This case study, which explores a participatory textile making project, is written by Karen Grøn. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
LIGHTHOPE – crocheting hope during lockdown spring 2020
Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any
Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Craft and Design; Textile artist Hanne G. and conceptual designer Rasmus Bækkel Fex.
Participation, engagement and generosity is the DNA of Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Craft and Design. Trapholt has 3000 m2 of gallery space based in the suburbs of the town Kolding, in Denmark, and receives 80,000-100,000 visitors yearly. We focus on transformational impact and relevance to a broad group of users of the museum.
The Trapholt vision is to create a museum community where citizens and audiences engage in contemporary topics through artistic questions, craft materiality and designer solutions. Trapholt seeks both big and small transformation and impact in the people and society surrounding the museum.
Context for project
Trapholt never really closed during the first covid-19 lockdown in Denmark spring 2020. The first thing on our mind was how we could contribute positively to help people through the crisis and the fear, isolation and loneliness from the situation. Thus, Trapholt during the first three weeks of lockdown created the participatory art/craft project LIGHTHOPE, which ran from 1st April 2020 and the following two months during lockdown. We installed LIGHTHOPE in the museum as the contributions arrived at the museum during the lockdown and what became a 50 metre long installation was ready for the public to enjoy when the museum reopened on 1stJune.
When did the project take place?
1st April – 1st June 2020.
Background(s) of the practitioner(s)
Karen Grøn is museum director at Trapholt. Since 2015, she has curated large-scale participatory craft/art projects, resulting in unique and prize winning artistic installations with 300-1000 participants. The participants are always citizens with an interest in the craft or the subject used for the project. The artists involved define the overall artistic frame with room for participants to express themselves.
Aims of project
We wanted to bring people together in a project about hope, creativity and community. We wanted to empower people and give them the opportunity to feel they could do something, contribute and give creative form to their thoughts.
Description of project
On 1st April 2020 Trapholt launched LIGHTHOPE via SOME platforms and in the national media by inviting people to crochet “lightbulbs” that could bring light into dark times. Hanne G. created instructions based on yarn in popular colours many people might have in their drawers: beige, white and yellow. A toilet roll core was the socket, with ironic reference to the initial hoarding of toilet rolls in the first days of the lockdown. We asked participants to follow very simple rules and inspired them to be as innovative as they wanted to be in the crochet pattern, mix of colours etc. With these lightbulbs, Rasmus Bækkel Fex created the LIGHTHOPE installation structure for Trapholt’s central gallery, a 50-metre long corridor that all visitors enter. It was like a pergola, signifying a tunnel with light at the end, which we all had to go through during the lockdown. Overall, 2000 people participated on the Facebook platform and 987 participants from Denmark, Iceland, Germany and Faroe Islands contributed 1629 crocheted lightbulbs. They became a long installation down the central corridor gallery welcoming visitors as Trapholt reopened on 1st June.
LIGHTOPE was a project full of risk. We had no idea how long the lockdown would be, how many contributions we would receive, and how big the pergola construction was to become. We boldly announced that we would crochet until the day Trapholt would reopen. Through Zoom, we shared the process of constructing the pergola and mounting the lightbulbs with our participants through real time museum visits. We used Zoom to invite the participants to visit the artists in their homes and studios, and the participants could join conversations and ask questions. We created online crochet clubs in breakout rooms, where people would join in and crochet together across the country. Zoom was a new tool for many, and we had a telephone hotline to help people learn to use it.
Facebook became an important platform for community building. We created a specific Facebook page for the project, where people could share thoughts, ideas, yarn, crochet needles etc. 27 people all over Denmark volunteered to gather lightbulbs from their area, so that participants did not have to mail their contribution to Trapholt. Actually, we did not need that many collecting points, but the energy and local ownership was strong and empowered the collectors to initiatives like putting out yarn and needle tool-kits for others or gathering outdoors. People began to crochet lightbulb earrings and other accessories and shared their contributions, thoughts and stories on Facebook.
When people delivered their lightbulbs, we asked them to share thoughts about lockdown. In most testimonials, the participants express gratitude for the LIGHTHOPE community and the sense of meaningful, shared activity it gave to the lockdown. Many commented that they with the project have taken up craft and crochet, after many years pause or as a new hobby. Small daily joys, less stress and few close family relations have replaced busy daily life for some, whereas others felt isolated and lonely. For most people LIGHTHOPE gave them a community and belonging.
The final art piece is a poetic and beautiful artistic expression of the corona lockdown 2020, with the pergola of lightbulbs that sway 50 metres down the Trapholt central corridor gallery. We could not celebrate LIGHTHOPE with a grand opening with all participants. Instead, we held a virtual opening with a music video with a local singer and cellist performing “Music for a While” by Handel that they could share. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Lh_WlYjuTk
We also invited all participants to visit Trapholt with free entrance.
The participants represent a broad spectrum of the Danish population. The youngest was 12, the oldest 93. Ages were 20-39 (14%), 40-59 (35%) and 60-79 (35%). Geographically the participants came from the same parts of Denmark as they normally do: Copenhagen area (18%), the local region (45%) and the rest from other regions in Denmark. In this sense, Trapholt had a normal flow of visitors during lockdown, just in a different way.
LIGHTHOPE became the culmination of many years work with our community. The project demonstrated to us that we were an agile organisation that could transform our previous practice into a virtual format overnight. The positive response from participants gave us the experience of relevance and of being able to contribute to wellbeing in society, and further rooted this kind of work in the organisation.
Why did you choose to work in this way?
Crochet is a craft which many people have access to do/learn. We wanted to invite as many as possible to contribute and feel empowered to act in insecure times, where nobody really knew how the situation would develop.
What did you learn from the project?
There is a strong power in combining the craft skills among citizens with a strong artistic vision. The artist could never have created an artwork with such a variety and accumulation of meticulousness without the citizens participating. The citizens participating could never have gathered their contribution into such a strong and interesting artistic result without the artistic vision.
“This project has been amazing. We have been apart together. Being part of something bigger has given me hope and a sense of community. The way people have interacted and been there for each other has really been fantastic. It has given me hope for the future and lightened up my every day.”
Quilting the climate crisis during the second lockdown winter and spring 2021:
Trapholt prepared in the autumn a participatory art/craft project to start in January 2021. We wanted people to focus on the climate crisis. Textile artist Tina Ratzer invited participants to reflect on whether they can think of a tree, which has a special significance to them, and then quilt a leaf inspired by this particular tree. In collaboration with libraries, craft communities and nature guides all over the region, we planned local workshops and guided tours in the woods of the region for people to gather, create and have conversations together and with Tina Ratzer.
Denmark had its second national lockdown from January to April 2021. We decided to go through with the project and do all workshops and gatherings online. In January, more than 500 people participated in the initial workshop. We arranged a plant dye workshop from Tina Ratzer’s kitchen, where 300 people logged in from their kitchen and dyed cloth simultaneously. We arranged a communal forest-bathing workshop: 300 log-ins while nature-guides gave a 30 minute sensual experience, where people participated from forests all over Denmark. Every Thursday, 100-200 people from the community logged in on Zoom and visited Tina Ratzer’s studio, where they could have conversations, get tips and quilt together in breakout rooms.
In a survey, we invited participants to reflect on what it meant to them to participate in Among the Trees during the second lockdown. 67% think it was important for their wellbeing during lockdown. Only 25% were initially interested in nature, but 47% had increased their interest in and thoughts about nature. 67% felt the project gave them new inspiration, which they shared in conversations with others. Though 56% participated alone, 87% felt they were part of a community, despite everything being online.
In Monument of Stitches (Artist: Isabel Berglund, 2015-16) 650 participants from six towns knitted monuments for the town squares, which gathered together became a large installation at Trapholt.
In Waste Time (Artist: Anja Franke, 2016-17) 800 participants from seven towns met with Syrian refugees. Syrians contributed with cooking and Danes contributed with white porcelain. After eating together from the porcelain, everybody coloured it with a blue doodle pattern while discussing waste and loss. The porcelain became an installation at Trapholt.
In Thingstead (Artist: Rasmus Bækkel Fex, 2019-20) 300 woodturners turned 1000 sticks into an installation resembling 12 chairs at a historic thingstead.
Stitches Beyond Borders (Artist: Iben Høj, 2020) celebrated the centenary of the reunification of Denmark. 800 participants contributed with embroideries embedded with their personal reflections on borders of many kinds. Stitches Beyond Borders was awarded by the Danish Arts Council. Research shows that participants strongly felt part of a community, creative agency and politically/historically aware after attending.
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