The Story So Far

Hi, my name is Letty McHugh, I’m an artist and a writer and one of the recipients of the Emergence Bursary. I wanted to write an introduction post to my practice and the project I’m working on for the bursary, but I’ve been putting it off for two weeks because it makes me so nervous. My Mum once told me if you are nervous in a new situation you should just acknowledge it out loud and then you’ll probably find out everyone else is just as nervous as you. I don’t know if that advice applies to this situation, to be honest, but on the off chance you are feeling fluttery – don’t worry, we’ll get through this together.


Origami birds I posted to strangers around Leeds and Bath. 2011

Origami birds I posted to strangers around Leeds and Bath. 2011

So a quick introduction to me as an artist. I was always making things when I was a child, I was always sewing dolls clothes and stuff. I liked art at school I think basically because it was the only subject where being dyslexic didn’t get in the way.

When I was 17 I found a book about Tracey Emin in my college library at Calderdale College and decided I wanted to make proper art. I didn’t make any progress with that lofty ambition until mid-way through my Creative Arts degree at Bath Spa University when I had the revelation that it isn’t enough to go all Sophie Calle and bother unsuspecting members of the public. Proper art has to be about things. That’s when a tutor advised me to find some rigorous theory to ‘Hang my work off’ and I discovered Situationism and Object theory, ideas that still underpin my work now.

For the Emergence Bursary, I will be working on a new participatory project Seaworthy Vessel. I first had the idea for this project In 2015. I passed a scrapyard on the train, from the window I could see a line of large anchors and started thinking about the ships they came from, declared unseaworthy and scrapped. I was interested in the concept of seaworthiness, the idea that for ships a clear distinction could be drawn. Seaworthy/ unseaworthy, a ship/ a collection of parts in a scrap yard. What if we applied this logic to people? I thought of my Great-Grandfather sent home from the Merchant Navy in 1944, His hands were so mangled after an accident they had to tuck his train ticket into the folds of his bandages. Was he unseaworthy? I thought of myself and the damage Multiple Sclerosis is doing to my brain. Am I unseaworthy?

Seaworthy Vessel Origami experiment Letty McHugh 2019

Seaworthy Vessel Origami experiment Letty McHugh 2019

I was due to start exploring these questions in my project Seaworthy Vessel in 2016 when a string of MS relapses effecting my hands and sight meant I couldn’t work for nearly three years. So I’m exploring these ideas now, with the added question of what it means to be able to use our hands?

The Emergence bursary will mean the project can be much more ambitious, I’ll have the opportunity to take a research trip to Norway, reversing the journey my Great-Grandfather made when he fled Norway at the outbreak of WWII.

It also means that I can make new work that experiments with print and ceramics to document and celebrate the current stability of my hands and reach out to others with injury and disability affecting their hands to get a better understanding of the emotional impact that such injuries have on our lives and how we keep ourselves seaworthy in the aftermath of them.

This post is crossed posted to Disability Arts Online and A-N