle everything I can. Even then, I think some things - although useless or broken - are too good to send for recycling so I am saving these and thinking about how I might use them for a future project... I also try really hard to avoid products with unnecessary packaging but it is very hard. Most of all I am trying to cut down on inappropriate use of plastics - you certainly won’t find me buying any more ‘disposable’ cups and things for barbecues and picnics.

What is the hardest thing to recycle at home?

I am particularly fed up with cellophane type wrappers that you get on so many products and which you can’t recycle. I bought a lampshade this week and it was wrapped in yards of the stuff. I try to avoid crisps and biscuits bars which are wrapped in it but with teenagers in the house I don’t really get away with this.

What is your next project going to be?

I’m not sure yet. In the past I have worked with fresh air and also earth so anything is possible! But I am sure it will have a strong environmental message and, knowing my habit of collecting stuff, it’s very likely to involve lots of discarded objects in some form or another... And I’d still really like to exhibit ‘Walking to save some sea’ in other locations so am working on that too... fingers crossed!

It was a really wonderful experience meeting Fran and after two hours of chatting we are both now buzzing with lots of ideas and even future possibilities of collaborative work. That would be so much fun! Something tells me we're going to see each other again soon and I am now champing at the bit to go and take a peek at her barn in the other side of Suffolk.

To find out more about Fran's inspirational work, please visit her website You can also listen to Fran's recent appearance on the Radio 4 Midweek week show, by following this link:


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