Thanks, Geof!

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.

A recipe:
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.

et ncc

 

Love~Art~Research~Art~Love

The Object holds me to the moment:

The object is the garment.

The moment makes the memory?

The strands and threads tie me to the others in the moment, the previous wearer(s), they are not the same as me but we share and are linked. The threads and fabric wear thin, fray, break but there is evidence of their existence, and their presence is still there.

Is the moment lacking because the person is absent? The memory is held. The absence is held present by the empty garment…the garment holds the memory

The garment holds what is left over,

the remnant

the memory

the brushing past

the glancing blow

the flesh wound

the first cut

once bitten twice shy

the parting shot

an indelible stain

the embrace

the kiss

a lasting IMPRESSION is then this thing I hold in my hands… the lasting last impression is it mine as I work it?… then handed over to the audience to be influenced and influence further?

INFLUENCE… love hate admiration jealousy anger joy sadness worship envy cruelty kindness lust desire obsession… INFLUENCE…

the influence left behind… memory, changed and shaped stories, histories and personalities as evidence of the existence of that now absent… the embodiment contained in the empty garment…

What does the work entail?

Where is the recorded grief?

Traces left, fabric scraps left, collected, built up to create a presence then felt… uncomfortable?

unpick… another absence?

I hold the place, the memory, the love… this thing I hold in my hands holds love.

Embroidery as an act of love?

holding

caring

stroking

repairing

strengthening

wounding

emboldening

sharing

nurturing

providing

remembering

thinking

LOVING

This act of holding and stitching, holds a place also for time and the flow of

DEEP CONSIDERATION

This deep consideration, this act of love…

This is my research.

This is my art

Once More With Feeling…

I have always known that I am an artist who values emotional integrity in my own work and others.
There was an event this week that called into question whether that can go too far. I went off on one, had a sweary tantrum aimed at a poor man who had nothing to do with what was going on either in the room or in my head. I have since apologised, and will do so again when I see him personally.

A piece of my work was handled in a way in which damage might have occurred. There’s a small mark, invisible to anyone but me, it will wash out. Catastrophe averted. Upon deeper thought and analysis I realised that said potential damage was more to do with my emotional attachment to the work and what it means to me, in its concept, and in its materiality.
The potential for damage felt like a brutal act. I drove home, feeling very on edge, so much so I pulled into a lay-by to get a grip. I stroked these pieces as if I was comforting a child, making her feel better. I had no hope of explaining these actions to anyone else in the moment. We are better now, but I feel it a cautionary tale, I will leave more explicit instructions next time.

I have been known to call the “nine women” bras “my girls”, and the “are you listening?” pieces using children’s clothes ” my babies”. I thought this was a joke. Clearly it’s not. It’s very serious. They are looked after, loved and cared for, stroked, twirled, talked to. Yes… Talked to.

The piece in question is a poor orphan of a thing, scrappy fabric fashioned into makeshift garments. The stitching is the only thing holding it in shape, take out even a quarter of the stitches and they would disintegrate. I don’t expect people to know this, so I should tell them. I should be more explicit and not expect people to see them as I do. I should tell people, even if they think I’ve lost the plot, that this is a REAL CHILD, and should be treated as such.

My attitudes towards children are a huge part of my work. Not just my own children, and me as a child, and maybe even my parents as children… Deep waters… But children in our society, how the system is letting them down. The guilt I discovered I STILL feel at deserting them and leaving my school job. How we treat our children and those around us shows us up as human, either at our worst or our best…

My work then… My relationship with these pieces, guided by the personality and history of a garment, or piece of fabric, it has a reality difficult to explain. I don’t know that I’ve done it here really. But I have started to think more deeply. So the work I do now will be informed by that realisation of a relationship to childhood, it’s brutality, and beauty.

This work, has no words. I’ve never written a song about this. I don’t know that I ever will. How I feel about this is more than words. That’s why I need to make the work.

Hemline Detail

Hemline Detail

Recap and Move On…

A recap is due perhaps…

Other than a very brief post and photo yesterday, I’ve not posted since the beginning of June. It can be a bit of a nightmare for a blogger, that in-between state when you are frantically busy, but because nothing is confirmed, it’s very difficult to post anything.

The Museum for Object Research project is being researched and is developing nicely, thanks to a lovely chunk of money from Arts Council England. There will be news on that from Sonia Boué soon I think, over on that page, with some new writings too. Quite excitingly, the archived blog posts from the a-n site are appearing on the WordPress site, so that more people can access it and join in the conversations there.

In my newly expanded studio space in Stourbridge I have decided to do an artists workshop on 22nd July – I’ll attach the flyer below. If you’re interested in joining me, please get in touch!

Also in that beautiful space The Sitting Room have been rehearsing regularly. We have quite a few summer gigs planned, so need to be in tip-top shape. Laura Rhodes came to one of our rehearsals to take some photos for us to use for all sorts of promotion purposes:

Website: https://sitting-room-band.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheSittingRoom3/

Twitter: @thesittingroom3

SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/user-814443750

… AND… (fanfare/drumroll?) the cover of our first ever EP called Studio Sessions. There are four of our favourite tracks on it, recorded with and produced by our founding father (younger than all of us) Dan Whitehouse.

Our gigs are mostly happening in the Birmingham and Black Country area, but we have been known to venture north into Staffordshire, and south into Warwickshire. We would happily travel further if invited!

Yesterday was a good art and music day… we started off with a half hour set in Moseley Park at lunchtime, then zoomed over to ArtistsWorkhouse  in Studley for teatime for a 45 minute set. I’ve not done two in a day before, but the guys assured me it was well within my capabilities. They do seem to know these things better than I do, as I’m still occasionally scared to push myself. The Studley gig was at a gallery celebration, an awards evening for an open exhibition. Coincidentally, we played in the room in which I also had a piece of art on the wall. Andy disrespectfully parked the speaker in front of it, so I didn’t immediately see the label attached saying my entry had been “Highly Commended”! Very chuffed!

This coming week sees more music, more rehearsing, more work for MfOR (that is too soon to tell you about), a couple of gigs by friends, and hopefully a couple of full days in the studio, actually MAKING!

Today, in the wise words of my son I shall be “banging out a bit of sitting”.

T&T workshop flyer.pages

Memorial

Do objects speak?
They do to me, particularly garments, or domestic items. But do they say the same thing to me that they do to other people, other artists?

This weekend I found myself (with my family) among “LOST” by Issam Kourbaj at the Museum of  Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge. The pieces were set among the museum’s permanent display of over 450 plaster casts of classic sculpture. It is, quoting from the museum website “…an exhibition of plaster dipped items of clothing belonging to (Syrian) refugees who were lost at sea whilst attempting the perilous journey to the island of Lesbos.”

So the plaster-dipped clothing is from children who have died. The textures and features of the garments are intact, and have been split along the side seam and sleeve in order to open them out. They are not casts, as the surrounding sculptures are, the original garments are still inside the plaster. They are hung from pins and nylon wire.

The things that I treasure garments for, are not there. There is no softness. It is a hard memorial. I recommend that you watch the video of the artist here:

http://www.classics.cam.ac.uk/museum/exhibitions/exhibitions/lost

These garments and the words on them are final. What I use in my work is the life, the continuation, growth and memory…and these garments are the death, the premature halt… There isn’t a name. Just an approximated age, boy or girl. They are heartbreaking. The splitting of seams to me seems unnecessarily brutal… And that upset me…

The text, although I couldn’t read it, I knew what it was. The terrible way these children died was reduced to a cataloging… A list? There was no way of knowing anything about them (I presume DNA was taken for future reference?). The placing among plaster casts of classical Greek sculpture was poignant, and I approve of the material links, but it felt a little cold. These “stone” memorials hung from breezeblock walls with nylon didn’t seem quite appropriate, it wasn’t tender in any way. I swing between thinking that tenderness would be inappropriately manipulative of my emotions, and thinking that memorialising in this way is more appropriate, as after all, I’m bringing my own brain-full of sentiment… hmmm…

So, then, these are no longer garments. The seam splitting and dipping renders them non-garments and takes the one piece of soft humanity away. Having the same starting point of a discarded item of clothing, I understand that the manner of their discarding, and the manner of their finding means that they are very different to the garments I use. You could hang them un-dipped, un-labelled, next to un-worked garments I have collected and wouldn’t know that. The work of the artist then, is to take that garment, and it’s story/history and say something else, draw attention to its difference.

This then, is an interesting point for me to think about when looking at the garments I collect.
What does it say before I start, and how has its life changed it before I get there? What do I do with it?

I suppose the story starts for me when I get the item, and work on it.
But these “LOST” garments have had their story, and Kourbaj has drawn attention to the stop?

Is there then a moment at which these two garments worked have a common point of contact? The point at which they leave their place of manufacture labelled “Age 4-5 years” …is it only at that point when the two say the same thing? Or is it even then?

I look forward to the research happening with The Museum of Object Research, and hope to find a little clarity for my thoughts…

 

Spreading Out

It’s a complex raft of emotion…

My friend Sarah has moved out of our shared studio and I am bereft. In some ways this is ridiculous because our arrangement was that we never actually worked in it at the same time: timeshare was the thing. We had a blackboard calendar and chalked up our times.
But I miss the presence of her beautiful work and her quiet thoughtfulness.

At the same time I had to weigh up whether I needed to find someone else to share with. How could I replace this unique partnership? The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t bear it. So…. Having got the ACE funding recently I decided that for the next six months, initially, I could afford to occupy the whole space.

This is huge.
(Both the space and the decision)
But I recognise that this is an opportunity here. The space is breathtakingly beautiful, large, white, slightly crumbly Victorian walls… Enormous windows and shafts of light fill the room… It’s bigger than my art room in school was. I might never again in my life have access to such a space, so I must say yes. So I must occupy it in a way that I’m not forever mourning the absence of Sarah….

Yesterday I exhausted myself both physically and mentally trying to expand physically and mentally across the invisible divide. Furniture helps start that… I inherited from her some shelving and tables. I decided that I could separate areas for producing sound from the rest of my work… If it is all permanently out then I can pick it up whenever the mood strikes. Equipment and materials are now on show, instead of shoved in boxes under the tables. I have more table space. I can sit six people very comfortably around the table, and so I will be able to do a few workshops!

I have spread work around the walls in some sort of ordered fashion so can see the connections clearly, and the progression of the ideas… I’ve moved things around, so that when I come back from a few days away, I can come into the space renewed, refreshed and ready to make the most of it while I can.

I look back over my life and I realise that every space I have worked in has had a developmental effect on my practice: my bedroom, the kitchen table, my workplace, out of the back of my car, my shed, my school artroom, my first studio above a community art space in a shop, back to my dining room working out of the heap of boxes, sharing a huge space and now having the whole space… Each one has its own special way of making its mark on what I do. At the end of six months I might end up working from the garage at home. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that that will probably be ok too.

Thank you for rescuing me, Sarah, when I needed it the most. I shall miss you. Love xxx

Connected

image

It has happened a couple of times this week – once with a piece of textile work, once with a song.

The textile was a scrap of unremarkable looking printed cotton, stitched to the front of a plain cream coloured child’s dress, covering a hole. It is stitched with withdrawn threads from a different dress.

The dress is a substitute for one that my mother wore, in a drawing I had done when I was about 18, from a photograph taken when she was a small child, scuffed shoes, doll’s pram, bonnet, dolly…

The fabric scrap was from a skirt given to me by one of my mother’s friends at the time of the drawing… so… late 1970s. The skirt had been hand stitched by this close friend, in about 1950.… are you able to follow this? It is a faded raspberry sort of red, Liberty print, dandelions, blue and grey and green, not yellow. I wore the skirt until constant laundering rendered the fabric liable to tearing when I sat down, so it was put on one side. I have used the fabric carefully in various pieces of work, because it is precious to me. The friendship was precious, the photo is, the drawing is. The dress will do as a substitute, the style and fabric are right. The hole beneath is also significant. There are other holes in the dress, but this one is front and centre, for all to see. I’m not sure if my drawing attention to it in this way is defiance and disobedience… but it is certainly full of love.

What happened was a sharp remembering of my mother and her friend, laughing hysterically, I have no doubt at something rude. They were close, and always seemed “up to something”. I have found friends in my adult life like this, but not as a child I don’t think, and not as a teenager. Those younger friendships were far too self-conscious. And so it reminded me of another moment, me recently with another friend. This tangled remembering of image, work, fabric, relationships, is exactly where my work sits. The object holds it all, and pulls me back to the moments. It connects them to each other, and to me.

The song was a surprise though, as it hasn’t been so long that I’ve been writing, so the length of memory held is less likely. However, there it was. The lyrics hold a description of the Malvern Hills – I grew up looking at the weather crawling over them through my bedroom window as a child. But the description is a metaphor for a mood change. So although the song is fairly new, the image is old, and fixes a time and place. The metaphor is newer, and more raw. The music, built from a basic top-line melody hummed to my band-mates and co-writers, holds the mood. A bass guitar rumbles the dark grey cloud over the hills. The music, lyrics, image combine to form a complex picture of a hurt emotional state. I don’t feel the sting as sharp, but I have the memory of it. The end chorus pulls away from the rest of the song. Defiant. Self-sufficient. Hopeful, but a little bit scared.

After my early songwriting angst, I now find it gratifying that I find links in my working methods between the stitching and the songs. They are so close to each other, I can’t now understand why I couldn’t see it at first. Perhaps it was the cloud cover?

Equilibrium

And here we are again.

I think I’ve learned something, and the cycle of work spins, and a few months later I find I have to remind myself again and go …”oh yeah, this!”

Balance.

I’m working on the research and development stage of The Museum of Object Research with Sonia Boué at the moment. We have Arts Council funding, and this is a wonderful thing. I really appreciate the opportunities afforded me by ACE since I became a full-time artist. They really are an amazing institution.

But getting funding comes with a responsibility to deliver. To work hard. Which of course we are. We are developing a fascinating collaborative team practice that is informing both of us about our working methodologies. We are thinking about the project, sending emails, writing press releases, proposals, ideas, statements, lists, budgets, tasks…

This week I think I had a sort of mini-migraine that started with a twitchy eye thing, made worse by driving across Birmingham city centre and out the other side and back. a thirty(ish) mile round trip that took two and a half hours. Horrendous. The trip wasn’t project related, but of course affected my ability to do much for a while. While I lay in a darkened room I reminded myself that one of the ways we have decided to work is to keep an eye on pace. So, I wrote a list, and worked on it, crossing a few things off. And then I stopped.

What I realised, and I know I have said this here before, is that you can actually spend an awfully high percentage of your time as an artist, not actually making any art. I actually suspect you could get up into the high 90s before anyone (including yourself) noticed you hadn’t made anything for months!

But this state of affairs is not why I gave up working in a school, this isn’t why I became self employed freelancer… I want to make work!

So, for a couple of hours Thursday, Friday and today, I have made a point of going to the studio, putting on some music, and stitching. The twitchy eye thing has subsided. I feel better already.

There are things I need to do, but they are not the only things I need to do. So, having done that which needs to be done, I then pick up my needle and get lost in that mindless/mindful state of up and down, in and out… that rhythmic flow-state that restores my equilibrium.