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#Insights: Bridget Bailey on Making Mistakes

Bridget Bailey is one of 27 artists who have made work for an exhibition entitled Insect Odyssey now on at Salisbury Museum.

 Bridget’s ‘Taxonomy of Making’ installation sets out the elements of her making process with the respect given to scientific specimens. There are many parallels between the evolution of making and the way nature itself evolves. We are pleased to welcome Bridget to write this piece, about making mistakes, as part of our ongoing  #Insights series.

So much of the making process happens out of view. Many things that paved the way for finished works never get seen by anyone but the maker – who thinks of these as mistakes.

There are many kinder words than mistake, like test, or trial, or experiment, but the word ‘mistake’ suggests something it’s tempting to hide away. Yet these are often experiments that can reveal the most.

I have a collection of ‘mistakes’ spanning the last twenty years from all my attempts at making insects. The ticks’ mandibles were too cosy and more suitable for a teddy bear; the fleas’ legs knee joints just got too complicated. One particularly disappointing mistake was an attempt at making moth antennae. I scrolled wire, trying represent the way perfume and pheromones swirl in the air. And they definitely didn’t. I’d made something straggly when what was needed was something delicate and ethereal.

What’s missing when something doesn’t work can help to show what’s really needed. It’s a signpost that might say come back later and try again, or don’t touch with a bargepole.

I’ve been experimenting with wrapping a textile butterfly in invisible thread and suspending it in the frame as if it’s caught in a cobweb. I can’t do it as expertly as a spider but this might be a cunning way of suggesting a spider, without having to have one there – I love them but they can scare a lot of people away. But there is something wonderful about tiny scraps of fabric and feather becoming frightening and it has taken many experiments to get to this way of making spider legs.

Of course, I don’t spend all my time in the experimental creative state, but I recognise what the freedom of experimenting feels like: one idea leads on to the next version, or leaps in a new direction and maybe joins up later, or maybe not. And I’ve started thinking about my all my work in this way; the last piece I’ve made, even if it’s big and important, is actually the experiment for the next piece. This way of thinking about making is a more adventurous headspace to be in when I can manage it.

A new ‘taxonomy of making’ is emerging where species jump kingdom. In my world a fly’s bottom is actually related to a strawberry, because I make them in the same way, building a shape, and covering it with red silk or iridescent bluebottle colours.

Fireflies relate to cornflowers, lily stamens to fleas’ legs and so on. Experiencing the evolution of ideas as a maker is a good and approachable way to experience the patterns and workings of how things grow and evolve in nature.

Of course, this jumping of ideas has always been recognized in science – I recently read a fascinating book by Paul Craddock called Spare Parts about the history of transplant surgery. He describes how early skin grafts that were being performed in the 15th century took inspiration from grafting done on fruit trees. And I’ve listened to Adrian Thomas interviewed on The Life Scientific talking about rethinking the mechanics of flight by studying insects and working on a drone inspired by dragonflies.

Although I’m fascinated by fleas’ legs, I’m not sure I’m going to make some scientific discovery by making them – but the way ideas can leap out of the box and land somewhere totally unexpected is testament to the importance of making mistakes and experimenting in all areas. To be open to trying things out means being open to the possibility of mistakes. But they can be a good sign: they indicate a thriving environment for experimenting.

The Taxonomy of Making experiments and the creatures they led to form Bridget Bailey’s installation created for Insect Odyssey. This exhibition shows creative interpretations of insects by 27 selected artists and is curated by Dr Elisabeth Darby and Prudence Maltby, with Dr Michael Darby, entomologist. It is at Salisbury Museum until 25 September 2022 and also includes Design-Nation member Kate Kato.


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Clare Edwards


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