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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As I said in my last post here, I’ve been involved in conversations with Elena Thomas and Stuart Mayes about the virtues of long term blogging. Our responses to some self-initiated questions were collated and published online on the a-n platform last week. We had a lot to say between us and one of the questions that didn’t survive the editing was around the subject of the advantages of long term blogging over social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot.

Writing about my work alongside making it, is something I’ve done automatically over the years. No sooner had I started to make work, I started to write a blog – this blog! The two have always gone hand in hand for me and I’ve rarely made work without writing about it. More recently, I’ve wondered, if I had my time again, whether I might have done things differently – said less about the work I’d made, allowing an audience to make their own interpretation of it?

I used Twitter as a way of promoting my work and getting it ‘out there’ and then, when Instagram was introduced, used it as a means of presenting images. Words were less used when using social media and images of my work stood alone, with very little background attached.

It clearly has its place – Instagram is massively popular with artists and has become the main platform for showcasing work for many. But Instagram, as the name suggests, is about instant gratification – see it, clock it and move on. Twitter is similar – a bit more room for comments and interaction but in today’s ever changing, fast and furious pace of life, even short exchanges about the work are becoming more rare. There is no doubt that social media platforms have their merits, but for me, personally, I wonder how much I actually digest in the midst of such a fast-paced whirlwind of images? How much ‘stays’ with me – and how much satisfaction is gained from the images alone?

Some would argue that good art stands on it own – it doesn’t need the trappings of explanation behind it to make it worthwhile. There’s undoubtedly a lot of truth in this – quality will always out and exceptional work, always stand out. But what about the pleasure of actually engaging with art – properly engaging – and understanding at least a little about the concept behind it? For me, personally, it’s infinitely more interesting to know something about the artist themselves and the thinking behind the work they create.

Perhaps this is the reason I was drawn to blogging in the first place? Sharing my work with others feels important to me as an artist and regular blogging over a period of time has opened up opportunities for conversations and debate around my own and others’ work. It’s provided a source of dialogue and mutual support and has meant being a part of community in which it’s been possible to exchange ideas and share points of concern ranging from very real issues such as feeling stuck and unmotivated to a more mundane question such as which type of glue to use.

I’ve gathered a pretty intensive record of being a practising artist through maintaining a blog here and doing so over a sustained period of time has allowed room for reflection. It’s meant that patterns have emerged that would otherwise have been overlooked, enabling me to reflect on what’s important and to recognise recurring themes running through my practice. Information about the work, the thinking that went into it beforehand and some of the emotions that came out during the actual making of it – it’s all there. Aside from maintaining a day to day diary, I can’t think of a more thorough way of keeping an account of all the effort and energy – the highs and lows, failures and successes – that goes into being a practising artist.


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It’s nearly five months since I’ve written here which means that it’s five months since someone responded to one of my tweets in which I  promoted my last blog post, alongside the image above (a detail from my ‘Sweet Nothings’ work). Someone I don’t know responded by sharing an image of their own next to mine, the implication being that what I’d posted was crap. It wasn’t clear whether they were referring to my work or what I’d written – no matter, really – everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But what did matter to me was that, out of all the blog posts and images I’ve ever posted and then shared on social media, criticism of this particular one, got to me – and hurt! It came from a deeply personal place.

 

I did my best to follow advice from the small handful of people I confided in – to ignore it and not give the perpetrator the satisfaction of knowing they’d upset me. My allies were right, I’m sure, but it’s hard to escape the absolute glaring irony of this situation: that work addressing the serious issues of young girls and women being silenced and discouraged to voice their opinions should be met with my own! And so, it feels right to at least acknowledge the comment left on Twitter, if only as a point of reference and to draw a line under it. This space has often provided me with a place to park things and move on.

 

By complete contrast, I’ve been involved in positive conversations with other artist bloggers, Elena Thomas and Stuart Mayes, over the past few weeks. Elena and Stuart, like myself, have been contributing to the a-n blogging platform for a number of years. In the midst of a massive house move, I’ve been grateful for sporadic snatches of communication with them and the opportunity to reflect on what writing these blog posts has meant (and continue to mean) to me, personally and we three, collectively. It’s led to some interesting questions and responses and with the help of Stephen Palmer, a-n Artists Network has just this week published an online Q&A article derived from these conversations. We celebrate 33 years of blogging between us and the article has prompted a number of comments from other long term bloggers on the a-n platform since it went online. Rob Turner is one of them and his comment caught my attention:

The original a-n blogging platform was a nurturing safe environment for artists. People wore their hearts on their sleeves and much valuable capitol was gained from that.’

A ‘nurturing safe environment’ is exactly what the a-n blogging platform has been for me and I’m pleased to be able to share this Q&A article below, outlining my own and Elena and Stuart’s individual take on the benefits of long term blogging. It speaks volumes I think, about the huge advantages to be gained through being a part of the a-n blogging community, both past and present. Some conversations have already come out of it – our hope, collectively is that there might more to come.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/a-qa-with-elena-thomas-kate-murdoch-and-stuart-mayes-artists-and-a-n-bloggers/


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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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