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Posted 04.05.16

Encountering knots and strangers in Elena Brake’s performance piece

By Sarah Packer

Third year Fine Art student Elena Brake performs her Tying Knots piece in the city centre.

Following a very successful performance piece in the city centre last week, we sat down with BA (Hons) Fine Art student Elena Brake to talk knots, strangers and her plans after graduating...

Hi Elena, tell us what your performance is about.
The performance is about the everyday action of tying a knot and how we overlook simple things like this. I invite members of the public to sit opposite me and tie knots for as long as they feel they want to.  

I give them short lengths of string which they then tie into a knot and drop into the box one at a time. Inviting a participant to repeat the same, familiar action has an almost therapeutic effect on them and it provokes some really interesting conversations, even with complete strangers.

Participants sat and tied knots with Elena to evoke the feeling of mindfulness.

What were you trying to achieve?
I wanted people to enter a state similar to mindfulness, by having them become aware of something they know how to do but are not sure why.  

I was aiming to produce something that looked quite striking and made people curious, something that people who participated would find engaging and interesting.

"I’m really excited by what Plymouth has to offer and by how rapidly the art scene is expanding, so I’ll definitely be sticking around."

You debuted your performance last week. What was the reaction? Did many people get involved?
Yes and I was pleased that so many people engaged with my piece very willingly, they were curious and playful. I had some really interesting conversations with people, such as sailors and fishermen, who knew a lot more knots than me and showed me how they work.

By the end of the performance I had gotten through three balls of parcel string, which is 120m, and had many fascinating encounters with individuals, families and groups of complete strangers. I haven’t actually counted the knots yet and I’m not sure that I plan to!

Throughout the course Elena has developed her confidence culminating in a performance piece for her final project.

Wow that is a lot of string! Did anything unexpected happen?
The reaction and support from the public was amazing and I was also pretty lucky with the weather, although I did have to take shelter at one point. Lots of people commented that they had had a stressful day, but felt much more relaxed after taking part in my performance.

The most unexpected thing that happened was meeting a man who was really interested in Celtic knots and Shibari! Strangely enough, he actually had some of his own string in his bag and demonstrated his skills by tying a little Celtic knot, which he let me keep.

"...so many people engaged with my piece very willingly, they were curious and playful."

Sounds like a success. So what are your plans for when you graduate this year?
I plan to stay in Plymouth for at least another year. I want to try and push forward my career as an artist by getting involved in local projects like the Plymouth Art Weekender.

I’m really excited by what Plymouth has to offer and by how rapidly the art scene is expanding, so I’ll definitely be sticking around.

What does your practice explore?
My art is about everyday objects, actions and moments that are often overlooked. I try to bring them to the forefront and use techniques such as repetition and time distortion to make them seem strange and unfamiliar.

Armed with two stools, a sandwich board and a box full of knots, Elena took her performance to the people.

It causes the audience to focus on that small part of life and feel enchanted by it so they can enter into a state of mindfulness.

I have been focusing mainly on performance for the final year of my degree, but I also work with installation and video and often combine media to achieve the effect I’m looking for.

"My art is about everyday objects, actions and moments that are often overlooked."

How has studying at the college helped with your work as a fine artist?
The college has done so much for me that it’s hard to list. It’s given me confidence; I was really shy and quiet when I moved here and the thought of doing anything in front of an audience was terrifying.  

Taking place from 1-5pm Elena invited members of the public to tie knots with her.

The backing of my tutors and the encouragement to network and meet new people has given me the confidence I needed to do my performance in public with complete strangers. This piece was also made possible by the facilities at the college.

"Lots of people commented that they had had a stressful day, but felt much more relaxed after taking part in my performance."

The box that I used to collect the knots in was designed in the FabLab and cut on the CNC router and the writing for my sign was cut in vinyl at the Print Lab. It meant I could make the structure look really professional with a much lower budget because I only had to pay for materials.  

Plymouth College of Art and the Fine Art course have really helped me to find my own practice. My work has a really strong focus now and I feel like I know who I am as an artist.  It means that when I meet people for the first time I can answer questions about what I do very quickly.

Find out more about Elena’s work on her website at www.elenabrake.co.uk
 

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