Ever been presented with a tablespoon of dead ‘beetles’ from Mexico?

Susie Reade explains what she did when this happened to her.

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‘These are female cochineal scale insects – not everyone’s idea of fun but they are mine.’

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Susie ground them up and used the precious commodity sparingly –

‘after all it is the dye stuff of fifteenth century popes. Paupers were punished should they ever manage to afford to wear red outfits.’

‘Red is a highly charged colour. The Virgin Mary was painted by Van Eyke in red until that was considered too sexy, too female and suggestively fertile – then she wore blue.’

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‘I dyed cotton, horse hair and wool which came out in various hues (alum mordant) with little explanation for their differences: pink, dark purple, dreaded mauve (lots) and magnificent Virgin red (unfortunately 50cm of wool only). The most depressing mauve had an extra dunk into boiling onion skins to add a bit of hopeful gold. The scramble of drying rags looked dreadful.’

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‘Fellow MESH artists had already created beautiful work in ochres and browns. Mauve is not cool. Time was running out. So I willed the sewing machine to work and I stitched the rags together. Of course colours placed alongside each other start relating. To give some structure I took ideas from Korean ‘bogaji’ and made seams overlaid with wool.  It began to almost look quite nice. But ‘nice’ is not really ‘art’ is it? And the whole piece is not well constructed so it doesn’t classify as ‘craft’. I think it treads the borderline between beauty and ugliness. Just to make sure the piece couldn’t be described as ‘pretty’ I honoured the scale insects. I drew their portraits and printed those onto the cloth, just to make sure the piece isn’t pretty.’

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Come along and see Susie’s finished work at our Earthworks Exhibition, opening on 24th April at Patriothall Gallery, Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

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