NEW RUG NEW ME is the debut solo exhibition from London based artist Daisy Tortuga. The show opens at the The Truman Brewery, Brick Lane (opposite Rough Trade East) from Friday 4th - 6th June 2021 with a private view and reception at 5pm on Friday 4th.
They swayed about amongst the stars as if he was Pegasus
Daisy Tortuga is my friend. And, as my friend I have seen her progress as an artist and maker over the last few years. Scratching around at the rich tapestry the art life has to offer, like an intrepid cat looking for a loose thread to get her claws into. Experimenting, producing and sampling, but ultimately tossing her play things aside - half eaten - with a feline sense of indifference. Never quite finding enough juicy meat in what she did to sink her teeth fully into any one thing and go for the kill. Forgotten objects gather dust in the many cavernous corners of her previous warehouse studio and home on Fish Island in Hackney Wick. Discarded Art things that never truly thrived - That was until - just before the cursed pangolin coughing plague hit the news and made everyone have to stay at home in the early spring of 2020.
Daisy excelled at staying at home. Not because she is a house cat, but because she had found... a rugging gun... or is it a tufting gun? Whatever, what's important is that everything in Daisy Tortuga's life changed thereafter. Her claw had found its mark in a ball of thread that finally felt right, and stuck with it. Unravelling it whole heartedly with relish and fervour. Now, armed with her trusty new tool, balls of wool and a sense of liberation. Daisy began to express herself creatively more fluently than ever before, embarking on the bold new journey that this debut solo exhibition - NEW RUG NEW ME - is the most significant milestone of. The end of the first chapter in what I am sure will be a long and fruitful story.
We met in the sun outside the Golden Hart pub near the Truman Brewery, where she was having a well deserved pint with the guys who'd helped her hang the show. She was playing a gig later that evening with one of her many musical side-projects, so would have to rush off to soundcheck in not too long - so we made it a swift half and hopped it around the corner to the well presented, glass fronted, clean white gallery space where they'd hung the exhibition.
Although the boutique gallery space of the Truman Brewery is the kind usually reserved for covertly corporate brands with handsome budgets, trying to do something people who work in marketing think is cool. Daisy had transformed the spacious room with an energy that no amount of money or project management could afford. She had given it LIFE. Her installation was colourful without being garish, clean without being sterile, full without being stuffed, airy without being empty, soft and inviting while still being sharp and contemporary, feminine without being twee and perhaps most amazingly for an exhibition of rugs - cute without being kitsch... I mean, this was a fucking exhibition of rugs! And not even ones by the Persian masters. Every inch of my elitist-art-twat-snobbery - who would tell a small child their finger paintings lacked depth - says No. But, I'm standing in a room that feels fresh and exciting, with a bright young artist, full of life that is very much saying YES!
Yes, this is art. Leave your pre-conceptions of what art is, and what you think it's all about with the hipsters and drunken city boys howling at football telly-screen beyond those big clean glass windows. The same ones the people walking past are now eagerly pressing their noses up against, pushing at the door, curious to come inside this magical space. Nothing tells them it's open, but they already feel welcome and they want to come in. This isn't an elitist art space, curated for the in-crowd. This is a welcoming exhibition open to all, and there is something here for everyone. These rugs are not Arts & Crafts, or product design, they would be great paintings if they had been painted, drawings if they'd been in ink so why not just be great hanging rugs in tufted wool? Not painting-like-rugs or rug-like paintings. Here in this room you will find carefully crafted art, full of feeling, raw emotion, narrative and sensibility.
Just in case you thought there was Hope
My first question, was that basic, reductionist, borderline insulting common utterance when standing with an artist before their work "so, how long did this all take you then?" If it mattered, I wouldn't tell you, but as you asked - a life time, now piss off. Being nice, Daisy kindly replies '4 months, but I said 6 months in the press release because 4 sounded too quick'. She asks me to say 6 months for this article, awkwardly checking and correcting herself. I agreed to her wishes, but as I come to write this I discover my word ain't worth jack - as I feel at the heart of the lie is a valuable truth. The first principle in the capitalist equation is > time = money, and money = value. This equation is then exponentially divided when the person in question, whose time is being valued is a female. More and more in recent times, when visiting arty type shows IRL, of up-and-coming instagram-famous [mostly] male artists. There seems to be a fashion, to make it look like you have put as little effort into the work as possible. Shit work with shit presentation seems to be the vogue. No fucks given, but without any guile or vision. Yawn. The kind of work that will look good, and most importantly get its maker likes in a photo but won't stand up in real life - unless by standing up you mean, standing next to the work wearing an earnest expression, a beard or a hat, or any combination of the three.
The art world's filter has never been very good at detecting bullshit, and now it has photoshop. So high is the self-perceived value of a male artists time, that many male artists who see the new realms of the tiny pocket-screen kingdom as theirs to rule with impunity, seem to believe that their own self-importance as influential artists-of-instagram is so monumental that it is even below them to spend any meaningful amount of time, or show any love, care or consideration to [even] their own work. What a breath of fresh air it is to stand in a room of Daisy's work. Pulsating with female energy. Feel the care and attention radiating from each and every object. My tutor Maggi Hambling always told us to make our work our best friend. Everyone of Daisy's rugs are as much a friend to her, as a work of art or pin in the road-map of her own self care and recovery. Every hanging rug has its place of importance in her story - and healing. Each loose thread clipped. Nothing here is throw away or misplaced, except for her own regrettable feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem, embodied in the depiction of herself going down a fluffy toilet., a work I find reminiscent of Meret Oppenheim's playful 1936 furry tea-cup 'Luncheon in Fur'.
Failure to Thrive
Each one of Daisy's rugs, from her flying on the back on her bat-winged cat, to her overtly sexualised fish-head-pie is a character in her story. A fragment or aspect of herself. Her 'normal' self, sad self, angry self, blue, green - but as she says - "take what you want from it". Although the story here is deeply personal and autobiographical, the message is universal. Each one has taken as long as it has taken, whether it be hours, days, months or a whole life of lived experiences - going as far back as the one about the kidney she had removed at 6 months old, to the ones in response to her recent break-up and heartbreak. This concept of time cannot not be valued by any vapid capitalist equations. Emotional intelligence and empathy are priceless here, and learnt through hard fought battles. Lost and won. However, not only are Daisy's battles with self-worth as an artist - multiplied by being a female artist in a male dominated industry. They're also as a female artist making hyper-feminine works of art that many would see fit to belittle as craft-work, with no consideration for their genuine artistic substance and merit, or their ability to hold their own within the art gallery context. We only need to give a momentary glance at the career of Tracey Emin who I'm sure is a great inspiration on Daisy, to see the art world's toxic response to a strong female voice.
Apologies reader, that was a long way of going about saying I wasn't going to cover for Daisy's little white lie about how long the works had taken her to make. This is something I wanted to be honest about, inspired by the honesty in the works themselves and not play into the patriarchal narrative that Daisy's time is somehow worth less - so needed to add more time to the equation to increase the value of the work. Her male colleagues in the industry would feel no such pressure or need for apology. Proudly boasting to their followers on opening night how they'd made the whole show on a hangover that very morning - because they could.
Everything is Sex
Daisy herself, is also, in many respects an Instagram-famous artist, with over 11,000 followers on the platform. She admits, that on discovering the tufting gun, start using it and sharing videos of herself at work - the rugs she made became an instant hit. Receiving a deluge of interest and requests for commissions. Who said affirmation is better than sex? This excitement, enthusiasm and positive reinforcement from her peers towards the work - and her newly found tufting practice, propelled Daisy onwards and upwards with great vigour, focus and direction. A stream of cute rugs ensued. Fluffy Eggs, baked beans and cherubs swamped her stories. Fun and decorative works, not so much to my taste but people loved them. Daisy was on a roll, riding on a bat-winged cat of virality - endlessly producing and selling!
Rugging was not just a side-line anymore, but a new way of life. The dream of makers everywhere. This period of commercial success climaxed at Christmas 2020 with a large and financially lucrative commission from Nando's - to make bespoke rugs for their corporate Christmas gift bags - given out to those deemed important enough by head-office to receive one. Although financially this was obviously a peak moment in the woolly journey that had begun less than a year earlier, and taken her to the lofty heights of the title I made up just now of 'Queen Rug-Rat'. Artistically, it was perhaps a low point. This moment was roughly 6 months before the hanging of NEW RUG NEW ME - the much to my relief - glorious show we were now standing in. But how did we get from Nando's to here? As Daisy took me on a tour of the pieces, giving me names and titbits of information on each one, like she was introducing me to old and new friends at a cocktail party. Perhaps that's what she had meant by 6 months all along? The time it took to create the antidote to that most anodyne of peri-peri flavoured art? A 6 month cathartic programme to heal any void of artistic integrity. Had Daisy won the game? Had she had her cake and eaten it? Had she got away with taking the money, and using the time and freedom gifted to her by it to be independent and create - Art? Was that so bad?
She confesses to me that the first piece of this self reflective 'breakthrough' series wasn't actually present in the show, as it had been damaged in storage and begun to deteriorate, becoming creased and ugly. Was this particular rug her picture of Dorian Gray, tucked away in her flat, hidden from public view, absorbing all bad odours and leaving her smelling of daisies? My curiosity had peaked. I wished the rug was on display behind a curtain in the back for the intrepid traveller such as myself. I could do with a bit of ugly. I wanted to see something on the floor.
In the Blue Lagoon
The closest thing I'll get to a bit of ugly at this beautiful and tender show however, is where I'll leave you wanting more (to see the show for yourselves). We are finally stood together before a £5 toilet she'd bought off ebay and finished covering in sickly-sweet-pink-rug-stuff the night before (the most recent work in the show, not that she would boast about it). As the only floor-based sculptural work (not on the walls), the toilet stands out like a nightmare set at your nan's house, a faceless and vulnerable self-portrait of Daisy sits on the flipped up lid. I ask Daisy to explain why she has put herself in a toilet? She softly laughs with a furtive glance and grins through a slightly pained expression. Telling me the piece was called 'Failure to Thrive', a term used on the death certificates of children who had died in the Workhouses of Dickensian London - the kinds of places the dark walls of the old Truman Brewery had known throughout its long life. Where the previous work of Daisy had died and failed to thrive, undernourished, or left by the way side, she wasn't going to let these works meet a similar fate. Something special is happening here, and the work is growing in confidence as Daisy grows as an artist on this fertile ground. Taking every opportunity to work and live in this most precarious art life with a determination and fierce love that will conquer all. Daisy & her work are thriving.
words by Conrad Armstrong