Finally. Finally! Back into the studio, producing work. It feels great to have re-established a studio routine this past week after an exceptionally busy summer with other commitments.

This evening sees the launch of the Deptford X festival; Bob & Roberta Smith is the lead artist and this year’s theme is the Value of Art. My thoughts are again focused on my 10×10 project and the whole issue of value and worth – value in relation to humanity and all the amazing possibilities that can bring – it’s been there in a lot of the stories people have so generously shared. This is the part of my work that excites me and makes it feel worthwhile; it also reminds me how keen I am to resurrect 10×10.

As the government continues to threaten and impose yet further cutbacks on public funding and the gap between the rich and poor in this country grows ever wider, the whole theme of value and worth continues to be a pertinent issue.

In sweet serendipity, this article appeared in this morning’s Guardian. An American friend of mine has been talking about The Burning Man festival ever since I launched 10×10 in 2008. I can but dream of taking 10×10 there one day. For now, it’s back to the studio to work on a personal response to this year’s Deptford X theme of the Value of Art.



It feels ironic to me that at the same time as thinking and writing about the issue of silence, I seem to have so much to say! One thought led to another, however, and there wasn’t enough space in my last post to write about a headline that impacted on me before leaving for Scotland.

On August 21st, the national papers reported the death of Helen Bamber, psychotherapist and human rights activist.

I was really saddened by news of her death – ‘the loss of another wonderful woman whose life affected those of others in so many ways,’ as Susie Orbach commented.

I had the good fortune to meet Helen Bamber in a professional capacity some years ago when she was the founder of the organisation, then known as The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, now named the Freedom from Torture. Passionate, warm, articulate and compassionate beyond belief, hearing her speak inspired me for many years to come. I was (and will continue to be) completely in awe of her immense courage and extraordinary capacity to take on the pain and suffering of so many men, women and children.

Thinking about her death as I write this, takes me right back to the issue of silence. Helen Bamber didn’t stay silent. She spoke up and became a crucial voice for others – for those who were so traumatised by what they’d experienced at the hands of their fellow human beings, that they were silenced by their pain.

At first, Helen Bamber said she felt useless in the face of so much suffering. Gradually, however, she realised that, while she couldn’t change the past, she could at least listen.

People wanted to tell their story and I was able to receive it,’ she told an interviewer from ‘The Observer’ in 2008, when relaying her experience of working with survivors of Nazi concentration camps.

‘They would hold me and dig their thin fingers into my arm and rasp this story out … They would rock back and forth and I would say to them, “I will tell your story. Your story will not die.” It took me a long time to realise that that was all I could do.’

Helen Bamber helped to establish the first medical group in the British section of Amnesty International, which recorded testimony and documented evidence of human rights violations.

Thank goodness for the likes of her – courageous enough not to remain silent; to speak up against the horrors of the Holocaust and the subsequent world-wide atrocities and violations of human rights – and essentially,  enabling victims of torture to find their own voice to do the same:

‘The crucial lesson to master is how to hold, contain and sustain people who have suffered immense atrocity and loss.’ to quote Helen Bamber, herself.

A truly remarkable woman. Here’s an extract taken from the Helen Bamber Foundation literature, just a small part of the extraordinary legacy she has left behind her:

For almost seventy years, Helen dedicated her life to those who suffered torture, trafficking, slavery and other forms of extreme human cruelty. She began her career aged 20, working with survivors of the holocaust in the former concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. Since 1945, she has helped tens of thousands of men, women and children to confront the horror and brutality of their experiences.’




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Home. Or hame, as my Dad would say. A two week holiday with my family in Scotland is over and we’re back, trying to re-establish some sort of routine alongside the start of a new school term.

This year’s summer break turned out to be a trip of strong contrasts – from the manic world of Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival to the peace and tranquility of a visit to the Holy Isle, a small island off the coast of Arran – and back again, to a calmer, post-Festival Edinburgh.

Holy Isle is a short boat trip away from Arran’s Lamlash Bay. True to its reputation as a unique healing place, steeped in a long spiritual history dating back to the 6th century, the island made a real impact on me. It’s now owned by the Samye Ling Buddhist community and there are a series of day and residential programmes and retreats organised by them on the north of the island.

I’ve been thinking about the whole concept of silence a lot since my visit. Committing oneself to sustained periods of silence plays a strong role in the spiritual practice while on a Buddhist retreat – to the south of Holy Isle, there is a closed, private retreat where people go to stay for periods of up to three years at a time. I quite frequently fantasise about being in silent places – being silent, myself – hearing aids firmly switched off – enough of the constant chatter, both person to person and electronically.

I’ve been thinking about silence in relation to my creative work as well – how much I enjoy silence in the studio, for example – how much silence to exercise when presenting and talking about my work – silence versus engagement, especially when it comes to participatory work and working with an audience. Taking my 10×10 project to various locations has been a real learning curve in this respect – gauging when people want to interact and when they don’t; it’s not always clear.

Being silenced has found its way into my work in the past – through the physical act of tying black ribbons, gag-like, over the mouths of china figurine faces, for example – quite literally, silencing them – shutting them up.

Shutting myself up, too, perhaps?

I think probably, yes. Certainly, when I tied the ribbon gags over the mouths of the female figurines, I was conscious of what it meant. Not only was it a reference to how frequently women are silenced, their opinions counting for nothing – the gesture also demonstrated that some things are best left unsaid, best to keep shtum, however strongly you might feel.

Like so many things in life, it’s about finding a balance – finding a balance and keeping things in perspective. Which is what taking time out and getting away from it all is all about for me. I loved being on the Holy Isle in North Ayrshire – was completely mesmerised by the stillness and tranquility of what to me, is a very special place. And Ayrshire after all, is the birthplace of my beloved late Father, Alex.

I caught a glimpse of a newspaper article just before I left for Scotland in mid August, questioning the current safety levels for tourists visiting the Middle Eastern Holy Land. The irony of the reference to the term ‘holy’ hasn’t escaped me. I felt a million miles away from conflict or turmoil of any sort as I stood and read the various messages on a peace post – a million miles away from the chaos, the carnage and the disturbing images coming out of Gaza, as written about in my last post here.

Compare the news coverage and images of how that holy land has looked recently – wrecked, bomb shelled and utterly war ravaged – with the beauty of the peaceful, tranquil landscape of the beautiful Scottish Holy Isle.

This year’s summer break as I said, turned out to be one of strong contrasts.