FEED YOUR SOUL
FEED YOUR SOIL
FEED YOUR SKIN
FEED YOUR SAVINGS
FEED YOUR KNOWLEDGE
FEED YOUR EMPATHY
FEED YOUR DESIRES
FEED YOUR CREATIVITY
FEED YOUR COMMUNITY
FEED YOUR CHANGE
-The FEED Manifesto by Kelsey Redman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.