In June 2015 I moved my home and studio to Enköping (“Sweden’s nearest town”) where I am also working as assistant to Scandinavia’s only plume-maker!  My practice encompasses installation, object making and live art as well as research and teaching.

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you


Hello art-world!  After a somewhat unintentional “sabbatical” it is nice to be back.  Actually it is a bit daunting!  To avoid ‘giving an account’ of the summer I am simply going to start from here and now.  I will refer to things that happened as they come up and in the context of today.

My fingers are itching to get into the studio and make!  Not that I have not been making – it is just that I have not been making my own work since moving.  A trip to London in July, getting the flat ready for and then welcoming friends and family, and working full-time as the plume-makers assistant has kept me more than busy.  Speaking of which – plume-making – I have been made a very interesting proposition!  Tim has asked if I am interested in formally becoming his apprentice.  Neither of us know exactly what this means and we are too busy with head-pieces and special costumes for the final number of Mamma Mia the Party to spend time finding out right now however we are both keen to see how it could work for us.

The idea of being Tim’s apprentice has given me a lot to think about: it an equally fantastic and frightening possibility, so I guess that the reality will come to lie somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.  Or possibly swing between those two extremes!  It is great because it offers the potential to make a living from doing something wonderfully visually creative and fun, it is scary because I will almost certainly have to kiss goodbye to my aspirations of a career in academia.  Having said that I should acknowledge that academia is just “not that in to me” (to borrow a line from Sex in the City).  My overwhelming feeling is that Tim is offering me an incredible life-line and that I would be an absolute fool not to accept.  The question came up after Tim was chatting with a “Master” tailor, she is actually a woman, who could not believe that Tim was not recognised as a Master in his field.  I should point out that in some ways Sweden is quite traditional and apprenticeships, guilds and masters in handwork are still very much alive and respected.  If I understand correctly, and we discussed all this in Swedish so I may have missed a few of the finer points, in order for Tim to be accessed as a Master he needs to have his work examined by a committee of relevant experts AND he needs to have trained an apprentice.

I am very flattered to have been asked.  Tim’s skill and expertise are acknowledged in both the theatre and fashion industries, he is also a guest teacher at one of Stockholm’s best design schools, and counts celebrities and royalty (Swedish) amongst his clients.  Soon after I started working for him he mentioned that it was a shame that I was not at least ten years younger as he should be starting to look for someone to train-up in order to buy the business when he wants to retire.  Tim is only in his early fifties so there is no immediate urgency from his side, however his comment made me very conscious that I am considered old to be making a career change of this type.  Despite Sweden’s more enlightened attitude to second careers for the over forties at my age (forty seven) I would have difficulty getting (and then re-paying) the bank loan necessary to buy the business.  If I was training for a second career where I would be employed in the more traditional sense there would not be such difficulties.  Because of this I had imagined that I would be working with Tim up to and until he found his young apprentice.  Now it seems things have shifted and after working together (successfully!) for a year Tim sees another way of doing things.  I may never be in a position to buy his business but I could become a qualified plume-maker working for him, for his successor, and even on my own.  In the meantime he gains his master title (and status) which increases the businesses value, and we get to keep working together which works well for us both.

As I said we have a lot of work to do to re-establish plume-making (feather work) as the recognised and respected expertise that it once was.  It is a challenge that I think both Tim and I will enjoy – looking back at the historic aspects to when the skill was on a par with other hand-work professions where the term “master” is still used – tailoring and hat-making for example.  It does strike me that “master” here does not denote, or even connote, anything to do with being male – rather it is understood as a level of skill devoid of any gendered prerogative.  Tim, I and the examining committee also need to look at what plume-making can be, and needs to be, today.  Contracts for military plumes and even regular commissions for private customers are not as frequent as they were at the turn of the century, today theatres provide a lot of work and at the moment (evidenced by the fabulous Alexander McQueen show at the V&A) fashion designers are keeping the feather industry going.

For the moment though we have a lot to do in advance of the public previews of Mamma Mia the Party.  If all goes well, and there is no reason that it will not, after the official premier in late January there is the likelihood that the concept will be rolled out internationally!  I do not expect that I will necessarily make pieces if the show is put on in Sydney but it would be amazing if Tim’s interpretations of the designs, and some of my handiwork, become the models for subsequent productions.


I am delighted that Patrik at the Thielska Gallery has asked me to do my ‘Following Eugène‘ walk for them in conjunction with Jan Hietala’s exhibition Men At the Water.  After the summer break it is great to have this event to bring my focus back to my work. As I cycle to and from work each day I rehearse the points that I want make and think about how to improve on the previous walk.  I also find myself thinking about all the material that there is neither space nor possibility for on the walk and it crossed my mind that I could develop another performance to incorporate this.

Jan Hietala’s show at Thielska, which is described as a dialogue with Eugène Jansson, opened just after my installation at the bath-house and the first of the walks.  It was actually Jan who suggested that I might do a walk for the gallery!  He and I have very different, but perhaps complimentary, approaches to our practices and to Eugène’s legacy.  I am very excited, and more than a little nervous, about presenting my piece in the context of a well established artist, curator/historian, and gallery.


I am thoroughly enjoying my work assisting Tim at his studio.  He has asked me to work full-time until mid-October.  This is fantastic and fits perfectly with my plans to be in London for Frieze and all the accompanying mayhem.  Working with my hands everyday is wonderful, and Tim is a great and generous teacher.  It is so interesting to see how he is turning the designer’s sketches in to three dimensional wearable pieces of sculpture (not that he would be comfortable with that word!).  We are working on costumes for the new Mamma Mia project that will officially launch early next year.  Just yesterday is struck me how amazing is it that I have ended up being involved (in a small but very direct way) with what is certain to become a significant event in Swedish musical and cultural history.


As late summer makes itself evident I am aware that my list of things to do this year, the long overdue website update for example, is far from being on track.  In one of our lengthy Skype conversations Kim relied a statistic(?) that a friend and colleague (in art and craft development) told her: making art is only about 20% of an artist’s week.  The other 80% is doing all things that enable that 20% to function.  This is good for me to bear in mind when I come to spend an evening putting information together for my on-line presence rather than “actually making art”.  This isn’t really a surprise, even back at art school in the 80s we were being drilled in documentation and presentation skills.  My problem (“challenge”) is that these activities are less appealing than sinking my hands in to vats of glitter, or dreaming up epic installations and grand performances.  However if I want to make my practice my profession then I have to treat it professional and that, I think, is not just about doing the fun bits but is also about doing the bits that can make it sustainable and serious.  So as the evenings draw in I am setting myself these three challenges:

  • Update
  • Produce a Following Eugène booklet
  • Research exhibition opportunities

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The last month has been eventful!  The most significant of which has been my relocation to Enköping.  This evening I leave for a few weeks in London and UK. Life is presenting me with so much that there is a lot to say but little time to write!  A restful few hours in the air will be welcome!  And so much to do when I get back – GREAT!!


There is still so much material that I have for/from Following Eugène.  This week I presented a site-specific installation and lead an artist’s walk for the end of the Take a Walk on the Wild Side course, and yet it feels as though I am only at the beginning of something far larger.  The course has been great in providing a framework for starting something … I do not quite know exactly what, but I know that this is certainly not an end.


The question of how one ‘communicates discovery’ came up in our final group crit.  On the train after last night’s walk I started to wonder about how I might present the material that has not yet found its form or place … a book … a film … a more traditionally staged performance … a website.  Interestingly an exhibition was not among my initial thoughts.

The walk was interesting because it not only was a means of letting people into my research, it also generated new material though the discussions that unfolded as we went.  The walk was inspired by key locations in Eugène Jansson’s Stockholm and it was fascinating how the route became enriched by contemporary personal stories and other people’s memories evoked by specific places.  It was also a great illustration of how an outsider’s responses to somewhere are different to an insider’s experience – subjectivity made visceral!


In the past I have been quite resistant to the term ‘project’ however it seems relevant and almost comfortable now – as a way to describe what Following Eugène is.  And though I still find it difficult to say the word I have to admit that I am drawn to what I see as its positive formlessness.  So, and much to my surprise, I have come to think of Following Eugéne as a project, and an on-going one at that!

A few months ago, when we started planning the end of course ‘presentations’, I had thought that I would make an event rather than participate in an exhibition.  In the end I changed my mind and am in the group show too.  And for lots of reasons I am very pleased that I am.  My contribution to the show are the glitter carpets from the site-specific installation along with brochures for each of the events.  Being part of the group exhibition feels important and I do not want to separate or isolate myself, after all the work that I am showing has been very much informed by being part of the group.  I enjoy seeing my pieces in the context of other people’s work.  An unexpected bonus to being in the group show has been meeting and speaking with people who (probably) would not come to either of my events – I include the director of the Moderna Museum in this audience as well as friends and professional colleagues of my classmates.

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Today I learnt that I have all the clearances required to proceed with buy the apartment!  Once my savings have been transferred from the UK I can arrange a moving date!

The estate agent rang (no solicitors involved here) while I was twisting a length feather boa that will be part of my dandy satyr out-fit.  The pieces for the end of term show are slowly coming together, thankfully I do not need the costume until next week when I will lead a evening’s walk through parts of Sodermalm where Eugène Jansson lived and worked.  Tomorrow I take the glitter mats to the exhibition venue – they will be there through out the show except for when they feature in my very site and time specific installation on Saturday afternoon.



It does not feel as though Following Eugène is coming to a conclusion.  It feels much more as though it is only just getting going.  It is somewhat ironic perhaps that I hear about my move away from Stockholm at the same time that my mind is buzzing with ways that I want to develop and extend the work.  Of course it is not necessary to be in the city just because Eugène lived and worked here – I can make field visits when I need to.  What I might miss though are the opportunities afforded by being a student at Mejan.  The library and the possibility to request books from any academic library in Sweden has been great and enabled me to read books that are out of print and that are not readily available in public libraries.  Having said that I realise that is time to take a break from all the courses – I have been on one course or another (and frequently more than one at a time) since the end of 2011.


Last week I worked out at Featherland (as I call it) on my costume, Tim was/is helping me as payment for my work on his pieces last year.  One evening his partner Anders asked me how I see my life after moving.  The question caught me unaware and I babbled about day-to-day things that I look forward to doing.  Anders can be very direct, he fixed me with his gaze and said that he wanted to know how I intended to make a living.  Before I could come up with any kind of reasonable reply he continued that he wants me to “be commercial”.  He said that he likes me, that he likes how I think and he thinks that I need to be commercial.  After a few minutes of me telling him about my previous (and less than successful) attempts to be commercial Tim came back in to the room and the conversation shifted.  However I have been giving his question and comment a lot of thought, and I think that they were perfectly timed and intended.  It occurred to me that if I take ‘commercial’ to mean economically viable rather than strictly (restrictively?) saleable in a simple ‘product’ sense then the question opens up a range of possibilities.

It could be very beneficial to consider the commercial aspect (in an expanded sense) of my practice when I embark on something new – to ask my self that terribly capitalist sounding question: who is my customer.  If my customer is someone without resources, or someone who I want to give something to, then how and where do the finances work.  In the past I have invested money earned elsewhere in my practice.  This is perhaps not the most appropriate, or sustainable, way of working.  And furthermore it is perhaps too isolated a way of working.  If I want to make a site-specific temporary installation perhaps it would be better to gather a collaborative team around me in order to achieve it, and in that team should be someone (an individual or organisation) who can financially support the costs of the piece.  And, of course, I would have to work with the needs of my fellow collaborators.  If I want arts council funding I will have to think about what they want!  Writing this down makes me realise it is exactly the kind of advise that I would give to someone else, now it is a good time to give it to myself!  Now is a good time to focus on seeing my practice in its social context!!



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