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By: Marion Michell
My art grows around me. My flat is filled with objects I have made over the last few years. There is always something going on, something new developing. But this creativity in the living room, due to M.E. my only possibility, has its drawbacks. How do you evaluate your practice? How do you get your work seen? How do you connect and communicate with other artists and art professionals?
# 56 [11 May 2013]
There’s something so intensely satisfying about finishing a crochet piece. I love the final sewing up of threads, such slow, deliberate, almost tender work, a literal tieing up of loose ends. Thought of a mother checking her child's appearance before letting her/him step out of the house, brushing crumbs off a shirt, adjusting an inturned collar while the child is already pulling away... A crocheted piece is truly done in ways that don’t apply to painting or writing, say, where scope remains for additional marks, the trimming of words. When it doesn’t look right it needs to be at least partially unraveled, maybe started over, which happens more often than I care to remember.
I'm rather pleased with this piece and immediately wonder if that's ok. Shouldn't an artist always find something to be discontent with, to want to improve on? Still, this companion to Veteran's girl moves me, speaks to me. I can't say I fully imagined its appearance – an outline drawing to guide me doesn't mean it will look 'right' in crochet. I like its counter-intuitive curves, the sense of rippling movements, so much in tension with the firm texture of the stitches: dissolving and holding together; neatness, containedness and excess; definition and shapeshifting... I’ve started a third piece to extend this evolution of physicalities, of embodiment - Gestalt? I looked it up on the internet: 'A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.' Oh, I hope so.
This has been a challenging week: a couple of days in fossilized pretzel mode, the usual and ever new panoply of M.E.-pains, and I haven’t been in the world. In the end I achieved different kinds of presence – updated my website, uploaded pix on axisweb, tweeted and posted on my trusted tablet. And today I’ll be going to Artists in Dialogue at Discernible for an hour or two, talk about my work and listen to other artists presenting theirs. Life! Have prepared as best I can for the whole gamut of post-outing woes, away from the world again. To stay connected I thought out a little tweet-project which I can do wherever I lie once I'm over the worst and ready to raise my loopy droopy head over the parapet.
Soldier’s child (2013)
Dimensions: 66.5 cm x 39.5 cm
Materials: crocheted from wool/polyester yarn
# 55 [7 May 2013]
I’ve been on the waiting list for a studio-space for ten years now and whenever I find an opportunity-to-view in my inbox I e-mail back: no thanks, due to ill-health, but please keep me on your list. Here's hoping! I long to be able to occupy a studio for so many reasons: seeing other artists at work, following their progress, the meanderings on the way. Share in the conversations there, the support, the exchange of information about exhibition opportunities - being part of a community of sorts. And I wish for a space that is just for my art, where I can spread out and experiment, splash about and leave things lying, place work and step back and look without furniture and home life coming in the way.
This is how I see myself: I am = I am an artist. Through adapting my practice I have managed a continuity of sorts beyond the before/after falling ill threshold ('falling' makes so much sense in this context). The continuity is in the production of art - if and how my work goes into the world is another matter. Art is the place where I have agency.
I live with the work, it grows around me, from me, in me (when I literally can’t move I imagine manifestations and mutations of pieces in my head, it’s the place where I ‘experiment’ while everything else fails). My circumstances inform how and what I make and I worry that I get stuck in an endless self-referential loop, that I don’t much get out of my comfort-zone (although I’m far out of it with M.E.), that I don’t push and question my practice enough. My blog is meant as a kind of stand-in for direct communication and I wonder if, in order to get (more) feedback for my work, I need to rethink how I post here. Maybe I’m too precious about what I present, work too much on my writing (not this time - ha!). Maybe I need to make this my virtual studio, get more into my processes, hold up work-in-progress for you to see. I’m crocheting a sibling for Veteran’s girl, but this is one of the things I’m playing with, part of my shoe-explorations:
Work in progress
Dimensions variable: 13 - 42 cm x 16 - 28 cm x 17 cm
Materials: adapted u-bend, cut-up tights, shoes
# 54 [30 April 2013]
Discernible is on. ZAP’s Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley invited a motley crew of artists, all part of their forcefield, to submit one or two pieces no larger than A3 and managed to shape a marvellous little show from 89 offerings. Threads run through it, hold it together: narrative compositional stitched drawn painted found created animated crocheted... Of course I was keen to see how my work was placed. Found it looks good, makes interesting formal and conceptual links with its neighbours and all sides benefit from the encounter.
I did get to the private view for a while (veni vidi smily…), arrived early to get a real look at the art before it got too crowded. Saw work by old favourites: Rosalind, Annabel, Graham Crowley, Kate Murdoch, Ben Cove, Shelley Rae, Nick Kaplony (with the last four I’ll be working towards a small group exhibition which will take place in winter – exciting!), love that moment of recognition, and the detection of subtle shifts in direction, of transformation. Made new discoveries too.
One piece stood out for me, so unlike anything else and by an artist I hadn’t heard of before: Rachel Russell, who has her own space for a small video-installation which bowled me over: inventive, intelligent, knowing, funny, wild&contained, gender-bending, art-history challenging, weirdly beautiful, emotive... and simply glorious.
A preview with lots of people milling around is not a good place to lie down, so I had to leave when it got too crowded and I ran out of sitting. Missed Rosalind’s speech*. Was lovely to chat with some of the artists, and esp. to reconnect with the lovely Julie Henry with whom I studied years ago. Thrilling to see how her work holds/has changed. She cooperates with photographer Debbie Bragg now. As Henry Bragg they produce images and exhibitions imbued with the humour, down-to-earthness and clear-eyed, discerning community-oriented sensitivities I remember her for.
Next few days I felt as if a whole mountain range grew from my shoulders, pinning me firmly in the horizontal. I mourn that these 'outings' are so few, so brief. I’m like an island that is submerged most of the time and occasionally juts out from the waves. Never long enough to grow green grass, to burst into flower; maybe, just maybe, long enough for a little connective something to sprout.
Nothing for it. Started crocheting a small sleeve, pondered change of medium, sent choice tweets and made notes for a post, not all of which make sense now. Illness as exile, yes. Dragon's crest? Falling? I realize again how much I (try to) tie myself into the world through my art – it feels good to know that my work is out there, has presence. I made this. Not all is lost.
Unfortunately I will miss the artists’ dinner on Friday as I’ve got something else on this week, but look forward to joining the Artists in Dialogue on May 11th, all being well.
Can you believe it? A year has gone since I started posting here: I had my first blogiversary. I keep wrestling with the same questions – How do I connect into the art-world? How do I get my work seen? How much do I disclose about my state of ill-health? I’m still ambivalent about the latter: when I talk about how M.E. affects me and my art-practice I often want to suck the words back in, as if I’d spoken to myself aloud and discovered that someone heard me. Writing here has challenged and sustained me. I've learned a lot, made tentative connections, enjoyed finding comments and suggestions or leaving mine on other blogs. I'm not sure I feel part of a community, but at least I hover at its frayed edges. Need to start somewhere.
* Here you can watch two short videos filmed during the private view.
# 53 [24 April 2013]
Tonight Discernible will open! It’s going to be a gorgeous show, no doubt about it. ZAP’s Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley have a way of putting together pieces, taking their cues from unexpected connections, teasing out correspondences, disparities, complexities.
I'm looking forward to seeing my work next to drawings, paintings, photographs (glimpsed a little preview on Facebook). Something happens in the interactions between media, adds layers of interest and inquiry.
My contributions are Urn and Veteran's girl (briefly known as Hand-me-down). You’ve seen them here first! Titles are important to me - it can take a while to find one that feels right. I often look at poetry, sometimes to appropriate half a line; mostly to put me into a certain frame of phrase-spinning mind. With both pieces I went on elaborate detours, initially lacking the courage to heed their urgent calls: Say my name, say my name!
For Urn I combined two colours of my favourite, rather precious yarn, a wool-silk mixture which seems to glide through my fingers on its own volition. I'm thrilled by the title’s sound too, the way its vowel churns in my mouth - there's girl, earn, spurn...
Whereas Urn hovers on the brink to abstraction (those lines and arches) Veteran’s girl seems to have an air of authenticity which stirs me and requires further investigation. It also sets the scene for my new project. Go see!
Dimensions: 20 cm x 30 cm
Materials: crocheted from JaggerSpun Zephyr Wool-Silk
Veteran’s girl (2012/13)
Materials: crocheted from wool/polyester yarn
Dimensions: 45 cm x 26 cm
# 52 [19 April 2013]
On a bad day even the garden is beyond reach. Often feel like I lead pretend life as it’s spent mostly indoors, supine. Worry that my physically shrunk world has also diminished my ability to let my imagination roam, to think big, to push beyond my narrow boundaries. I want to do large scale – make sweeping gestures, splash colour on huge surfaces, cut deeply, fill things with weights of salt or sand. And while I can’t: will I make my small, intimate work count?
These last few years I’ve come to draw on memory more and more. I don’t think I have nostalgia for childhood, unless maybe for its energies and natural inquisitiveness; actually my memories are few and far between, my recall mostly about moods and atmospheres rather than events, at times with flashes of images. And now with M.E. short-term memory has become an issue. This may partly be what pulls me in that direction, attempts at unearthing and holding on, at making links, and creating from there.
Lay on bed for quite a while earlier, literally unable to move a limb. The fatigue seemed to concentrate just behind my forehead, a muddy, swampy sensation, as if the rest of my skull was a huge empty dome. Stopped wanting.
Brief garden walk yesterday, with shoes. Like how they change against different surfaces. Also played around with pix a bit this week, getting interested in the quality of drawing through hair.
I realize there’s pathos in this work, these little girl shoes overgrown with (shrouded in?) a crocheted web of old woman’s hair, and wonder if I should be suspicious of that.
PS. G4A-application is finished – my thanks to Elinor Utwin from the Arthouse who is off to South America now for her invaluable and much appreciated work. Could not have done it without her. Had e-mail from Arts Council, 39.5 % of applicants successful. Cross your fingers.
# 51 [16 April 2013]
Last month I bought a tiny pair of very old Mary Janes on ebay, brown, well-worn and too scuffed to be sold for much. Just what I wanted: traces of wear and tear, illegible beyond the idea of a small child’s tottering steps, runs, falls, get-up-and-go-agains - decades, maybe generations ago.
I’ve got a thing for shoes, own more than is sensible for a person who doesn’t have a lot of steps in her, incl. a red pair and a sky-blue one which I hope to wear soon, on a day with mellow air and the sun out. After I fell ill aeons ago some of the first things I made were tissue-paper shoes – the material accidental (a birthday present’s wrapping) and not: at the time I could hardly hold anything in my hands - lightness led the way.
My work is memory work. I’m still making outfits from scratch but want to look at (second hand) objects too, to attempt a different kind of connection and recall beyond myself, beyond my life-time. With children’s clothes nostalgia beckons. The cuteness of these wee shoes which easily fit into the palm of my hand
…and/but… those images of heaps of shoes, incl. children's, clothes, glasses, hair in Auschwitz. How does a brain/heart transverse from terror to banality in a couple of paragraphs? I’ve always found it difficult to perceive and accept that these things exist alongside.
I wanted to just present my little shoes and their delicate crocheted hair cosy, but in the light/in the darkness of things
Dimensions: 10 cm x 11,5 cm x 5 cm
Materials: pair of leather shoes, encased in web crocheted from artificial hair
# 50 [12 April 2013]
To touch base between hospital appointments I went to APT-Gallery to see This 'Me' of Mine as soon as I was – temporarily at least - upright again, hoping I’d have enough steps in me. I absolutely needed to get out, at least for a little while, see something, think something different. Jane Boyer, who curated the exhibition and invigilated that day found four chairs and placed them strategically throughout the space – my glorious vantage points. Thank you, Jane!
With this M.E. of mine I have to scrupulously calibrate my thimble-full of energies. Each and every day. I’ve described some of the physical consequences of those rare ‘outings’. One after-effect, when I’ve stretched my limits too far, is that I don’t remember much of what I’ve experienced. Short-term memory is one of M.E.’s many cognitive calamities which grieve me more than the physical effects, incl. pain. To counter-act I set out to write notes about each piece. Fingers lost faculty before I’d finished my round but I’ve got a few almost legible scribbles to go back to.
I like concept-driven exhibitions. This one is touring, so go see when it’s near you, or check out the fine website if you can’t. What stayed with me, even through the floundering faltering fatigue-clad days that followed, was Annabel Dover's Iris’ Stocking, a piece where process and subject beautifully, memorably join force. Can't stop thinking/feeling about it. The story behind the piece illuminates and gives foundation to what is in the work - its mournful air, the sense of pain and loss, the image of the stocking floating ghost-like against the blue background, its 'presence' seemingly on a threshold between emerging and receding. I looked up cyanotype on wikipedia and found something that makes the choice of medium even more interesting: ‘… prints that have faded due to prolonged exposure to light can often be significantly restored to their original tone by simply temporarily storing them in a dark environment.’- the processes of remembering emphasized, questioned, undermined.
Encountering Iris' Stocking has helped me restore tentative links to and enthusiasm for my own work, not least because memory handed down over generations, explicitly/tacitly, is what I’ve been thinking about these last few months and forms the basis of my G4A-application which should go out to the Arts Council soon.
Finished a month ago:
Dimensions: 20 cm x 30 cm
Materials: crocheted from JaggerSpun Zephyr Wool-Silk
PS. My application for membership with Contemporary Applied Arts was rejected.
PPS. The little hairy thing I re-discovered the other week is growing incrementally – crocheting with strands made up of three hairs is slow work. But I think it’ll be worth it.
PPS. Have a ook at artist Liz Crow's thoughtful instructive courageous Bedding In Bedding Out
# 49 [6 April 2013]
I am finding it strangely difficult to return to the consideration of my art practice. My head is usually spilling with things to write about and I've got a clutter of notes waiting, but it seems half a day at hospital two weeks ago, for tests during which my heart got in distress (doctor's words), has severed the connection. Every day I think 'tomorrow' I'll write a post. I'm o.k.ish now, am crocheting again, have purchased items for my new project on ebay, but my heart isn't quite in it yet (excuse the pun) and I'm lacking in the joy and excitement making usually brings - still, part of my artist-self continues on auto-pilot.
When I'm out of sorts I feel the need to clear stuff out. In my habitual slow-motion I've gone through boxes and drawers to see what I can get rid of. Everything here is overflowing. Apart from shoes, clothes and books there are boxes with artwork, materials, wools, hooks and needles, tissue and other papers, letters, old sketchbooks, miles of bubble-wrap, folded up cardboard boxes. All in a state of waiting. My head too is chock-full. A shutter has fallen down: I can't take much in, find it hard to read, to engage with ... I remember seeing a film by the Argentinian director Eliseo Subiela years ago, Last Images of a Shipwreck, in which one of the protagonists writes a word on the bedroom wall every night and crosses it out, in order to make room in his brain for a new one. A sentiment I understand completely. Today’s word is PREVARICATION*.
I haven’t thrown much out but made a bit of room and found a hairy thing which re-ignited a tiny little flame. Anyway, if I'm writing here I must be on the mind-mend. Off to make a cosy for my heart.
Regression blues (2011)
Materials: crocheted from cotton threads
Dimensions: 25 cm x 37 cm
* I just spent ages trying to get PREVARICATION crossed out, but couldn't get the HTML-code to work here. FRUSTRATION is next on the list.
# 48 [20 March 2013]
New work! Several story-lines led me to making this piece and I've been thinking about titles: for now it is simply Hand me down, as I thought I'd wait to see what people make of the work, what kind of stories they come up with. Or you - let me know your thoughts!
I mentioned my last art-outing: my friend M. took me to Serpentine Gallery for the Rosemarie Trockel-exhibition. So much of interest for me there, after all RT made machine-knitted conceptual work early on, i.e. in the 70s, and not only challenged the art/craft divide but modernist narratives which favour the male artist. It was good to see the multitude of media she explores, but what I loved most was the generosity of her vision, making connections and highlighting influences and affinities with other artists, incl. those who are so often excluded from purist fine art trajectories: so-called outsider artists, botanical illustrators, model-makers, etc. I finally saw some of Judith Scott's striking work (would like to take a leaf out of her book), and plotted to steal one of the tiny leather-bound books Manuel Montalvo densely and obsessively filled with minute paintings of mammals, fish, faces from around the world, often no bigger than a fingernail. M. imagined a person who travelled extensively, and I one who hardly left his room and developed his condensed portrayal of the world’s sentient beings by pouring over encyclopaedias. Goes to show that our fantasies of artists’ lives have much to do with our own.
What also thrilled me was the actual installation of the exhibition, esp. in the space where a large selection of RT's book-ideas were shown. All too often similar work is laid out in vitrines too high for a wheelchair-user to easily look into. The arrangement of the artwork on a ledge, at the height chosen, where everything could be looked at frontally, was perfect for me, and I enjoyed that some images were mounted on the wall below, even just above floor-level, to lean towards, which must make anyone, able-bodied or not, aware of their physicality and how they have to adjust their position in order to get the best view of the work. I bought the catalogue and from the photos could see that the exhibition at the New Museum in New York was different (vitrines!), which makes me wonder whose idea the ingenious presentation at Serpentine was – the artist’s or the curator’s (did e-mail the gallery to ask).
Glad I had two art-outings to shore me up as presently preparing for hospital test-outings, some of which I'm quite anxious about. Otherwise I'm finishing pieces that I had neglected and trying to organise my art-practice so I can make the best use of my never-lasting periods of energy. Also want to write more about my processes here and explore how I can extend my practice while lying down. Busy, busy, for minutes at a time.
Hand me down (2012/13)
Materials: crocheted from wool/polyester yarn
Dimensions: 45 cm x 26 cm
# 47 [13 March 2013]
There’s something so satisfying about finishing a larger piece, or, as in this case, a series of small pieces, and yet there remains a niggling notion that it all isn’t quite good enough. That’s par for the course for an artist, isn’t it, to doubt that cut-off point - to ourselves what we do is never good enough, needs further pushing and probing… Maybe that’s even how it should be, is part of what drives us on. And isn’t there also an element of letting go that is resisted – all that potential the idea contained when I set out, the encounter of and engrossment with its challenges and pleasures?
Time though to move on: I’ve uploaded the photographs on my website and axisweb. The foundlings are organized in three groups and I’m wondering how they would fare held between panes of glass or perpex, as three, two, two respectively. They have been crocheted from the same yarn family, with variegations and shapes evolving, and share the taut&trim evenness of stitches. As you see one next to the other the spaces and shapes emerging between them become important too. Thus they build and perform relationships.
Images however don’t do the work justice at all. When I showed the latest pair to friends they and I were stirred to feel a kind of affection, of attachment, which I think stems from the materiality of the outfits, their tactility, their size and how it relates to our (adult) bodies. We were moved by their realness. The bodies evoked are close enough to ours to read kinship, the implications of any mutation sinking in by stealth. (I just realize that I had laid them out on the floor, maybe looking down played a part too). All this points toward the reasons for wanting to crochet and not paint or print.
Each post here contains the seed for the next entry or two and I tend to think: this time I’ll come back faster. I proceed to make notes on whichever scrap of paper is at hand, often when lying in bed, and found the other day that I was writing on the sheet….
However every time I go out or do anything a bit more strenuous at home (yes, I did manage to get to Tate Modern, and ten days later a friend took me to Serpentine Gallery, a belated birthday-treat, about which more another time) the aftermath keeps everything in suspense. The next day at least I am all body, be it from fatigue or pain, and my movements are as impeded as my cognitive facilities. Never mind doing anything but the very basics, if these (say: eat a little, drink a little), thinking is out of range too. M.E.-fatigue is like a mass under which I’m buried, a dark and airless shelter, and lately I’ve been thinking of it as a heavy gray blanket. Then to the slow business of crawling out from underneath those felten folds (felten should be a word!), trying to pick up from where I’d left off, to re-engage with friends, artworks, books, notes, as the outer world comes into view again. Often enough stuff gets lost in the folds, ideas, impulses, even the memory of my outing… And in any case I’m never able to shake off that blanket completely, it’s firmly attached to my shoulders, I can feel it bearing down as I write, impinging on my powers, not at all like a superhero’s cape.
I studied Critical Fine Art Practice at Central St. Martins School of Art & Design in London.
Most of my art touches on childhood, on growing up and its anxieties. It is as much an exploration of memory as of physical experience. Not necessarily concrete memories, more moods and atmospheres, interwoven with elements from myths and fairy tales. I am looking for ways of considering difference and how it might be experienced. Working across media, I use the physical as an entry-point into the psyche and try to make emotions manifest, making concrete what isn't/can't be spoken.