Archive for February, 2009

Crochet Placenta

I am attempting to make a large crochet object using red acrylic inspired by the placenta and other body organs. I’m interested in why we see these objects as so disgusting when they serve such wonderful functions. I am especially interested in the placenta as my work is concerned with childbirth and motherhood currently and the fears and anxieties I associate with these ideas. I want to make something grotesque using a traditionally ‘feminine’ craft.

I noticed some of these images are actually conventionally pretty (see above) and I wondered whether or not to make a delicate work. I decided this wouldn’t work as this is not what we see as a placenta usually and I wanted to explore the abject in brutal form.

After a long process of freeform crochet, I eventually made a tube with biomorphic sacks at different intervals along it and of a variety of shapes and sizes. I decided to use an ‘unnantural’ red colour rather than a blood red which draws attention to the synthetic nature of the material and the question of whether an organic object be hand made. I thought of the object being in a giant bird cage. I decided that a meat hook and rusty chain would be effective and not detract from the form too much.

The shapes I made depended greatly on my mood and environment as the whole process took over two months. I made decisions about the intervals between sacks, how loose or tight the tube was and how long it would be which changed on an hourly basis. Sometimes from minute to minute.

I knew I wanted to make a large bulbous sac at the end of the tube which would represent the birth sac for me. I also decided I would like veins to run through it. I tried blue and grey but in the end I found brown to be the most appropriate colour for the piece. At first, I tried to stitch single lengths of wool on with very thin fishing wire but this was lengthy, fiddly and not secure enough. I asked an expert (Sue Debney at University of Salford) and she showed me how to crochet lines into the piece. This was much more effective.

As I was making the object, I imagined sounds that would work with it. I imagined pigs squealing at first. I thought of possibly getting sound from an abattoir. I then thought that actually would be too brutal. I then thought of a baby crying. The piece was intended to be about motherhood in some way and I decided this would fit. I may still use the pig idea for a future piece.

A friend had recently had a baby, Ivy. I asked if I could record Ivy and luckily for me she was teething so was really vocal! Not very lucky for poor Ivy. I edited the best parts from the recording, there was a lot of background noise etc. The sound on it’s own still didn’t seem right. I played around with changing the pitch and that was it! It was perfect. It wasn’t too much of a shift but it made the recording sound like an adult and sometimes like an animal.

I used an installation room at Salford to test out different ways of hanging the object and placing the sound. I used sound forge to edit the sound. It was lower quality than I expected as I had not set the Zoom recorder that I used correctly. I decided that playing it through a tape recorder may be an effective method. It would change the meaning and connotations of the sound a great deal. I decided to place the speakers in an adjacent space next to the room. It made it seem like the voice was from another room and created a different sense of narrative. It placed the viewer between the sound and the object which seemed to make the viewer more active.

I decided that a meathook would be effective as a hanging device for the object. I made a wooden beam and got a length of chain from B&Q. The chain would have looked better rusty. I later made that adaptation.

At first I tried the chain hanging low (see above). I decided against it.

You can see the end wasn’t finished when I began to try out ways of hanging the piece. I wanted to put an inflated balloon to keep the bulbous parts shape. This was unnecessary I found later.

The first time I showed the piece, I played the sound very loudly as I thought people may not hear it or they might miss it because it was a quiet part when they walked in. I asked people to write comments and on the loud day, they all said things like ‘terrifying’ and ‘someone being murdered’. After advice from Helmut Lemke, my tutor at the time, I played the sound very subtly. That day, instead of running out of the room screaming, people came out very sombre and contemplative. Some said it reminded them of Guantanemo Bay victims. Some said it was like a man giving birth. Some said the sound seemed like an elderly woman in death throws. I was immensely pleased with these reactions. It seemed to become more real and not like a horror film with just a change of volume. Now we’ve become desensitised to images I feel there is a need to re-connect with the reality of these horrors. I hope I can achieve something similar again.

Click to see the final piece and hear the sound.

Louise Woodcock


February 2009
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