Those heavily fatigued days when tiredness suffuses my whole being, not only stop my limbs from functioning, but, and this is worse, make me feel as if my intelligence had sunk away. When I start improving a bit I have to dive deep to drag it back up again, for brief periods. In process now, but not out of the waters yet, and I’m rather uselessly railing against being in the state of un-. What I meant to do – write about The Beginning of History, which has taken on a complicated life in my head (and in a big bundle of notes, as well it should, it’s really quite an extra-ordinary show), has to be set aside for now, and I revisit, as I tend to when exhausted, old haunts. Only to find that this in many ways illuminates present pursuits.

Yesterday morning I was too tired to speak to a friend who’d rung me for more than a few minutes, frustrating for both of us. Today I sent her print-outs of my latest posts as if to remind her that I am not stupid, which I’m sure she never thought. I seem to, though, when I can’t command my body and brain into even small-scale action. In those moments my artwork, my writing here, are the proof
I need that I can still hack it. For similar reasons I crept to my computer earlier to look up my thesis, which was, amongst other things, about the memory of my cousin Edith (who ghosts in the pix above), the little girl in “Triumph of the Will”, and my relationship to both. I may have told you before: Edith was five years older than I and died when I was twelve. We only met a few times when I was small as our fathers had become estranged, but I found her again in an uneven pair of worn children’s shoes bought on a flea-market. They were of a different time (stuffed with a page of 1941 newsprint), but brought her back to mind with a bolt as they reminded me of the boots she wore, one of which had a high-raised sole.

I was unable to more than scan the text with the help of edit/find (unexpected pun, I swear!), and my writing happens in fits and starts, but look at this:
“I can’t tell Edith’s story but can talk about my memory of her, which surprised me 25 years after her death, when last year I looked at the shoes that I had bought in Berlin some weeks before.” And then the sentence which made me catch my breath: “I imagine a photograph of Edith, which turns out to be of myself.”

I remember my surprise at the time, having searched old photographs at my parents’ house, to find that a photo I could clearly ‘see’ did not exist and instead featured me. It seems for a moment then I knew something about how memory works and fails, not just in theory. Something about the limits of imagining another’s life. I wrote in the end, mournfully: “Regarding Edith: I may be trying to bring something to do with her into a present, into my present, into another’s present, but never into hers.”

I want to write about the depth, the complexity of TBoH in a way that brings it to life for those who cannot see it (not many are finding their way to the gallery, alas) but haven’t quite been able to rise to the challenge. At the moment I feel more like a big fat spider, sitting in the web she’s spun and wrapping the prey caught in it in dense bundles of silk, beautiful in their own right but obliterating the shapes and singularities of what’s inside – only I do it with words. One thing I can say though, which I’ve come to understand through my post-outing engagement with the exhibition (I keep going on virtual walk-throughs): each work there, gloriously interesting in its own right, and skilfully, beautifully made, really becomes what it can be in the relationships formed/forming with the other pieces in this show.


First I couldn’t wait, then I found it looming: the day before the private view my head was a meeting-place for a vociferous, foul-mouthed community of doubts, all shouting at the same time. Was my work good enough to be sent into the world? While I am making I can use my muddles to work something out, try a different outlook, propel me on. Here though, oh my, perspective was nowhere to be found. Spent the day lying on bed and tweeting my tripping heart out (open question: does tweeting calm nerves or frazzle them further?), and trying not to let the joy of finally exhibiting my work be quelled before I’d even seen the show.

Went early so I could have a quiet look around the exhibition – it is gorgeous! Curator Nick Kaplony has constructed mental and material pathways across walls and floors, teasing out connections, relationships, cross-overs and divergences between works by Charlotte Brown, Ben Cove, Kate Murdoch, Shelley Rae, Karen Stripp, his own and mine – artists who share an interest in the weight and mystery of memory but pursue very different practices.

The Beginning of History. What a good exhibition to be involved in, not only in terms of subject, but in the meaning/fruitful gathering of artists. I hope to write about the whole of the show, with photos, in my next post and can’t wait for the makers’/curator’s talk on 30 November, to speak, hear, share.

For this art-starved person it is clear once more how different it is to see and present work in the flesh, as it were. The clamour of critical voices in my head has lost some of its force. For most of my pieces this is the first time they appear in a gallery space. With one swoop they take on a professional air. And next to other art you begin to see your own emerge anew, reveal aspects you haven’t meant. Nothing better than being surprised by one’s own work!

One of the pieces I’m showing is I am a stick, I am a stone, crocheted last year, and quickly stored away. It is actually part of a series of four, but the one I find most difficult. And suddenly unexpectedly affecting. You’ve seen I have a thing about arms and gestures and how they shift and scramble and change meaning. The implications of a right arm raised up straight, to the Hitler salute, and its crooked copy by the little girl in the Riefenstahl film, have trailed my work for years. In this series tentatively titled Second Generation, I’ve played about with our four limbs, arranging them in simple constellations and exploring how they might reflect emotive states.

The piece is mounted high up on the wall next to the doorway, the perfect place for it. It seems to be cartwheeling, hurtling, chortling – there’s a sense of uncurdled exuberance, energy, joy, in a way only a child can experience and express (oh, I long for it). A being in the moment, seemingly untethered by history, by rules and expectations. Flight, not fight. All that is there for me, in this piece, which was born in the shadow of a swastika (I can hardly even write the word). I can’t begin to work out how I feel. One moment I fly along with it, helter skelter, the next I fall, heavy, hearing the sound of goose steps. Has the piece shaken off (no!) its provenance? Have I made light of something that is unbearable? My uncertainty is about giving history the charge it deserves, acknowledging the terrible weight carried in German identity, and making something that allows for complexity, digression even, something that takes me/you unforeseen places. I wonder what a viewer who has no idea about my concerns perceives. What is there to see? Feel?

A couple of days ago I listened to Desert Island Discs with Alfred Brendel, who as a child saw Hitler traveling through Graz in an open car, with arm outstretched, the streets lined by cheering masses. When asked what he made of what he saw he said: “I was just storing impressions. It was much later that I realized what it was meaning. I can only tell that my memories of war-time have been decisive for my whole life. They have prevented me from being credulous, from fanaticism, from nationalism, from creeds of any kind.”

I am a stick, I am a stone (2012)
Materials: crocheted from wool/polyester mixture
Dimensions: 78 cm x 78 cm


Moult is one of the pieces in The Beginning of History. Bit of chaos and calamity around getting it ready for the show – as I couldn’t afford professional services I had ordered a made-to-measure frame on-line which arrived on Friday with a flaw so a new one had to be made and sent which arrived on Monday with the plexi-glass shattered and the wood scratched by shards so a new one had to be made and sent which arrived Tuesday just before 6 pm, this time in good order, but my arms were leaden with fatigue, and useless. Got up early the next morning and proceeded to cut to size the cardboard onto which I’d sewn the piece – hadn’t dared do it before in case there were discrepancies with the frame’s measurements… The first cut is the deepest took on new meaning as I cut one side with my scalpel knife, lay down for a while, made the second cut, lay down, next cut – you get my drift. It took me close to three hours to get everything done and ready for pick-up, most of it spent resting up for the next trifling step, without ever fully lifting the frame off the floor. Infuriating and ridiculous and the only way as help, which would have been available over the weekend, wasn’t now. Then my lovely friend M. came and carried and we had a chuckle about my challenged uprightness – as I waved her goodbye I stood as if I wanted to illustrate a 90 degrees angle. Put me in a text-book, please!

Big sigh of relief when I heard my work had arrived safely at the gallery. Ended up lying on my cutting mat which took pride of place at the centre of the living room where I normally reside. I say: better than on a bed of sewing pins after you’ve upended the container which brought visions veering between the soft ground in a pine forest (oh, the scent) and a fakir’s nail bed. My arms were like tree-trunks, seemingly heavier than the rest of ‘me’ and for a day or two felt as if they were fusing with the carpet floor.

Well, the only thing that matters is that Moult is in the show with my other pieces, and on Sunday, all being well, I’ll be there too. It’s been hard not to do the install (and the banter and discussion and buzz) with Nick Kaplone and the other artists, tantalising really, but I’d written instructions re: presentation of each piece and just had to trust that it would be done well. Had the frame-saga not been a saga I’d have finished prep at the weekend, as planned, and might have been able to pop in… Anyway, had a sweet sneak preview from the photos Nick mailed – it’s going to be good, really really good!

When not pinned or sewed to a surface, and stretched like a flayed skin, Moult curls up, becomes formless – something about the tension in the stitches crocheted from strands of hair. Flatness has been a conscious feature in all of my crochet work, and here it’s amplified, through a folding back of the bodice’s front, a flipping open, for display.

The German translation for bodice is Leibchen. Leib is an archaic term for body, chen a diminutive when attached to another word. Leibchen – literally little body. This word was actually my starting point, I love it’s meaning and look and sound. It refers to a child’s garment, and as I write I realise it’s a garment that has literally fallen away, is not in use anymore – after the war that extra layer between undershirt and shirt/blouse disappeared. It is also close to the word Liebchen, little darling.

I think I’ve produced a heirloom of a kind, an outfit that might have been tenderly made/kept/stored away/handed down/maybe forgotten in a chest or drawer or box (something which I’ve longed for lately). You will have seen my Perfect Maidens – early hair-work, fairy-tale work, with feminist leanings, with which this piece does connect, but in this context (The Beginning of History) there is a clearer awareness that hair, even if artificial, and esp. blond hair, brings with it certain connotations – Aryan ideals, Auschwitz… A self is relational – whichever way I turn, this is something I’ll come up against, with.

Moult (2013)
Dimensions: 45 cm x 21 cm (plus strands of hair), framed 58.5 cm x 37 cm x 4 cm
Materials: crocheted from artificial hair


I’m trying to get my work ready for The Beginning of History, an exceedingly slow and fraught process as it can’t be done lying down. Every activity is cut into countless infinitesimal = manageable segments, interspaced with longer and longer rests. Living and bedroom floors are covered with acid-free tissue paper, bubble wrap, cardboard boxes (I seem to be predisposed to fall into one), crocheted pieces, masking tape, scissors, and often enough my own tired form… Lists are being written and re-written, titles pondered, and questions of presentation sorted (all in the horizontal, hooray). Then there are the spanners thrown in the works from outside: two frames I ordered on-line arrived faulty – more waiting, and having to trust that the replacements will arrive in time and good order.

Pricked my right index finger when sewing a hair piece to backing board and just about foiled a treacherous blood drop’s intended trickle on the work. Breathed a sigh of relief, also for not having fallen into 100 years of sleep, although sorely tempted.

Over the years I’ve become a great pusher and slider (across the floor – I don’t do things on tables) as my arms are weak, but it doesn’t work for everything. Help is coming for heavier and safe lifting/holding/packing, and then the lovely Kate Murdoch, co-exhibitor with an exciting project planned for the show, will pick it all up and deliver to the gallery for me.

At the same time a plethora of possible pieces push for attention from my hands. A new thing’s steady growth has been halted, needs must. Funnily enough at some stage the idea overtook me to try and finish it in time for the show. My wanting and inner drive is undiminuished by ill-health. Reality check!

* * *

Wondering and worrying about making work about trauma. The translation into art – what can you meaningfully carry over from someone else’s or even one’s own experience? Is that even the point? My new piece-in-thwarted-progress made me think about wound stripes – the officially sanctioned attempt in former wars to make visible/mark out/credit physical war injury. They were worn on the soldier’s uniform, in battle and out. I can’t quite get my head around these (and so much more), but then I’m lucky to live far from war. Many aren’t – It’s something that burns me up every time I switch on the news.

Last winter I read a book that deeply impressed me, Thomas Keneally’s Daughters of Mars, about two Australian sisters working as military nurses during the First World War. To me, the experience and effect of years of fighting, here seen through the often terribly wounded soldiers they tend to, would seem traumatic, in detail and accumulation. But then there’s maybe that one specific event that stands out and sharpens (not dulls) the sense of one’s (precarious) existence to a fine point, a fulcrum around which past and future realign and reassemble. I marked out the description of Sally’s state of mind after having almost drowned when the hospital ship she is stationed on is sunk by torpedoes:

“She quaked with remembered and not yet dispelled terror, and found herself concerned above all with her mind. She tested it and thought she found it a stranger’s mind. Her own having dissolved in the sea, she had picked up someone else’s drifting and bobbing mind. She saw herself now not as a continuous thing. She was no more than a mute core — or a pole on which rings of a particular nature could be placed. Each ring was a successive self — that was it. Her self was utterly new and needed to be learned all over. …

And now she was utterly new again, she found herself alarmed to be so. The latest hard little hoop — being taken out of the water — could just as easily be lifted off and replaced with another as accidental, whose description was: drowned in the Mediterranean. Since she was so tenuous, she might still swerve at any second from her rescued state and into oblivion. There was no such grand connector as destiny at work in her and never had been. Such a thin skin existed between parallel states and chances that they could leak or bleed or be welded into one another.”


How wonderful to find that you are reading me – a day after I’d been filling a friend’s ears with moans about holding monologues I saw that I’m back in the top10. Merci! Conversations will ensue.

More good news: the side-effects of my new meds have lessened if not disappeared, and I’ve had a rather good art-visit by Nick Kaplony and Kate Murdoch. We are working towards The Beginning of History together, with four other artists. Kate remarked afterwards how well organised I appeared. Well, needs must. It’s not often that I can show my work unmediated by a computer-screen, hear about that of others and have a face-to-face art-conversation. I’d laid out my offerings on the carpet in the living room, got pieces out of boxes and drawers days in advance so I could focus my day’s exuberant if limited energies on the actual meeting. It was stirring to see how Nick and Kate responded, both of whom explore memory/family history with their work. Such a perceptive, inquisitive and thoughtful audience – I encountered so much enthusiasm that for a few hours my doubts about the quality of my work were dispelled. They came back almost as soon as N and K were out of the door though…

A piece of writing-in-progress joined the finished pieces on the floor. I have been teaching myself Sütterlin, a form of handwriting taught in German schools between 1915 and 1941. One of my most treasured possessions is a post-it note from my dad to me, but I’ll have to tell you about its shifting connotations another time. Suffice to say that it’s handwritten and that in it I can detect traces of Sütterlin. In old photo-albums, which I looked through with my mom a few months ago, the annotations, probably made by my maternal grandfather, are in Sütterlin too. I am fascinated by the similarities and differences between today’s and yesteryear’s scripts, the continuities, conversions, rejections. There’s a lot of zigzagging here, serrated but neat lettering which has been ironed and rounded out. It does look beautiful and mysterious and encapsulates something for me about the workings of history.

My writing felt fitful, jittery even; wrist and hand cramped rather quickly. I wanted to explore a phrase the meaning of which I keep re-calibrating. So many intertwined stories! A few years ago I had a correspondence with my favourite clever boy (not so small anymore – he’ll turn sixteen in December), son of friends in Germany. We wrote to each other in English (in Germany children start on their first foreign language in 3rd grade) and after the banking crisis I received a letter setting out in diagram form how it all fell down. A consice feat! At the end of the letter I found an apology in German: ‘ich habe noch keine Vergangenheit’, meant to say something like ‘I haven’t learned yet how to construct the past tense in English’, which literally translates into: ‘I have no past yet’. Now there’s a loaded sentence! It was as if he was implying ‘I know that you, the generation(s) before me, have landed us in this mess.’ As I was already/always in the process of thinking about our Vergangenheit this phrase slotted right in, and jarred, on so many levels. Ich habe noch keine Vergangenheit. A statement, a charge, a reproof, a wish, a worry, a woe that it is not so.