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Hello Housekeeping…?!

by Eliza Plumley
Posted on October 2nd 2011

In 2010, the Contemporary Textile Studio (CTS) Co-op invited textile artist Eliza Plumley to create a temporary installation for the street level window of Local 75 Housing Co-op – a new downtown Toronto housing development sponsored by the Hospitality Workers Union. Eliza opted to use discarded materials from two hotels where she worked as the main materials for her sculptural piece, "Hello Housekeeping…?!". Friends and members of the union and housing co-op created parts of the installation through workshops hosted by CTS. The installation was on view from April 15 through June 10, 2011.

• What is the idea behind the installation?
I wanted to work with recycled materials - all collected from the hotels I work at - and create a connection between those recycled items and the Local 75 Housing Co-op where the piece was to be housed. Specifically, I wanted the hospitality workers who live in the co-op to look at the installation and recognize where the things used in it came from, for those items to be as familiar to them as they are to me as a hotel housekeeper. One of my main goals was not to spend any money on materials. With the help of my coworkers at both hotels, I gathered materials over 7 months.

• What inspired your idea?
When I first saw the space I was asked to come up with a piece for, I was inspired to create something large. Art installation is a new direction for me; this opportunity opened up many possibilities to create in a three-dimensional fashion.

Throughout my life I've always felt a strong connection to nature. Trees in particular have been a constant theme. Trees are a very important part of our life on earth. In my opinion, this is not publicly acknowledged nearly enough.

• Other people might not see the potential in the kinds of waste materials you rescue and transform. What motivates you to use garbage in your work?
I've been working in the hospitality industry for 6 years now. Seeing the amount of waste produced has had a large effect on the way I view our consumer-based society. I like that it takes time and effort to accumulate these materials, and that it's not as easy as going to a store and buying new materials that were manufactured for a specific purpose. Scavenging materials allows lots of room for discovery and an element of the unknown, which I find exciting.

I also like that working with recycled materials seems gross to some people. There will always be a constant flow of new stuff being manufactured and old stuff being thrown out, which means endless materials for me to explore. I'd like to believe that by doing what I do, I can make a small difference in the way other people see the world and how we live in it.

• How do you research your pieces?
For this project in particular I was already quite familiar with the subject of trees, though I did research images of tree roots and branches of different types of trees. I also searched online for other artists who make art out of recycled materials, who had similar ideas to mine about waste and nature. I even found information on a hotel in Rome that was completely made out of materials collected from a nearby beach, including 5 guest rooms and a front desk!

• What were some of your challenges and highlights in building and installing the piece?
My main challenge was not having a large enough space where I could work on it all at once. I had to develop the tree in two different spaces; my grandpa lent me the use of his cellar for the larger pieces, while the branches and roots were made in my house in Toronto. I also don’t own a vehicle, so I was carrying a lot of my materials around via public transit. The tree had to be created in sections so that it could easily be transported and assembled. I wasn’t able to put it together until installation day, which made me a little uncertain. But my vision was clear, and I always leave room for mistakes. Being able to share the project and process with others was a highlight for me. I enjoyed the experience of teaching workshops, and working with other people, hearing their ideas and being creative together. I had an amazing amount of support and encouragement from my friends, family, coworkers and even strangers passing by. I could not have done this by myself and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

• How do you see your work in relation to other contemporary textile art in Canada or elsewhere?
Until about 5 years ago when I attended Sheridan College for its Art Fundamentals program, I didn’t know the definition of textile art. While at Sheridan, I discovered the Crafts and Design studio program. I realized then that textile arts encompassed all the things I love to do. I’m certainly not the first artist to work with these types of materials, and I think more and more artists are inspired to create work that speaks to us about our wasteful ways and deteriorating earth. When I come across artists with similar work to mine, and read the philosophies behind their work, I feel connected and encouraged.

• What plans, if any, do you have to build on your current installation?
As artists we’re rarely satisfied with our own work. When I look at the tree sculpture now, I see lots of room for improvement and other directions I could take it. My favorite idea is to create more trees and fill a room with a whole forest. I’d also like to see the flowers at the base of the piece stand as a stand-alone installation. The ideas are endless.

• Do you intend to continue to explore these themes in future work?
Yes, definitely. I’ve already started some new pieces with the leftover materials from this installation. I won’t be quick to buy materials knowing that I can scavenge them instead. Most artists, out of necessity, must have another job on the side, and I’m no exception. This is my way of making my “side job” work for me as a textile artist. As long as there are interesting materials for me to work with, I’ll never stop creating.