In her 2016 exhibition ‘Nesting’, environmental artist Jill Parsons explored questions about the nature of home with people in temporary accommodation, travellers and people experiencing homelessness.
What does home mean? How do we nest, and what happens when our ability to nest is compromised? How does that affect the rest of their lives?
Over the last few months I’ve been on a journey exploring these questions, interviewing people in temporary or impermanent accommodation, rough sleepers, travellers and those living in unusual or alternative spaces. asking them all what home means to them. How do they nest? And what happens when their ability to nest is challenged?
Along the way I had met artists and poets, photographers, filmmakers, writers and teachers, gardeners, healers, mechanics and bushcraft instructors – all living on the periphery in some way. I’ve seen homes made in sheds, vans, boats and caravans as well as hand-made spaces tucked away in the woods. I’ve also worked with some amazing projects in Brighton: I’ve worked with the Emmaus community who support those who have faced homelessness, providing work in temporary home and community life. I also worked with the residents at the YMCA in Portslade and I went out into the land with Justlife, who support those in temporary accommodation. At the Brighton Unemployed Centre I talked with travellers, the homeless and many in temporary or insecure accommodation, and at the Brighton Housing Trust I talked with those very much on the front line, sleeping rough and moving around daily.
In exploring the edges and margins of our community, I have talked to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, as well as some of the most empowered – all with their own very different perspectives on what it means to nest. As I talked to people I asked them to weave small nests using natural materials such as grasses, moss and clematis.
I’ve taken these away and soaked them in a ceramic slip, firing them to create fragile ceramic casts, memories of a transitory moment of nesting. These will be displayed in a forest environment in the ONCA gallery, along with the interviews forming a soundscape. Photography and film will also be projected into the space creating a fully immersive installation.
Nesting is a weaving of voices stories and ideas. I’ve been deeply moved by some of the journeys that people have shared – stories of real tragedy, hardship and injustice. However, there are also many really inspirational stories of people overcoming enormous personal difficulties, or choosing to live in alternative ways, creating beautiful and simple homes that don’t cost the earth – and there are lessons I believe to be learnt from this, in the face of escalating homelessness and the refugee crisis.
Nesting is a celebration of human tenacity, creativity and resilience, and an honouring of that yearning for home that we share. As Maya Angelou said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”.