Flying 500 flags has brought a new challenge for Ali and her team

  Posted: 26.04.21 at 20:09 by The Editor

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TACKLING an artistic challenge has been part of the build-up to a landmark event later this year which will link Lowestoft with Tilbury – and all the coast in between.

The challenge is being met by Purfleet-based Kinetika, an internationally renowned company specialising in creating large-scale hand-painted silks.

For more than 20 years they have been connected with community projects to produce spectacular outdoor commissions that engage diverse audiences wherever they work.

Founded by artistic director Ali Pretty in 1997 and inspired by her training in carnival arts in Trinidad and India, Kinetika now has an unrivalled reputation for working with local communities on projects that change the way people feel about where they live.

The latest is Beach of Dreams, a 500 mile walk from Lowestoft to Tilbury which will take place from 26 June to 1 August this summer, following the coast as it travels south.

Ali and Guardian journalist Kevin Rushby will be walking the entire route, joined by artists, writers, scientists, and local residents. Together, guided by strong environmental themes and the challenges of our current time, they will consider the question “How can we creatively reimagine our future?

Each of the 500 miles will have a specially created silk pennant to represent it, reproduced from designs sent in by participants who have signed up to walk that mile during the event.

Places on the Beach of Dreams walks are still available and can be booked via the event website

Hand-painted silks are a defining feature of Kinetika’s transformational arts projects, bringing diverse communities together through walking and talking and making large-scale flags. The artists at Kinetika are accustomed to a challenge, often working on giant batiks, or on projects with intricate detail and emotional value.

Beach of Dreams has inspired Ms Pretty to adopt a different approach to the silk painting for this project and take on an entirely new challenge.

With strong environmental themes, Ali specified using a special hand-woven silk for the Beach of Dreams pennants, created on non-mechanised looms. Kinetika uses this silk on many of its projects, having built a relationship with the small number of artisan-weavers who still make it in West Bengal in India. The challenge came when choosing how to dye this silk to represent the values of the project in an authentic way.

In 24 years of painting silk, delivering high-profile commissions all over the world, the dye of choice for Kinetika has always been Procion MX, a type of cold-water dye. It is mostly considered non-toxic except for a few specific colours, and additional chemicals for fixing like soda ash are similar to compounds found in washing powder.

So why consider a change at all?

Galvanised by conversations around the environmental challenges of the places along the route, Ali began to question whether the type of dye used could be entirely natural. Experiments followed, and with advice and help from Rob Jones of Romor Designs the studio filled with bubbling vats of tinted liquids. Using three main dyes made from Poplar, Tansy and Elderberry combined with a variation of mordants the team can create 48 shades of colour.

Ali said: “Beach of Dreams offers the opportunity to extend my practice by learning how to use natural dyes challenging the aesthetic of my own silk work. Producing 500 individual silk pennants, to carry the dreams of 500 participants for 500 miles is pushing the boundaries of the walking, talking and making model that I’ve been developing for the last 8 years, which has at its heart the voice of the local community.”

The results speak for themselves with only a fraction of the pennants completed. All five hundred of the newly dyed pennants will be revealed for the first time at First Light Summer Solstice on Lowestoft beach 27 June, marking the start of the Beach of Dreams walk. The pennants will also be installed at other locations along the route such as Harwich on 10 July and Tilbury Fort on 1 August.

If you want to learn more about Beach of Dreams you can listen to a 10-minute interview with Ms Pretty talking about the project here or visit the event website.

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