The Independent

The Independent

The Independent
Tracey Moberly
Text and Subtext
The Artist Tracey Moberly is so Obsessed With Her Mobile Phone That She's Created an Exhibition Inspired By Her Messages. Gr8, Says Ciar Byrne

March 7 2007

When Pete Doherty texted her to say "Eels slip down easily" - a reference to a radio show in which he tried to teach her to eat jellied eels - Tracey Moberly knew just what to do. The artist, who hails from the Welsh valleys but is now firmly planted in London's East End, is in the process of turning the singer's cheeky innuendo into a Victorian-style cross-stitch sampler.

The embroidery will appear in the sixth instalment of a series of exhibitions that Moberly has created, based on every text message she has ever received. Text Me Up 5 opens at the Nancy Victor gallery in London on Friday, but Moberly - whose output in a dizzying range of media is unceasing - is already preparing for her next show, focusing on electronic missives she has been sent by celebrities. She has also used scroll printing to display her text messages, stitched them on to on pink cushions and attached them to balloons with her telephone number, prompting even more messages in response.

"I'm still like a teenager with texting," confesses the 42-year- old. "My children's sense of humour has surpassed mine now. [She has two sons, aged 15 and 16, as well as a stepson, 24, from her first marriage.] I'm still stuck at that 11-year-old's toilet sense of humour. The majority of my friends are male. It's the daftness of them that appeals to me."

In a website called Parallel Lives, Moberly has also created a visual blog of her day-to-day life and anything else that interests her in and around her home patch (she lives between Brick Lane and Columbia Road flower market). Using the camera on her mobile phone, she has taken pictures of dead Christmas trees abandoned on pavements, plug holes, hearts, arrows, "The End" of films and pools of sick on the pavements of Shoreditch.

The Russian mobile phone network MTS has now asked her to launch its new service in a joint exhibition with Russian photographer, Dima Rezvan, who, unbeknown to her, was working on a similar project. "The word I'd come up with was mobilography - taking pictures with your mobile, while you're wandering around. But he'd pipped me to the post." Together, they plan to create a "world mobilo-gram", getting people around the world to send in images taken with their mobile phones.

Working with new digital technologies is just one strand of Moberly's art. Following her philosophy, "If you can knit a jumper, you can build a house", she also spins, dyes and weaves, works in metal and brick, and produces mosaics, paintings and sonograms - colourful visual depictions of sound waves. These have included Tony Benn reading aloud from his diaries and the female orgasm, for an exhibition she staged in Moscow.

Moberly enjoys a love affair with Russia, stemming from a week- long cultural exchange between The Foundry, the Shoreditch bar and gallery she owns with her second husband, Jonathan, and Moscow venue The Dom, which took a group of artists including Doherty and Gavin Turk to the Russian capital. "I remember doing handsprings outside Lenin's tomb at three o'clock in the morning and planting poppy seeds, a symbol of fertility, in Red Square."

When the Russians paid a return visit to Hoxton, as a "peace- making" gesture Moberly borrowed an air-to-air missile from a woman in Ellesmere Port and drove it down the motorway to London in an ex- army Falklands chevy, before delivering it to The Foundry.

In a recent exhibition at London's City Hall, Moberly again placed the printed word in a highly visual medium. Mental Abuse Part 1 is constructed around a poem about someone who repeatedly tells their partner that they are "nothing"; the word is printed too small to be seen by the naked eye, and must be read with the aid of a magnifying glass. To suggest the behind-closed-doors nature of abuse, to read the poem it is necessary to draw back a series of black curtains resembling the veil worn by some Muslim women.

In the middle of the exhibiting space, she put hundreds of bunches of flowers in the suffragette colours of green, white and violet. "In the last decade, more people died as a result of domestic violence than in September 11, but there's no memorial." Moberly is now planning a sculpture by the side of the Thames to remember the victims of domestic abuse.

Her impassioned feminism can be traced back to her growing up in the Welsh Valleys, where women were banned from men-only drinking clubs and snooker halls. "It's had a massive effect on me. I'm permanently fighting against that and it comes out in my work," she says.

At 18, Moberly went to study fine art at Newport University, where her dissertation was on the decimation of a mining community. After gaining a first class honours degree, she stuck a pin in a map to decide where to go next. It landed in Manchester.

Arriving in the city, she applied for jobs that were in some way linked to a patchwork mural she had created on the theme of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. One of the jobs was working on the archaeological dig in Castle-field in Manchester city centre. She won the post, and went on to marry the man who interviewed her, although they have since divorced.

When their eldest son went to nursery school in the deprived Hulme area of the city, Moberly could not bear to leave him. So she set about raising funds to work with the children at the nursery to create a mosaic, beginning an enduring involvement with community arts projects and teaching. She subsequently taught art at Manchester Metropolitan University.

But it was advertisements for Club 18-30 that turned Moberly into a local celebrity. So incensed was she by the "Beaver Espana" campaign, boasting of sex and alcohol in the sun but failing to promote condom use, that she gathered a team of graffiti artists to spray-paint safe sex messages onto the posters in the dead of night. She soon found herself interviewed by on the local news, prompting invitations to work with safe sex campaigns in the city.

Moberly has come up with the perfect metaphor for an artistic career spanning more than two decades, in which she sees all her artworks as interlinked: "If you think of a piece of chicken wire, the bit in the middle of the hexagon is where the artwork would be, then it sends you off in all these different directions. Somebody could respond to the artwork by telling me about a film. I could go to see the film and I will come up with a different art work." With a throaty laugh, she adds: "Or, I could get knocked over and die on the way..."

Text Me Up 5, Nancy Victor Gallery, London W1 (020-7813 0373), 9 to 27 March; you can view Tracey Moberly's work online at

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