Axisweb Selects: Hannah Leighton-Boyce

Sheila McGregor
A hand holds a transparent map up to a countryside road

Hannah Leighton-Boyce’s latest project spans distance and time; her latest, public installation reaches right back to the history of the Lancashire mills.

We’ve probably all used the expression “on tenterhooks”. But how many of us know where it comes from? Artist Hannah Leighton-Boyce is about to bring this familiar expression vividly to life in a new temporary installation called The Event of the Thread for Helmshore Mills in Lancashire’s Rossendale valley. If you didn’t already know it, a “tenter” was the wooden frame on which mill workers stretched wet wool to re-stretch the fabric to its proper size and shape. Over time, “on tenterhooks” has also came to mean a state of tension or unease.

Artist Hannah Leighton-Boyce is about to bring the expression “on tenterhooks” to life in a new temporary installation

Leighton-Boyce initially saw the piece as a one-day installation of a sculptural line crossing time and place. She wanted the work to symbolise the things so often overlooked in history books – the skills, cooperation and community spirit. Once underway, The Event of the Thread evolved daily in order to inspire local people to be involved – which was, in turn, inspiring for Leighton-Boyce, as well as the development of the piece. It has also meant that the final installation relies on the support and participation of the residents for it to actually happen.

The project will culminate in a community event (28 September), when a thread of 3,300 yards – or just under two miles in length – will be passed by residents along the mapped lines of ten “tenter” frames that once stood above Higher Mill in Helmshore, on land that now houses the residents of Hyacinth Close, Narcissus Avenue and Anemone Drive.

“As it is passes from hand to hand,” says Leighton-Boyce, “the historic line will cross over gardens and fences, weaving through houses, in and out of letterboxes, windows and doors, around lamp-posts and across roads, temporarily joining the ten frames into one sculptural line and connecting different lives and times, people and places.”

In bridging the gap between her initial idea, and actually making it happen, Leighton-Boyce admits to having herself been “on tenterhooks”. This is definitely public art with a difference – a one-off event that memorialises the past through collective action and community participation.

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