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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‘It took me a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to remain silent.’

Madeleine Albright, American politician

I may not agree with Madeleine Albright on everything, but I love the above quote of hers and as it’s particularly appropriate for this blog post, wanted to include it here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and the human voice – and, in relation to my work specifically, the voices of girls and young women and the ways in which they are repressed. Revisiting the work I made for the ‘Me, Myself and I’ exhibition, led me once again to think about ‘Sweet Nothings.’ This work was very much the starting point and central focus for the installation I was commissioned to make for the Collyer Bristow Gallery platform area last year. The exhibition included the work of twenty artists exploring identity.

Gag definition: to prevent someone from speaking freely

 

I wrote a post on this blog when the exhibition first opened, written to coincide with International Women’s Day, 2020. This is an extract from it, followed by a link to the entire post:

‘Keeping women down, repressed and subdued has always been achieved by silencing them. Without a voice that is heard, we are powerless; what women need is to continue to search for and find a voice that has the freedom to express itself authentically, without having to keep it ‘nice’ – a voice that dares rage against the injustices and inequalities so often imposed on them and a voice that screams and calls out the way in which women are silenced everyday in every corner of the world.’

You can read the rest of the post here:

https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/keeping-it-going-1/date/2020/03/

 

 

Sweet Nothings’ is a piece of work I keep returning to. It’s composed of small ceramic girl figurines, placed on a dressing table, gazing into a mirror. You have to look closely to see that each individual figurine has its mouth taped over with Elastoplast. It speaks volumes (ironically) about how girls and young women were (and continue to be) silenced. The girls are adorned in pretty party dresses, reminiscent of the 60/70s era, an era in which children were very much expected ‘to be seen and not heard’ and girls specifically, to be decorative and submissive.

It seems like they’re destined to stay in this decorative and submissive state for some time now: like so many events of 2020, the show became a casualty of the pandemic. No sooner had I installed my work for the ‘Me, Myself and I’ group show, than I was back in the Gallery, taking it down again – numerous objects, wrapped up and back in boxes, before they’d even had a chance to breathe. It would be easy to put them to one side, forget about them – another large body of work, packed away. But there was so much energy attached to these objects, so much potential narrative emanating from them, that it feels almost impossible to put a lid on them.

Throughout the various lockdowns, the Sweet Nothing figurines have reminded me of the many fascinating conversations that might have been – the unrealised opportunity for conversations with 19 other artists, to meet and get to know each other, exchange ideas and share insights into our respective work. I loved the premise behind this exhibition, one which as stated by the curator, Rosalind Davis:

‘ … investigated artists’ self-enquiry and expressions of the interior self. Works speak to a range of lived experiences recalling personal and political struggles, family relationships and memories of childhood. Across painting, drawing, photography and assemblage the show reflects on themes of freedom and solitude, collectivity and belonging, disenfranchisement and loss. In liminal spaces between fact and fiction, the fantastical and the everyday, twenty artists grapple with – and celebrate – the complexities of identity, selfhood and finding one’s place in the world.’

I was excited by being a part of this show and looking forward very much to exploring each artists’ unique take on the theme of identity.* In the absence of the conversations that never had a chance to materialise, and feeling rather silenced and subdued myself, I’m wondering if in time, I might start my own dialogue with the objects included in the installation – examining their meaning and value, not merely as display objects on the platform, but as indicators of emotion and attachment, of social and political history and other factors.

This lack of conversation is of course, indicative of how life in general has been for many of us this past year – normal everyday conversations and face to face interactions with others, hugely curtailed. Once these current restrictions are lifted, I imagine it will take us a while to readjust and get back to some sort of normality – whatever that is and whatever form it takes.

At this point in time, surrounded by so much uncertainty, I’m finding it hard to properly commit to anything, really – finding myself identifying more strongly than ever with the ‘Sweet Nothings’ figurines – silenced and restricted. The expression ‘no words’ is so often associated with expressions of grief – reactions to horrific situations and moments in life when words literally fail us and we just don’t know what to say. If ever there was a more appropriate time – in the midst of immeasurable suffering, caused by this extraordinary pandemic – that time surely, is now.

 

* In spite of the exhibition closing, Rosalind Davis, the curator of ‘Me, Myself and I’ managed to organise an online conversation with a few of the artists involved. I’m so grateful to Rosalind and the artists for creating this record of the exhibition. Thanks also to artist Paula McArthur for her sensitive words about her late friend and collaborator, artist Wendy Saunders (whose work was also exhibited in the show). Wendy is missed by many of those who knew her; she was very much loved, not just for her brilliant enthusiasm and passion for art but for her warmth, kindness and generosity as a lovely human being.

You can access the conversation here:

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

 


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‘I think there must always be room for joy in this world. There has to be hope and celebration.’

Eileen Agar, artist (b.1899 – d.1991)

I noticed the above quote by Eileen Agar in a recent article in ‘The World of Interiors’ magazine. I’ve held her words in mind over these past few weeks and have been grateful for them, encouraging me to take moments to look outside of the horrors of world events, and specifically at this point in time, the impact of COVID. The pandemic has introduced unimaginable suffering for so many, both nationally and internationally. We have lived (and continue to live) through extremely difficult and distressing times and it would feel wrong not to acknowledge it here, in this post. Yesterday, the UK recorded its deadliest day from coronavirus so far with a staggering 1,610 deaths – each death a tragedy, each death the loss of a beloved, dear one; it hardly bears thinking about …

But … ‘there has to be hope …’ in Agar’s words, and we need to make room for letting joy into our worlds. I’m listening to live reports from CNN as I write this, on the day that Joe Biden is set to become the 46th president of the United States. I’m reluctant to even give his predecessor a name but phrases such as ‘toxic’, ‘leaving office in disgrace’ ‘two impeachments’ ‘shatters norms’, ‘snubs successor’ popping up on my TV screen say it all. What a legacy! And COVID aside, numerous other burning issues associated with the past four years are now to be addressed. As news comes in that the 45th president has just left the White House for the last time, one can only wonder, what will happen now? What will he say in his final address to the nation? And long term, will his accusers finally get their day in court? Hope is what we need.


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It’s ten years since I attended a series of meetings in which a number of regular a-n bloggers were invited to speak about the advantages of writing as part of their creative practice: Alex Pearl, Emily Speed, Rosalind Davis, Rob Turner & Jane Boyer are some of the names that immediately spring to mind – I’m sure there were others. And Andrew Bryant, editor of what was then, Artists Talking, was of course, instrumental in co-ordinating and overseeing the whole thing. I was inspired by what was said and though I had no idea when I started out just how advantageous maintaining a blog would be, I’m so glad that I made the decision to do so.

Yesterday was a case in point: via a facebook memory, I was reminded of a blog post, written almost to the day in 2017. It’s so good to have a record of it – an accurate description of what was going on in my life, both creatively and personally, four years ago. I’ve never managed to maintain a journal or notebook. I’ve started one every year with great intentions, but manual note-taking has always fallen by the wayside – unlike writing here, on this blog. This year marks the ninth year of pretty consistent writing here.

The image included in the blog post (above) is from an ongoing body of work, ‘Och, Daddy.’ It felt timely when it appeared on my timeline yesterday, at a point in life when themes relating to family, friends and relationships and an appreciation of those we love and hold dear have taken on an even greater significance. The roots feel particularly symbolic – of the way in which we’ve been forced to live our lives this year – digging deep, holding on tight and staying strong – grounded and rooted. The rules we’ve had to live by have also played a significant part in how we think about the places in which we’ve put down roots – our homes, essentially, for those of us lucky enough to have one. Where we live, who we associate with, who and how many people we’re allowed to let in are questions that have become a way of life that we could never have anticipated. If there’s ever been a year to stop and think about who and what we value, that time has been over this past year.

Re-reading this post has made me think about just how much the past four years has brought in terms of life events – how they’ve affected me and crucially, how many of them could never have been predicted. Being ill and needing to take a lot of time to recover wasn’t something I could have predicted at the start of 2017. It changed my life, and the way in which I now approach it, quite considerably. Physically pacing myself became key and, just at the point when I started to feel that I was slowly emerging from this extended hiatus, the pandemic struck. Life as we knew it, changed spectacularly.

I always feel sentimental at this time of year. Over Hogmanay and the days that follow, thoughts inevitably turn, even if just for a moment, to those I have loved and lost. My late Scottish father is more prevalent in my thoughts at this time of year than any other – and 2020 of course, has been an exceptional one, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected everything. Looking back on the comments here from 3-4 years ago, it feels completely surreal. How dramatically life has changed since I wrote it!

The past 10 months or so have been a sharp reminder that not everything in life always goes to plan – or more appropriately, to use the classic quote from the great Ayrshire born poet, Rabbie Burns: ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley …’

Meantime, in the studio, themes of love and loss, specifically around my late father, forms the bulk of the work I intend to focus on when I return to the studio. It’s all there, waiting for me – a pile of Scottish paraphernalia stacked up on the studio floor, gathered together in my recent sorting in the shed, all waiting for the day I’m ready to relaunch myself into work again.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the post from January 2017 (scroll down to second post) in case you’re interested:

https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/keeping-it-going-1/date/2017/01/


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A 10×10 exchange made in Hastings, 2012

 

When I was invited by artist Jenny Timmer to take part in a challenge to post 10 pieces of work from my past, I was in no doubt that 10×10 should be the first piece, not least because it feels so timely and relevant to what’s going on in the world around us right now. Created in 2008, 10×10 was created in response to a call for work addressing themes of barter and exchange. I gave up 100 objects which were precious to me, inviting people to take an object and leave something in its place.

2008 was also, of course, the year of a massive global financial crisis. In an introduction to 10×10 I wrote about how, according to the dictionary, ‘In times of monetary crisis, barter often replaces money as the method of exchange’ and how  ‘… though we hadn’t quite reached that point yet, that in the current climate, it might be as well to prepare ourselves.’

That was twelve years ago and we’re very much back at that stage now – facing even greater economic disruption as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and just yesterday, a second lockdown announced. The pandemic first time round has already had an adverse effect on our lives with restrictions on travel, cuts to employment and industries and financial markets facing massive disruption, both locally and globally. It looks set to get worse and being immersed in creative work as usual, offers a welcome distraction.

It’s been good to stop and take the time to think about 10×10 again – to dig out the many images of exchanged objects and to be reminded of the numerous stories associated with them. If interested, you can read more about 10×10 on my website here:

http://www.katemurdochartist.com/10×10.html

 

 

I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There’  (detail) 2011

 

As if all the complications of COVID-19 weren’t enough, Brexit hasn’t gone away!

Thinking about Europe and especially about the freedom my sons have enjoyed over the past few years in their travels to and from various European cities has called to mind another piece of work from my past – ‘I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There.’ Again, it feels like a timely piece to introduce … inspired by my late grandmother, the title is from a conversation I had with her in 2010, the year in which she died. I wrote this in 2011:

Shortly before her 102nd birthday in 2010, I had a conversation with my Nana about a souvenir that my cousin had brought back from The Seychelles. She looked at it, said how pretty it was, and then added ‘I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There.’ Considering the furthest she’d ever travelled from her rural Cambridgeshire home was 50 or so miles to London on a couple of occasions, her words were not just surprising but incredibly poignant.

It was as if she (my Nana) realised that life’s opportunities were beginning to close down for her. In today’s climate of redundancy, job losses and increasing living costs, ‘I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There’ takes on an added poignancy. As share prices crash, retirement funds go down the drain and savings become a thing of the past, so too do the dreams and aspirations for the future and opportunities for travelling the world at large close in.

Though written nine years ago, these sentiments are highly pertinent and relevant to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

‘I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There’ features an assortment of souvenirs, typical of the pieces that were brought into my Nana’s home over the 70 years or so she lived in the same house. They were displayed with pride in a glass-fronted cabinet, representing the various parts of the world her large extended family, neighbours and friends had visited – their memories brought into her home.

I often used to wonder what Nana thought about these objects, mementoes of other people’s joy of travel and holidays. What did they mean to her – these plates from New York, the cream jug from Jersey, the spoon rest from San Francisco? What images did they conjure up for her, a woman who hardly ventured from the small Cambridgeshire village, the place in which she lived the entire 102 years of her life?

Thanks again to artist Jenny Timmer for the invitation to present ten different works from the past. ‘I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There’ is my second choice, reminding me of my continuing fascination with objects and how central they are to the work I make.


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