In the month between my mother’s death in November and her funeral in December, delayed because of a backed up, (their words) crematorium, I existed in a state of limbo and found it impossible to settle down to anything that required more than a modicum of intellectual effort. I have often heard it said that the grieving process can’t begin until after the funeral and now I know what they mean.
During that hollow time, my intuitive husband whisked me off to Marrakesh for a few days, a welcome distraction, though unreal in the sense that it was punctuated with moments of vertiginous remembering: Oh, yes that’s right, my mother has died. Even at the funeral, which was lovely in its’ generous and eclectic rounding up of her life, still I felt removed, not quite there. And then without pause, another distraction, Christmas with its revving up towards excess.
In the first week of the new year, I decided to open my mother’s sewing box, with which I have a complicated relationship, hence the procrastination. Lifting the lid triggered the same magnetic pull from childhood, filled as it was with mysteriously, strange and desirable objects. Mostly Mum kept us at bay, it was her work box, an essential repair kit, from which she patched, darned, buttoned, hemmed, and mended. Only occasionally did she allow us to play with the contents of the button tin, which magpie-shiny, always yielded unexpected treasure.
Of all the things, we should’ve said
That we never said
All the things we should’ve done
Though we never did
Kate Bush This Woman’s Work (from The Sensual World)
There were other things in that box that I have never fully registered before, three generations-worth of; material off-cuts, leftovers, ribbons, tapes, even bits of old knicker elastic, all carefully rolled into neat little make-do-and-mend parcels, tucked away against future lack. Something about those tender little bundles waiting to be useful, mirrored and amplified my own regret about good intentions towards my mother, not fulfilled.
And before I could quickly shut the lid, stop up the dam, hold back the flood, I felt myself coming undone. I’ll spare the details but it was messy and went on for some time. Eventually, a tiny idea began to fight its way through the misery:the realization that I could transform the box into art and that I had the necessary ability to change its original function, thereby neutralzsing any negative affect, without having to destroy the physical object.
Take your broken heart and make it art. Carrie Fischer.
I went to bed exhausted and during the night, art, not for the first time came to the rescue by downloading into my brain, very precise instructions as how to transform the box. First, I emptied it and spent a whole day sorting and categorising its contents. Although hard, the womanly process of re-rolling and packaging was comforting. The next step was to replace broken hinges and then cover it with fine printing paper which was inclined to wrinkle. This gave me deep, inexplicable satisfaction. Then I painted and waxed the surface of the box until it felt right.
We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. Kenji Miyazawa
It took the best part of a week to cut and roll bits of material from my collection of used women’s clothes and household fabrics, gleaned from charity shops. The rolls, although cut the same size, had to be painstakingly trimmed to fit. Once in place, I slit the padded lid, and replaced some of its innards with tumble-dryer fluff, from washing the used clothes.
Once finished, I felt better. The sewing box, my mother’s work box, still reflects women’s work but the emotional pain of looking at it is diminished. But it is only now, as I write this, I can see that the box is really a tribute to my mother’s tireless sacrifices and celebration of the constant thread that runs throughout and unifies my practice.
What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. Helen Keller
This is the first piece of work in a new series called; Displacement.