Graduating from BA Textile Design, Mia Karren shares her experience living in an isolated Airstream caravan with no running water and making her own tools for her final project exploring the meaning of shelter.
Tell us about your final project and why you chose that subject.
"This project was an outgrowth of the work I was doing pre-COVID, raising my own silkworms and recording their processes for building cocoons. When the pandemic started and I left London and my concept had to evolve. The project became an exploration of my new environment and circumstances, but I found ways to follow the thread of my initial research.
In a way, it helped me parse out the original concept – it was always about creatures creating shelter. Instead of exploring how an insect isolates itself and makes a place of refuge, I explored how I could make shelter for myself, in isolation. The concept flipped on its head. That’s how the idea to create a human-sized cocoon came about. That, and the fact that I was living inside an Airstream caravan, itself a cocoon-like structure."
Sounds like lockdown had a big impact on your practice?
"It necessitated a completely new approach to the project. I was very intentional when choosing where to go when it started... I could have gone to my mother’s house and ride it out in relative comfort but I chose to flee into the mountains where my dad lives, with no running water, no refrigerator, no access to tools. I knew it would offer a unique perspective on a situation affecting everybody in the world at once.
My dad is little-affected by Coronavirus since he’s been living outside of society long before any of this started. Going there enabled me to live at the terminus of isolation and anti-consumerism. I was able to experience the sublimity of nature in conjunction with its inherent frustrations and inconveniences.
Ultimately, I spent my time finding solutions to the making process in an unfamiliar space. There was no popping to the shops for things I needed. I made all my tools. I sourced wool from a nearby farm. I dyed it with plants from the surrounding hillsides. I cooked meals over the same fire I used for dyeing.
The process of making the work cohered entirely with a greater lifestyle. It was the first time I’ve ever been able to live so deeply inside a project. No Netflix breaks! It was incredibly rewarding."
What does it mean to you to be part of the “Class of 2020”?
"To me, it is about adaptation but also a reckoning with the problems inherent to being a creator in a post-post-modern world. Students have been responding to sustainability and social justice issues for a long time. Something about the pandemic caused the pot to boil over. We don’t see these problems as avoidable, so we’ve approached our final work in this extraordinary year as starting points for deeper societal restructuring."
Moving forward, what changes do you hope to see in your discipline?
"What I hope to see in the creative industries is a greater focus on materials, longevity and sustainability. From the consumer side, that means focusing on the artists, the people behind the product. It’s about exchanging quantity for quality, really, and I think we’ve seen that reflected in people’s buying habits. That being said, Amazon packages have been flooding every doorstep (including mine, since I left the mountains) and our next challenge will be making convenience ethical."
Thinking about your fellow students, whose work should we take a look at next?
"I’d recommend taking a look at Alice Smith’s work. Her textile project is rooted in its place (a coastal community in Wales,) and the relationship of that place to industry. The work touches on all the things that the "Class of 2020" places at the forefront: sustainability, waste-reuse, multipurpose/customisable wearables and re-situating consumer goods in their places of origin."
Mia Karren is nominated for this year's MullenLowe NOVA Awards. Explore the full list of NOVA Award nominees.