We Made It: Amelia Gregory and That Which We Do Not Understand

There’s a collection of prints from sixteen artists on the walls of Tatty Devine’s shop in Brick Lane, in East London, some of them with gold leaf selling for £190, the cheaper ones (no gold) for £45. The arrayed images make give a place that's pagan, magical and, as curator Amelia Gregory puts it, “maximalist”.  Last night was the book launch of That Which We Do Not Understand, a gorgeous, limited edition (of 500) book that features the artists in the exhibition as well as forty or so others, along with poems and fiction writing. That Which We Do Not Understand “questions and celebrates the miraculousness of life” and there is a mystical theme throughout with echoes of alchemy, the moon, folklore, voodoo and magick. 

More women than men were inspired to send their work in for this project following an appeal on Amelia’s website, of the several hundred artists and writers who did so. Artists contributed from The Ukraine, Italy, North America among other territories; some were ones that Amelia already knew, but most were new to her and she says discovering new artists was one of the most exciting things about the project, indeed was a major motivating force as it unfolded. The other reason for doing the book now was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Amelia’s Magazine, which was published twice yearly from 2004 to 2008, in elaborately finished print editions, which have gone on to become collectors’ items. Different issues focussed on countries she felt had been underplayed in the arts and fashion world, with specials on Russia, India, Mexico and Brazil. The magazine now exists online, with new artistic content uploaded daily, and while they are plans to revive the paper magazine, her next project is to upgrade the website.

Both the book and the prints were funded by the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, and as Amelia says that process is something you have to put a lot of commitment behind to avoid the embarrassment of failure. In fact, with her wide network of friends and contributors she managed to raise the funds from around 450 backers. Her own background has been eclectic having done stints as a stylist, writer, photographer and putting in time at the fashion coal-face in magazines such as Arena and The Face - which introduced her to many of the contributors she initially leaned on for the magazine. The first issue only had a print run of a thousand and featured a flexidisc of a track by the Libertines’ Pete Docherty, just as he was about to pair up with Kate Moss and become tabloid fodder. For each subsequent issue, she added a thousand to the print run, so the final print editions had a print run of 8000.

Amelia used to be a great traveller, a useful ukulele player, and played in an “alternative ceilidh band” – though such activities have had to be curtailed since becoming a mother a couple of years ago. Her outlook remains global, and she did a book on ethical fashion and illustration and has consistently supported climate change activists. The new book has already had a positive response and is being stocked in the Design Museum and elsewhere. The process of making the prints is a careful one – she uses vegetable based inks by Prinipal Colour and recycled paper by Antalis, while the gold foil is laid on in a later printing process for both the prints and the cover of the book. That gold is more than just bling; perhaps we could see Amelia's obsession with it as an alchemical reference to both an outer process and an inner process, whereby through these acts of creation and craft we can all transform the lead in our lives into the gold of celebration.

The book and print exhibition That Which we Do Not Understand can both be seen at Tatty Devine, 236 Brick Lane, London E2 7EB. The exhibition runs 12th Dec - 5th Jan, and the book will also be available at the Tate Gallery and Design Museum shops, as well as the Amelia’s Magazine website

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