Kelsey Redman’s “FEED Manifesto” Informs her Fibre and Textile Art

2 June 2021
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-The FEED Manifesto by Kelsey Redman

Kelsey Redman is an artist. As a student at Haliburton School of Art and Design, she astonished her instructors by taking every single visual art and design diploma and certificate that the college had to offer, starting in the fall of 2011 and ending with her graduation in the spring of 2018. Visual and creative arts, fibre arts, sculpture, ceramics, glass blowing, blacksmithing, jewellery, photography, digital design, moving image design, drawing and painting, and integrated design are all in her artistic repertoire, forming an extensive knowledge base from which she interprets the world. Kelsey uses vintage or thrifted fabric, clothing, fibres, and notions in the majority of her pieces, and turns everyday practical items like quilts, blankets, and pants into art pieces that explore the themes of longevity, sustainability, and emotional connection. I sat down with Kelsey recently via Zoom to talk about her art, her philosophy, and how sustainability factors into her artistic practice. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Victoria Bingham: What is the FEED Manifesto? Is it an artist’s statement or a life philosophy?

Kelsey Redman: The FEED Manifesto is something I wrote while enrolled in the Integrated Design Diploma at the Haliburton School of Art and Design. In that program, we had to pick one thing to focus on, and I decided to design my career. I wrote the FEED Manifesto as a template or a guideline for myself and for my life, but also for my career as an artist. It’s all the statements I wanted to make sure that my art captured, but it also comes from my life philosophy, so it mixes my artistic practice, my morals, my ethics, and what I want to make and become as an artist and a human.

image description: the artist in her tudio, surrounded by textiles, yarn and other craft materials

The artist in her studio. Photo credit Kelsey Redman.

Studio Detail 1

Some of the tools and materials Kelsey uses to create her art. Kelsey loves thrifting bags of old sewing notions. Photo credit Kelsey Redman.

VB: What role does sustainability play in your work? Were you always focused on making sustainable art?

KR: When I was at the college, there was so much play allowed. We would be given a span of time, like three hours, and you were just supposed to keep trying things, whatever medium it was, which resulted in a lot of us making a lot of trash because you would just see what happened. In the beginning I was just like, “I’m having fun, it’s part of my material kit, whatever,” but after a few years at the college, it got to me, especially when I started working maintenance and had to be the one to bring all that garbage to the dump.

At my studio, I try to be zero waste, and I don’t even like that term (zero waste) anymore, because it implies perfection, so I try to be low-waste, or less waste. There are times I want to empty my entire studio and just go buy linen and wool and leather and start over completely but then everything I have would also turn to garbage so I’m always playing with the idea that maybe in twenty years I will only be using natural, compostable materials. For now, I’m still enjoying using the stuff I have in my studio, even when it is polyester, rayon, viscose, all the funky stuff, because I still hopefully got it in a more sustainable way. My mom did a lot of my thrifting for me because she lived in Barrie, Ontario, and she knew the cycles of the thrift stores there. Things start at full price, then 25% off, 50% off, 75% off, and then they go to the trash after that because nobody wants them. So she’d wait for the 75% off day and that’s when she would buy my stuff, so she guaranteed that she was buying stuff that was going to go to the landfill otherwise. It was great at first to lower the price of things and then it became more of a sustainable thing, but now I want to do even better.

VB: Which one of your pieces is your favourite and why?

KR: It was weird how quick I had an answer for this because there is a pair [of pants] sitting in front of me always. It’s John’s [Kelsey’s partner’s] pants. The one pair was so ripped, I just added every iron-on patch that I had. Every one of the iron-on patches was thrifted. They’ve become their own little thing. I love the relationship that I have with him and those pieces. There’s like five pairs now that are just madness and all of them that I’m mending, minus those patches, are mended with denim that was part of his late wife Sue’s wardrobe. We opened a trunk one day because we didn’t know what was in it, and it was the last time she had packed all of her summer clothes before she passed away.

A lot of it was denim from the ‘70s and ‘80s. John’s given me a laundry basket of it, and that’s what I mend all of his clothes with, because Sue used to mend and she has a cool pair of patchy pants we’ve hung up downstairs. It’s so many things at once. It’s nostalgic, it’s emotional for him, it’s happy, it brings his late wife back, it’s the relationship with me, and it’s also my art.

image description: three pairs of jeans, heavily mended, lying side-by-side on the floor

Kelsey uses visible mending as one of her methods of expression. These jeans belong to her partner John and have been mended using a mixture of thrifted iron-on patches, thrifted thread, and pieces of his late wife’s denim collection. They are a continuous work in progress.
Photo credit Kelsey Redman.

That’s why I love fabric. You can always do something with it. I also made John quilts with all of Sue’s shirts from that trunk, so he gets to remember. I thought maybe one day if it comes to it, I would like to turn all of his jeans into a quilt for his kids, that are also mended with all of their mother’s patches. I love getting that deep, that nostalgic, that emotional, and that meaningful. With fabric you can do that.

FEED 002

Made of thrifted, gifted and collected yarns, Kelsey knitted FEED 002 on two-inch wooden poles with flower pots duct-taped to the ends so her yarn wouldn’t slip off. She used an empty toilet paper roll to control the thickness of the yarn and used laundry baskets as yarn bowls. Photo credit Kelsey Redman.

VB: Because your art often incorporates visible mending, quilting, and techniques like knitting, or crochet, or sewing, do you find people devalue your work?

KR: I go to places like the [Haliburton Highlands] Quilt Guild and we’ll talk about it and some ladies know that they are selling their work for less than a dollar an hour, but it’s still normalized in this realm. I struggle with that because I want to survive off my work, but people do still think that knitting, making socks, mending, and quilting was what your grandma or your mother or your aunt did for free because they loved you. People see my work and they devalue it so much more than I am comfortable with. I would say I spent twenty hours on this and somebody would still offer me ten bucks. It’s like, “Do you realize you just offered me fifty cents an hour for my work?” People don’t often expect me to say I’ve gone to post-secondary for seven years on these topics. There’s a lot of education and a lot of money spent, yet I still can’t ask for the price I would get if I went to be like a plumber or an electrician or a landscaper. I’m still put into the category of “my grandma did this work and she did it for free, so if I pay you $10, you should be happy,” and I’m butting heads in this world. When I sell my pieces, I sell them for a living wage.

VB: What do you want people to take away from your pieces?

KR: I can’t just make a piece. I have to make a piece with meaning, with some sort of ethical ground that I like, and add knowledge, teach somebody something so they can teach somebody else, so it’s always growing. If I can sell a pair of jeans that I’ve mended along with a mending kit, it means I was paid for my work, I used secondhand, low-waste materials, and somebody is not going to buy a bunch of fast-fashion jeans. You’re not just buying these jeans to look cool for a little while. You’re making the commitment to not buy more and make that impact for however long you can keep these jeans in your possession. Then that person can learn to mend, they can add to the mending community, hopefully then they can teach somebody else and you just keep magnifying the effect you’re having, and that’s definitely my hope. I don’t want people to buy my things and get rid of it or find it in a thrift store ten years later. I want people to be attached to my pieces like I am.

image description: a large, multicoloured quilt, hung on a wall in a gallery

FEED 001 is the first of the pieces Kelsey created since writing the FEED Manifesto. She cut out 8-inch fabric squares from until she had enough squares for the gradient. All of the fabric was either thrifted, purchased from yard sales, purchased from her first job as a Fabricland employee at age sixteen, or given to her by family and friends. It was shown in Brooklyn, NY, as part of the exhibition Wanted Design Brooklyn, part of New York Design Week in 2019.
Photo credit Kelsey Redman.

 I also want my pieces to evoke conversation, to bring something up. When you have those conversations, you suddenly share knowledge. Someone can look at a quilt and see something that pokes at their passion and then they share that knowledge, because everyone thinks something about a quilt or has a memory of one. When I sell a quilt, I hope somebody embroiders on it, or I even told somebody if you find it a little too narrow for a certain bed, add two strips to the sides. If it’s just not long enough because you decided you want it on your couch instead of your bed now, add another row to it. Do whatever you want. Dye it. Dunk the whole thing in a bath of something if you want. When I sell you my quilt, I hope you keep it forever and give it to the next generation. And when you need it mended, come back and commission me to mend it. I would love to see a piece in ten years, where it’s like, “Yeah, the dog chewed that part, so I sewed my own sweater to that to cover the hole,” or, “This is the day he spilled my birthday coffee on this.” I would love to be able to have a show twenty or thirty years later and have the person say, “This is where I’ve taken your piece, it’s been to this country, it’s been on this road trip, it went on this little thing with me.” They are full of life because they already have stories before they’re sold, and so I would love to know its story after I sell it and it’s out of my hands.

Featured photo credit Kelsey Redman.

Copyright © Victoria Bingham except as indicated.

About Victoria Bingham

Victoria Bingham currently lives in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario with her dog, Molly. She is an avid supporter of arts and culture and can often be found in the audience or on the stage at local events. She loves cooking, baking, embroidery, and knitting, and is attempting to learn how to garden. She is also the resident studio minion at indie yarn dyeing company, indigodragonfly.

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