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The power of the object
The power of the song
I see them as the same.


I collect the objects

I write the words

I find sounds that suggest presence

I find garments that suggest presence

I use one to strengthen the story in the other

I draw overlapping threads between songs and objects

I place the women in the musical landscape

A place where I (they) live

with the thoughts in my(their) head


Some of these words and found/altered objects come straight from my gut.

Some are observed from behind my eyes, watching other women, feeling the threads between me and them.

Middle age is a wonderful place to be …you don’t often hear that do you?

I feel strong, more powerful than I ever have. I see younger women battling with the world and themselves. I’m too old now to give a shit what the world thinks. This me is the most me I can remember being since those mythical school holidays as a child paddling along streams, whacking the undergrowth with a stick, imagining, exploring, not just the woods but inside my head.

I believe so strongly that every child should be let loose into the world with either real or metaphorical wellies and a stick.

I sang then, as I sing now.

I see older women either succumbing to the physical and mental toll of age, or fighting it with every bit of spirit left in them. I know women over eighty who skip sprightly around the world, physically if they are able, mentally if they are not. I see smirks, lifting of eyebrows and the sort of wrinkles that got there from laughing. I also see women barely in their sixties for whom it has all been too much… those wrinkles form very different patterns.

I believe so strongly that older women should keep their wellies and stick handy, just in case….


My way of looking at the world and telling other people, is to embroider my truth onto the bras… read it how you will. The soundtrack is the one I’m humming as I beat a path through life in my wellies, with my stick. Some songs are deeply, deeply, all my own. Some I’ve borrowed from those observed women.

I hum while I sew. I sew while I hum.


The object and the song are the same.

They arrive in your brain via different routes, thats all.


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I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but curiously, that sense of responsibility about the funding is actually changing my working practice. It will be interesting to see whether the changes remain once the project is finished and the money has run out!


I am establishing a more formal and sturdy pattern of review: I have suggested to Dan that half way through the  process of recording, after the March sessions, we have some time to review what we have done, with direct regard to the original Arts Council proposal, and also The Agreement, and the meeting we had, and recorded, right at the beginning. I want to make sure that I have touched all the points I wanted to, and those I am obliged to, before moving on. It would be disastrous to get to the end of our planned sessions and suddenly notice I’d missed something crucial!


So in this spirit of review, I am looking at what is evoked by the bras, and the songs. I want to make sure I hit all those points too… I would like to know that the things I see are also seen by the viewer… or maybe different but equally valid things?

The work still remains up from the open studio… This week I think I shall remove the drawings, paint over the wall I have written lyrics on, and supply paint pens for visitors to write on the wall any thoughts they have about it all. I shall hang up the next couple of bras too. I will plug the songs-so-far back into the speakers.


Maybe I should ask prompt questions?

Do you think not asking questions is better?

Will I get a whole load of “The bras are nice” comments if I don’t?


Who are these women?

What are their lives like?

What are they thinking about?

Who do they touch?


If you have any other ideas for questions, or answers, or if you are in the Midlands and would like to see, hear, and write on my wall, please get in touch… I have beverages and biscuits and bacon butties within easy reach.




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And so I stitch.

No more music to be done until March sessions, so I listen to what has already been done while I stitch. And I listen to the songs to be re-recorded while I stitch. I now have the lyrics of twelve songs on the wall. The Agreement states we will work on developing twelve, but will only finish nine recordings. A couple of these have no music. One may actually remain as spoken words rather than sung. The words would need adjusting to become a song, and I quite like them as they are. I am going to simply record them so I can listen to them, as I stitch, to help me make a decision. These are very personal words, written about my second son’s premature birth. I have a maternity bra I’m stitching these words straight onto. I may not actually need or want them recorded in the same straight way.

To be honest, I’ve been having trouble with the whole motherhood issue. Of course it has to be addressed. I kept trying to write about Universal Motherhood (with capitals) forgetting my own tenet that there is nothing more universal than the very personal.

So I track back and dig out these words, written in 2011, about my sons birth in 1995. He was five weeks early, he was 3lb 10oz. He was beautiful, and delicate, and fragile… But otherwise healthy. The energy required to feed took more calories than he was able to ingest, so he was fed with expressed milk in very tiny amounts by naso-gastric tube for nearly two weeks. We watched his skin get thicker by the day, we watched him get bigger and become more aware, gripping our fingers and looking into our eyes. Once he could take a feed without the tube, and was heading towards five pounds, we took him home.

unable to keep yourself warm
in the glass case like a museum treasure
not to be handled at all
kept alive by science not nature
a tube, a light, a constant beep
how can you sleep?
stroked through a porthole
taken out briefly
once a day
to be held
can see the veins and the bones
can see how you work
delicate translucent skin
downy like silk
you get stronger each day on tube-dripped milk
till you are able to get it yourself
its good for your health
whispered words to protect
delicate ears
from amplified sound
sixteen days in over-warm rooms
echoing wombs
home soon
to grow
to live
to be loved

Both my sons were small and early… But Liam was a little scary… A test of a mother’s determination. I had been almost immediately discharged from hospital, Liam admitted to special care. I stayed with him all day, every day. Watching, holding when I could, feeding him 5ml of milk at a time.

While he lay under lights, in an incubator, I stitched.

This poem is about my son’s early days…
That precious grit, fierce protection, ensuring the survival of my child by whatever means I had available to me. The fight that only that intensity of love can provide…

This is the most personal of the pieces made or written so far. If you tell me this piece is crap, I will be violent. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

And so I stitch these words…
And here he is now.

Certainly not fragile.

Definitely not delicate!

Still stitching….

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My eyes get tired, and the bit of brain involved with the visual, it gets tired too… but it takes a while. I’m talking four or five days in Florence. By the fourth day I’ve reached saturation. But given a change of material, I can start again… take me away from the Renaissance and drop me into the contemporary conceptual and I’m fresh again. Show me more!


My ears aren’t match fit. They’re not really brilliantly sharp any more. But the bit between my ears and my brain, that’s not up to the job either. Never mind four days, after four hours I’m flagging. I find this really interesting. Finer points are lost… I can’t hear the slightly flat note later in the session, I can’t hear that slur… I lose the acuity I had at the beginning of the session, and rely on Dan to pick these things up and tell me. I am finding while I’m doing this project I have to be careful what I listen to. I am listening so closely, concentrating so hard on my own voice, sounds and being exacting about timing, and pitch… listening, making those sounds, blending and combining them… I go so far, then need to stop. A little silence, a little walk in the fresh air listening to the sounds of the town… a reboot of my ears and my brain.


In the middle of March I have three days on the trot in the studio, rehearsing, playing, recording, listening… and I have to do so actively, not passively. I have to be critical, make decisions, think visually, but with my ears. Synaesthesia… a blending of the senses… a symbolic representation of one sense by another? I am not synaesthetic… but appreciate this might be what I’m aiming for… I’m aiming for these songs to be visual… I see these women, they appear before me as I sing and as I listen.

When I choose how these songs are filled with instrumentation or not, my yes or no decision depends entirely on the visual. Is this the sound that represents this woman, this emotion, this scene? If not, it doesn’t get in.


Not many people get this… sometimes when I ask for input/critique/feedback from the songwriters’ circle, suggestions are made in terms of what will make the song better, what will make it sound good. I’m not necessarily overly worried about whether it sounds good, but whether it feels right. For instance, I could make a case for a song to be sung completely out of tune, and it might be completely right for it to be so. That is the correct visual for that song, that woman… But it doesn’t make for a “good song”. I’m looking for my own truth.

This is the tightrope I walk along with this project. My primary goal is that people take chunks of these songs away with them, that they hum them in the supermarket two days later… either remembering where it came from, or being frustrated they can’t remember, or actually totally unaware… and what they hum might enter the ears and brain of someone else, another step removed. I want these invisible women to be seen and heard and remembered in as many ways as possible. To do that, the songs have to have a hook, they have to have something redeemable… so no totally flat singing, but my imperfect voice that hits most of the notes is fine… I’m not looking for perfection, reality is fine. Dan won’t be digitally correcting my notes, if I can’t get there, I don’t sing it, or it is recorded as best I can. He does however, get the best from me by telling me I can do better, and making me sing it again. and again. and again.

The songs have to have a meaningful lyric, something to evoke empathy, sympathy. There has to be somewhere an emotional response to the work, visual or aural.


But…it doesn’t have to be to a recognisable formula… it doesn’t have to be good… it just has to feel right…whether you hear the song or see it. If you have a picture of the woman, or recognise her, that’s great.


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Think I’ve recovered!


All cake was consumed.


The work remains up in the gallery/project space, I continue to study how it works.

If this space is to take nine bras, they will need to be spaced differently. At the moment the three are hung from electrical cable trunking things… for sensible grouping I will have to do things differently.

I think what I will have to do is get out the steel cables I used for suspending the children’s clothes for my MA show, to give me flexible hanging options. I think they are up in the loft… Thankfully the entrance hall of the School of Art in Margaret Street is somewhat larger than this space, so I should have the length of cabling required.


The songs definitely work better played into the space than through headphones. People engage socially with them, rather than being socially isolated from the rest of the work and other viewers. Initially I did presume I would need a set of headphones and player for each song.


The layered drawings I had hung for the Open Studio will come down. They are preparatory studies, and don’t form part of the installation, although they might be adaptable for sale. Perhaps they could hang downstairs while the installation is upstairs in July.

I was thinking I should celebrate the success of the launch by letting you hear another recording. I am cautious of letting you hear new stuff too soon, especially as it may change when we listen to the whole body of recordings near the end. But as a sort of sneaky peek I shall add a link to a song entitled “Numb”. This is a live recording of a Songwriters Circle end of term performance… it was my first I think. I was extremely nervous, and it shows. The final recording will have different instrumentation, although the amazing Chris Cleverly will still be playing on it. I wrote the top line of the melody, Chris gave it flavour, and steered it in the direction it now heads in. This live recording is Chris demonstrating his extraordinary picking style, and Dan Whitehouse on electric guitar.

The madness at the end, which I know made Chris feel actual physical pain, will get madder… Dan, however, knows me better and now takes these requests in his stride, and I think, is beginning to enjoy them!

Vocals, Lyrics and Music – Elena Thomas
Acoustic guitar – Chris Cleverley
Electric guitar – Dan Whitehouse