Looking back looking back. I’ve been thinking about a video-installation I made 16 years ago, at college.
I filmed myself sitting in front of a 1000 Watt lamp, for approx. 40 sec. (enough to lightly burn the skin on my face), then painstakingly edited the material, running footage backwards and forwards and cutting and joining together tiny increments, deciseconds long. Thus I extended the footage to 4,49 minutes, achieving a sense of endurance in a way that made it look quite natural. The small movement of the fingers, the occasional gentle heaving of the chest interwove with moments of death-like stillness. The performer’s/my identity, while under scrutiny, remained elusive in the process – the light had a similar effect to darkness, obliterating the face. I was interested in the tensions evoked conceptually and visually – between interrogator and the person who is interrogated, inner life and surface, truth and falsehood, real time and constructed time, still image and moving image, etc. Neither one nor the other, but always in-between and both.

At the time I was exploring issues around German identity, the weight of history, the holocaust, and as you know I keep returning there, albeit in very different ways. What is interesting to me is how I approached the subject then. I spent ages in the editing suite, making miniscule edits, arranging and rearranging the tiniest snippets. It seems to me that this compulsive focus on the incremental, the fragment, helped me bear exploring the larger picture. In a way I made (make?) myself into a kind of camera-lens in close-up mode, staring at a pinprick-sized part of a huge wound. At the same time it was quite an intimate process, a thorough inspection of the image itself (of myself myself?). I can’t remember if I made the work before or after I saw the Riefenstahl film, with which I in effect did something very similar, choosing one detail to focus on, allowing a sideways look at the larger picture. At college I was steeped in theory, reading Barthes, Blanchot, Derrida, Hal Forster… That’s certainly different now, my M.E.-frazzled brain doesn’t easily cope with such complex and often abstract reading, but I hope it still works away at the back of my mind. I wonder about the space between the intangibility of the video-image and the materiality of my crochet-outfits, as well as the shared elements, i.e. putting something together edit by edit, stitch by stitch. On the whole my work seems to have slipped deeper into the body, but in terms of how it gets under my skin nothing has changed.


part 2

In the mean-time I’ve finished three pieces. Will show you the one I’m most ambivalent about first, a strange unwieldy thing that I don’t much like the look and feel of. I call it ‘This is a room I’ve never lived in’. For the pants-bit (crocheted a couple of years ago) I entwined black and white wools, for the upper ‘body’ I used a black yarn from a batch of hand-me-down materials, thick, coarse, heavy. Some threads flow through your fingers, are pleasant to work with. This one wasn’t, in fact every stitch required effort and seemed to leave my hands greased and stained.

The upper ‘body’. How easy it is to write such things. Umpteen different shapes had been tried, as well as yarns of various weights and colours (whites, pinks), only to be unravelled again. I wasn’t sure what the final shape should be until I’d made it. And then there was a sleeve.

And I’ve been obsessed with sleeves lately. So why does this piece makes me so uncomfortable? Part of it is the yarn I used – not only did the crocheting feel awkward, strenuous, uncouth even, its dense texture lacks beauty, is rough, almost carpet-like. Would I feel different if I’d used a delicate, silky yarn? I’m almost glad I didn’t – because of the emotions evoked it’s made me think difficult thoughts which I’ve kind of been avoiding/evading. And I’m groping about trying to formulate them.

You’ll remember I talked about the little girl’s gesture in LR’s Triumph of the Will (see post #62, 24 June 2013), which out of context could be seen as a wave but there is an approximation of a Hitler salute. In pieces like my Soldier’s child or LR’s children, the (offending) arms/sleeves are cut away. Here the arm/sleeve has become the upper body, a collar/cuff at the top leaves it open if a head or a hand might emerge. As simple as this piece is, to me it’s a bit like the return of the repressed…

In summer I was looking through old photo-albums with my mom (who will turn 80 this year), listening to her stories, even recording some. There aren’t many photos of her as a small child, and unsurprisingly none at all were taken between the age of six and eleven – the war years. When I told her about the little girl in Triumph of the Will she remembered an instance, when she was nine or ten years old, of being slapped by a 13 year-old pre-Bund Deutscher Mädel-leader for not raising her arm in Hitler salute when they passed on the street. Children were taught the salute in kindergarden, it was ‘normal’ to them. This normality, everydayness of gestures and attitudes, does get to me, as does the idea, no, the knowledge, that my mother and father would have raised their arms when greeting a teacher at school and in other contexts.

When I tried to research the Bund Deutscher Mädel one of the websites that popped up fast offered materials for re-enactments. When I thought about buying a photograph to work with and checked on ebay I couldn’t because of the worry about paying someone who might be a fascist. My feelings constantly veer between abjection and anger, resentment, revulsion; between shame and wanting to turn away to ideas around obligation and responsibility; between uncertainty about the littleness of my work and commitment to keep exploring. Deep breath now.

Looking back at my work of the last twelve years I know that the weight of German history has impacted on quite a few of my pieces, directly and indirectly, intentionally and unintentionally. Something is different now though, because it’s closer to home. On an unexpected level the materiality of this piece has connected with a gamut of emotions. This also makes me question if it’s art. Looking at it now Gogol’s story The Nose comes to mind, and Richard Kentridge’s talk on absurdity as a form of knowledge (see post #34, 22 Nov 2012). Tell me your thoughts, I’m in need of conversation.

This is a room I’ve never lived in (2013)
Dimensions: 26.5 cm x 65 cm x 4 cm
Materials: various hand-me-down wools and cottons


part 1

From my mostly supine vantage point I have a rather limited view of the world, and although I try to throw lassos around things/themes/issues outside myself with my art I feel like I’m doing it while teetering on a coin-sized island… Have been working towards a group-show under the title The Beginning of History, curated by Nick Kaplony – so good to be part of a project, but these last few weeks hands and head have been on diverging tracks: I’ve had reason to re-consider the horizontal plane, on which I mostly reside, in metaphorical and real terms. Fact is: Every time I get up I find that after brief lop-sided lean-to minutes I am pulled down by forces as unyielding as gravity. When I lie my body is happy-ish, something seems to re-align itself within, find a centre, a balance. My mind of course (my self?), when not completely overwhelmed by fatigue, strains towards the vertical and a phantasy of activity, agility, agency.

Almost two months ago I was diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which in short means that my heart, for complicated reasons to do with the autonomous nervous system, is unable to pump blood upwards when I stand. Instead blood sags into the lower body, the heart gets in distress and tries to pump harder and harder and harder, without success. If you don’t sit or lie down you faint, and blood finally reaches the brain again.

The discomfort I have been feeling (on top of M.E.-fatigue) when trying to stand for more than a minute or so (tightening chest, racing heart, shortness of breath, vertigo, nausea) suddenly makes sense and I’m trying to get my head around this. Two illnesses for the price of one! The latter possibly brought about by the former. One good thing is that I can try medication, have started on a very low dose and am hopeful-ish, although I’ve got some weird side-effects already. You could say I’m lying in wait for improvement of some kind, no matter how small.


Have had a few very tired days, all of me in the horizontal, thoughts, gestures, desires, and at one stage pondered the image of my brain’s coils and curls unfurled and laid out next to me, two fleshy greyish-white cords that I’d need to knit (crochet!) together as body and mind started rising from the depths of fatigue. Coming out (never quite far enough) from this infernal tiredness feels like a re-assembling and charging of what constitutes a sharper, more viable (for want of a better word) version of me.

Last Thursday night I did have my tiny jar of joy when I went to the Nunnery for the gloriously packed private view of Shape Open 2013. There were many reasons to feel happy. First of all, it’s a really good show – go see! Well-selected, thoughtfully put together in the gallery. With the help of @ElizabethMurton, who pushed my wheel-chair, and @LizzieCannon I saw most of the exhibition. So much of interest, complexity, skill, in a multitude of media: from textile to painting, photography and sculpture, to installation and video. (Shape Arts had sent out an open call to disabled and non-disabled artists to present work under the theme ‘Disability Re-assessed’ – from which a panel of arts and industry judges (incl. Yinka Shonibare) made their selection.)

I am glad to have a piece there. Initially I wasn’t entirely sure about applying, due to worries about my work being labelled ‘disabled art’ or myself a ‘disabled artist’, which too often means being put into a corner where the quality of one’s art may be in question. The work should be the starting point from which everything else radiates – How does it engage, challenge, move? How can it be contextualized, how does it communicate meaning, where does its beauty reside? Any doubts were dispelled by the professional quality of the show.

I had put my Soldier’s child into a small box-frame and liked the way it was presented at the gallery, how it interacted with its neighbours. At first I thought: how interesting, it’s hung on a child’s eye level, and only then realized it’s mine too, sitting in a wheelchair. I still see myself in the vertical, six foot tall, no matter that I run out of steam after a handful of steps.

In so many ways this exhibition was no different from others I’ve seen, with lots of memorable pieces (some of which I wanted to snitch and sneak out, maybe a braille-piece or two, to which I dearly wanted to put a finger tip), movement and chatter, but one thing thrilled me esp.: this was a thoroughly normal audience, with all kinds of bodies senses sizes ethnicities, on legs wheels wings. I was in the world and slept that night in the curve of my contented grin!

Friday’s work was to send a couple of happy tweets in the morning. The crochet hook saw some action too, in bed.

Have a few regrets: managed only a couple of very brief chats with other artists before my body’s demands for the horizontal drowned everything out. And: in the end I did not have the courage to speak to Yinka Shonibare. Wished I had at least said hallo, shaken his hand. Lack of courage-alert…

So: lots of small and tall stories (you can see some of my favourite pieces above).
I was touched by much and wanted to touch in turn. Mission accomplished?



A to Z over M to E (Notes to self)

Albeit. Art ⋅ arrow ⋅ aspiration ⋅ application

Brief encounters. Bravado ⋅ breath ⋅ break

Crochet the core. Make a cosy for my heart

Downright dedication ⋅ denial ⋅ deferral – a kind of upright

Eye on the smaller picture. Effervesce!

Fatigue + fervor = focus. Fly fail fall fly

Grin, ghost, grin

Happy hiccuppy heaving heart


Joy in a tiny jar, tonight

Keepsake, keep safe

Leap now, lie later (having lain before)

Morrow, oh my. Make memories

No to nay. Need to slip through the needle’s eye

Occupy my place in the world

Purple ⋅ purpose ⋅ polka-dots (not steps)

Quintessentially queasy

Raising of spirits. Hey there, Ruby Thursday

Supinity ⋅ serenity. Soldier’s child.

Teeter on tippy toes (eyes, tongue & brain)

Uppity downity = the morrow. Made memories

Veering ⋅ verve

7 glasses of water. Wings on wheels. As the wishing well yields

X = unknown factors

Yinka Shonibare speaks. Yeah yeah yeah!

Zealous ⋅ zany ⋅ straight to the zigzag zone

Tonight’s the night (packed a pillow and a blanket):

Shape Open private view 6 pm
Yinka Shonibare will speak at 7 pm
Exhibition: Friday, 4 October to Sunday, 20 October 2013
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am – 5pm
Address: The Nunnery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ