Bournemouth artist Michelle Rumney is inviting a very human response to her gallery work The Map Of Mundi at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, from Saturday 12 January – she’s calling on people to come along and be measured with string!

Michelle will then take the human lengths of string and work them into spirals that are slipped inside paper envelopes and fixed with a single cross stitch to be incorporated into grids for maps on an artwork that will build over the course of the exhibition and be added to in future shows.

At the centre of the exhibition is Michelle’s ‘map’ inspired by the famous Mappa Mundi – the largest surviving medieval map of the world – on show at Hereford Cathedral. Visitors will make their way through a forest of spirals strung together in an echo of the journey undertaken by medieval pilgrims to see the original map.

“The curved wall in the gallery will gradually fill with things made by visitors to the exhibition,” says Michelle, who will be hosting workshops in the gallery. “They could be drawn, doodled, written, sewn or made of string. I have strings from the Archbishop of Wales, a countess, a Great Dane and even a teddy bear from one little girl who was too shy to be measured herself.

“Each of the strings has its own energy, it is a thing of beauty in its own right. I was inspired by the medieval practice of Measuring to the Saint – measuring a person from head to foot. Time and space were measured and experienced quite differently in those days.”

In the first week of the exhibition visitors can find out just how long a league and a furlong are, see how far medieval hours and minutes went and where their own length in string might lead.

Michelle’s 2015 exhibition at Lighthouse, ‘Are we there yet? Mapping the Labyrinth’ was seen by Catherine Clarke, University of Southampton Professor of Medieval Literature and Culture. She invited the artist to collaborate with medieval research fellow Chloe McKenzie on the St Thomas Way project, which launched in July last year. This new heritage trail links Swansea and Hereford and loosely follows the medieval pilgrimage route of ‘The Hanged Man’, Welsh outlaw William Cragh. In 1290 he was hanged three times on the same day, but miraculously came back to life while being ‘Measured to the Saint’ – Saint Thomas of Hereford. Reformed and in gratitude, he walked barefoot with the noose around his neck all the way from Swansea to Hereford Cathedral.

“The people that give me their string will join the 250 I have already collected as part of the project. They are all connected by these strings and are their tales are part of this story that has been going on for more than 700 years. I know from my last show at Poole that all sorts of people turn up and they all have stories to tell that become part of the bigger picture.”

As well as measuring with string there are further opportunities to take part and contribute to the work during the exhibition.

In the second week, from 22 January, Michelle’s sessions will be driven by the idea of the Mappa Mundi as a storytelling tool to explain the known and unknown worlds with visitors encouraged to map a personal ‘pilgrimage’ real or imagined. Subsequent workshops include looking at medieval and modern stories through the prism of social media, how local buildings and landscapes may have changed in 700 years, and looking at pilgrimage as a kind of medieval tourism.

The exhibition is possible due to support from Arts Council England, Hereford Cathedral, St Thomas Way and the University of Southampton.

Published 11 January 2019