Parson X: Made to Measure

An exhibition of made-to-measure garments and photo portraits made with residents of Parson Cross & artist Lisa Gallacher on The Moor, Sheffield from 26th March to 6th April 2012

This exhibition of unique garments reflecting personal aspects of life in Parson Cross in one of the shop windows on The Moor Sheffield, is a very public celebration marking the end of a very intimate year-long residency. The Parson Cross: Made to Measure residency project was undertaken by Glasgow based artist Lisa Gallacher following her selection by Yorkshire Artspace in January 2011. Her work focuses on designing and creating wearable garment collections that can be seen as artworks in their own right.

This project has seen Lisa work with 10 Parson Cross residents during 2011/12. Lisa proposed to make bespoke ‘made to measure’ garments inspired by family, community life, local history or memories of particular places in the Parson Cross neighbourhood. The work contained in the Parson Cross: Made to Measure exhibition aims to express the unique character and identity of the place and its people. Her brief has been to help Yorkshire Artspace get to know the neighbourhood - prior to their new artists’ studios opening up within the SOAR Works development at Knutton Road in Parson Cross - and to connect with local people.  As Lisa says “I am drawn towards situations where I can explore what it means to belong (or not belong) to a particular place. The reason I was drawn to this residency offered by Yorkshire Artspace was that it had a very specific location; Parson Cross. Parson Cross: Made to Measure has not only provided a chance for participants to exchange ideas and share skills but during the course of the year I understand a little better what it means to be from the area.

The early months of 2011 saw Lisa trying to bring a group of people together to join her in the project and though many techniques were employed, it was word of mouth that drew people in. Lisa recalls “By March, Kate introduced me to Betty and I met Janet through Betty. I contacted Gwen through Sarah who then introduced me to Lisa. Ruthie told me about Anna and through Rachael mentioned Dan, who recommended I speak to Lucy.... who in turn introduced me to Grant and through him I met Scott, Courtney & Shannon.” By the end of April Lisa had the full group of ten; men and women and ranging in ages from 15 to over 70. Lisa then began to meet with the group, individually and together and so began a series of conversations; about the history of the area and the origins of its name, others expressing frustration at how Parson Cross is viewed negatively by outsiders. Conversations that have celebrated family and community life (past and present) - that have explored the geography of Parson Cross and its fluid boundaries. Discussions that have revealed the powerful sense of pride that local people feel for their area, as well as their hopes for its future - in light of the current regeneration process underway.  

All of the garments in the exhibition have a story reflecting each person’s feelings about their area; Scott, Shannon and Courtney, the three young people in the project, all said that Parson Cross gets a bad press and wanted their garment to re-dress this. Courtney’s ‘Headline Dress’ for example contains newspaper headlines relating to the area with the positive ones (in a minority) in bold type. Grant, a local key-worker based at Yewlands School has a Parsons-style-teddy-boy-frock-coat which draws on the many local legends about how Parson Cross got it name and is embroidered on the breast pocket with a ‘PX’ emblem designed by members of his own ‘flock’. Lisa’s dress represents how Parson Cross became a place of sanctuary for her, when as a young girl in the 1980s she got on a bus one day, and, instead of going to school she went to see her older sister in Parson Cross; she stayed until her early twenties. Betty, a former Sheffield Transport employee, travelled around the edges of Parson Cross for much of her life. She has marked the landmarks and routes that are significant to her on a map of Parson Cross which will has been translated into a digital print fabric for her blouse. Living alongside the human residents, is a large population of magpies, crows, foxes and domestic cats. Ian’s ‘Ponka’ poncho-meets-parka-urban-safari-suit made from an ‘up-cycled’ retro blanket Ian found locally enables him to view the wildlife incognito! Every year in the spring, fields of wild flowers appear on the patches of waste ground where houses once stood. Gwen’s garment will be edged with the poppies, sunflowers and forget-me-nots that represent (for her) new beginnings from old.

The exhibition also contains photo portraits by local photographer Jonathan Turner of each person wearing their garment and at the end of the exhibition, they will be returned to their respective owners who will (hopefully) wear them with pride. As Lisa says: “Now that the garments are finished and will be with their respective owners in Parson Cross, hind-sight reminds me that this project was never really about ‘manufacturing’ a collection of clothes. Each garment is the by-product of a relationship or a series of relationships developed over the past year – and the result of conversations that have explored (amongst other things) the experience of living in and belonging to a particular place. And when the garments are worn around Parson Cross and further afield, I hope that the conversations I had with the group will be extended. They might start with a simple ‘that really suits you’ or ‘that’s really unusual - where did you get it?’ and maybe they’ll continue where the garments began, with the personal stories that inspired each one. Whether you call it ‘art’ or something else – this is what clothing can do."

The exhibition of all the garments is on show in a vacant shop window on The Moor Sheffield (Sheffield city centre, near Debenhams) which seems like a perfect place for the work; a socially beneficial re-use of a former commercial clothing retailer bringing a bit of bespoke Parson Cross tailoring to the city centre. Yorkshire Artspace’s work in Parson Cross is funded via the Paul Hamlyn Foundation & Arts Council England - if you live in the area and are interested in knowing more or getting involved email rachael@artspace.org.uk

Additional Background Notes:

The purpose of the Yorkshire Artspace programme, made possible with funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England, is to help us attract artists to the Knutton Road Studios and the Parson Cross area and to help us get to know our new neighbours; make links with local businesses, organisations and individuals. The central enquiry running through all of this work is to explore “how artists can contribute to a successful neighbourhood”.

The programme specifically looks at how art, artists and arts organisations can operate in a neighbourhood like Parson Cross and more importantly how we can be open and accessible to local people who want to get involved with art and artists. Parson Cross, an inter-war housing estate and a Sheffield example of the Garden City movement. It could be considered an unconventional place for contemporary art. Although council estates, tower blocks and the places that people live and work do attract their fair share of art and artists, what makes this art programme different is that the attention and focus on this particular area is artists’ studios being placed right in the heart of this neighbourhood.

Artists Details: Lisa Gallacher lives and works in Glasgow and has been developing her practice to a national and international level for the past 12 years. Her work focuses on designing and creating wearable garment collections then can be seen as artworks in their own right. Recently Lisa has worked on arts projects with groups of young people addressing issues around identity, locality and fashion. In one of these projects 'From D&G to D&G' (from Dumfries & Galloway to Dolce & Gabbana) Lisa worked with over 250 young people from Dumfries schools to explore their sense of self, community and place.

Exhibition Venue: The Moor, Sheffield from 26th March to 11th April. This is a FREE event