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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?
# 46 [6 March 2013]
Here they are! The last two of my foundlings. At least I think so. Will put together the photos and have a look at them as a series and consider how I would like to show them.
So much to tell, but focus is required to get anything done before those brief and precious moments of energy dissipate, so deep breath and first one step and then the next.
On Friday I listened to a fascinating interview on Front Row with Yinta Shonibare. Lots of important subjects raised and let trail (race, disability), but my ears cocked up even further when Mark Lawson asked:
"You could make your fortune, I think, as a dress designer with a line of fashion. I mean that must have been an option at some point – was it?" (stress on the must),
and Yinka Shonibare answered:
"I do what I do because I want to deal with very serious subjects. And I keep thinking of ways to get people’s attention. And costume is just one of the ways. And also: Arts to me … I may be wrong, but I feel it’s a moral challenge. … I would feel I was taking the easy way out… No disrespect to designers, but it's just not an area that I would feel very happy to work in because I like the dark side of things, I like trauma. I don’t think the fashion world would give me as much trauma as I want…"
If I hadn’t been so tired I would have thrust my fist in the air and shouted yes yes yes (while whispering: like trauma, is that really the right choice of words?).
With my usual slower-than-light speed I’m still thinking about the points Elena Thomas made in her post of 21/2/2013 as to why she stitches, not draws (why do I crochet, not paint?); and the thoughtful, well-researched and funny zine Reciprocity-1 which Jean McEwan sent me in December. I’ll get there.
Foundling 4 (2012/13)
Materials: crocheted from cotton thread
Dimensions: 23.5 cm x 40 cm
Foundling 5 (2013)
Materials: crocheted from cotton thread
Dimensions: 22 cm x 39.5 cm
# 45 [25 February 2013]
I would dearly like to show you foundlings 4 and 5, esp. as they conclude the series (the other day I crocheted a tiny armpit even before brushing my teeth!) but I haven’t photographed them yet and most of this week’s energies are going towards and into tomorrow’s visit to Tate Modern, my first art-outing this year which I’ve been organising for a while: booking of electro-scooter, taxi; laying out of clothes for the day (and day after, just in case I can get dressed); putting in place of meals for day before, day itself, days after; checking that I’ve done everything that really needs doing before I re-surface from the post-outing slump which will take as long as it takes; trying not to obsess about e-mails I haven’t answered, calls I haven’t made, posts I haven’t read, and and and; thinking about where I’d like to whizz once I’m there (I want to spend time with Marisa Merz’s work, which I only know from books, and Kara Walker’s, whose paper-cut silhouettes impressed me years ago, and let’s see what excites me on the way); hoping I’ll make it to the members’ room for a rest on a sofa with view of the Thames and some chocolate-cake, and that I’ll find the right cut-off point and get home before things get too bad.
I can’t book my return cab as I don’t know how long my energies will last. Hope they won’t trickle out too fast, need to be able to go as soon as… I’ll enter the Tate with a big grin and heart beating wildly and will end up feebly holding on to the edges of the boat my smile makes while it sinks as fatigue rains down in leaden pellets. All being well I’ll find myself nurtured/stimulated/energized on all kinds of levels in spite of and beyond and after all.
# 44 [21 February 2013]
In my tutorials with Rosalind Davis and Freddie Robins I was encouraged to widen the scope for exposure for my work and consider applied art opportunities. Time to dust down my fine-art airs and send off an application for membership with Contemporary Applied Arts. I’m not sure what my chances are as I’ve no background in textile arts and learn the requisite crochet skills while I make the work. Nor do I have any pieces in collections (yet), but I thought I'd give it a go. Time also to learn more about my chosen medium – I’ve just acquired a second-hand copy of Lis Paludan’s Crochet – History and Technique. It’s in black and white and thus has a suitable yesteryear feel: after all it is crochet’s quaintness (even at a time when it seems to come into fashion again), its look and sensory qualities, which interest me in the context of my (memory) work.
Instead of introducing a new project (I’m rearing to go) I’ve decided to get on with my foundlings. It’s all too tempting to fly away with a fresh idea, its excitement, drive, urgency. Then comes the real work.
The stitching here is very very tight and thus fairly tiring to do. Necessary though in order to achieve the holding of shape as well as a sense of strained control. I see my outfits as a kind of visualization of mental and physical states, an outer layer where interiority and exteriority meet and manifest. I’m interested in Didier Anzieu’s notion of a skin-ego (big concept for small work, I know). He describes skin as both a biological and a phantasmagoric feature, with three basic functions: as container/pocket/envelope, as border/protection and interface, and as organ for exchange/communication with an other. It helps me think about what I’m doing and makes me want to explore further. Need an upgrade for my brain.
PS. Last pair of foundlings will be finished soon.
PPS. Skull almost painless this week, who knows why. Counting my blessings - can you hear me sing?
Materials: crocheted from cotton thread
Dimensions: 22.5 cm x 27 cm
# 43 [12 February 2013]
Last week’s span of sensations stretched between euphoria about another really interesting and invigorating art-visit (yoo-hoo Shelley and Kate!) and the severing of ties with the world when – after an exhausting health-appointment - fatigue sunk me and struck my head with a calamity: fierce, ferocious, like something had grabbed hold of me and not only stuck to my skull but fused with it. Trying to describe physical pain you’re in danger of cliché-hopping, but a memory from a film hovers, or a story, where a creature of an alien kind sprang in someone’s face and couldn’t be torn loose. Ring any bells? Was there a scream?
Now I’m getting back to briefer surges and a level of tiredness that allows a modicum of life outside itself. The relief/release when such intense pain abates is akin to happiness.
Those severed days can feel like lost days. All I want is for it to end, to sleep and wake up in a different state. Sleep is elusive though when you’re at your most tired and you just lie there, without thought or motion, without even a daydream. But then, in those wee moments when pain and fatigue start loosening their grip, something swims up from somewhere, a drive, a longing, that helps you re-emerge.
More metaphors? If the worst of M.E makes for a kind of secluded fortress in a far-off realm my art is the draw-bridge that leads me out. Temporarily. For practical reasons I work on several pieces simultaneously: there’ll be one in the living room and one next to bed, within easy reach wherever I am. I’ve also got gradations of complexity – intricate patterns and complicated shapes for lucid periods; simple and straightforward ones when neither head nor hands manage more than the very basics. Every stitch counts! Crochet remains the best thing I can do lying down and a couple of pieces are almost done, but I have an urge towards the three-dimensional and in December reworked an old figure of mine that took up too much room. I like the idea of pieces that lean against a surface…
as yet untitled
Dimensions: 31 cm x 39.5 cm x 9 cm
Materials: Paper and masking tape, knitting needles
# 42 [4 February 2013]
I had another art-visit! Ben Cove came – the artist whose piece Trans impressed me at last year’s ZAP Open (see post # 36). As it happens our work crossed paths/shared a wall at Peering Sideways – Welcome to the Real World at Project Space Leeds in 2011, and now we have met too, talked about our art, old and new ideas, our dislike of labels. I’m craving face to face art-conversations and enjoyed this one very much.
I told Ben about a grievance of mine and thought I’d raise it here too, find out what you think, what your experiences are. Last year I was contacted by an artist/curator who had found my work on axisweb and invited me to contribute to a small exhibition, which I was happy to do. As it was clear at the time that I wouldn’t be able to travel up north I explained my circumstances and asked right away if it was possible to have my work photographed in situ, just snaps really, so I could see how it was put up and get a sense of the show from afar. This was promised to me. When one curator handed over to another I made the same request, and as previously, was told that would be no problem at all. Suffice to say that no images of any kind were sent, although I very politely asked again while the show was up (it’s over now). My last e-mail didn’t even receive an answer.
Is this normal? I would have thought that in the age of digital photography it would be an easy thing to provide.
Actually, when Peering Sideways was on, Anne Cunningham from the Arthouse sent me greetings and photos with her mobile right from the private view, at which I desperately wanted to be present. It made me happy, and I felt connected. Later I received (as did the other artists) a CD with photos from the exhibition.
So did I ask too much? What is delivered with such grace and matter-of-courseness by Anne or Rosalind Davis of ZAP, – thoughtful attempts to include an artist who for whatever reason cannot participate in person – shouldn’t that be part of the relationship between curator/gallerist and artists in general? (And doesn't it apply to us all - I can't imagine that everybody manages to travel to every exhibition they are part of.) I was left feeling as if I wanted something that is completely over the top, beyond what would ‘normally’ be expected, and wonder what is and what should be part of said ‘relationship’ in the loosest sense within the framework of an exhibition. What about feedback (I haven’t dared ask)? What about the opportunity to learn from how one’s work engages with other pieces, and with an audience? Is there something like best practice?
# 41 [29 January 2013]
I’m not in touch much but getting closer. Still have got e-mails to answer from the time I was away - catching up is hard to do, esp. as I’m easily side-tracked by the urge to make work, or at least mentally explore ideas of which I’ve got aplenty: they lure me down the garden path, paths really, where makeshift structures hold tools and materials, notions, signs and symbols, all demanding my immediate attention. And a small pair of disembodied legs is dancing across the green…
Communication/connectivity was one of last year’s themes. Writing here has gently pulled me into the (art) world and hooray…, but as I can’t sit at the computer for long I haven’t been able to keep up with your blogs, write comments or tweet my heart out. This may change as I’ve received funding for a tablet and it’s here – a much coveted, shiny little thing, light enough for me to handle lying down once I've learned how to use it. My productive=connected periods will be extended, provided that fatigue hasn’t knocked out cognitive function, and even if I can’t read or write I can look at images. Exciting!
A tweet from @rosalinddavis look whose name popped up during mentoring: I admire & would like 2 try & emulate simplicity & coherence of – my work! transformed a very tired day. When @ZeitgeistAP asked Why do artists find it so hard to value themselves & positively promote what they do? a bite-sized, meaningful and enjoyable exchange ensued. Then I found this poem – it tries a partial answer too. Looking forward looking back – I wrote this in 2008 [inspired by Anna Ancher’s painting Sunlight in the Blue Room (1891)], about the time when crochet became my medium. And as I’m thinking about crochet's relevance for my work and trying to get a better grip on its contextualization as well as articulate its relationship to memory - why not dig out something old, something blue?
She wields a small metallic rod,
curled at one end,
its miniature bill blunted.
Head bent she stabs a flaggy fleece,
pricks and probes. A mangled triangle
grows in her lap.
The eyeless needle delves in, pulls out.
Between her fingers trail
thin ribbons, bloodless arteries.
Clammy hands drag loop through loop,
stitch curly hieroglyphs, each row
a protocol of checks, of curbs.
From patterns written in secret alphabets
she casts spells beyond her years:
chain, cross, lover’s knot.
Reds, pinks and blues entwine -
her heart in her hands
contracts and expands.
Every stitch unties a knot.
# 40 [23 January 2013]
Fully coming back is work in progress; the journey took its toll, energies depleted, muscles slack and sore, head faithless and fickle. My suitcase, laden with clothes, art-books and gifts, sat in the hallway for days and was unpacked ever so slowly, whenever the fatigue relented. Gorgeous gifts: a coral necklace, a ceramic vase from my favourite South African shop, a little red notebook, and money, some of which I spent on a burnt orange dress and a children’s sewing machine. The latter waiting to be tried out, which is not something you can do in the horizontal...
Funny how I still expect to feel better in just a few more days. Unfortunately no amount of good spirits or willpower overrides the fatigue. So I haven’t left the house in two weeks and a day, grumble, grumble, have been laid up while remaining a fully paid up member of the maybe tomorrow-club. But: I’ve managed to read through the Grant for the Arts-application which the wonderful Arthouse has been developing with me. A drawn-out process, but we’re almost there. And a great way to pull me into the new year – the application is the hook on which I’m hanging my aspirations, towards a professional future, a future that isn’t completely on the sidelines. Or - doesn’t this sound better? - the saddle I put on the magic bird that will fly me and my work to far-off shores of the art-world, known and unknown.
In the meantime my body keeps me on my metaphorical toes. After over-exertion I often get what I call my pain-review, with pains flaring up at points that were affected years ago, by a childhood ear infection say, kidney troubles, a broken leg, a root canal, a concussion... Pains logged in the body’s memory which a certain level of M.E-fatigue reactivates. But it also keeps inventing new ones. A few nights ago something befell my hands, very unpleasant though not excruciatingly so: generating an exterior layer of pain, a reverse pain poultice on top of my hands, leaving the palms untouched. It was a strong burning sensation, and when I tried to enter in so I might extract something that I could put into words, which is a kind of fantastical, counter-intuitive process, an image of huge hirsute hands came, furry hands, a Neanderthal woman’s hands. No, image is the wrong word, my hands felt like that, inflicted with a thicket of dark brown hair, about an inch in length. I’ve had pains in my hands before, in sharply attenuated finger tips which seem about to shoot off like bullets, all at the same time; or, also strangely beyond the physical boundaries, emanating from those flaps of skin connecting one finger to the next, making the triangular spaces between my fingers hurt. Why am I telling you this? Apart from wanting to wrestle something from the daily grind of M.E., make it productive in some way, it also seems to link up with the making of art in ways that I can’t quite formulate yet. Maybe a kind of gift too: a very practical way of exploring issues around embodiment.
Yes: art, artwork, arthope, artpleasure: two pieces on the go, a foundling and a new piece, which, as I can see now, sprang directly from the conversations I had with my mother, working title: making do. No photos yet, but soon… And soon I'll be able to read your posts more regularly - I'm about to order my tablet-thingy, ha!
# 39 [13 January 2013]
I’m back although mentally still suspended between two languages and two places – arriving is hard work! Spent lovely, affectionate days with family and friends, feasted on Anatolian garlic soup, Hungarian goulash and too many sweets, sipped sparkling wines and strong coffees, read a mystery for diversion and a novel to bind me in the world, was wheelchair-whizzed through an exhibition until my grin couldn’t keep me upright any longer, bought a catalogue that I can hardly carry, dreamed of museum-sleepovers and waking amongst pieces that I’d get to know slowly, like new friends, and when I lay on the sofa at my mom’s house like a fossilized pretzel I filled spaces with my own work, real and imagined.
Being back at one’s childhood home is a strange kind of dislocation – halfway in, halfway out, the territory familiar, fraught, and alien. Is the past ever as present as where we come from? For a sense of continuity and connection I took LR’s boy with me who was received with interest and questions and whose one-armed siblings lie curled up in the coils of my brain. Temperatures felt more like early spring - disorienting - has the new year really started? It seems so:
Happy New Year to you all! Glad to be posting again.
LR's girl (2012)
Materials: hand-me-down wool/polyester mixture
Dimensions: 41 cm x 31 cm
LR’s boy (2012)
Materials: hand-me-down wool/polyester mixture
Dimensions: jumper 29 cm x 15 cm, pants 16 cm x 13 cm
# 38 [18 December 2012]
2012 has been a rather challenging year, sign of the times-stuff to deal with on top of being unwell, and it’s important to remind myself of what has been good. Posting as part of Artists Talking is in my top ten. It has become a great framing device for my (flatling's) art-life, a place to present, ponder, vent and wonder, and I’ve been sustained and invigorated by its connective potential. Because some of it has been so personal I‘ve often felt ambivalent about my appearances here, esp. when writing about how the M.E affects me. Illness is such a private thing, and while groping for discerning words and images has become a way of acknowledging its incontrovertible reality and shooting a little arrow into its gleaming eye, it’s also made me feel exposed. And yet it's the right thing to do, for the moment.
Funny that I wrote so much about pain when its impact is usually secondary to the fatigue. It seems after all there was something that I might be able to convey. The real depths of fatigue are beyond words. You can’t speak from within as there’s nothing but. Body and mind are held to ransom in a barren grey zone and if I can write about it at all it is after the worst is over. I wish there were a kind of litmus test to measure and describe fatigue, but in the mean-time I’ll just have to try to express of it as much as I can. I’m grateful for your comments, always thoughtful, supportive, positive.
I’ve enjoyed reflecting on my art-practice, showing my work, sharing my exhilaration about art-outings and connections. While my art-life in general is somewhat precarious my ideas are clear and strong and excite me. There’s much to learn, to explore, have adventures with. Metaphorically speaking I’ve thrown a big ball of wool into the new year. Let’s see where it’ll drop, how it will roll and loop and knot. Meanderings and entanglements welcome.
And it’s been wonderful reading you, seeing your work, connecting with you. Want more of that, much more. Time for a break though. For now I’ll wish you happy holidays and a good start to an art-filled, heart-filled year. Until soon.
And where, and how (2003/4)
Material: Japan paper
Dimensions: The shoes are life-size. Measured in a row the dimensions are approx. 150 cm x 25 cm x 15 cm
# 37 [12 December 2012]
Last week I had a really good, concrete tutorial with Rosalind Davis, funded through Shape Arts’ Creative Steps Mentoring scheme. Kindly she came to my home-studio-home, which meant it didn’t gobble up a whole week’s energies. Rosalind is so open, interested, imaginative, committed, positive, and real, that the tutorial not only gave me lots of leads but turned out to be a pleasure. We ended up on the floor looking at my foundlings and LR’s boy and girl. It meant a lot to have face-to-face contact, to be able to show work. I’ve got an audio-recording to go back to, and a couple of artists to look up: amongst others David Ketford and Nick Kaplony.
Although I am grateful for this opportunity I got upset with Shape Arts, a disability-led arts organisation. After I sent them an enthusiastic thank-you-e-mail they insisted that these tutorials could not take place at someone’s home and that I’d have to go to Rosalind’s studio for the follow-up appointment. When I let them know that it’s not always possible for me to go, given the M.E., they suggested skyping. It seems there are insurance issues. I wonder about artists who are completely housebound, who make great work of which we’ll never know because they are just outside of everything. I for one crave presence – of art, of people, which is why you can see me getting so excited every time I make it to an exhibition. I don’t know what I’d do without the internet, but nothing can replace direct engagement. And to show physical, actual work, not just its image on the screen, surely makes all the difference to how it’s perceived: you get the dimensions of a piece in relation to yourself, the colours and textures as they are, you share the same physical space and from there access the imaginative space the work opens up if it’s any good…
A friend of mine asked why it isn’t enough for me to make my pieces, but it’s not a way of keeping busy, nor is it a rehabilitative work activity. I went to art-college, my work is good, do I really have to make a case for myself? So what if I need support with stuff? By the by: I also struggle with calling myself a ‘disabled’ artist. Labels make me uncomfortable. And this is of absolute importance to me: I make art. Not disabled art. Not outsider art, as an art-professional suggested to me a while ago. Art. If I knew how to change the font-size and colour here, you’d see this in huge, red letters: ART.
Still, skype is a few steps up from chatting on-line or holding monologues, and the opportunities the internet offers to someone who doesn’t leave the house much are wide-ranging. I do want to explore that more, which is why in the new year I will put any Xmas-money I receive into the purchase of a tablet-thingemy (I know I’m dazzling you with my technical terms). I've got a computer, but given that my sitting times are't very long I use a netbook. It sits on my belly while I’m lying down – may it not explode - and has been a great little helper these last few years. However its screen resolution isn’t very good, and looking at art or blogs is done as if through a drab curtain. A tablet is also much lighter and easier to handle. I see it as an investment in my art-future. It will connect me into the world a bit more. And I promise that I’ll keep up with your posts better too.
Good news: I’ve got three small pieces in Mysteryland, an exhibition in Manchester, curated by Blank Media Collective in collaboration with Z-arts. I was ‘found’ through axis-web and invited to participate! Would love to see what it’s like, was promised photographs. I like the idea of a different kind of venue, different audiences - kids will come, families - esp. in a time when arts-education is deemed superfluous.
Edith’s shoes (2009)
Material: tissue paper
Dimensions: 14 cm x 15 cm x 14 cm
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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.