The Thing or The Oh Noeux Tapestry is a year-long work of endurance embroidery I began 1 January 2017 and completed 31 December 2017. It is a fourteen-metre long document of the news as well as my wrestling with the bias and deficiencies the process revealed about how I consume information.
On this monumental work is a small orange circle of felt depicting Trump Trout, a character created by Lewis, a CE Academy student. A fish with the face and bouffant of Donald Trump who shouts non-sequiturs, in this particular case Trump Trout is yelling “ChiNA”.
This is how Fermynwoods gets you. They reel you in (pun intended) with the promise of a quick couple of workshops, hit you with a 13-year-old sarcastic genius, and the next thing you know you’re working for them every week as Education Coordinator.
My first two workshops as a guest artist at Fermynwoods, Lewis and I formed a bit of a mutual admiration society. He enjoyed my American accent and I loved listening to his political knowledge and opinions. After seeing his drawings and experiencing his sense of humour, I introduced him to David Shrigley’s artwork. He picked me as his Arts Hero, interviewing me for his Arts Award. When his original Trump Trout drawing, created in a workshop led by Louise Clarke, made it into The Open 28 exhibition at Leicester’s Old Library Gallery, I sped up to the first staff member I could find to buy it.
I was in the midst of making The Thing during my second workshop at Fermynwoods. I’ve often said that the excluded students Fermynwoods works with are my favourite art critics, so I happily brought the work along to show them before introducing some basic hand sewing skills. Though he liked The Thing, try as he might Lewis could not get on with the needle and thread. But he drew Trump Trout on that orange felt.
After the workshop I emailed James Steventon. Could I maybe have Trump Trout to finish with hand embroidery? Did Lewis want it back, or would he be ok with me attaching it to The Thing? I soon received the felt Trump Trout in the post and immediately embroidered and attached it to The Thing, sending a photograph back to Fermynwoods so Lewis could see.
The Thing or The Oh Noeux Tapestry has since been exhibited in Manchester, Cambridge and Derby. It’s such an emotional work for me because of how much time I spent with it, how often it accompanied me on journeys, and the personal memories and experiences which infiltrated what I originally expected to be a mere documentation of a tumultuous year. So it’s very fitting that Lewis’s Trump Trout is part of it. Our mutual admiration society led me on my way to being a more permanent part of Fermynwoods.
In this Arts Award book, Lewis wrote, “Even though Jessica has influenced me maybe I have influenced her as well.”
You see? That’s how Fermynwoods gets you.
Look out for more Alternative Monday posts every fortnight, looking back on some of our favourite alternative provision activities.