Hanging on, Letting Go, and knowing when to do it!

Lately I’m wondering about why I blog…

I started writing in June 2011 (I think) on a-n.co.uk as a way of recording and talking through my practice while I did my MA. I didn’t stop, and here we are almost six years later. For a while I posted on a-n and on my wordpress website, but due to frustration with posting images, and the inaccessibility for the non-members, I seem to have stopped posting on a-n. This is sad, as I owe them a lot, my loyalty was stretched. I think now I have fondness: I’m still a member, and will continue to be, but I no longer want to spend an extra hour of my time swearing at the way the site works and being annoyed that my images are upside down, sideways or stretched beyond recognition, depending on which device I’m looking at… then suddenly I could only post on my phone! Anyway, that’s sort of beside the point… I will probably post this one on a-n, so that readers that used to visit me there know why I stopped posting and where to find me now if they want to carry on reading.

(Thank you everyone at a-n, for everything… and if I suddenly find everything works, I’ll carry on!)

Back to my opening sentence… why do I blog then?

By writing my thoughts, I can assess them at a bit more distance. I also find that if I’m having trouble expressing what I mean, that perhaps the ideas are not quite ripe. Sometimes when this happens I stop writing, but sometimes I carry on and the comment or interaction with people within the blogging platform, or more commonly these days on Facebook, I can grapple with my thoughts and pin them down long enough to see if they are worth my effort!

When I first blogged, mid-MA, there was a thought that I might have intellectual discussions about my readings and so on. That didn’t really happen, as I discovered that that approach isn’t really me. I had at the time started looking at whether music could be part of my practice. I look back with amazement now that I ever thought it wouldn’t or couldn’t or shouldn’t be!

I also had a regular habit of telling what I was listening to. That it sort of fell by the wayside, but I think I’m going to resurrect it for a while….

At the end of last term’s Songwriting Circle, Dan Whitehouse suggested that over the summer we think about how we might build an album. Think about a theme, songs, a concept, a title, a sound, a genre, album art… all or some of those things. It was a timely suggestion.

I have swimming around in my head and in my sketch book and songwriting notebooks a few songs that aren’t right for singing with The Sitting Room; I have a title which is borne out of the concept; I think it possible defies genres (unless someone wants to help me there); I have collection of sounds, words, lyrics, poems, images, made items, drawings… these things were swimming around as if homeless. Over the summer I started to gather these waifs and strays together. They fit my working title, and there is a commonality… a thread… a theme… So now, I have to see them as a whole. How do I work these things together to make something tangibly, interestingly “me”?

So now I’m listening to how other musicians have done it. And this is what I’m listening to this afternoon. If by any chance you look at this list and think, “Oh! Elena might like this band/artist!” Then please let me know.

It’s not that I want what I’m doing to sound like these people… to me it’s like going to a gallery to see the art, but while you’re there you look at how the work is hung, what it is next to, how it is lit, what is emphasised. Look at the context, not just the content… That’s what I’m doing, in the hope that some good stuff will seep in and have an effect!

Portishead – Dummy

Bon Iver – 22 a Million

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

Tunng – Comments of the Inner Chorus

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Husky Rescue – The Long Lost Friend

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Process and Promises

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So much for my daily blog promise…

Anyway… following the last blog, which I forgot to publish until I come to write this next post, nothing much has happened on the studio front. So as often happens I find myself fiddling with bits of material and drawing and writing in my sketch book in the effort to keep my brain ticking over, and the ideas flowing. Sometimes by the time I revisit these ideas, they’ve moved on, and I no longer want to work on them as they stand. However they mark a point at which I can return to in order to recap and remind…

In amongst all this writing and drawing I had a bit of an idea of how to alter the way that I am stitching my fabric pieces to my chairs and garments. This change was inspired by a visit to the Kidderminster Museum of Carpet’s Lucienne Day Exhibition, now finished, but I believe it is moving around the country, so I recommend a visit if it arrives anywhere near you!

I started drawing out a few things. I love drawing with fine ink pens, on smooth paper… love that glide, and the whispery noise it makes…

Soon I found that I was drawing similar things, over and over, and what had started out as a draughting of a design concept, a mapping of something physical, turned into something else.

I now have a selection of ink drawings, some just black line, some with colour, some with pattern. I have a method of starting, and a method of what happens in what order. the routine of these drawings has become obsessive. I don’t know what they are, and I don’t know where they will end up. I’m not quite where I want to be just yet, but the obsessive nature of my activity says to me that I am onto something. They are quite decorative. They are a bit odd perhaps. There exists relationships on the page, abstracted, and yet highlighted by shape and pattern and direction and composition. I think what will happen is I shall end up with hundreds of them. Then I shall select the ones I like the most. From that point I shall establish exactly what the essence is…

This essence may or may not inspire stitched pieces – although the connections to textile and stitch are unmistakeable. By the time I get to “essence” the work may already be done.

I think the greatest learning that has happened over the last five years or so is that I know and trust my process. It’s cleverer than I am.

 

 

Just the right amount of excitement…

Just the right amount of excitement, but no more…

We inch very slowly towards the point where we can move into a new set of studios…

Our Chief Negotiator has put in hours of work – emails, meetings, jedi mind tricks, all towards that light at the end of the tunnel which we can now see.

I’ve metaphorically planted my flag in one of the spaces with I can just about afford, as long as someone doesn’t come up with another add-on Mystery Service Charge. At the moment the space doesn’t have a door, I will have to get one put in. But it does have a whole wall of floor to ceiling shelving. Enough shelving to cause an artist to salivate.

Trouble is, in order to commit financially and professionally to this venture, you need to be excited enough to see the possibilities of it. Especially as there is also a large gallery/exhibition/project/performance space that will be shared in some way yet to be decided. I am excited… definitely.

But… in the back of my mind is the possibility that it could still all go tits up after all this work, because until there’s a signature on the dotted line, it’s not mine. So don’t get too excited!

So what is the right amount of excitement? I cannot make small corrections to this, so vary between abject desolate “I’ll never have a studio ever again EVER” ….to staring at my boxes, wondering what’s in them and desperate to fill those shelves and get working properly again.

Introverts and Routines

Some people have been known to laugh when I say I’m an introvert. They say things like:
“But you’re such a laugh!”
“But you get up and sing in public!”
“But you’re not quiet AT ALL!”

So??
Laughing is universal… No one told me introverts weren’t allowed to have a sense of humour!
Singing in public is a grand way to keep the general public at bay, it’s not a conversation!
No, I am noisy, true. I have a loud voice and a loud laugh, a loud yawn…
So??

I feel most comfortable in groups of less than 4… Three is actually ideal because you can spend some of the time just listening or gazing out of the window even… With three you can get some sort of rhythm going… Riff off each other… Interject and interrupt…. Subvert… Drop a line that makes tea spurt out of noses if you time it right.

But often I am happiest silent and alone, or silent with someone else also silent. I think the people that see me at my social best, and noisiest find this thing hard to believe.

Some days I don’t want to interact. Unmanned supermarket self checkouts are built for these days. Unexpected mardy cow in the bagging area!

I hate small talk, I like big talk. I like deep and meaningful, peppered with good jokes.

On days like these I like tea. Lady Grey tea to be specific. These days my cake is gluten free. Autumnal lunches are frequently a baked potato with corned beef and cheese smooshed in.
I shall eat it slowly while reading crap on the Internet.

I hope you have enjoyed my post- trying to do one every day for a while… Routine is good for my brain at the moment…

I’m off to Songwriters’ Circle in a bit. That always helps.

Me and God?

I’ve decided that in order to get my thoughts marshalled and my head back in the right place to start new work, I shall blog those rambling thoughts each day if I can for a while, even as some sort of list, and see what happens. I shall take a few photos of my sketch book too… you never know. Some words are carried between projects, these are my broad themes…

touch

memory

relationships

effect

influence

love and kindness

(and all the other stuff – hate anger resentment jealousy spite cruelty)

…these crop up all the time in the stitched pieces, the digital, and of course the songs and sounds

But in amongst those are other things that I visit, things that are material such as garments and chairs, but also those things that have been perhaps glancing blows, that are a small or large part of who I am, but are only occasionally overt in the work… such as…

I think I am possibly the most religious atheist I know.

My faith has gradually and mysteriously disappeared over time, and now I don’t know why it was ever there… weird…

I was brought up as a catholic, was educated in a catholic school, got married as a catholic, had both children baptised and sent to catholic schools, I worked in a catholic school for over ten years.

I can’t actually say when it happened. It wasn’t an overnight thing, it wasn’t a bolt of lightning, more a sort of bucket with a hole in… and then one day I realised that Sunday Mass would be great if it wasn’t for all the God stuff in the middle. My socialising was being interrupted by this very serious religious worship.

And that was it. I don’t know where it all dripped out, but it did. I suspect the death of my parents, particularly my mother, had something to do with it. I suspect the way that art made me think more deeply had much to do with it to. I have certainly over the last ten to fifteen years become more questioning.

I still have great respect for those who live a life of deep faith. It can be an amazing thing. (Maybe mine was never strong enough in the first place?) I have two sons who both live lives very close to their faith, and I do not regret that, but it isn’t for me any more.

I also have friends for whom the faith is in their bones, in the way they live their lives and make their choices. It is truly impressive. In contrast, I also see plenty of “Bolt-On” catholics, who seem to think that just the title makes them a better person. Those who go to church, wear the hat, turn up at the right events, but from Monday to Saturday are cruel and spiteful people intent on raising their own status rather than helping others. I also see people who are not religious, doing the most amazing things to support their fellow humans because it is the right and moral thing to do, and God has nothing to do with it. That is impressive too. I am impressed by some people disappointed by others. To me now, religion can be a problematic motivator. When behaving well is extrinsically rewarded rather than intrinsically part of who you are, then it is more easily manipulated.

Weirdly, I didn’t intend to write about this so much, but I did want to mention how some things in my work are affected by my upbringing… that how some things have a glancing blow effect, but others seep in and stay there, whether you choose to deny them or not.

Some of the work in my sketch book includes chunks of a book called The Catholic Schools Hymnal. I had this in primary school, and I think my brother had it too, as he has at some point in his youth, written his name in the back. It is full of latin, prayers and hymns and the corners are turned over on some pages. Some are torn anyway, so I’ve used them… but only recently have I felt able to. It’s only a book, a very tatty one, that is no longer usable or relevant other than as material for me to examine…

What I have found is that the memories, the way I have been emotionally and physically touched is bound up in all of this religion. I can’t shake off the influence of it, even if I now decide to shake off the centre of it.

Another point of interest is we know how to spot each other… there is something in our demeanour and our language that gives it away to others in the club. I can spot a catholic a mile away, practicing or lapsed… and look, there’s the word that actually says it – LAPSED!! We are not considered atheists, or agnostics, we are not to say we have no faith, because it is in us whether we want it or not, and we will return in the end, however much we deny… so I’ve been told…

How this affects the work then is right there… the lapsed, the almost forgotten, the denied, the dead, the cast-off…. they’re not… they’re still there. Each scrap of fabric and each stitch is reminiscent of every person met… They’re all still there. And in the very denial of God, he’s there too… 919 words all about his absence.

 

Kite Flying With No String

I’ve been on an expedition – that’s how it feels I think. I’ve been to foreign parts, sampled the local delicacies and now find it reassuring to be home. Trouble is, home isn’t the same as when I left it!

I’m further unsettled by circumstances beyond my control, as I am still without a studio.

What this has done, in amongst this particular set of circumstances, has rendered me incapable of the back-track-recap-reassessment process I usually go through when I go off on a tangent. The tangent isn’t unusual (although recently it’s been a particularly long one), but the lack of opportunity for the reset is.

I’m sitting back at my dining table surrounded again by boxes and piles of books, none of which I can bring myself to look at, let alone read.

I have my sketchbooks, which are like an internal ordnance survey map, they help to recalibrate at least…

But my work is packed away, in storage, in the loft, in the shed and garage etc… so it becomes mythical, legendary, out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

I am a loose end… a kite with no string…

I find the intellectual and creative loose end inextricably linked with emotional turmoil. I have no root to hold me down… I am clinging on by fingernails…

I have people I turn to that help pull me back in… they’ll know what to do…

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)

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

…meanwhile…

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:

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Turmoil.

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………

…..see?

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