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.

The Tenth Woman Manifesto

Audioblog – Please click here

I can only speak for myself, but the concept never arrives fully formed out of nowhere.

I can never put my finger on one thing, it’s usually one tiny thing that drops into place to make sense of the rest, but on top of many other things. The other things could be other people (I think a lot about other people and how they tick) or conversations, or things I read, and bear witness to. To bear witness seems the right phrase over watch or see, more active that passive.

The way a song is written can be a sort of shorthand for this, a modelling: sometimes you wake up all Paul McCartney, with Yesterday in your head, but mostly it is piecemeal. A title. A sentence. A chorus, a melody, a hook… can arrive in any order. These ingredients can hang around for years until they find the right mates…

It’s the same with visual art concepts. They sit around a while just waiting for the right seasoning to bring them to life. I’ve learned to trust this process.

I’m not quite sure when the phrase “The Tenth Woman” first appeared in my mind. I used it in a previous post on 3rd May.

I always said about “nine women” that “we are all in there somewhere”. It was a truth, but not the whole picture. Certainly in its latest showing, I started to think more deeply that it was more than that. I started to look at exactly how much of these stories were mine, or had been filtered through my own mind… other lives interpreted through my lens, or just plain old me. I came to the conclusion that the work was deeper than I was, or had acknowledged at the time of making. Now the work is made, I look at women rather more carefully. And I am certainly looking at myself more carefully. This might seem a bit of an ego trip, but I hope not. It’s just that I’m the woman I know best.

What I’m thinking is that The Tenth Woman is a thing, a concept, a title… it might end up being a piece of work, or might end up just being the way I go about the work – a newly awakened methodology. It isn’t fully formed yet… but I’m inhabiting it. I also feel it is perhaps something I can invite other women to inhabit. Perhaps I might write a manifesto! (Hahahaha).

I have recently seen other women, strong, creative, amazing women brought down by a little negative comment that becomes outrageously enormous, because it happens to have pressed a particularly sensitive button. I suppose I’m suggesting that if my manifesto begins:

1. I Shall Take Ownership Of All My Own Buttons

Then maybe it won’t be so easy for other people to surprise us and derail the positive thinking?

“Why don’t you dye your hair?”
“You could do with losing weight”
“You should get in with those people, they’re doing it right”
“Aren’t you a bit old to be singing in pubs?”

2.  I Shall Address My Own Sensitivities And Then Tell Them All To Fuck Off.

I think, being The Tenth Woman means owning yourself, and doing whatever the hell it is that makes you purr.

So, sisters… A Call To Arms: Be The Tenth Woman.

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

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Everything is different…

Chalk and cheese!

My voice works.

Back to the usual set.

I feel in charge of what’s happening.

My bra is under wraps, under control.

The sound is good.

The environment is good.

The audience is mixed gender, race, age… and religion I think… in that I know my religion is historical, and others’ is present…

They have come to this place, specifically for this event, to listen.

The last one is the one that makes the most difference.

Obviously.

I don’t think Tuesday was good for me, other than it made me stronger in appreciating what works best for me/us. We have good songs with complicated lyrics and unusual premise… with weird and wonderful chords and tricky bits and beautiful driving rhythms that lead to somewhere you didn’t expect to go. These songs deserve a bit of respect from us, let alone the audience. If we don’t value them, who else will?

Thursday was the best gig yet I think. Maybe that is because Tuesday felt so awful?

An Observation of Experience (or: “Are You Looking At My Bra?”)

 

The Experience in question is the pub open mic night. The variables in play are those of an adjusted set list due to illness… I’ve had a really bad sore throat and cold which meant my bandmates stepped in to make sure I only sang every other song as lead vocalist, and that the more demanding of our songs were omitted from the set. Logistically, this meant that due to the space restrictions of the venue, although I was placed “up front” I wasn’t necessarily always the one addressing the audience as I am most of the time.
I am a relatively inexperienced “front woman”. I haven’t done many live gigs, and this was only the second one in a pub. I’m willing to keep an open mind about pub gigs, due to this inexperience, but so far, I’m not convinced it’s right for me.

Being the front person of the band feels – sometimes – like a weight. Not always. And I am not apportioning blame, it’s just how I feel. I do actually like it for the most part, I like talking to the audience and enjoy them talking back. So far it has been polite and fun! I am aware that I am the one presenting the band, and that I should do so responsibly… mwah hahaaaaa!

Last night, because of not feeling 100%, and still feeling that I had no instrument to hide behind, I was more conscious of myself than I usually am. This has thrown out some interesting points for discussion perhaps – feel free to join in.

The open mic night is a predominantly male province in terms of participants and audience. I counted only three women in the audience last night. All of whom were with men, and one of those left before our set began. The other men came individually, in pairs and in groups. Some were noisy. I was the only woman performing again (as mentioned in a previous post).

I am not often these days conscious of my physical self in a space. The area for performers was small. Good job we like each other, and have good standards of personal hygiene. But these guys are used to me, they know me pretty well now I think. I was more conscious of how I present. I acknowledge that I am a middle aged, grey haired, overweight woman. Mutton dressed not perhaps as lamb but hopefully as mutton with interesting seasoning and tasty gravy? I feel a contrast between myself and my band members who always look effortlessly cool. T-shirt, shirt, jeans. A uniform of sorts? (Cue teasing for almost matching checked shirts from Andy and Ian) I agonised, for a while, about what to wear, especially in new venue with an unknown audience. I want to present as someone worthy of interest for half an hour. I want to be interesting, rather than overtly attractive perhaps? My selection of clothing is important to me. My visual art work largely consists of garments and what they say. My short sleeved dress has printed teacups and pots and cakes to reinforce the stereotype! It is knee length and so I wear leggings and comfy purple boots with it. This is because having bare legs is too much, especially as I have visible cleavage too. I’ve been warned the venue is hot, so have not worn my usual t shirt under the dress. From my own vantage point I can see my bra. It occurs to me that anyone standing close enough, over about 5’5” tall can too. I become conscious…suddenly hyper-conscious of this. Does my consciousness show? Are the audience conscious of my self-consciousness? This thankfully fleeting thought makes me stumble over my song introduction, and having spent ages making sure my curly grey hair is perfectly arranged, I proceed to nervously wrestle my fingers though it, to make sure that by the end of the set I look like a hedge. I am who I am.

There is a tension between not dressing up, but dressing to perform, to present… the presentation is read more immediately than the lyrics or even the music? I perform, yes, but as myself?

If being part of The Sitting Room is part of my art practice (and it is) then I should scrutinise my choices in the same way.

Some people might say I’m over-thinking this. But actually over-thinking this is my job as an artist. Isn’t it? I am here to observe, question and comment. My work as visual artist, performer or writer is created from those observations and subsequent questions and comments.
The acknowledgement of privilege, The aspect of the male gaze, gender roles, equality, performance and the presenting of the group are all up for questioning here.
I notice the audience demographic every time I perform. I prefer diversity. An apparently single-group audience makes me uncomfortable. I am affected… but I don’t think it goes both ways.
I notice, and am grateful for the support and protection of my fellow band members: checking my voice; instructing the sound man, plying me with drinks; walking me back to my car; or giving me lifts so I don’t have to drive if I’m not feeling too well. I am simultaneously irritated by the societal need for it… but it is a fact of the relationship between us, I’m thankful, and I make note of how it makes me behave, I make note of how our behaviour impacts on each other. (I fight an urge to cut patches out of their shirts and stitch the pieces to my dress…)

I know that I feel differently about things to my fellow band members, for a variety of reasons, but gender is at the top of the list. I feel this way because I am a woman, definitely. I also know I feel like this because of the lack of experience. I do not know what it is like to look at me for half an hour, listening, watching… I have no idea what my performance looks like, only what it feels like. I try very hard to work well for these people, to do my best and not let them down. They are talented, lovely people who deserve the best representation, whose work deserves the best representation.
We haven’t been doing this for long. Feedback is generally good, musically, lyrically, and we give off a good vibe I think, because we have a good working relationship based on mutual respect, kindness, laughter and democracy. I think this shows.

In reading this through before posting, I am not sure that I have really captured what I’m thinking, whether I am being clear. But I’m going to post it anyway, to record these immediate feelings of nervousness, self-consciousness, inadequacy…and of a real present need to do it regardless. I’m posting it because I am The Tenth Woman. Because I’m going to carry on doing it anyway. If I don’t do these things who will, and if I don’t do them now, then when?

 

 

PS If you are a rare woman attending a gig, and feel that you shouldn’t be able to see my underwear from where you are sat, please take me to one side and gently tell me so!