Claire Hignett

Claire Hignett, In search of the Basque

In Search of the Basque Children in Salford and Eccles (2017), 24x stitched bags approx. 30 x 25cm each, 5m patchwork floor game, felt, PVC, calico. Installation at Ordsall Hall

Obstruction given by Heather Bell : To return to the point of origin

Claire Hignett:


Following my Dad’s death in 1992 my Mum asked me to clear out the loft, and I was reunited with all my childhood toys. Every toy, book and comic I ever owned was carefully sealed into boxes or wrapped in plastic. Emotionally, this was not the time to sort through these, and consequently these boxes followed me around, lurking, and waiting to be unpacked. In 2015, the opportunity arrived during a residency in a warehouse with Islington Mill Art Academy. Now aged 52, I was re-evaluating the past and starting out on a new adventure as an artist. What better way to review the past than starting with my toys?


On the day I unpacked my dolls, everything was knocked off course when the photo was published of the doll like body of Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old refugee found on a beach in Turkey. The contrast of my safe childhood and that of this little boy absolutely threw me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes us safe, how we are protected, about the illusion of safety we create for ourselves. My talking- walking doll had been wrapped in plastic bags with the “danger of suffocation” message printed on. She became the focus of the residency, and turquoise, the colour of her dress, became the colour I call safe.


Thought processes from this residency combined with a project about a group of Basque children who came to Salford in 1937 as refugees from the Spanish Civil War, leading to an installation - In Search of the Basque Children - at Ordsall Hall.


I chose this Installation for the artwork to revisit for my Obstruction. Heather Bell picked up on my interest in memory and that I felt I had made a lot of compromises in this work because of the context of its location and timing - a family museum/gallery to be displayed over the summer holidays. These compromises made the work stronger but less raw.


Heather’s obstruction was “To return to the point of origin”. Initially I interpreted this as start again, but realised that to return is to go back with the knowledge, experiences and souvenirs collected on a journey. I am now 57, with a better understanding of my practice and much more experience as an artist. I chose to return to the warehouse residency with the experience from making In Search of…, the experience of being on the bOlder programme, and particularly, Perpetual Disappointment (2020), the piece I made for the bOlder 10 Obstructions Exhibition - where I started to layer hand-made wool blankets to make a frame.


In this new piece (made during Lockdown) I explore the frustration, pent up anger and guilt felt when being kept safe but wanting and needing to take risks and explore danger. Reflecting on being a very much loved child who was kept very safe, this piece is called Do Be Careful and is part of my In Safe Keeping series.

Instagram @claire_hignett

Do Be Careful… (2020), 90 x 120 x 4 cm, british wool, PVC, felt, wool and silk tops, water soluble fabric. Image courtesy Jules Lister.