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.

“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.

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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

 

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…