An ariel photograph of a group of people in colourful clothes having a picnic on fabric squares in a rectangular formation, in the middle of a moorland path.

Artist A & Artist B: In the Pockets of a Parachute

Aerial shot at Loughrigg Tarn in the Lake District. Image courtesy of Artist A & Artist B, drone footage by Tim Blackwell.

‘Statement of Intent’ (‘S.O.I.’) is an ongoing project initiated by Jackie Haynes and Heather Ross in October 2021. The Manchester and Preston based artists operate under the name Artist A & Artist B to reflect their intermingled project inputs. ‘S.O.I.’ is an opportunity for the duo to manage a creative outlet that is separate to their individual multi-disciplinary practices. Haynes has a background in textiles and costume design and Ross works with historical and archival material.

Their collaborative approach to making and research stems from a shared interest in artist Kurt Schwitters, whom they are both studying as part of their respective practice-based PhDs. The working relationship between Schwitters and fellow Dadaist Raoul Hausmann was examined by Haynes and Ross to better understand ways of working for ‘S.O.I’. In the 1920s Postwar period, with Hausmann in exile in Limoges and Schwitters in Ambleside, the two collaborated via posted letters and images. Although Haynes and Ross are operating in a different historical context, they find relevance in Schwitters and Hausmann’s ideas of artistic exchange and survival strategies. What underpins both collaborations are friendship and experimentation.

In an interview on the Hatton Gallery website, Ross links her interest in Schwitters to her belief that arts practice can ‘open up [a] dialogue between the historical context and a contemporary audience’.[1] Accordingly, Haynes and Ross used printmaking processes in the early stages of ‘S.O.I.’ to ‘activate arts practice in what is predominantly a historical field of research’. PIN and the Story of PIN, a collection of exchanges and letters between Schwitters and Hausmann published in 1962, was a main source of inspiration for the project, its Dada design aesthetic naturally lending itself to printmaking. Words are manipulated and collaged throughout the book, capturing Schwitters’ method of making assemblages from everyday ephemera. He described his artistic activities as ‘Merz’, a nonsense word derived from ‘Commerz Bank’, which appeared on a piece of paper in one of his collages from 1918. Haynes and Ross crystalised their statement of intent at a presentation at Newcastle University’s Cultural Practice Research Forum by reciting an excerpt by Schwitters from PIN:

‘The language is only a medium to feel. Not to understand.

Do you understand that?

You understand?

Do you really understand?’

Funding from Newcastle University’s Pioneer Awards enabled the duo to partly develop ‘S.O.I.’ at Artlab Contemporary Printmaking Studio, a practice-based research unit at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston. Prints are one of the many physical outcomes, and Haynes describes ‘S.O.I.’ as ‘an open-ended, mobile and performative structure of accumulating artforms’. These artforms include, but are not limited to, scripts, costumes, projection, sound, zines and books. In 2025, an amalgamation of this material will be exhibited at the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University. I am curious about how an archive built over four years will be exhibited both in practical and aesthetic terms.

An interesting aspect of the work is a cargo parachute that Artist A & Artist B accidentally bought on eBay instead of a sky diving one. Repeated manual processes such as sewing, cutting and printing, allowed them to transform and adapt it to different uses and environments. The parachute is a vessel for ideas and, when activated, it becomes a site of activity – such as a parks and other public spaces – sparking unexpected outputs and activities. The following response explores the artists’ process in developing this aspect of the project.

An ariel phograph of a large grey parachute layed out in the shape of an 'x' on a grassy field.
Aerial shot at Platt Fields Park in Manchester. Image courtesy of Artist A & Artist B, drone footage by Tim Blackwell.

A hefty package arrives on the doorstep. Attempts to drag the seventy-kilo decommissioned cargo parachute into the house is like an impromptu acceptance ceremony by Artist A & Artist B. First opened, the twenty-four-metre-wide object feels very unmanageable.

Haynes explains the origin of the parachute idea during a presentation of ‘S.O.I.’ at Newcastle University’s Cultural Practice Research Forum in March 2022:

‘We identified the need for a form that was dynamic, mobile and portable and could be developed at different sites. That was something we were continually focused on throughout our conversations in lockdown… We were trying to find forms to attach our ideas to and that we could speak through. We therefore decided to buy a parachute’.

An ordinary trip to Platt Fields Park in Manchester turns into a performative exploration of their recent purchase. Artist A & Artist B crawl in and out of the central pockets after unfolding layers of nylon and stretching the grey-green fabric across the grass. There is a sense of playfulness in the way the material is consciously manipulated. Energy is in the air – this is the first outdoor encounter between the artists since lockdown. This field is a safe choice, with lockdown restrictions only recently lifted, but also allows them space to explore the potential of the parachute and how they might work with it across different sites.

Friend Tim Blackwell is called upon to capture drone footage of the unusual activity, leaving those walking by feeling bemused and curious. The first stage of the process involves making cuts in the fabric to remove some of the excess weight. Aesthetic considerations are made to ensure that its symmetry is retained. Haynes and Ross later realise that they have cut out the symbol for Holland Dada, a windmill shape found on the first edition of Merz magazine (January 1923) that Schwitters edited and published in Hanover.[2] The magazine helped Schwitters solidify his place in the international Dada artists’ network, whose main purpose was to produce art that would shock or confuse the viewer. Its publication near end of the Dada movement also marked the beginning of Schwitters and Hausmann’s iconic friendship.

The parachute is still too heavy to move in one piece, so the pair decide to initiate stage two of the transformation process. This time they work in a project space and carpark at Birley Artist Studios in Preston. Areas of stitching and tape sectioning on the panels dictate where the next cuts are made, as if following a dressmaker’s delicate pattern. The more attention is given to exploring the surface details of the parachute, the more it reveals. The artists’ time together is limited and therefore precious, and the physical process of distorting and reducing its size is draining. Approximately twenty pieces of fabric are sprawled out on the cold concrete of the carpark.

A stack of prints on a drying rack in a printmaking studio, with yellow and black designs combining abstract shapes and letters.
‘S.O.I.’ prints drying at Artlab Contemporary Printmaking Studio in Preston. Image courtesy of Artist A & Artist B.

The layout of the carpark is then scaled down in the form of paper cut outs and mapped onto a poster design consisting of black and light and dark yellow inks. The composition of the limited-edition poster is a jigsaw of the letters S, O and I, combined with the cross symbol and twenty parachute cut outs. It is yet undecided whether they will be sold to fund a future iteration of the artwork or used to print onto later. This testing of text is vital to ‘S.O.I.’ because it will determine how audiences interact with the project once text from PIN and Haynes and Ross’ Skype conversations is printed on the parachute pieces as part of the next phase. These are an invitation for dialogue; snippets of conversation ready to be activated. In this way the parachute pieces are a form of conversation, like Haynes and Ross’ video calls during lockdown and Schwitters and Hausmann’s posted letters.

In December 2021, an intense period of screenprinting with a team of five studio assistants takes place at Artlab. Haynes describes the process of working in the studio with the parachute pieces as ‘grappling with their spatial potential’. Each sheet of fabric flops over the edges of the printing press like a large fish out of water. She tells me how the weight of the fabric covered in wet ink demands the strength and attention of the whole studio team.

Extracts from Skype conversations were converted into a script and parts of it were printed on the parachute in response to Schwitters and Hausmann’s written correspondence.

B:                   Yeah: He can’t stand to make a stand… there’s a whole thing about standing and standing under and understanding. It’s related to PIN for sure. Language is only a vehicle to understand and not to understand. Do you understand?

Narrator:        They chant: ABOVE ABOVE ABOVE BELOW BELOW BELOW

Haynes and Ross work in an instinctual way, but their decisions are fully informed. They go on a research trip to see a parachute dress and croquet skirt at Platt Hall’s collection of fashion, dress and textiles (part of Manchester Art Gallery). The collection inspires further manipulations of the leftover pieces of parachute material. Straps turn into bags, scraps into ponchos and plates, props to be used for their most ambitious event to date.

In February 2022, the artwork is finally ready to be activated. Haynes and Ross host a picnic at Loughrigg Tarn in the Lake District, along the route from Ambleside to Loughrigg Tarn, where an aged Schwitters might once have tread. The artists set up and gently interrupt the flow of walkers, almost like a happening. The unveiling of the picnic blankets for thirty people of all ages brings the artwork to life. Pumpkins and peppers, selected by colour, are carefully dotted on the plates. A crunch is heard as someone takes a spontaneous bite out of a raw pepper, surprising the artists. Boiled eggs are smuggled in the parachute pockets like slightly disappointing Kinder Surprises.

A photograph of a series of round plates made from grey parachute material containing various vegetables and foodstuffs, on a green grassy feild with some picnickers visible on the edge of the frame.
Detail of picnic at Loughrigg Tarn in the Lake District. Image courtesy of Artist A & Artist B.

Even though I was not at the event, seeing aerial footage gives me a feeling of excitement. I imagine the chatter between the picnickers as jumbled letters and words are read out, ‘understand… you… Do?’. The drone is hovering above the earth like the parachute once did in a previous life and is a source of reflection for the next intervention, whatever that may be. In my conversations with Haynes and Ross I have learned they are never short of seed ideas and their resourcefulness and determination, especially during lockdown, is admirable.

For me, as beautiful as the documentation and written reflections may be, nothing compares to direct physical interactions with an artwork. Perhaps a reliance on the audience to activate the work is what makes ‘S.O.I.’ so interesting – it can never happen the same way twice. Haynes and Ross are determined to continue working together beyond their studies, not only to avoid a cliff-edge moment after submitting their theses, but to have a creative outlet that can yield both unusual and experimental results.

Work by Artist A & Artist B is on display at The Birley Artist Studios until 30 September 2022. This exploration was informed by a series of online conversations with Artist A & Artist B, the second in a series of written responses to artist residencies at Artlab Contemporary Printmaking Studio, Preston.

Danielle Ash is a curator and writer based in Middlesbrough.

This exploration is supported by Artlab Contemporary Printmaking Studio.

[1] Q&A with Heather Ross,Hatton Gallery, 2022. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 September 2022].

[2] Kurt Schwitters, Merz no. 1: ‘Holland Dada’, 1923. Pdf available at: <> [Accessed 28 September 2022].

Published 28.09.2022 by Lara Eggleton in Explorations

1,930 words