This grass house is built using method inspired by traditional Native American techniques using typically British materials including wheat longstraw, hazel and willow with hand-dyed jute and leather joints. Inside hangs over 200 hand-cast and glazed earthenware tiles depicting ancestors and narratives of my family. Inside the piece visitors were invited to dance with each other.
I have always been obsessed with these handmade structures. Since I was about 12 years old I’ve had two books that were remnants of my parents’ involvement in the back to the land movement of the 1970’s. These were Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher's Art and The American Indian Craft Book. These books have been hugely influential on all of my work as well as the ethos of my life. For this piece I wanted to create a space for this encounter, another world separate from the surrounding city of London. I wanted to create a space that was evocative of other places and transported the viewer as they stepped through the door. I wanted also to set myself a challenge to see if I could do it: building this structure, learning as a went, to test myself physically, to compare myself to the feat of my father and uncle in my own way. They cleared several acres of woods in north Idaho only using a two-man bucksaw, then built a log cabin only using hand tools, digging out the basement by hand and peeling all the logs they felled using a broad axe. It my own small way I wanted to relive some of this personal mythology, to play a certain role of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Perhaps because of the year’s events, I wanted to channel some of this strength and solitude.
My first challenge with this piece was gathering materials. I had to go far and wide to get thatching straw, gather sticks and timber from the woods, leather, twine, axes, sledge hammers to construct it. I have learned a lot of new skills such as sharpening the ends of posts with an axe, splitting logs using a splitting wedge and wooden shims, weaving hazel, ceramic slip casting and glazing, making my own sewing patterns, sewing dresses, trousers and shirts, meeting with thatchers to learn how to sort the straw and tie it into stooks, learning about old record players and many other things.