Woven Waters: Interview with Nicola Hockley

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Nicola Hockley is a fine artist and designer. She moved to Norfolk in 2014, where she now has a studio. For many years Nicola lived overseas, moving from one place to another. For her, The Woven Waters project provided a wonderful opportunity to engage with her new environment, an anchor connecting her to the local landscape in East Anglia. She chose to focus on Rockland Broad; a large body of water in the Yare Valley, next to the Wheatfen chain of waterways and Rockland Staithe and connected to the river by a series of Dykes.

Nicola Hockley portrait
Nicola Hockley

Rockland Broad holds a very special memory for her. Many years back, on a visit to the UK, she was invited on a canoeing picnic and can still vividly recall the experience of weaving through the reed beds at sun-down.

“My practice is socially and culturally engaged. Having lived in developing countries, for many years, I am keen to work on projects that support positive change.”

“For the Woven Waters project, I chose to focus on the idea of The Invisible, The Overlooked and The Lost as a strategy to explore the landscape. My intention is to invite the public to engage with ‘place’ by drawing attention to the patterns that normally go unnoticed and in doing so, encourage them to go out into the Broads National Park”

Research is central to Nicola’s creative process and initially about 90% of what she did was research based: contacting specialists, visiting archives and museums, speaking with locals, observing, photographing, reading.

“For me, the most crucial part of this project was to find a way in. Woven Waters is an eighteen-month project, which is a considerable period of time, so I needed to find a way to sustain my interest and produce a compelling body of work!”

She talks about how concepts evolve slowly by engaging with ideas and materials and how she alternates between research and making: It’s a non-linear process; she peruses ideas, relying on intuition and emotional responses. “Not knowing and getting lost” are seen are a necessary part of her creative process, one where she is never sure where she will end up and sometimes is not even sure what she is looking for.

Nicola’s interdisciplinary working practice and experimental approach allows her to move between disciplines and techniques, to find appropriate ways to communicate. In her studio, I am surrounded by books, a tripod, a hand loom, bits of wire and yarn, a large format camera, colour swatches, drawing implements, photographs and various material samples.

Reeds by Nicola Hockley
Reeds by Nicola Hockley

For the Woven Waters project, she decided to focus on two areas of research.

“The first was about the connection between people, place and language. I wanted to find a way to draw attention to the dialect of East Anglia, a language that is slipping away from use. My aim was to highlight and celebrate words that were shaped by their social, physical and cultural environment.”

The idea emerged after spending an afternoon with a retired reed cutter, Wally Mason, from Rockland St. Mary. During the course of their three-hour conversation on Rockland Broad, Wally talked about life on the water, his love of nature and the solitude of a life spent outdoors.

Nicola was intrigued by Wally’s vocabulary. He used beautiful sounding words that she had not encountered elsewhere like ‘loke’ and ‘sosh’, and she found herself frequently asking him about their meaning.

She became fascinated with the connection between language and landscape and returned a quote by Rebecca Solnit. ‘People adapt their words to the ecological niches they occupy’.’1

Through research and correspondence with a linguist, Professor Peter Trudgill, she started to compile a list of words;  about the land, the people and what people did there. This included eel catching, reed cutting, dredging and draining, as well as words that described the physical factors: geography, climate and terrain.

Nicola Hockley felt work in progress
Felt-based work in progress

Nicola is currently collaborating with a fine artist, Kirstin Bicker, on a sound installation and in parallel is producing a series of screen prints. She talks about how it felt appropriate to explore sound for this project because It “ crosses linear channels of communication and has the ability reach an audience on an emotional level”.

For her second work she was more concerned with the physical geography of Rockland Broad. “I wanted to find a way to highlight the invisible patterns that are embedded with a place; patterns that often escape human perception. Unknown to many, Rockland Broad is tidal, so I wanted to draw attention to the water level fluctuations - how it continuously ebbs and flows”.

“As an artist, I am interested in the idea of taking something mundane and subverting or elevating it, in a way that encourages an audience to look at it in new ways.”

Nicola began to explore different ways of mapping the tide. Initially she did this graphically but later experimented with constructed textiles methods, finding ways to manipulate material to mirror the kinesthetic rhythm of the tide. She explains how she was drawn to textiles initially, because of their surface texture and ability to evoke tactile sensations. The textile panels she has produced for the exhibition are subtle and abstract and comprise of five large panels of meticulously folded and stitched cream felt. It is her hope that the installation will encourage an audience “to slow down and contemplate the work as a sensory and meditative experience.”

Want to find out more about Woven Waters? Woven Waters is an art project led by the Broads Authority as part of their Heritage Lottery funded initiative Water, Mills and Marshes. A selection of local artists are creating work inspired by areas of the Broads and will be showcasing them in the Hostry in Norwich in December. The aim is to inspire the public to visit the areas the artists were inspired by and to encourage them to make their own art inspired by the Broads National Park. Each month a different artist is profiled on the Visit the Broads blog.