Taking the measure of last week I declare it a good one, starting with a cautiously hopeful hospital-appointment and ending with an encounter with an artist I hadn’t met before, not in person that is. This is what I tweeted on Saturday, after a wonderful art/life-visit: @ElenaThomas1 was here! We unwrapped work from tissue paper, precious bundles-crocheted stitched sewn stencilled-alive under eyes&fingertips. I felt the need to tell the world. These rare and so very brief direct connections are to me momentous occasions, and afterwards, overcome by fatigue, I rejoiced as much as I mourned: meeting Elena was exceptional in every sense of the word.
I have come to ‘know’ Elena and some of her work from blogging here. We read each other and exchange comments regularly. In fact she is probably the person who has commented most consistently and often at lightning speed, minutes after I’ve put up a post. I expect nothing less now, know she is permanently and acutely tuned into a-n’s blogger-sphere, whereas I’m always behind, trying to keep or catch up. Unsurprisingly she has already written a beautiful post about our encounter… (Reading it I breathed a sigh of relief, as I couldn’t be sure if our meeting had equally moved and roused her.) Over time we had become blogger-friends, through commitment to on-line communication about our respective art-practices; a shared interest in materiality (fabrics, threads, marking, making, mending); memory and identity (the bending in and out of shape of childhood, and womanhood). Our methods are different, and have much in common – embodiment is at the heart of it all.
That Elena gave me her time, her work to explore, and mine her attention, when so much else in London beckoned, touched me deeply. She brought a bag full of textile pieces which I unpacked like precious gifts. Not the famous greatcoat, which I will see one day, but gorgeous childhood garments, some constructed and stitched from bits of fabric, others acquired and embroidered and rendered new in subtle ways, coaxing from fine stitches the felt – as you perceive – memory/impression of a tender touch, or a bruising one. Work full of affect and affection. And of course that glorious bra! Sounds were made! Remembering, I can once more feel textures under fingertips, the different ways of holding each piece required, the emotions and images evoked.
Elena had a very special way of handling my pieces, Riefenstahl’s children for example: like someone who is used to holding a tiny being, tenderly, deliberately, and with confidence. Much became clear when she took from deep in the box, out of layers of tissue paper, an older piece, We were wicked, we were wild. As she reacted to its precarious materiality she told me about her prematurely born son (I’m not breaking confidences here, Elena mentioned him in her post), his wee body (described to me in relation to the span between her palm and elbow, where he would lie securely), skin as translucent as a jellyfish’s. There was closeness, through the work and what it brought up in us, between us. We shared stories, talked about the marvel that our work evokes presence, the importance we assign the slow and meticulous processes of making, of having each piece grow from our fingers.
The way she responded to my work made it come to life for me again, and in unexpected ways. Most of my art- and other connections happen on-line; direct experience and interaction are extra-ordinary. Unwrapping, handling, holding, exploring our respective works confirmed what I already know – that through the computer screen you don’t get more than a superficial notion of (textile) work; how much it needs the ‘real’ sphere, the interplay with space, one’s senses and corporeality.
Meeting someone you don’t already know is hard when you spend much of your time in the horizontal. This year has been notable: the lovely Rob Turner of Cooling shed and Walking with Cosmo-fame came in July after he had finished his mosaic in nearby Nunhead. And if you think now, oh, isn’t she lucky? – yes, I am, but bear in mind too that I’ve literally factually actually not seen anyone else in-between, not been to exhibitions, private views, studios, nor any artist at mine. Giving someone you haven’t met before an impression of your mostly invisible life is a vulnerable and precious thing. Both Rob and Elena now have some sense of how I work, can conjure in their mind the exact place on the front-room’s carpet where I lie and crochet, make notes, or rest rest rest, when next they read a post of mine. Health-wise and socially this year has been full of challenges – here’s hoping that things are looking up a bit. I’m even planning a small art-outing, long ago pencilled into my diary – holding my breath…
I wanted to ask Elena so many questions, and esp. talk about our fathers (linking back to my project). Good to know that our conversation will continue, on-line again, but in all kinds of lively ways and profoundly affected/altered/intensified by having met, here, then. Yeaheah, Elena, and thanks.