A view of Shopkeepers of the World by Eleanor Finlay-Christensen / by lucy jefferies

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Illustrator and student, Eleanor Finlay-Christensen shares her experience of taking part in Shopkeepers of the World, a project celebrating and highlighting the role of charity shops in people’s lives. Taking place across St Leonards on Sea and Bexhill, the project features four unique art installations as part of Coastal Currents until 30th September 2018.

I really enjoyed being involved in the project because I had the chance to watch it progress from an idea into reality over the last six months.

Initially, I heard about the Shopkeepers of the World project in April 2018, when Esther gave a talk at my university about the project. Having worked in a charity shop in Brighton a few years ago, I was very interested in getting involved with the project. After the talk I spoke to Esther about getting involved.

 

At the donation days I helped Esther to interview members of the public, talking to them about the history of their donated items. The first donation day was at the Jerwood Gallery, followed by a second event at the De La Warr Pavilion. Lots of people came to donate something or tell us about an item they had previously donated. I found it fascinating to see how one item could evoke such strong memories about their past. Each item represented a little piece of local history which was then documented, photographed and the interview recorded for the project.

 

My favourite part of the whole project was the creation of the zine, a leaflet designed to go alongside each installation in the four charity shops. I was given the opportunity to illustrate some of the donations, painting a series of watercolour illustrations that would be printed alongside the corresponding interviews. I was thrilled with how the finished zine looked when it was printed.

 

Recently I took part in a tour of the finished art installations in charity shops, documenting the day for the Quiet Down There social media accounts. The art installations were created by four different artists in response to donated items collected through the project and in collaboration with staff and volunteers at each partner charity shop. The artist showed us around their installation and talked about the process of creating it.

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The first stop was Hastings and St Leonards Mencap to see filmmaker Albert Potrony’s ‘A Gift’.  As soon as you enter the shop you hear speakers playing, as you move around the store there are various screens and TVs tucked away, allowing shoppers to gradually discover the different parts of the installation. The screens play different interviews, some with members of staff from the shop and a Clairvoyant reading the past lives behind donated items.

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The next shop was Shelter in St Leonards to see Alinah Azadeh’s installation ‘Magic Is Here’. Standing outside the shop is a textile banner spanning the shop window, stitched on are various quotes about the shop, with ‘Magic is Here’ at the bottom in large letters. Inside the shop are two more banners. Each banner is centred around the shop and the staff.

 

After leaving Shelter we got on a train to Bexhill. Our first stop was to see ‘The Fabric of Work’ by Noëmi Lakmaier at Hastings Furniture Service. This is a living installation, with Noëmi sewing onto old donated workwear clothing as she interviews people about their experiences, stitching these onto the fabric. Her sewing machine is connected to dozens of brightly coloured spools of thread attached to the wall stretching up towards the ceiling.

 

Our final shop to visit was St Michael’s Hospice to see Hermione Allsopp’s installation ‘Melt Down’. Part of her installation is about the huge amount of glassware that goes back and forth between the shop and the warehouse. I found it interesting to see the final outcome of her piece having visited the warehouse myself and seeing the large quantities of glassware, some of which became her installation. 

 

I really enjoyed my involvement in the project and learnt a lot about the local area in the process.

Written by Eleanor Finlay-Christensen