Creativity serves a thousand purposes. It’s something we like to lose ourselves in, but creativity can help us to find things too; like-minded people, success, a career calling or simply a new passion or hobby. For Laurie Harpum the concept of lost and found, and the importance of creativity, are both integral parts of her exhibition which is very aptly titled Lost and Found.
Perhaps you noticed that the cabinets at the front of No.34 were full of creative curiosities in April. From cliff creatures to clay creations, there was a whole crowd of found objects re-purposed with a passion. The phrase ‘found object’ comes from the literal translation of the French objet trouvé and relates to natural or discarded objects often found by chance. The objects, held to have aesthetic value, are then reworked into an artistic context, ready for new audiences to find new meanings. Laurie is something of an expert when it comes to found objects; not only is she excellent at actually finding the objects, but her vision for recreation is consistently eye-catching. Unusual but unique, Lost and Found is an exhibition worth losing yourself in for a moment or two.
Sometimes art just happens. A doodle on the edge of a napkin or an idea for a story that just pops into the mind in a matter of minutes. But sometimes the creation of art is a process; ideas don’t always just manifest themselves (even though we often wish they would!) For Laurie, this process seems to be doubly layered as she both unearths new ideas and quite literally unearths the objects she works with as well. ‘Walking on the beach on my own is a big part of sort of feeding my creativity,’ Laurie explained earnestly, ‘And obviously the things you find feed your imagination’. In amongst her extensive exhibition, Laurie showcased segments of sea glass and other metals she found washed up on Sheppey’s sea fronts. As a result of this, there’s very much the sense that each creation has been on a journey: from something old to something new, from something discarded to something purposeful. In this case they’ve been on a temporary journey from Sheppey to Sittingbourne for this exhibition too, but most significant of all is their journey from being something lost to something found.
The magic of Laurie’s work is how much life she breathes into each new art piece (which might be considered a tad ironic when occasionally they start as actual natural remains). Although much of the exhibition was contained – it’s not spilling down the Stairwell in the way Rikard Osterlund’s waterfall of photos did – Laurie’s pieces speak just as loudly and proudly. In fact the cabinets were full of vibrancy, with the varying heights and density of the different pieces. They acted almost as a contrast to arguably the most featured piece of the exhibition. Suspended on the wall, front and centre of the Window Gallery, is a striking sight. Like many of our exhibiting artists, Laurie’s work is visual but it’s also dimensional. Protruding from the wall was part of a large branch, to which four of Laurie’s carefully crafted clay creations were firmly fastened. Ascended above the branch was a cumbersome metal chain and the end of a fork, its prongs hanging downwards in a way that seemed to be simultaneously ominous and optimistic. Is it suggestive of destruction or discovery?
The piece in question was created specifically for this exhibition, in a bid to bring together Laurie’s other creations. ‘I wanted to make something that brought together some of the different aspects of what I make’, Laurie acknowledged. ‘The cliff creatures originated from found stuff,’ Laurie informed us, while the global village and survivors ‘originated from the plight of refugees.’ Laurie truly excels in using her work to uncover and draw attention to societal issues so ‘it wasn’t difficult to choose’ what to include in Lost and Found. In fact, the exhibition first obtained its name because of the combination of ‘the found items and the loss of humanity’ that Laurie has discovered through making her work.
Part of the joy of exhibitions is that creativity and curation can elicit more than one interpretation. Like with any exhibition, Lost and Found presents us all with the same pieces of work but it’s likely that different people will take away completely different messages. This idea of infinite interpretations manifesting from the same starting point was apparent during Laurie’s fossil making workshop, too. Laurie led each person through the process of casting their own fossilised creations, using an assortment of found fossils sourced from Sheppey’s shoreline. Despite having access to all of the same materials, no two people produced the same final fossilised design. From dinosaur feet to a skeletal diplodocus, No.34 was full of interesting and intricate fossils by the time we closed at 3pm!
The process for making the fossils is simple but seriously effective. Starting with a plastic tray of clay, you form indentations to create a design you like. Using clay makes this a flexible process – if you make a mistake, you just smooth it over and start again. Once you’re happy with how it looks, it’s time to mix together some plaster to cast the finished design. Pouring the plaster on top seals the indented design in place and then it’s left to dry for a night or two. Laurie was on hand to help from start to finish and with close to thirty drop-ins, the fossil making workshop was a certified success. You can even check out our Instagram page for a few behind the scenes pictures from the session on the day.
The fossil making took Sittingbourne by storm and we like to think that we’re contributing to improving the creative landscape across Swale and Medway by offering different workshops like Laurie’s each weekend. ‘I think there’s amazing, creative people in every nook and cranny of the country,’ Laurie motioned emphatically, before telling us about the many merits of Love Sheppey. ‘When I first started to move out into the creative world in Swale, I didn’t know a single artist in 2013.’ Now, it’s a different (and much more positive) story. ‘All of a sudden I knew thirty artists,’ Laurie marvelled, full of hope that the creative community continues to expand.
‘I think having No.34 here is great. I think it makes Joe Bloggs in the street realise that there is stuff going on, there is creativity all around us. I’d just like to see it grow and become bigger.’
When Laurie was first asked to put on an exhibition at No.34, she admitted that she was ‘on the verge of not showing anything ever again’ but in a happy turn of events, coming to No.34 might actually have been a source of inspiration. For one, it inspired Laurie to create the piece that was in the window and all of us at Ideas Test hope she continues to create such excellent, empathetic work.
So if, like Laurie, you ever find yourself feeling a little lost, why not see if art or creativity can help you to find a sense of meaning? Take a stroll on Sheppey’s shores and see what you can discover! And if you’ve found a sense of enjoyment from any of Laurie’s work, feel free to visit her website for more information.