June 8, 2020

The Chaos Within – Work with What You’ve Got with Grace and Diggs

by joeyphoenix

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“Making stuff out of trash and and found items – it forces you to think in new ways and it puts a very unique stamp on your work.” – Linda Mullen, Grace and Diggs

Editor’s Note: In the podcast preamble I mention several organizations where you can get information from or donate to right now that are doing what is needed:

Borrowed from the Anti-Racist Resource Guide, curated by Victoria Alexander, MEd

Linda Mullen of Grace & Diggs is an interdisciplinary artist who makes wearable art and installation pieces out of recycled materials.  She joins Joey on the podcast today to talk about what she’s been up to, the inspiration behind upcycled art, and what it means to be a maker in an untethered world. 

The Famous Mad Hatter Bag Hat

Beki Ferrari wears one of Linda’s creations for 2019 Salem Arts Festival
Linda’s Bottle Sculpture

She does custom work for special events and sells her work through small retailers and at vendor fairs.  

Her work has been featured in many events and local fashion shows on the North Shore, including the Salem Arts Festival Fashion Show and the 2019 Rubbish to Runway ReFashion Show, which I had the privilege of walking in while wearing one of her incredible creations, an bronze tinged industrial wearable art piece that looked like a 19th century divers helmet mixed with a mourning veil, inspired by Annie Lennox’s Ghost in My Machine. 

Mentioned in this Podcast

Mills 58 Peabody
Artists Row Salem
Project Runway
The Last Kingdom
What We Do in the Shadows
Marie Kondo
The Chaos Within – Jellyfish Lady
Salem Arts Festival
Salem Arts Festival Fashion Show Fundraiser
Rubbish to Runway
Karen Scalia
Tidal Shift by Claudia Paraschiv | Studioful Design
Apollo 13
Moody’s Interiors

About The Chaos Within

Hosted by Joey Phoenix, The Chaos Within is a podcast celebrating the weird, the wild, and the creative – featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energy.

The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective and is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The Logo was designed by Anton Presents, the intro music is by Paul Senn (psenn@thetau.io) using the Theta-U Creative Circuit System, and the outro music by Chris Wilson Sound using one of Joey’s maternal Grandmother’s haunted music boxes.


National Museum of African American History and Culture “Talking About Race” Web Portal

Action Bail Fund: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/wp4bl

Campaign Zero: https://www.joincampaignzero.org

Black Visions Collective: https://secure.everyaction.com/4omQDAR0oUiUagTu0EG-Ig2

The National Bail Out: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/freeblackmamas2020

Reclaim the Block: https://www.reclaimtheblock.org/home

Unicorn Riot: https://unicornriot.ninja/five-years-of-unicorn-riot/

Audio Transcript

Joey Phoenix 0:01
Hi, everyone, this is Joey. We are living in some wild and important times, and I have been watching everyone do good work across social media. And I think it’s very important for me to say thank you. Keep it up, take the time you need to rest and recharge. This government isn’t new. It’s been going on for centuries. And so since we’re in the middle, don’t burn yourself out. Practice self care think about getting what you need so that you continue to do the good work. Pulling from your empty does no one any favors.

And the one thing I keep holding on to is don’t do nothing. But what do you do something do no harm. And sometimes pulling from our empty and trying to get out of our empty when we’re not taking care of ourselves leads to rash decision making and harm. So please be kind to yourselves, because this is something that will go on long after we’ve burnt ourselves out, so don’t do that. I’m just gonna read a list of organizations to connect with and stay informed. And I’ll actually have this list in my show notes as well.

But it’s very important that I just say that things here so that you can’t miss them. The Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center, The Audrey Lorde Project, Black Lives Matter. Black Woman’s Blueprint, Color of Change, Colorlines, the Conscious Kid, Equal Justice Initiative, Families believe Together, Higher Heights Leadership Fund, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights, the Movement for Black Lives, NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League, Showing up for Racial Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, United Negro College Fund, and work vote. Pardon me, Woke Vote.

These are just a small list of things. do your own research. Don’t ask your black friends for emotional labor. Reach out to people like me who could help point you in the right direction. You don’t have to do this alone. But don’t take from people who shouldn’t have to give it to you. I think it’s also important for me to say that it is it is Pride Month. It is very much pride month right now and it is very easy to live in the world of rainbow sparkle, unicorn pride but that’s not the point. Pride is intersectional pride is black trans women. Pride is inclusive. Pride is indigenous. If your pride isn’t is not intersectional it’s not pride. And I probably dedicate an episode to why that is later.

But for now, I’m excited to share this podcast with you and again, like it’s not centered on the topics at hand. It’s something that I recorded a while ago, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t exist. So, do the work, research, take care of yourself, be actively anti-racist. But also know yourself? Both and you can do both things. You can fight injustice and work to bring down systemic racism in your heart. In your politics in your country, n equals two podcasts. Thanks for listening.

Joey Phoenix 4:15
The Chaos Within is part of Creative Collective presents is a podcast celebrating the weird, the wild, and the creative, featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs, exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energy. The intro music is by Paul Senn, and the outro music is by Chris Wilson Sound. In the beginning, there was chaos. I’m your host Joey Phoenix.

Linda Mullen of Grace and Diggs is an interdisciplinary artist. She makes wearable art installation pieces out of recycled materials. She does custom work for special events and sells her work through small retailers and at vendor fairs. Her work has been featured in many events and local fashion shows on the North Shore, including the Salem Arts Festival fashion show and the 2019 Rubbish to Runway Rerefashion show, which I had the privilege of walking in while wearing one of her incredible creations – a bronze tinge industrial wearable piece that looked like a 19th century divers helmet mix for the morning unveil. Inspired by Annie Lennox’s ghost in my machine.

In the days before COVID-19. She taught workshops on making art and have found items and is currently pivoting to an online presence. She joins me today on the podcast to talk about what she’s been up to the inspiration behind upcycled art and what it means to be a maker and an untethered world. Welcome, Linda.

Linda Mullen 5:33
Thank you, Joey It’s so fun to be here. And it’s fun hearing you talk about me.

Joey Phoenix 5:43
you’re wonderful. I was just thinking that the first time that you and I ever interacted was during the Salem Arts Festival in like 2017/2016 and I walking down artists row on a bright sunny day, and you’re like, Hey, you you’re walking around a lot. I want to make you something and I was Like, excuse me and you’re like yeah, come back in an hour I’m gonna make you something and I came back and you had made this beautiful paper bag bright pink hat like mad hatter style magic hat with like a feather and some like weird baubles. And I wore that so many times because I felt like a prince in it was wonderful.

Linda Mullen 6:25
So well I’m very much generally been one of one of my favorite models and certain you’ve worn a lot of my stuff and it’s just yeah, you know, you see your art reflected back and see somebody put it on and it is always very affirming and and it drives the creative process and I’ve been so touched to see to have your enthusiasm about that and thank you. Such a joy.

Joey Phoenix 6:54
So I guess like, we’ll talk about these beautiful paper bags a hat a bit leader but like for right now what is your day to day look like? Are you currently making art

Linda Mullen 7:08
Um, so my current days I get up I have my coffee which I love because I’m very, very much an introvert and I love just all of this time to, to just breathe in. So get up generally have coffee I somewhere in there I might think about getting dressed or not. And I’ve been going for big long walks and then eventually I get over to my studio and I’ll do something there. And then I come back and I cook. I’m getting to be a good cook which is which is calming and those are my days and I binge watch something and then we’ve got a couple shows that I’m into

Joey Phoenix 7:54
What are you watching right now?

Linda Mullen 7:58
Been into I’ve been bingeing all the Project Runway, which is, right. And then let’s see, we’ve been watching what we do in the shadows, which is hilarious. I’ve been watching the last Kingdom

Joey Phoenix 8:16
last time I spoke to you it was at Kokeshi like ages ago. And we were talking about transitioning to your new studio and Peabody because you used to be on Artists Row and now you’ve found this beautiful new space. What has it been like working there? Like, what is the transition been like for you to that space?

Linda Mullen 8:39
It’s been interesting, and it’s interesting to have it collide with this pandemic. So. So artists row, you know, that’s a whole other topic and it was just this wonderful experience. And it was where I got my start. And I can tell you all the reasons I love artists row, including meeting you and you know, dragging people pulling out the sidewalk to, to talk to them.

But it was time for me to move on. And so it’s been a great time to go to a studio where there’s no retail component where I just can go in and close the door and work. And it’s kind of collided with a bunch of things like really needing some time to rest. I’ve been moving in. I’ve been going through this whole kind of Marie Kondo experience where the things I needed at the shop on artist row, I don’t need anymore, but I’ve been afraid to let them go because they’ve been sort of part of this other world. And so I’ve been going through that of sorting and cleaning and getting rid of stuff at which of course means focusing on what I want to do next and trusting that I’ll have all the materials I need to go forward and so it’s okay to get rid of stuff and Then a lot of time online thinking about what? You know how I’m going to exist in this new world, as I’m sure we all are.

Joey Phoenix 10:09
Yeah, it’s definitely creating a whole lot of new challenges of how to do what we’ve been doing. I think like, one of the things I’ve noticed too, it’s like I love thrifting or I love you know, upcycling or like grabbing things that are taken no longer loved and making them something new. And that’s like the bulk of what you do. Are you what you currently source materials like where are your Where are you getting your materials from at the moment?

Linda Mullen 10:38
Well, I’ll tell you I am so missing the thrift stores. I you know, the question floating around online is what are you going to do and things opened up where were you go first, and I think I’m going to go straight to the favorite thrift stores because I’m missing them. But luckily I’ve had a ton of materials saved. I’ve got lots of stuff to work with.

Joey Phoenix 11:02
That’s fortunate though Have you always like just gathered things from the world and made things like what’s what’s a bit of your like journey to becoming what you have become this crazy you lovely upcycle artists like how did you get started in all this?

Linda Mullen 11:17
totally accidentally. I was listening to the jellyfish lady. That was you and she said something about how she had started at a vendor fairs, I think a graphic designer, and then had a couple of her jellyfish off to the side just to sort of fill up her tent. And it was the same you know, and so she she did the shift because she found that people love the jellyfish and I could so relate to that. I started on artists row with crafts and it was all stuff that was sort of geared towards interior decorating.

And I thought that I would have a you know, make stuff for the home. And then I added just a couple hats because they fill up the space because it’s you know, it’s scary to go in and realize you don’t have enough inventory and oh my gosh, what am I going to do and I so I had sort of this combination of stuff. I had the paper bag, hats and then other things that I was making. And I found that the hats just really took over and, and then I really have the Salem Arts Festival fashion show fundraiser and Karen Scalia and people involved in that. I really need to thank them for the shift to working in upcycle materials. Because Karen asked me to do hats for I think it was the 2017 fashion show. And the theme was keeping trash out of the oceans. And Karen says we want all of the hats to be completely made out of recycled stuff. And so it just set me on a new course before that I’ve been spending a fortune stupid big box stores and buying all the fake flowers and all of that and making stuff out of trash and found items and it forces you to think in new ways and it puts a very unique stamp on your work.

Joey Phoenix 13:25

It really does and I remember that year too was the year that you did the bottle creation. [ramble] there were two years, the first year was the flowers that you made in the second year with like these took like a hundreds of like plastic bottles. And like he made this beautiful caveat of Do you want to talk a bit about that process?

Linda Mullen 13:43
I was involved in the fashion show. And the organizer said well, we want to include some way of directing the models and providing some some you know, visual interest, but in Old Town Hall, you can’t put nails in the walls. You can’t hang anything. I mean, because it’s a historic building, you know, taking care of it means not, you know, not putting anything up and not having the walls as as a back board. So I came up with these bases like these, I don’t know how to describe and they look like belly bars on wheels. And I stuck a bunch of 12 foot tubing that plumbers use that even cases pipes. And those things would they stuck up in the air 12 feet, and then I could hang stuff on them. And I appreciated sort of these columns, they resulted out of meetings, something that we could use that wouldn’t hang off the walls. And so I kept these belly bar things, these bases and every year since I was able to reuse them and so that always drove well. What can I hang on these things? How do I you know, how do I use these columns?

That I’ve got as the framework for art and then also what materials are out there that I can use that are free and also lots of like, in plentiful supply plastic bottles, or, you know, you can, it’s easy to collect tons of them and so that kind of drove that process just because it’s easy to get your hands on plastic bottles. And then the next question is, well, what can I do with them and, and then I got a heat gun, and it was a whole new world.

Joey Phoenix 15:41
And they look like DNA strands like over these pillars like it’s hard to describe them because they’re really interesting to take in. But use like so many bottles and I just stand there being like, wow, I had no idea that trash could be this beautiful. Like Claudia’s, like the jellyfish are made out of plastic bags and it’s like to take off bags and take bottles and make them into art. Just shows the ingenuity of what’s in your mind.

Linda Mullen 16:07
Well, thank you, I was gonna say, the process of making art out of found objects. And also, it’s so interesting because it forces you to think outside of your preconceived notions of what you’re going to make. And I, the, the materials that you find, to make art out of, they’ve all got their own personalities, every material has its own character, you know, what does it stand up straight? Is it stiff? Is it rigid? Or does it bend? Does it wiggle? The process of figuring out the character of trash is just so fascinating to me. And so, you know, the plastic bottles, they have the shape and you think like it’s stick one inside the other and then oh, what do you know when I heat them? They develop the structural integrity and the That was just so cool to discover. So, yeah, working in fat with found objects is just always some new delight, or it’s some new thing to understand.

Joey Phoenix 17:13
It’s like transformation. That’s really neat. That’s the key right now really taking old tea towels, t shirts and bandanas and making them into masks. And I feel like at a larger scale, we’re learning to use the things that are already around us for and transform them into something that we will use for longer. And like you’ve been doing that for so long already. And like I’ve been glad to see that it’s propagating. And people are recognizing, like, we can use things we already have. We don’t have to like, buy new we can reuse.

Linda Mullen 17:43
Absolutely. I think we might have talked about this somewhere. I’m an artist row. But my favorite scene in a movie that drives my work is Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks and And so the astronauts are up in space and there’s something that goes wrong. And back in Houston, the lead engineer gathers all of the engineers and mechanics and he brings them all into a conference room. And he comes in and he’s got this box of stuff. And he says, Listen, everybody, our astronauts are in trouble. You have to fix this problem. And he dumps out this box of stuff. And he says, This is what they’ve got on board. You have to solve this problem with what you have on this table. And I thought that was such a cool scene and like you work with what you’ve got because it leads to really interesting things.

Joey Phoenix 18:57
Switching gears a little bit, talk about like sort of like as an artist There’s currently a bizarre dichotomy we’re like, we feel like, we should be making something and and we should be like, talking about how we’re feeling and we should be producing. And like, I see you and you’re like, actually taking the time that you need to like, figure out the kind of art that you want to be making. Because you’ve been like producing and producing music for years. And now you have a chance to like, think about the kind of things that you want to make.

How is that nourishing you? And what are the things you’re doing currently to be kind to yourself in this transition?

Linda Mullen 19:32
I think I mentioned before how much I’m loving this time of resting. And I think when we make art, we tend to think that the process begins when we pick up our materials and our tools and get to work and the process is over when we’ve accomplished this thing. Like I think it’s circular. You know, We make a thing and there’s just such an important time of, of stepping back and looking at this thing and assessing what we like and what we don’t and, and then going back and doing it again and, and those in between times when we’re resting and not doing anything and binge watching whatever or cooking or being out walking. I mean, those are such, I think they’re critical times because they, we take in new ideas, we, we change our perspectives a little. So I consider the rest times and as big a part of my process as anything. And then you are asking, like what am I doing to be good to myself? I’ve been listening to an awful lot of podcasts which I think you and I have touched on before in the podcast deal with a lot of spiritual things and you know, right on the line between associates geology in psychology and spirituality. But I’m finding an awful lot of rest in, in those podcasts because the people who put them on are very, they’ve done a lot of searching themselves. And I love hearing their voices and perspectives. And I find it very helpful.

Joey Phoenix 21:20
Yeah, like, I definitely think there’s a movement right now towards connection with soul. And figuring out all the ways that we’ve been, I suppose, not paying attention to our core selves. And I feel like it’s a weird split too, as well, because like, they’re all essential workers who are still working way too much. And then there’s the rest of us who are given this time to reflect and see all the things that we haven’t been giving our attention to. And I feel like we have, we don’t have to do anything right now. But we do have an opportunity to like, feed her and nourish ourselves and like I love, I love that you’re taking the time to do that I’m trying to grow in that space as well. And like take time I need to refresh. Like, it is a learning process for sure. I am inspired. I’m inspired by you and the fact that like, it seems that you don’t need external stimuli to want to make art. And like you can pull off your own inner source and make beautiful things. I think that’s really incredible. And so I guess like, I’m curious about, like, where your inputs are, and like, what are the things that give you ideas and like, what, what makes you feel inspired and what makes you feel connected are the questions those are really big questions. But it’s about you that I’m most curious about.

Linda Mullen 22:45
So it’s interesting that you group those two together because I will say and biggest in my biggest inspiration when I’m on my own, I find huge inspiration and flowers. I follow a website that posts these pictures of nature like these up close views of bugs. And there’s all these cool colors and shapes in the bugs and it’s the coolest thing ever. I can look at that stuff all day long. I mean, I find inspiration everywhere. But what I struggle with is connection because I’m such an introvert and I run the risk of staying so hidden that I don’t connect with people and I’m it’s a struggle for me to make myself say participate in zoom meetings because I don’t like them very much. I love just talking to you as we are one on one because it feels like like I love one on one discussions with people about really interesting things. I have been writing to my dad who is in a nursing home in Canada, so I can’t go visit them. But writing letters I think is a really For me, it feels like it’s a way that I’m connecting with people. That doesn’t cause anxiety because I got to be honest, zoom meetings caused me anxiety.

Joey Phoenix 24:12
that’s valid. That’s really fine. Yeah, I think like, it’s just a weird thing because I am I am incredibly extroverted and all of my close connections are either ambiverts or introverted people. And so like I forget that introverts are often forced to be more extroverted or they’re encouraged to be more extroverted. And extroverts are sort of praised in our culture and like, I don’t think there’s any need for you to like, be more connected than you are like you are if you’re nourished and like feeding your soul, who cares about like, whether or not like your purpose, your meaning or not like it doesn’t matter, like the way that your life is like the quality of your life you decide that and like all this extra pressure to like, connect and be a part of it engage like that’s Lot. That’s okay.

Linda Mullen 25:04
Well, thanks. Thanks for that, Joey. I mean, going forward, we’ve got a whole new world ahead. And I wonder. I mean, I recognize the need to be more comfortable getting online. And yeah,

Joey Phoenix 25:23
they don’t need to give too much in that effort. Like you can do it occasionally. Like you can pop in occasionally you can write letters occasionally. Like there’s no like that’s that’s the that’s the truth here is that you don’t have to do anything.

Linda Mullen 25:37
That is true.

Joey Phoenix 25:40
Yeah, and I think like, as long as you are doing the work that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, then Damn, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all at night. I think that’s a lesson for me like to be like, because I get it. Like if I wasn’t connecting, I would feel like it wasn’t breathing. But that’s just me that doesn’t have to extend well. So again, thank you for that truth. For That contrast, it’s important for me to keep that in perspective.

Linda Mullen 26:03
Now it does mean good to hear your perspectives because I yeah.

Joey Phoenix 26:10
Course Oh, so where can people find out about you and what you’re up to? Even if it’s sort of not updated as often Where can they follow you?

Linda Mullen 26:23
So my website is www.Graceanddiggs.com and you have to spell out the word and so next time I have a company to name I will not use an & because in my written you know, it’s Grace & Diggs with a little & between them but online, you have to spell it out. And it’s the same on Facebook and Instagram. I haven’t been very active on either of those lately. But I have been working on my website, which I’m happy I feel like the website is the base and once that’s annoying, Then I can, you know, take stuff from it and put it on Facebook and Instagram. I will be having work in, in Kate and Jess Moody’s new shop.

My work. If we ever go back to vendor fairs, hopefully I plan on participating in those. And then eventually we’ll get stuff going at Mills 58. And I will have some open studios nights and my work will be there.

Joey Phoenix 27:31
Thank you so much for being on here and sharing your truth with all of us. It’s been an absolute delight.

Linda Mullen 27:36
Joey, I love what you’re doing. And I think you’re great at this and you’re wonderful at pulling the soul of what people want to say. And it’s very honored to be on here.

Joey Phoenix 27:51
The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective. Creative Collective connects creativity, community and commerce across the North Shore as a collection of creative professionals, small businesses, organizations, and individuals. They coordinate a series of events, traditional and non traditional marketing shifts, resources and best practices to define why creativity matters in all aspects of life. In the beginning, there was chaos. Then you make it yours.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai