I’d like to report about a brief but blissful visit to ZAP-Open on Saturday, but that will happen with a longer than usual time-delay as 1) I’m still exhausted, if elated, 2) a hospital-outing needs preparing, incl. ensuing modus non operandi, and 3) a bit of not-so-light reading awaits me, in bits and pieces as and when able, of the G4A-application the The Arthouse has been working on for me/with me. So here’s a slightly amended extract from a talk I wrote a few years ago. In spirit it holds true, alas, although I’ve acquired a very long and comfy sofa on which to stretch out. I still mostly lie on the floor, giving in to the earth’s gravitational force which seems to increase with my levels of tiredness (I’m just grateful it doesn’t suck me down to its fiery centre). Plus here my body feels supported best, and it’s easier to have everything around me.

And while I’m getting ready to post this I am struck again by how little I recognise my physical self while knowing full well, in every cell, that this is me, now; by how much I want to present a different self, in motion, in the world, in touch

I have often worked … while lying on my back, only have to sit up for the final precise form-making. This possibility has been vital for my art-practice, as it allows me to continue making work even when I’m very tired. So imagine this: I am lying on my bed of blankets on the floor in the living room and around me I have everything I might need: papers, pencils, letters, stamps, lists of things to do, people to call, crochet hooks and wools, sellar tape, masking tape, sketch book, glasses, remote controls for the tele, scissors, scalpel knife, an art book or two, telephone… Everything needs to be at hand, within reaching distance. This is not my studio, but it is. This is my living room, but it isn’t. It is really the room where I live, I spend most of my days in there, even the really bad ones, on my bed of blankets, as I don’t like lying in bed during day-time if I can help it. The mess created by having everything around me, esp. when I am working on something, can drive me crazy. There is no getting away from it. But art-making is my life-spark, even when my body hurts, even when my limbs don’t function. In its worst stages the illness is a blunting instrument, totally debilitating, mind-numbing, it closes you down, you have to shut yourself off, as everything becomes overtiring. During these times I hang on by a thread literally. If at all possible I need to have even the tiniest thing on the go: one squiggly line describing a knee on the back of a bill, a thin strand of hair threaded through the eye of a needle, a fluttering cut-out tissue-paper figure with arms extended, a small dress cut from an autumn leaf, its curly stalk making it dance… Or I defer and write a note, put to paper the flash of an idea, which I might or might not take up when I feel a bit more energy.

Yesterday I wrote to Kate Murdoch, an artist-friend whose vibrant studio-life I much envy: one day, when I grow up, I want to share studios there too…, half in jest, half in hope: that this M.E-shaped life is just a (long long) passing phase, as if it were something to out-grow and leave behind one day. In the mean-time three foundlings wait for nimble fingers, and another piece, which knows its shape but not its meaning, grows next to me on the carpet. And here’s hoping that biomedical research into M.E., which needs more funding, will bring the longed for steps towards a cure or improvement of symptoms sooner rather than later.


Now to the art! Although I fell into a tired slump afterwards my artist-self, that part of me that lies down last, felt renewed, refreshed, re-energised on a deep level. That I did not see what I expected turned out to be a good thing, made me think harder. I only know of William Kentridge’s stop-motion animation work, put together from charcoal drawings in a kind of obsessive palimpsest process as he keeps reworking the same image (one per scene), erasing parts, drawing into and over. It’s a fascinating and poignant way to investigate memory: each new image carries within itself the previous, more or less visibly so. The stories he tells are rooted in the history of South Africa (he doesn’t shy away from the fact that as a white South African he is implicated in the country’s apartheid-stained past) – they are dark and unsettling, and the telling is beautiful, haunting, intimate. It moves me.

I am not me, the horse is not mine, his eight screen video-installation in Tate Modern’s Tanks, is very different, huge in scope and scale, much more abstract and impersonal (although he appears in it). The piece, while clearly situated in the Soviet Union in the 1930s under Stalin, has no straightforward narrative thread. I won’t even attempt to describe all its elements (performance, drawing, snippets of film of the time, collage, dance, text, sound), or its scope. The work assails you from all sides, disturbs, disorients; and although there are little breathing spaces when the mood momentarily changes you daren’t relax. This seemingly chaotic but tightly organized sideways look at history, with its mix of the real and the fantastical, makes for a much more pessimistic work, and the viewer can’t ever settle – not least because you can’t revel in (or escape into?) the beauty of the medium. Even if fragments look beautiful, or funny, the ground under your feet keeps shaking because of the execution and context of the piece. I may have forgotten more than I remember, but I can still feels its hysterical, hypnotic grip. In the middle of it all I watched a little girl, 2 – 3 years old, running around in the space, trying to touch the flickering images, and envied her innocence, her lack of knowledge about the world, about what we are capable of.

WK’s talk centered around Gogol’s short story The Nose which has fuelled a multitude of explorations in various media (WK directed Shostakovich’s opera The Nose at the Met/NY and seems to have gone at it with everything he had – drawing and painting, improvisation, performance, writing, said video-installation and the talk itself), each maybe yet another stepping stone in this terrified and terrifying scrutiny of a historical moment. It was demanding, at times over my head, and illuminating, and I wish I’d had the energy to go back and look at the work once more. What proved most meaningful to me in terms of my own, very small-scale, intimate art-practice was how he talked about the absurd as a form of knowledge – at this point my heart started beating faster as I’ve been hesitantly, cautiously thinking about the absurd in relation to a new, also history-based project (part of the Grants for the Arts-application I’ve mentioned before). Maybe now I’ll have the courage to play with something I’ve felt unsure about, while staying unsure about it, if you know what I mean.

So you see how rousing my well-planned outing turned out to be. And what a relief to be able to sink into the auditorium’s deep red plush seats, rest my tired body while my mind tried hard to scale intriguing heights.

PS. Click here to see WK talking very movingly about drawing

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Reader, I went there!

Yes, early Sunday afternoon (11/11) I took a taxi to Tate Modern for a talk by William Kentridge whose work I have long admired. I’d booked an electro-scooter – as far as I know Tate Modern and Tate Britain are the only museums in London who provide this invaluable service – it enables me to go independently, no-one needs to push me in my wheelchair. The usual slow-motion flurry of preparations was behind me (for the day itself and those post-outing challenges) and off I was, with my trusted light-weight blanket slung over my shoulders in case horizontality called and no sofa in sight.

I can’t begin to tell you how emotionally charged these rare museum-visits are. Actually, I was close to tears, partly from the excitement of finally going, partly from the need for this to be great, to be memorable, to be worth all the effort before and after, to last me a long while.

Anyway. I went early so I could see WK’s work in the new Tanks, then had an unobtrusive (I hope) lie-down rest on an upholstered bench on the side of one of the other, thankfully dark, installation spaces – need to make it up to the artist another time and study her work…

Both WK’s art and his talk were very different to what I expected, startlingly, thrillingly so, but I’ll leave that for my next post, as I’m slowly re-assembling myself after having been swallowed whole by the subsequent fatigue. (Jonah? Really? Well, if fatigue were a whale I’d say I was currently crawling up its gullet. Unfortunately I don’t seem to ever get further than the beast’s broad tongue before a new wave thrusts me back into its dark and stinky belly.)

Back home later, my day was over before night fell, too exhausted to … anything. For once not much pain, the opposite actually: I could not feel my body, and ended up lying tightly coiled for hours, without moving, body in a knot. (It is funny and a bit disconcerting: since I’ve started writing here about how M.E. affects me I’ve come to observe my sensations closely, make lots of notes. All of a sudden they seem to count for something). Speech was beyond me. A silence spread in my head, heavy and cold like a watery snowball. My eyes seemed yanked open (this kind of fatigue does not easily yield to sleep), stuck in a still gaze into which everything around me fell flat as an image. My brain was stuck too, on an alliteration-loop: null nay not knot not-knot node notification knotification next of kin next of skin no none nay nary, and so on and so on. Is this me? This feels alien and yet I utterly inhabit this state of extreme fatigue – there’s no way around it, just through it.

The limpness of limbs M.E. brings is one thing, but everything else – spirit, purpose, connection, cognition, goes kind of limp too, and for me that’s close to unbearable. Even wanting dies, temporarily.

The chasm between having my whole being animated, challenged, nurtured by my visit to the Tate, and the time after, when fatigue furtively seeps into each and every cell and shuts whole chunks of me down for days on end, is huge. Being in the world for a few hours without sofas in attendance devours a much larger time-period in terms of energy – the days before, during which things need to be put in place for the fallout/after-effects/cessation of activity (unwashed, unkempt, in every way diminished and often painful days from which I slowly surface). And all the while I know that time still flies away from me.

But if I manage it at all it feeds my soul, lifts me out of my daily grind, the difficulties and indignities of life with M.E.: the point is to hold on to the joy of having been out – seen/breathed art for real, and even, very very briefly, chatted to Shelley and her son Ryan – as best, as long I can.


Fleur Ubu, da-da-daughter, flays a dream, a winter dream, wild, proud and proper, such slurry notions, the heat of carpet burns and dizzy turns, she sways, she sways, pray no-one sees the skins she sheds, the hair that curls and coils and catches fire; bones crack like match-sticks, her hungry fingers tear the flesh away – naked, naked she dreams her core

Thick, heavy-textured wool for a bit of fun (polemic überpants?), begun last year, found in a bundle of throw-away pieces and taken up again as the season turned, when I, forgoing subtlety, crocheted a trim, singeing little tale – how far we have not come. Yes, our bodies fail the magic mirror on the wall and in our heads: they sag, slump, assemble bumps and folds and creases. And, but, though, whereas the hair, the hair, our body hair, pinpoint of crisis, crudely charged gender zone, grows rampant: go pluck, shave, shear, razor, laser, erase! Let the ideal ageless maiden make the creep-free grade while the bristly willful one prances in the attic, gathers her years about her, lets it all hang out

Fleur Ubu (2011/12)
Materials: crocheted from wool/mohair/wool mixture
Dimensions: 63 cm x 34 cm


It was touching to receive your comments last week – thank you. There’s something sustaining and transformative in writing and having one’s wounds (in the widest sense) and worries witnessed and acknowledged.

And the art appreciated, of course. Look here – my newest foundling. Four done, three to go! You can begin to see how the shapes evolve from and relate to each other.

I seem to have a fondness for words ending on the suffix ling: changeling (you can see my series here), foundling, fledgling, gosling (oh, I love a gosling, how it feels in my mouth when I say it loud). Not so much because of its diminutive, endearing aspects, but because it denotes beings in process, in growth. The other day I wondered what I would call my M.E.-slammed self – lieling tireling snoozeling dozeling groundling wakeling layling artling… I decided I wasn’t ling-material and was ready to settle for woman who lies (not quite The Spy who came in from the cold, is it?) when the verb’s devilish forking in two directions brought me up short. What at first seemed suitable – after all I am in the horizontal for much of the day -, suddenly flung its second meaning of ‘tell an untruth’ at my supine form. Interesting that this split should disappear once you get to past tense and past perfect (as if looking back could clarify and settle conclusively) – the present tense however catapulted me straight to the bias permeated by government and some of the media where people out of work/on benefits are indiscriminately disdained and distrusted and called scroungers. Sticks and stones, yes, but names too, I say.

Still, I’ll stick with woman who lies for now. During the last year or two I’ve been lying indecorously in all kinds of public places when my energy ran out, mostly on floors (where’s a sofa when you need one?): in a seminar-room, a gallery, a pharmacy, various hospital aisles, the library…

I am fervently hoping that an art-outing will be possible this week-end. Can’t wait, art-starving again, last life-viewing in May! Preparations in full if slow swing, incl. for the ensuing non-days. Is it too much to ask for floor-heating? I dream myself there, now: draped on a bright red divan on rolls, with a purring engine… Eyes wide, ears cocked. Notebook at the ready, drinking it all in.

Next foundling in hand. Lifeline really – so good that I can crochet and write lying down, at least some of the time, and that my artist-self is as upright as can be in the circumstances. Gosling, gosling, gosling

Foundling 6 (2011/12)
Materials: Crocheted from cotton-thread
Dimensions: 19.5 cm x 30 cm