Collecting the Ingredients, and Biding My Time

The family and the domestic takes over for a while, but as I have often espoused that my life is also my practice, I take it on the chin, and bide my time…

Extra family members at home is lovely, but a broken/replaced/broken/replaced/installed washing machine causes stress, too many phone calls to sales/repairs/customer service manages to pile it on.

But my practice is amorphous… rhizomes regress, become dormant, and rhizomes rise and flourish as the time and headspace allows. In my hands I have a little sewing, and my sketch book, occupational therapy though I think.

But there are enough words to keep me going for a while, and a lot of recordings and bits of singing to make me excited about the prospect of songs that are Just Elena Songs. This time, not as part of any installation (yet?), nor are they band songs, but little chunks of audio interest that I work with to make something else… they are songs, but they are not at the moment using conventional instruments, and they may not ever. This is exciting and fascinating. The band songs are made in collaboration, and I love them, they would not exist without those other people. They use guitars, bass, percussion, voices in harmony… they follow a convention.

and here is the thing…

these sounds and bits of singing and collections of words too… they do not NEED to follow a convention, if I am just making them for me. But it will be interesting to see if I find the need to follow convention to some extent in order to make them listenable… if I want an audience? Who am I kidding, yes of course I want an audience!

It is early in the process here, I mustn’t rush things… As I listen to this scrap book of sound-sketches and maps and instructions to self, I hear/see something more like collage.

I use my looper, my phone, the sounds around me (including both old and new washing machines)… I use my laptop, garageband… I use my iPad to capture short pieces and ideas, and a keyboard app to make sure I’m singing in tune, so that if at some point I want real tuned instruments, that I am actually able to be tuned to! (learned this one the hard way!)

While the family are around me, I just collect, and write notes and words. When the house is peaceful again after next week, I shall plug everything in and start playing and building…

(and doing some more washing)


Better not tell Lloyd we can wash his instruments in our new machine!



Looking Past “The Object”

I see it all as the same thing:


The pieces of work I sent in for the museum interim discussion to Filament 14 in Oxford were the pieces that at the time held the emotional quality and strength of my work as I see it… The object as a holder of person… Or memory of person. These small items of clothing had been through trauma and needed me to comfort. My role is one of comforter and provider and carer. I brought these items/people into being, so I must look after them.

But I’m not currently working on the garments, I’m working on the chairs… There is the question that hangs in the air:

“If you are working on the chairs why didn’t you send in the photos of the chairs?”

Because they are the same thing really… In my head… The chairs… The garments… The songs… Even the performance…

They hold the place, mark the moment, acknowledge the being that created the memory… I take note of the people who helped form me. I point at the importance of people who influence my thoughts and deeds. Whether I choose to do so in the form of working on an old garment, a chair, or write and perform a song is only relevant in the moment of conception. The act is the same. I sent the garments because at that time they were the prickliest, and I wanted to note and acknowledge that.

I’m trying to distill the essence of a process I don’t understand…
How does one person affect another?
What is the method of transference?
Why do we hold on to some thoughts so much longer than others, even when we know them to be damaging?
Why can some fleeting experiences hold sway, when others do not?

I don’t understand how these things happen, only that they do. So on the surface my work is at the very least an acknowledgement of the occurrence of an emotional transfer… Of love, affection appreciation, admiration, worship(?), kindness, obsession, values, ethics, morals….. Or hatred, disdain, disgust, worship(?), cruelty, obsession, values, ethics, morals… And all other…

To communicate connection in place of words lies the importance of the stitch. One stitch holds two things together. Up. And. Down. That’s it. It is both infinitely complex and beautifully simple. It might have a knot. It might not. It might do something fancy between the up and the down, but that’s not necessary.

It is intellectually and emotionally symbolic and physically practical.
Herein lies the beauty.

The stitch holds… For a while at least.

But what it holds is smoke and mirrors… It’s a something, a somehow, a someone, a somewhere… My work is the exploration of what this is and how it is and why it is. It is huge… And it is tiny.


Mittens and Keys

imageThree days to go before we have to hand the studio keys back.

I’m a little bit worried that I’m actually doing ok. It is a beautiful space and I shall mourn its passing certainly, but I shall also rejoice in the fact I had it in the first place.

There are possibilities in the pipeline that we are pursuing, so I am not feeling hopeless, but cautiously hopeful…


Several car loads of “stuff” have been brought home, and the larger items remain, to be collected over the next couple of days. Some things have gone straight up into the loft and other things such as extra mugs, a coffee table, and other domestic items have been absorbed into the already overcrowded house. Large items will go into the garage, mummified in bubble-wrap, awaiting a new home.

The problem is the work. I’ve been working on chairs, which I have no chance of working on at home, because of lack of space, so they too are bubble-wrapped and go into suspended animation until moved into a new space. By which time, I’m sure, other ideas will have surfaced, and I will feel differently about them.

But then we come to what to work on now?
It has to be small scale, stitched, drawn or possibly digital. I had made a few of the little patched baby shoes, which I liked, but they didn’t quite fit with my current thinking about touching and being touched… emotionally and physically. My thoughts then have migrated from feet to hands, and I think, this afternoon I shall make a prototype patchwork mitten. They don’t evoke the same emotional response perhaps as a shoe, but we shall see… A hand held… a string attaching one to the other, to prevent loss? Maybe there’s something here? There are links way back to my first song, A Lullaby, in which there is a mention of “mittens on strings that wrap round your heart”…

so yes… mittens…

Breadcrumbs in the Forest

My Facebook profile picture is this:



I am currently feeling somewhat derailed. Rugs have been pulled. I am in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

In times such as these, my blog sits patiently, willing and able to lead me back to where I need to be. It is a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest.

(Maybe this is why I have a sudden urge to spend a week in a log cabin in the woods somewhere?)

The trail has led me back to The Tenth Woman as a source of comfort in all this unsettlement. She is becoming manifest. My negativity is challenged by the Manifesto. This manifesto is a bit amorphous to tell you the truth. Things pop up, get considered, then get wiped away. But here and there are phrases that stick, because they seem to cover everything.

May 12th’s post spoke of people and circumstances that push her buttons (my buttons)… and that her reaction to them could perhaps be acceptance and ownership and telling other people to go away, however politely (or otherwise) she feels appropriate.

A later trio of phrases seems to be arising, they seem to cover pretty much everything:

  1. The Tenth Woman gives a shit.
  2. The Tenth Woman doesn’t give a shit
  3. The Tenth Woman takes no shit.

I’ve not yet come across a situation not covered by these three statements… the big stuff anyway…

Give a shit about the things that matter, and fight for them: health, education, equality…

Don’t give a shit about the things that don’t, let them go… I don’t give a shit about what shoes Theresa May is wearing. It really isn’t the thing she should be giving a shit about either. I’d rather she could run.

Take no shit. This is a tricky one, because sometimes the shit you shouldn’t be taking can be difficult to spot. But don’t be hoodwinked, don’t have wool pulled over your eyes, take off those rose-tinted glasses… and see clearly. Then say “No”

Also… there are things that aren’t the big things. Where do they fit?

Does the eternal quest for decent gluten free food fit under no 1? If so, where do I stop? Does my hatred for certain fonts also come under no1 or no2? Can I let go of the poster that uses comic sans? Is it worth a fight? Possibly not.

There are also things that are important and should come under no1, but they are too big for me to deal with, so should I put them under no2 and let them go…?

I have the feeling that there is a secret underground passage between 1 and 2…

And also, this all seems very negative and tough.

It is an ongoing discussion with myself… and I think perhaps the manifesto will be in perpetual motion as the thought goes on. Because I cannot conceive a manifesto that isn’t full of joy and saying yes!! Maybe that’s under no1 too?

I give a shit about my family, my friends and loved ones. I give a shit about art and music and chocolate and the tea that melts it. I give a shit about HUGE political issues. I also give a shit about the grasshoppers I have discovered in my garden, that make me reluctant to get out the lawnmower…

I think what this is coming down to is that The Tenth Woman, whether she is me or you, pronouns flexible… knows herself well, and makes decisions according to that knowledge. (Not the knowledge that other people tell her she should have!)

So, referring to my state of unsettled derailment, all I have to do to make myself feel better is work out which things are worth the effort, and do them. Which things are not, and let them go. And back myself up. The existence of a different persona, an alter-ego if you will, gives permission and strength. Elena is weak and stupid but… The Tenth Woman could do it… (slips out the back to roll on the lycra…)(no capes)(sensible shoes)(theme tune? something with a saxophone please?) But even here I come up against a conceptual conundrum. Is The Tenth Woman “super” or mundane? (Is the lycra inside my head?)

But I also think there is a sisterly thing here too… not sure how that might get articulated, but that thing that means that if I do these things for myself, I am also doing them for other women. I can’t get a handle on how this goes… I am in doubt, but I give a shit, so I’m not letting it go………


PS. Yes. I do know I am sounding like crazed zealot. Join in, I’m thinking I might get some badges made.

“The Trousers Of Time” (nodding at Terry Pratchett)

I think the thing that causes blogging to halt, for me at least, is the element of control. At the moment I don’t appear to have much! We have been given notice to move out of our glorious Victorian studios by the end of August. At the moment, we don’t have anywhere to move to… although its not for lack of trying! I am mentally preparing to move all the gear back to home. Plotting which items of furniture can go into the shed, and which things can go into the garage, and which are the more valuable that must be in the house, and of course, how the f*ck can I carry on working, and on what! If we don’t find somewhere to move straight to, there will be considerable shuffling at home to accommodate. If the period without studio is longer than a few weeks, I will need to reassess………… This is giving me a big headache. How can I plan if I have no place?

Hence… sparse blogging… I can’t talk about anything properly, as we are stuck in the trousers of time not knowing which leg to go down (A nodded wink to Terry Pratchett) I could blog options A & B, with a side bar of C, but anything could happen!

I am telling myself I am lucky to have been able to work in such a space for a year, with and without Sarah Goudie. And so I am. Each new space brings its own qualities to the work, so I am trying to retain my naturally optimistic nature, whilst crying into the quilt on the back of my chair.

Other work is also of my control. I wait with baited breath to see how many students enrol here and there, to then discover will I have one session? Six? Every week for a year, or more likely in this economic climate, none. I have confidence: naive, blind, idiotic confidence that “something will turn up” but just because it has in the past, doesn’t mean it will now!

So there we are… I’m not in control of anything. Apart from that which I stitch. So I stitch… and stitch… and stitch.


Head in the Sand

It’s easier to blog if you keep blogging.

But if for some reason it drops for a while it can be difficult to know where to start again.

The reasons for not blogging are many and varied, but basically it comes down to my head being full of turmoil. We have been given notice to move out of our amazing studios at the end of August… this has been on the cards for a while, but being a head in the sand sort of person, I’ve been in denial, hoping it wasn’t really going to happen. There are other arrangements in the pipeline that may or may not materialise, we shall see… but it looks like whatever happens, I’m going to have to store stuff and move back home to work for a while. This is not a long term stategy that works for me any more, so something will need to be “fixed”.

The work with Sonia Boue on the Museum for Object Research is being researched. Thank goodness we didn’t just dive in and do the first thing we thought of, because actually that wouldn’t have worked. This is an ambitious project that requires lots of thinking, and organising, and even organising HOW we organise and work together, if it is to be a success. The Research and Development money from ACE has been exactly that and has been invaluable time and money.

The work being done and thought about by the artists in the group is proving extremely interesting… an ever-expanding venn diagram of possibilities! It is also great to actually meet people and have real-time conversations, either in person, or over Skype. Loving those connections… it’s those connections that made us want to do this in the first place.

Please visit the ever-growing website to see progress.

We are coming to the end of this year’s Artist Teacher Scheme, which I’ve been involved with for the last few years, actually on a regular basis since doing it myself, and an increasing amount as time has gone on. This looks like it might be the last one in the current shape, things are changing… It looked like I was going to lose a couple of separate chunks of income, but actually, other things have snuck up on me and slotted into place, so hopefully I won’t be destitute yet awhile!

The Artist Teacher Scheme is a special thing though, and I’m hoping one of the things that has popped up in the gap will go some way to fill it, although there may need to be another something to take it a little further. It hasn’t always been all women who do it, but a very high proportion. This is where I feel my experience and expertise and my drive lies. Women returning and engaging with their art practice, after so many twists and turns in their lives, are amazing. The enthusiasm with which they dive in is only equalled by their self-effacing, hesitant nature, a sort of tenacious caution… grasping for something… plugging away at it when they sometimes can’t see what they are aiming at. It can take courage in the light of other people’s scepticism and indifference, to keep at it. Coming through this process can be very difficult, personally and professionally. This modest little course has changed lives. I hope, that in its absence, I can do other things that provide similar stimulation and opportunities for growth.

My own work developments will feature in the next post, this is quite enough for now!


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



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?














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


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.

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