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Karen Guthrie

exmoor national dress exmoor national dres exmoor national dress exmoor national dress

Work made:

  1. Exmoor National Dress || Gallery (main images) || Gallery (additional images) || film


Karen says:

"My work is guided by a fascination with people and what sustains their communities and networks.

I was drawn to the Triparks project because I myself now live in a National Park –– the Lake District (Cumbria), and in the last five years I have made a body of work about that context, especially the influence of tourism on social and economic activity.

I was fascinated to find on Exmoor a quite different kind of National Park, compact and much less tourism-orientated.  I was also interested in the eclectic architecture, the diverse landscapes and the contrast in atmosphere with nearby seaside towns like Minehead.  But most of all I enjoyed meeting Exmoor people –– incomers and locals alike –– and hearing about their lives.

I’ve always had an interest in fashion and clothing, especially folk costume, and what handmade or traditional garments say about a particular place and wearer.  I’m also an inveterate vintage clothes collector, and find real insights when I travel by seeking them out.

The concept of ‘national dress’ is complex and at times controversial across the globe.  England, peculiarly, has no ‘national dress’ as such, and Scotland’s kilt is largely an invention, allegedly by a Cumbrian mill owner (for his Highland workforce’s convenience) closely followed by Sir Walter Scott (to ‘set-dress’ the Edinburgh visit of the English monarchy).  Many national costumes have been banned or –– in contrast –– revived for political reasons and in the developed world the concept of a handmade, unique garment is increasingly anachronistic, let alone one that can express a collective identity.

I wanted to create a hypothetical ‘national dress’ for Exmoor specifically, which could celebrate its ‘specialness’ from the rest of England and somehow embody the characteristics of the people I had met there.  I decided to integrate some objects commissioned from local makers (like Tom Lock’s antler ‘crown’) and also the utopian-feeling Exmoor landscape prints by Maurice Bishop, which I have used in the garments.  I had a strong sense that it should look ‘ceremonial’, and somehow have both contemporary and traditional overtones.

I chose to photograph and film a wide range of Exmoor people wearing the costume, creating a series that relates to those old ethnographic photography archives of tribal peoples, and also to contemporary fashion imagery.  Putting on a costume is always transformative –– I hope the photographs can articulate something of this moment."



Project website:

Artist website: ||

Contact info: through website

About: Karen Guthrie began her professional career in new media art, working with Nina Pope on a range of online and live projects including the web travelogue ‘A Hypertext Journal’ (1996) and a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ ‘/broadcast/’ (1999, commissioned by Tate Modern).  Now termed ‘socially-engaged practice’, this early work was characterised by their inclusive collaborations with non-artists and the priority placed on reaching new audiences.

Karen’s recent works include two idiosyncratic documentary feature films ‘Bata-ville: We are not afraid of the future’ (Somewhere Film, 2006) and ‘Living with the Tudors’ (Soda Pictures, 2008), both with Nina Pope.  Current commissions include the long-term redevelopment of the historic Abbey Gardens near the Olympic site in London.  Karen and Nina are also active in an artists’ network of international 'Honesty Table' projects, which offer home produce to the public "without guarantee" for a voluntary payment.  In 2008 they were awarded the first Northern Art Prize.

Karen recently completed a prison residency commissioned by Litfest (Lancaster).  As well as her creative practice, she free-lances for Grizedale Arts, her roles including creating an online archive of British design and craft objects, and developing their websites for their online audiences.  She has also worked as a fine art lecturer, an art consultant, and last year on leading a public art programme in Egremont, West Cumbria.  Karen was raised on the West coast of Scotland and now lives in the Lake District.








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