My first blog ‘Keeping It Together’ came to a natural end when I moved in to my studio. ‘Keeping It Going’ picks up where that left off. Will I be able to maintain a blog at the same time as being creative in the studio? Will it help or hinder my practice as an artist?

www.katemurdochartist.com

Follow me on Twitter: @katemurdochart

August 2016: See also my new blog, ‘Keeping It Moving’

https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/keeping-it-moving


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The recent announcement for the latest round of a-n professional development bursaries started me thinking again about the short film that I made with film maker Henrietta Thomas.

‘I Always Wanted To Be…’ was completed at the end of December 2016 thanks to an a-n bursary, but for reasons which I will explain here, I haven’t shared the film publicly until now. The process of arriving at the finished film was a long and complicated journey for me, and I’ve needed time to absorb and think about it.

Some major changes were made in the final stages of editing, largely because I felt that the original narrative somehow didn’t match the film footage. This was no reflection on Henrietta’s excellent filming – it was all down to me and the choices I had made. It was as if I had made two films – one with a fairly serious story to tell, the other working on a purely visual level with its selection of plastic, tacky looking ballerinas in their music boxes. The two just didn’t fit well together.

I realised that by introducing too many threads I had over-complicated ‘I Always Wanted To Be …’ An interview with an ex-ballerina provided me with a deeply personal, moving account of her experiences as a young dancer at the Royal Ballet School. The narrative was so rich, in fact, that it felt like a film in itself. Presenting it alongside the close up images of the ballerinas felt to me like a sensory overload – there was too much going on, too much to absorb, orally and visually.

It was at this point of going round and round in circles and not knowing how to resolve things, that I asked artist Sonia Boué if she’d be happy to look at the film and give her opinion. Sonia is a person I trust and we often share similar tastes and sensibilities in the objects we choose for our work. I also liked the short films Sonia had been posting on line – exquisitely filmed, but slow in pace and easy to follow.

The one I’d produced by comparison, felt a little overwhelming; I was looking for something calmer and easier on the senses. Sonia identified the problem almost immediately and agreed with my analysis that there were potentially two films in the mix. I am really grateful to her for suggesting the music that now features in the final version. It fits so perfectly.

Two years have passed since the film was completed, and now feels like the right time to release it. The entire process from start to finish has been a massive learning curve for me, as well as confirming my tendency to overthink and complicate things. With hindsight, the focus of the film should always have been the actual ballerinas themselves, as it’s these petite, bored looking dancers who were (and are) my real point of interest. All so different, with real personalities of their own – magical and enchanting on the one hand and yet, melancholic and full of sadness on the other. Something about their poorly painted faces – fixed, rigid, expressions, giving them a slightly sinister air as they endlessly rotate; their ‘bad’ hair, cheap nylon dresses – artificial and shoddily manufactured moulded bodies – all contributing towards an overall sense of cheap, plastic tackiness.

I’m still really grateful (and rather guilty) about the amazing narrative so generously provided by Ama Rohatiner. Maybe one day in the future I might get the chance to make another short film around the fascinating things Ama relayed. Thank you Ama! I’m grateful to Sonia Boué for the advice and insight that she gave me, to Henrietta Thomas for her beautiful filming and her endless patience, and of course, to a-n Artist Network whose professional development bursary made it all possible.

Watch the finished film here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqJPd7e8JBc&feature=youtu.be

 


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My contribution to ‘Jo Mama’s Second Alphabet Show’ was N for nurses at the A-Side B-Side gallery: http://www.asidebsidegallery.com/PR__Jo_Mamas_2nd_Alphabet_Show.html

‘Bad Head Day’ is included in the Shape Open Retrospective group show at Hoxton Arches until November 11th: https://www.shapearts.org.uk/Event/shape-open-retrospective

Given that I’ve had so much contact with nurses recently and that continuing problems with my right ear has made me feel completely frazzled at times, the two pieces feel very apt and it feels timely that they have been/are currently out in the world. ‘Jo Mama’s Second Alphabet Show’ at A-Side B-Side gallery is now over, but the Shape Open Retrospective exhibition continues until November 11th.

Thanks to Harry Pye & everyone at A-Side B-Side gallery & Sara Dziadik & the Shape Arts collective for their hard work. Being given the opportunity to show my work is especially appreciated during a period of ill-health.

I Love the NHS’  Kate Murdoch 2018

‘Bad Head Day’ Kate Murdoch 2016


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Maintaining this blog, as I’ve mentioned many times before, provides me primarily with a record of my work. It also provides me with a space in which to reflect and think back on the things that are easily forgotten and overlooked: the highs & lows, plus all the bigger, real-life issues that inevitably get in the way of being an artist.

Life really has got in the way for me recently. I’m aware that I’ve been talking a lot about my ill health, both in this blog and on social media. Hardly surprising, given that it’s pretty much all life’s been about these past few weeks – months, even. I’m glad that I have this space to talk through such issues – it’s cathartic and helps compartmentalise things. It also feels just as important for me to account for the gaps in work productivity, as it does the busier and more creative times.

One of the original 10×10 objects (photo credit: Wendy Mszyca)

An original 10×10 object (photo credit: Wendy Mszyca)

It was a big deal for me not to be able to get 10×10 up and running in time to coincide with the Deptford X fringe, not least because it’s the first time that I’ve been unable to honour a work commitment. Being reliable matters to me, but it really was unavoidable – writing this here is a way of reminding myself of the very legitimate reasons for having to withdraw.

I ended up in hospital for a second time in September – this time, for two weeks. Feeling so unwell and being in such excruciating pain, revolved around ongoing issues with my right ear and a subsequent infection which spread to the bone. I have, as a result, been seriously ill.

The staff at my local NHS hospital once again proved to be amazing – administering pain relief as required and nursing me back to a level of health which means I can function in the world again. Treatment is still ongoing but I’m better than I was and virtually pain-free. Rather than feeling ill all the time, I now feel like I’m recuperating. Recovery is slow and very much following the pattern predicted by the ENT consultant with good days followed by bad days, one step forward and two steps back – I’m not out of the woods yet.

Psychologically, it feels important to take advantage of the good days and to engage myself in the things that interest me. I’ve recently managed to get to some art exhibtions and events; it feels important to document the things I have managed to do.

I’m pleased for example, that I was able to acknowledge October 10th 2018 as being the 10th anniversary of my 10×10 project. Just a small gesture, but writing a post on here and posting images of some of the 100 original objects from 2008 on social media, gave a nod at least, to 10 years collaborative work with many different audiences.

With the brilliant support of close family & friends, I’ve also managed to keep up with a few other work-related events. I’ve missed a lot of the exhibitions I wanted to see, but one of the positive things about not being up to scratch health-wise is that people have rallied round and offered to do all sorts of things to make me feel better. Aside from the amazing nutritious food I’ve been provided with, I’ve also been driven to places, friends & family recognising that I’m not quite up to taking public transport yet. And so, I did manage to make it along to see ‘A Woman’s Place’ at Knole House last weekend. I’m so pleased I did – a first ‘big’ day out for me in weeks and the chance to see some great art by six artists, whose work I really like, presented in a beautiful setting.

Flag for Grace’ Lubaina Himid

Lubaina Himid’s flag looked brilliantly defiant in its setting, flying high on the flagpole of a building from an era so frequently associated with women’s oppression.

The second trip out involved being caught in a horrendous traffic jam and arriving at my destination almost an hour later than anticipated. But being driven into central London, meant that I was able to make it to the launch of Michael Petry’s book, ‘The Word Is Art’ last Wednesday evening. Sadly, I missed the opportunity to hear Michael speak, but I’m glad that I made it and was able to at least, meet some of the other artists who have work in the book, the author himself and his assistant Roberto Ekholm. I’m now the proud owner of my own copy of ‘The Word Is Art’ authored by Michael Petry and published & launched by Thames & Hudson last week.

The book includes images of the work of a diverse group of international artists who have used text in their work – and for me personally, the inclusion of an image from my ‘HAME’ series. It’s a lovely tribute and a wonderful, lasting legacy to a much loved and missed father. I’ve only managed to skim read Michael’s extensive writing so far (about the use of text globally in art, as well as information on each individual artist whose work is included), but I’m looking forward to having a more in-depth read soon. The book’s release couldn’t be better in terms of timing – perfect reading for an ongoing period of recuperation.

HAME’ Kate Murdoch

This photo was taken in the Ayrshire village of Muirkirk where my father, Alexander Murdoch, was born – ‘hame’ as he affectionately called it. This particular ‘HAME’ image is a tribute to him and conjures up happy memories of numerous visits to the homes of his vast extended family, many of whom still live in Muirkirk.


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October 10th, 2018 marked ten years since I first presented 10×10.

10×10 started its journey as part of Deptford X fringe festival in 2008. Ten years on, my intention was to return to the Art Hub studio space in Deptford, SE London, the venue where it was first launched. It was all set for 10×10 to be a part of this year’s Deptford X fringe events – opening up the cabinet of objects for further exchanges and even hoping to reconnect with people who had been at the very first exchange event in 2008. Sadly, due to a two week stay in hospital (the result of a severe ear infection which spread to the bone) followed by an ongoing convalescence period, none of this was able to happen.

In spite of the deep disappointment I feel about having to cancel (not just the Deptford X exchange, but all sorts of other plans), I’m happy that today on the 10 year anniversary of 10×10, I’m at least able to focus on writing and updating some of the narrative associated with the events and exchanges of the past 10 years.­

10×10 responded to a call for artists to make work answering to the theme of barter and trade. I gave up 100 objects which were precious to me and invited people to take one, leaving an object of their own in exchange.

Throughout the past ten years I’ve taken 10×10 to a number of venues – Lewisham College, Herne Bay and Whitstable museums, the Stade Hall in Hastings and the First Site gallery in Colchester. Participants were asked to share the stories behind the objects they left behind if they wanted to, but there was no obligation to do so. I’ve collected some amazing stories associated with some of the exchanged items over the past decade; I’m looking forward to writing them up and sharing them one of these days.

The concept of exchange was particularly pertinent in the year 10×10 was launched: 2008 is a year synonymous with one of the biggest financial crises in global history. In the wake of a monumental financial crash, top banks & financial companies folding, I posed the question: how long would it be until people resorted to bartering?

The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks. ‘What is an object worth to you? How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give up in return?’ are among the questions I asked.

10×10 is about letting go, and exploring the powerful associations that we sometimes project onto objects and the emotional attachments we make to them. It is also about human nature and our response to being challenged away from a monetary system to one of exchange and barter. ‘Would it be people’s generosity or meanness that triumphed when it came to the value of the objects that were bartered? Would the piece be ‘worth more’ at the end of the process?

10×10 was once described as ‘a comment on humanity.’ It has been fascinating to witness the various ways people have responded to the exchange process. Overall, humanity has come out of it pretty well. Other than a restriction on size, people are allowed to leave whatever they want and for the main part, people have responded with great generosity and thoughtfulness. There’s always the odd ‘rebel’ of course, but it was interesting to witness the peer group pressure faced by participants who decided to ‘have a laugh/take the piss’ – call it what you will. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules, other than that the object had to fit in the space provided within the cabinet.

I remember one particular young man who spoke out loud his intention to leave a 10 pence piece in exchange for a vase that caught his eye. He told his friend: ‘My Mum would like that and it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday – that’s a good, cheap present.’ He was overheard and observed by a group of people interacting with the objects in the cabinet as he began to make the exchange. They were quick to voice their disapproval – ‘you can’t do that’- ‘show some respect’ – ‘cheapskate’ and so on. I can’t remember exactly how much he left in the end, but it was way and above 10 pence. It was interesting in itself to me that money started to creep in as an object for exchange. I was never over enamoured with £s and pence being introduced, but I decided at the outset that I wasn’t going to police what went in and out of the cabinet.

Things aren’t always what they seem, of course – quieter, more subtle exchanges have taken place. Many on the surface, have appeared quite straightforward and uncluttered by any sort of narrative. But dig deeper and it often transpired that an object left in the cabinet was in fact, highly emotionally charged. A real diamond bracelet was left behind on the first launch night of 10×10, for example. It was an exchange that might have gone unnoticed had the person who left it not written in the ledger book I always invite people to write in, should they want to. In the event, this message was left: ‘This bracelet was given to me by …. perhaps one day I will tell the tale …’

It’s a classic example of the concept around value and worth: genuine diamonds and their actual monetary value, versus the emotional worthless-ness of the bracelet to this particular person at this particular point in time. In contrast, a seemingly ‘worthless’ object in the shape of a small candle stub was left in the cabinet. It was exchanged for a pristine new candle by an international student on a tight financial budget. He told me he used candlelight in his bedsit room in order to save on electricity costs – a practical, pragmatic exchange.

Friday 10th October 2008 as I said, was the date I first launched 10×10. I had no idea when I did so, how things would turn out. There are many accounts (both oral and written) of what specific objects have meant/mean to specific people along the way. As well as the actual objects that people have brought along, it’s the narrative behind them that has also been a real source of fascination for me. I’m looking forward to fully documenting the stories associated with a decade of 10×10 in the future. But for now, on the 10th anniversary of starting 10×10, I’m pleased to feel well enough to at least acknowledge the date – 10/10 from 10am – 10pm – a decade ago, when my twin sons were 10 and my Nana reached the grand age of 100 years.

 

10×10 The original 100 objects


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‘The best laid plans gae aft agley …

Keeping it going – or not. Plans for the past week have completely gone to pot and I’m trying not to get too down about it. Post ‘Push The Boat Out’ I was really looking forward to getting out and about and visiting some exhibitions – all inked in my diary. And that was as well as getting down to some serious reorganising in other areas – so many things screaming for attention! As it turned out, because of an emergency hospital admission last week, I haven’t been able to get to any of the shows or cross anything off my ever growing ‘to do’ list. I’d gone for a routine appointment, in the hope that ongoing problems with my right ear had started to improve. The opposite was the case, in fact – a persistent infection had really taken hold – I knew I hadn’t been feeling very well!

 

Back home now and recovering from a surreal few days. The pain in my right ear is under control and I’m feeling a lot better – well enough to write this blog post, for example! I’d been looking forward to using August as a kind of clear the decks time, a chance to tie up all those loose ends – updating my website, reorganising my studio space and getting 10×10 ready for the upcoming Deptford X festival. It’s mid -August already – I’m still not feeling 100% and all the to-ing and fro-ing to hospital means that this month isn’t exactly unfolding in the way I’d anticipated. That said, I’m extremely grateful for the brilliant care I received during my stay at my local NHS hospital – it’s ongoing and I’m very grateful to be in the hands of some very kind and compassionate professionals, all recognising that ears are sensitive organs and earache hurts! I will never take the amazing free health care we have in this country for granted and I’m so indebted to the NHS staff who have helped me feel well again.

 

So! Patience is the name of the game and as per the Burn’s quote above, plans are made to be broken – you can’t always predict what’s round the corner. My late Nana’s words of wisdom also remind me that ‘your body has a way of telling you when it’s time to rest.’ Though relaxation doesn’t come easily to me, I’m doing my best to give my body a chance to recover – to go with the flow for a while and reassure myself that not keeping it going some of the time is actually, fine.

 

 


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