Nerissa Cargill Thompson

Nerissa Cargill Thompson

A designer, maker and facilitator whose sculptural work investigates change over time, highlighting the issues of plastic pollution and climate change through objects that seem insignificant.

I am a designer, maker and facilitator with over 20 years experience of professional and community practice. Originally, I trained in Theatre Design but through my community arts practice my interest in fibre art grew, and a desire to develop personal artwork. I returned to college, graduating from MA Textile Practice from Manchester School of Art in 2018. I am a member of Prism Contemporary Textiles Collective, Society for Embroidered Work, Precious Collective and Society of British Theatre Design.

Most of my sculptural work highlights the issue of plastic pollution and climate change, influenced by the litter I encountered on the school run each day, knowing that this litter was entering our waterways and ending up in our seas and on our beaches; found washed up on my trips back to my Mum’s on the coast of Fife. I want people to consider the packaging that we use and discard on a daily basis; objects such as drinks bottles that are so lightweight and seem so insignificant that we barely notice them. I cast them in cement to make them heavy and solid, to convey the weight of the issue and the permanence of these disposables. The incorporation of detailed embroidery, inspired by nature, touches upon the way our waste becomes subsumed into the natural world around us. My work investigates change over time, not just eroding or decaying but new layers of growth, giving juxtapositions of structure and colour. I have always been drawn to manmade objects on the beach covered in seaweed and barnacles or derelict properties overgrown with moss and ivy.

I create coastal-inspired textures using a combination of embellishing and embroidery; blending a variety of recycled fabrics to create subtle variations in tone. These are stitched inside waste plastic to cast true-to-life pieces with cement giving a distinct contrast between the manmade structure of the packaging and the soft natural textures of the textiles.

I make work with old clothes and scrap materials for both economic and environmental sustainability. Reusing is better for the environment than recycling as it uses less energy, so why use new when there is such a wealth of materials available to reuse already, often on its way to landfill? I buy shirts and dresses and curtains for craft projects and workshops from the pound rail charity shops. I use old suit trousers for the base fabric of my work. I particularly look for wool content and choose a multi-tone weave as this reacts well under the embellisher. I choose assorted items in my chosen palette of greens and yellows as the mix of different tones and weights gives a softer, more natural look to the finished work.

I started using concrete in my work because I had a bag left over from a building project. I loved the contrast with the textiles and the way it captured the embossed patterns and logos on the plastic waste giving them a sense of permanence that visually isn’t the case with light and often transparent plastic even though the truth is that it will in fact last centuries. I like how the concrete is able to represent the coastal rocks but also the urban manmade environment.

I am inspired by observing the world around me. I love textures in nature but also manmade. I look out for interesting juxtapositions. I document and respond to the changes I see in the world around me.

On my government-mandated lockdown health-walks, I noticed a change in the local litter: fewer bottles and take-away cartons, more disposable gloves and masks. The gloves felt particularly poignant: some formed gestures; others lay there as though still occupied. They were a sign of human activity no longer there. When the rain came, the gloves were washed towards and caught up in the drainage grids emphasizing the waste of time and resources during covid-19 leading to lost lives particularly the disregard for the protection of keyworkers. It felt like people and governments had been starting to take steps for change to help the climate crisis but the pandemic has caused a massive leap backwards towards single-use plastics. Headlines like “More Masks in the Sea than Jellyfish” reinforce this. I responded with a series of work called Glove Story; once again combining textiles and cement.

This year I have started on a new series of work called No Man is an Island combining textile maps and landscapes in domestic plastic packaging as the embossed lines and grids remind me of those on maps. The title and work are about responsibility as even uninhabited islands are polluted by plastic and some islands are disappearing, suffering from the knock-on effect of climate change and rising sea levels.