We think in metaphors and analogy. We try to find something in our past that makes sense of what is happening now. I believe I read somewhere once (goodness knows where, I’m a bad researcher) that the phenomenon of seeing your life flash before you at the point of expected death is your brain trying to find a solution to the problem, rifling through filing cabinets to find the nearest thing to car-dangling-over-cliff in order to extricate you from the clutches of death.
Metaphor and analogy then, the stuff of humanity. The imaginative application of history to the present.
So it is without apology that I try to apply the same method to framing my art practice, and indeed my life.
Often used, because it is a good one. The smallest ingredients are often the most important: the pinch of salt, the half teaspoon of baking powder.
I realise upon re-reading, that my July 3rd post doesn’t explicitly mention performance. It was there in my head, but the piece reads as if just about my work with objects/garments. So this post is about the other part of the recipe I suppose. That was the rhubarb crumble. This is the custard. Can’t have one without the other.
I attended a conference on Friday, Beyond Borders, at Birmingham City University. A post graduate research affair, Phd students, staff, speakers and interested parties (I’m still wavering)… discussing the broad sweep of research methodologies and the broad sweep of how to present that research. I watched Geof Hill perform his talk, singing in the style of musical theatre, delivering the crucial parts of his lecture as songs. Brilliant! Loved it! But the conversation with him over a tub of ice cream later on, fleshed it out, and helped me to position myself alongside this level of research. There are many ways to skin a chicken. Long-time readers of my blog will perhaps remember that the elements of songwriting and performance in my practice have troubled me as they developed. They trouble me a lot less now. What I am confident of, that I have been wobbly about up to now (faking it to make it) is that my forays into performance are valid elements of my total art practice. It’s not a side-salad, or the cherry on the top.
The Tenth Woman, I talked about with Geof, could be the personification of the acceptance of me as a researcher, presenter, performer… I’m still not very sure of how this works, but that’s the whole point of research right? I’m sure there’s a podium out there somewhere for The Tenth Woman as feminist icon. There may or may not be a Dr Elena Thomas in the future, but I want to be doing a certain level of research and thinking to keep things focussed and tasty.
Singing with the band is my joyful research, rehearsal, data-gathering, confidence-building, skill-scaffolding, total necessity. It’s a skill as much as the embroidery, or the application of ink to paper. My embroidery skills and drawing skills are good. My song delivery skills are goodish, getting better all the time.
I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, stitching on my mothers knee, and, yes, singing too. But while the drawing and stitching received attention and training, the song writing and performing hasn’t, I’m about fifty years behind with that. My ability to tell a multi-faceted, well-crafted story depends on all of the methods of delivery… the nine women narratives interwove, overlapped… if one part of the craft is considerably less than the others, it shows, and the illusion is dashed up the kitchen wall, having left the lid off the blender.
Audience acceptance and confidence in what is about to happen is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL. We have all watched the talent show when someone has chosen a Whitney song… those few seconds before they start… are they going to pull it off? Now I’m not saying I want to be Whitney, far from it, but I do want the audience to feel confident that I’m able to deliver what I said I would, whether that is with the band, or in the gallery environment. The only thing that will make that happen is practice practice practice… and review… critical feedback from trusted peers… and myself… and being able to take on board that critique (or at least consider carefully before rejecting).
The watching goes both ways, I watch the audience, instant feedback from them too: do they stay, or run to the bar when I start. Do they carry on talking, but louder, or do they stop to listen? Which songs do they cheer and clap? Which bits of chat do they laugh at, and which fall flat?
The Tenth Woman, whoever and whatever she ends up being, is currently positioned enabling me to try to catch up. She is cheering, giving me permission, and showing off. The Tenth Woman is in me, and I’m in her. The Tenth Woman is the metaphor for the strength we all wish we had, she is the excuse to pretend we have it, and the guts and downright bloody nerve to give it a go.