The other week, experimenting with a printed photograph on acetate, putting it into a card mount and shining a tiny light on it , led to the accidental, magical discovery of a ghost image on the other side of the card. Here’s a short video of what I did:


I showed Caroline and Jez and we began to experiment combining images of different sizes and multiple light sources. This simple magic and subsequent play with light and image feels like enacting memory itself – ephemeral, elusive, distorted, layered.

Thinking of these arrangements as possible sets, architectural assemblages, book pages – offer so many ways to interact with and read this way of working. Also as a tool, and application for working with other people on their own family memories and stories. Much to think about now in the way of possibilities for this work.

Caroline commented that what we were doing was ‘serious play’. These words have been in my head since. They seem absolutely right: intentional, focussed creativity in a state of simple adventure and curiosity.

These days make me keenly miss my late friend and collaborator, artist Maria Cobo (https://vimeo.com/user3134719) who died last summer. When we worked together, which was often, we played like giddy children. She would have loved this project. Some days at the moment are very bittersweet because of this. I wish she was here to join in.

I recently watched an amazing documentary, Marwencol (http://www.marwencol.com/)The film tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, who created a fictional world Marwencol to deal with the effects of a traumatic violent attack which wiped his memory and nearly killed him. The film reveals Hogancamp to be an extraordinary man, who consciously uses his creativity as a way of healing, physically and emotionally. ‘The first thing I had to learn was how to use my imagination’ he says.

I was bowled over the awareness and intelligence he brought to this process. He created Marwencol as a safe arena for working out difficult emotions and exploring different aspects of his past and his identity – and he believed in the transformative effect of the stories he made in that world to his ‘real’ life. His naming of this work as ‘therapy’ made me think of Jo Spence and her response to her cancer diagnosis- creating and developing photographic strategies which would be her own therapy, as she rejected conventional medicine.

Some more words which have been with me all week, these ones from Chinua Achebe:

‘There is no story that is not true’

Caroline Hick and Jez Coram are artists currently working under the coloration For The Love of People. You can find out more about them here https://www.facebook.com/ForTheLoveOfPeople?fref=t…

Our Facebook page for the collaboration, where we are all documenting our work and responses via photographs, video, and writing: https://www.facebook.com/jeanmcewanfortheloveofpeo…


‘My daughter’ said the elderly man on the bus, beaming, gesturing to the woman next to him.
A bit further on, towards town, a middle aged man links arms with his mother and they stride towards us, she pulling a shopping trolley.

Overheard/observed on bus to Bradford, Friday 8th November.

I am trying to practice active mindfulness to pull myself out of the swamp of my brain which thinks too much, and is too distracted, and forgets to pay attention to the present. Recently, occasionally, the white noise of my thoughts abates and I become aware of the wide open moment moment: now. I’m slowly noticing more. Conversations on buses, gestures, colour, light, shapes, mood.
I started following writer Ian Macmillan on Twitter https://twitter.com/IMcMillan. His tweets are observations, mini stories, poems. Example from this morning:

Early stroll: many leaves fallen; many, many still to fall. Two people walk up to a lamp-post, walk one on either side, light and geometry.

When I got to the Arts Lab on Friday last week, and I looked at the set on the table, I thought about being present to the richness of stories all around me, weaving them into the narratives I’m making. As I played with the cardboard set, combining photocopies, found images, family photos, acetate, with frames, albums, light – I thought about what I had seen on the bus, and wondered

Is everything, in the end, about family?

Final thought from my literary hero, David Foster Wallace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace)

‘You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t’

We (myself, Caroline Hick and Jez Coram, who are For The Love of People) are documenting our collaboration at Fabric Arts Lab this month on this Facebook page:


5th November : First solo day at the Arts Lab, Bradford on WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN

(I will be working with Jez and Caroline each Friday this month)

Just wanted to pin down some thoughts from yesterday before I forget them and they meld with tomorrow’s session. Since the first session with Jez and Caroline I’ve been thinking a lot about theatre, sets, layers. I thought it would be interesting to construct a smaller version of what we did together at the Arts Lab on Friday, which could be like a mini theatre, with layers – three dimensional collage in a box.

I attempted to construct such a thing from a cardboard box at home on Monday – making a couple of slots from the top and side to put in acetate/ tracing paper/paper.A test run, a crudely made thing – the cardboard box is now mostly held together with parcel tape – but it gave me an opportunity to try out working in three dimensions.Trying it out at home on Monday, I was excited by the possibilities.But in the space on Tuesday, these things became deadened, somehow. Because they were encased in acetate? Too many layers making it too opaque and difficult to see?

I gave up and started working instead with some handwritten text strips made by my late friend, Madrid based artist Maria Cobo as part of a video performance she did (https://vimeo.com/10811292)

I put the strips in a box and lit them with a bathroom light and combined them with some excerpted text from Werner Herzog’s book ‘Of Walking In Ice” which details his walk from Munich to Paris in Winter 1974 in the belief that doing so would save his friend, filmmaker Lottie Eisner, from cancer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Walking_In_Ice. This book has been very significant to me in the last year. Walking as an act of faith, also for me has been a way of experiencing and processing grief. Herzog’s unromantic and often bleak account of his journey (‘Must the sun lose every consecutive battle?’) has been with me since reading it shortly after Maria’s death last year.

I am lucky to have Maria’s texts (which are themselves handwritten excerpts from Beatles songs) and earlier in the year did some experiments with working with them – which I documented on the collaborative blog Artist As Explorer http://artistasexplorer.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/f…

This work has felt unfinished but I wasn’t ready till now to work with them again.

Also in my head has been Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘The Footing’ a fine looking new poetry anthology on the theme of walking newly published by the fantastic Sheffield based Longbarrow Press http://longbarrowpress.com/2011/07/08/the-footing/ which I would really like to get my hands on.



Performance, alchemy and collage

A month long collaboration with
For The Love of People (Jez Coram/Caroline Hick) on WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN, at the Fabric Arts Lab in Bradford

Day One: Friday 1st November

We start.

A white sheet
A table
Some sticks
Some miniature furniture: a wardrobe, a mirrored table, a chest of drawers
Cut outs chosen from the boxes:
A group of children lean on the wardrobe
A family group (mine) the children (me and my brother) in bathing costumes stand smile and squint into the sun
Two headless figures in Victorian dresses clutching each other
A giant pair of hands, removed from the piano they were playing, up – ended,
A boot
A standing clock
Back projected onto the sheet: A static ocean-like image. Clips from a cinefilm
A lamp
An oval viewfinder on the camera – a frame mount from an old school photograph

Caroline moves a lamp slowly over the the scene. I stand behind the screen and moved a cd in front of the project, creating a soft violet circular mask. Jez films the scene from the front. A magic starts to happen. Interaction between objects, cutouts, light from a slowly moving lamp, back projection. With these simple elements and movement, the scene becomes animated. We become animated.

We watch back the footage and then sit in front of the table, mesmerised. We talk about alchemy: moving into an another state. Moving light, image, shadows. The stage is a construct. We can see how the illusion is created. But this doesn’t spoil the magic – but gives us consciousness of it as a story we can play with.
We can choose how we experience it. Move around and pick your view. Look from the side, see the shadows of the legs of the children against the wardrobe. Go up close, look at the faces of the figures, the detail of the furniture. Place yourself in front, peer through the viewfinder. Enter here, if you like. What it means is for each of us to decide.
What seems striking is not the particularity of individual objects and images – or trying to make them tell a story. It’s our willingness to enter into another world. How easily we can, with the simplest of means. And how much we want to.

This day of has made me think of:
– Memories of playing with and looking at pre-cinematic devices at the Cinema Museum in Girona, Spain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_Museum_%28Giro… and http://www.museudelcinema.cat/cat/index.php in a childlike trance. I’ve been twice and I love the museum’s hands on interactivity, and the sense of magic and wonder it creates.
– Comrades: a film about the Tolpuddle Martys, told through the story of a travelling lanternist, by the late great Scottish director Bill Douglas:

We have set up a Facebook page where all three of us will be documenting the progress of the collaboration – you can see it here https://www.facebook.com/jeanmcewanfortheloveofpeo…


A very good day – magical, playful, a feeling of childlike excitement. Actual glee.

Just home, feeling exhilarated and animated after a first day of collaboration with For The Love of People, who are artists Caroline Hick http://bobbyhick.tumblr.com/and Jez Coram http://www.jezcoram.co.uk/. I’ll be working with Caroline and Jez , experimenting with performance and collage, on WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN in Fabric Arts Lab (http://www.fabricculture.co.uk/opportunity/fabric-… in central Bradford, which we have taken occupation of for the next four weeks.

Before I post on today’s (amazing) session I just want to chart how we have gotten here.

The collaboration came out of my a-n Re:view bursary earlier this year (http://new.a-n.co.uk/news/single/a-n-awards-over-2…). Caroline was one of the selected artists I chose for my peer review, and after discussing my work with her in two sessions from May – July, she invited me to work with her and Jez in their new collaborative project For The Love of People.

So I met with Caroline and Jez in August to talk about the project and how they might want to be involved. From the beginning there were good vibes – open – ness, trust, mutual respect, synergy. With me it’s often a matter of instinct for collaborators – a gut feeling. There needs to be an essential feeling of trust. It felt good from the start.
Jez and Caroline’s role within the project is one of facilitation; supporting and collaborating with me to develop WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN. Between them they offer much in the way of skills, knowledge and experience – and I’m very happy to be working with them.

We had several meetings over the summer – at each of our houses, lunch involved, exploring the different aspects of the project and what we could do together, which were bonding, convivial and illuminating: In our first session, in Caroline’s lovely garden, we shared family archival materials, and personal memories attached to them. At the second session at Jez’s house, we did a visual mapping of my work with family photography to date, which was a very valuable exercise and helped to cement and clarify the many aspects of the project (from research to practice, individual and collaborative) to date. On the third session, at my house, I showed Jez and Caroline my studio table and discussed my method of colllaging (which use images from family photographs as well as found images) which was I was seeing as increasingly provisional, moving, dynamic. Not sticking down, or committing each element, but keeping each free to roam, to make and re-make new meanings,

We talked about this method as a potential tool in working with others on their own family archival material, and agreed to dedicate some time to collaborating and testing it out, together and with potential other groups/individuals.

Since that time we have all, coincidentally and serendipitously, become interested in exploring these ideas of unfixed-ness and fluidity through animation and performance. Me, via discussions with Pippa Oldfield and Melanie Friend at my recent portfolio review at Impressions Gallery (discussed in post 78) and Jez, inspired by an audio-visual performance he had recently seen which utilised a zootrope structure and cut outs to make live performance.

So that brings us to today.

I will post over the weekend about this. Till then I’ll just let it settle, think, enjoy, dream, and give myself a little time to find the words for what it was, and what it could mean.