Morag Myerscough creates welcoming worlds that make us reconsider our own
Myerscough is a visual artist in London who "explores the theme of 'belonging' in her work, using it to transform public spaces by creating welcoming, engaging experiences for everyone." The Stamps website photo of Myerscough’s structure Temple of Agape, built in partnership with Luke Morgan for London's 2014 Festival of Love, is covered with vibrant hues, visually busy interacting shapes, and positive words that combine for a psychedelic carnival vibe.
At the Michigan, Myerscough took the stage wearing all black and white. Her shirt reminded me of Picasso’s stripes. Her jumpsuit made me wish I looked better in them. Her sheer, long, flowing top layer completed the look. And then there was a surprise, a pop of color: bright Chuck Taylor sneakers.
“Morag’s visual vocabulary is inclusive by nature.” --Elaine Sims
If I were writing a short story, I would definitely weave together elements of Myerscough’s past in order to tell the present. I would link her generous use of colors to her great grandfather’s time in the circus as a clown. I would assign the credit for having the courage to go out on a limb, starting her own design studio to her great grandmother’s bravery as a high diver. Doing things her own way, I would tie that to the fact that growing up her family dinners were closer to 9 than 5. Besides, what else would you expect for the child of a textiles designer and a classical musician?
I am not writing a short story. I am writing a recap of an event that I still haven’t, even after a couple of days, wrapped my brain around. My notes are a mess.
“I did look a bit like the murderer Myra Hindley then.” --Morag Myerscough
Despite a career designing bold, larger than life installations, there’s something about Myerscough’s manner, her word choice, and her delivery that makes her relatable. She reveals that she once felt utterly blocked by the filling a blank space and that only a tight deadline and an ultimatum launched her past her fear. As she walked us through a timeline of her artist biography, in addition to naming meaningful influences Andy Warhol and Memphis (a Milanese collective of artists) she showed us school IDs from her student years. Only the brave do that.
“I can only post-rationalize why I did those things.” --Morag Myerscough
When she talked about her Temple of Agape project, she was given a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote to work with for inspiration and had been asked to interpret agape, brotherly love. Myers had also been to Delhi, India, and seen an “amazing temple,” which was a partial inspiration for the piece. Of this piece she says, the “idea of it is a celebration of love on the outside … like a peacock.”
Love = one part peacock + one part temple + Dr. King applied liberally + all of the colors.
“I really love Mexico. I’ve never been.” --Morag Myerscough
When Myerscough talked about her love of Mexico, I was forced to think about the different meanings of the word. And all the colorful photos that were a part of Morag’s presentation made me think about the different shades of meaning the word takes on. She told us that despite not visiting Mexico, that she loves what she understands Mexico to be. Her Mexico, in a sense, looks like a room of her home in the Christmas season. The room was kissed by all sorts of colors and decorated with papel picado.
Myerscough was commissioned to design an installation for Zocalo Square, one of Mexico City’s major public spaces. “The people would queue up. They didn’t know what they were queuing up for, but that was OK.” What they found when they got to the beginning of the line was a new way to look at their surroundings, upside down and in two dimensions. They found a camera obscura. The installation served to encourage visitors to pay attention to their surroundings.
In the Michigan Theater, I was watching my neighbor and saw that he was drawing Myerscough. I copied him, but instead I drew her outfit. Before I could fully process the ways I had been influenced by the words and actions that surrounded me, I snapped out of the moment. Then, I found myself thinking about what it really means to look, to listen, to see.
“Judgment changes when you’re thinking about permanence.” --Morag Myerscough
While many of Myerscough’s projects are intended to be temporary, her work at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, commissioned by Artfelt, an organization that brings colorful art and workshops to children’s hospitals, is permanent. Myerscough reflected on her experience working on this project, noting that working with children in schools is not the same as working with children in hospitals.
One of three sisters, Myerscough knows the value of a having a space to call your own. I wonder how this idea surfaced in her creation of the hospital bedrooms. Myerscough ran into some resistance when she began working on the project. She wanted the rooms to be places where both the patients and their caregivers were comfortable, a space that they could enjoy. According to her, clinicians are not always happy with art in bedroom spaces. After all, the spaces need to support the very important work of tending to the sick. After a meeting she had with hospital staff, the message she got was, “The nurses thought that you’re really nice, but they don’t want you anywhere near those bedrooms.”
In another hospital, she took inspiration from a project she completed between 2012 and 2014, tweeting her mood each day as a color. This Twitter project became a mural for the Linköping University Hospital in Sweden. Here she saw the pattern of how one’s moods fluctuate over time, both as a patient or as a visitor, in a hospital.
Myerscough embarked upon a project where she tweeted her mood as a color twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. She maintained this project for two years and then turned it into art, using the colors to create a mural for Linköping University Hospital in Sweden.
“I’ve always been obsessed with bandstands.” --Morag Myerscough
As Myerscough continued to talk about projects she worked on over the years, it occurred to me how much of her work ties back to something in her past, her personal history. Several days after seeing her, I begin to see her work as a kaleidoscope, the existing colorful elements rearranged in proximity to each other to make beautiful images. Each individual piece finds the spot where it belongs.
“I think I’m a slow burn. It took me a long time to find my way.” --Morag Myerscough
Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.
The Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker series continues through November. Visit stamps.umich.edu/stamps for the full fall 2018 schedule.