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.


The last ten days have been particularly tired, physically as well as mentally: limbs leaden and airy, resisting coherence; pockets of pain here and there, sewn to skin; fleeting periods of full alertness and acuity. Doubts though, about my oh, so very slow, modes of production (art and writing) sprout like weeds in the cracks of a wall. I’ve learned to bundle even tiny amounts of energy and wring from them what I can, but the gap between ideas and what I’m physically able to do is huge.

Last post’s hands surprised and stung me. I’d been thinking about painting (on) my left and photographing it, but hadn’t found the energy. It doesn’t sound like much, but imagine breaking down the process into its constituent parts, each of which can be broken down further: get out paints, brushes, tissues, water, camera; set up somewhere (kitchen is dark; front-room is bright, as is the carpet), preferably without dropping anything on the way; paint hand when light is right and take pictures with other hand from various angles; and when all is done (if it’s worked) wash paint off, clean brushes, put everything away. It’s not something I can do in one go (unless I have help), would be interrupted by any number of lie-downs, and meanwhile the light may change, or I run out of energy completely – you get the picture. All my activity is fragmented, beads on a thread, with those that need adding getting heavier in the course of the day, or rolling out of reach.

But, when sun streamed in through the window, demarcating a small rectangle of light, I worked with the sharp shadows produced to ‘paint’ my hand. I took a series of quick colour snaps (uninteresting in themselves) and photoshopped a few the next day, not quite sure what I was after until ‘it’ appeared. It’s my hand and not my hand, I don’t recognise it and recognise it fully. Cropping the images felt important; it changes the perception of the hand’s size, and, beyond an association of hard, earth-turning work, there’s a sense of something uncontainable: potential and power, a risk of transgression, trespass (by or against?). Hands (un/gendered?) to be reckoned with. And there’s a harrowing beauty. Work-in-process. I wonder what you think.

I’m now considering uncropped images – the reading seems to shift – gestures and their signification play a part. The boundaries between shadow and hand are less clear – they leak into each other.

The next project-post churns away in me, inspired by an item on the radio this week.

When fatigue falls it’s best to go with what’s already in one’s head, look at it anew: I’ve written a guest-post for Sonia Boué‘s gorgeous blog Museum for Object Research – Wäuwäu. Maybe some of you would like to help fill the museum’s virtual shelves and vitrines?


One night a couple of weeks ago my hands seemed half mine, half other, their tops as I knew them, but my palms hurt badly and felt as large as a giant’s: not swollen but grown or grafted on, and one with the rest of my hand. As I lay in the dark, mentally exploring the conundrum of these sensations, I could ‘see’ my hands, long and slim from above, massive, strong, sturdy, with hefty fingers, from below. Incongruous and true, as in a dream.

Pain can inhabit a limb, a part of a body, even all of it, or be experienced as an appendage of sorts, an extra-layer of flesh and skin, threaded with nerve-ends. Here I was, temporarily fitted (armed?) with a large man’s calloused palms. It made me think of fairy tales, of Thumbelina cradled in a nut-shell; of Ovid’s Metamorphoses where (if I remember right) each transformation/dissolution starts at and spreads out from a particular place. Of Sunday walks along the promenade when I was small and my happy little hand hatched in my father’s; of someone guiding a child’s first scribbles…

I often write: ‘weeks/months ago’ – remain in suspense until particles of life, research and art-making brush against each other, produce a flicker as I uncertainly process and put into words what bides in me, resides in me, familiar and unrecognisable; what finds me, grabs hold of me, who is simultaneously absorbed and abstracted and ever unsure of her endeavours. So much troubles me; I weigh words and question perceptions, wonder one moment if it’s wrong to shape such disparate notions into (deceptively coherent) little texts, and next what I’m avoiding if I don’t try.

Last week I started watching Margarethe von Trotta‘s film Hannah Arendt, and found I couldn’t get beyond, never mind over the (documentary) images about 30 min. in, of one of the witnesses in the Eichmann-process of 1961, a man in a white suit, collapsing before his testimony was over. I tried to watch on, but didn’t take anything else in. Later I searched for him on-line and found the full recording of his testimony.

His name was Yehiel Dinur. He sat in the witness-stand (others stood) and spoke in a low voice. His breathing was laboured and he looked hot, as if close to a faint. At one point he pulled up his sleeve to show the number tattooed on his arm. His narration was determined; his gaze though seemed absent, even disoriented, and the increasing internal pressure he was under was written in his face. He visibly held himself together to speak, moving about in his seat, turning a few times as if about to get up. Conflicting forces seemed to be working in him, one impelling to bear witness; one to flee. Towards the end he rises, sits down again, and finally, just when the prosecutor tries to put a question to him, gets up and walks away from the stand. Within a few steps he falls with a cry, face-down.

Here is some of what he said:

Q. What was the reason that you hid your identity behind the pseudonym “K. Zetnik”, Mr. Dinur?

A. It was not a pen name. I do not regard myself as a writer and a composer of literary material. This is a chronicle of the planet of Auschwitz. I was there for about two years. Time there was not like it is here on earth. Every fraction of a minute there passed on a different scale of time. And the inhabitants of this planet had no names, they had no parents nor did they have children. There they did not dress in the way we dress here; they were not born there and they did not give birth; they breathed according to different laws of nature; they did not live – nor did they die – according to the laws of this world. Their name was the number “Kazetnik”*.
*Kazett=Konzentrationslager/KZ – Katzetnik: inmate of a concentration camp

In the ten minutes of his testimony the agony of these two years pressed full-force against Yehiel Dinur‘s being. I kept asking myself – is it o.k. to watch this? It felt intrusive, voyeuristic, distressed me greatly, and yet I looked closely. What caught me, aside from the manner and content of his speech, is that this falling, this being felled by the memory of his experiences, the lived knowledge of what human beings could do and did to other human beings (and still and again do in different ways) seemed such a true, even inevitable response.

Eichmann watched across the divide of the courtroom, listening to the interpreter on earphones, his face going ever more lopsided. Yehiel Dinur was helped up by court officers and attended to.

There are times when I am almost glad that my father was so young when he was made a soldier. This is entirely self-serving, because it means that there are limits to his involvement (and thus responsibility) in the Third Reich’s politics and actions. He fought in its war, as did my grandfather (mom’s dad, who I loved loved loved as a child and about whose social and political attitudes in the 30s and 40s I know nothing), an uncle and various great-uncles. It’s harder still to know about the women whose everyday lives are covered by the bindweed of decades of silence and getting on. What I struggle to understand is how soon after the war and the holocaust a kind of (false? strained? relieved?) normalcy seemingly settled in everyday life. Where there traces I might have picked up on as a child? Could ‘it’ only be felt in absences – that we had no Jewish neighbours is mourned by me today, but was nothing I could have grasped then.

When we (as teenagers) learned about German history at school it seemed far removed, as if it had nothing to do with us. Ancient history. My interest started later – I could choose, something which would have been very different (closer to home?) for the family of a survivor. I realise how much I feared asking and to some extent still do. No matter the books I read, the films I saw over the years, I did not (dare) apply this knowledge of life under/within fascism to my family, lest I had to imagine anyone I loved had been a Nazi. Nowadays I doubt everything and everybody, have even had a crazy moment when I worried I might remember that I had been a Nazi myself.

When I’m in need of comfort I often turn to Rumi. One line flew off the page this morning: ‘I am inside your looking.’ A gaze can be open, receptive, empathic (blind spots not withstanding), or rigid, defining. I’m thinking again about the hands M.E.-pain brought me, half mine, half new. They seem to say something about the ‘other’ in oneself, myself. I am glad it was an open hand, not one curled into a fist. How do I know my body? My mind? My history? Only briefly, in fully lived and attentive instances, when we heed what we hold, what breathes in us, without fixing it in place, hardening it and us. These hands of mine can salute, wave, mend, bless, hold, offer, receive, touch, caress, cut, kill, slap, strangle, open, close, sign, gesture, shape, make, draw, strike, type, crochet, reach out, entwine. I have to make sure that I choose well.


It’s been good to have a break from blogging. I’ve missed the opportunity to communicate with you, and the discipline&framework of purposeful writing, which helps cut temporary paths through snarls of work&words and fuzzy ideas, but I felt mentally exhausted and needed to pause.
First I need to report a loss which I hardly dared acknowledge, even to myself. Look at the work I’m posting: I pulled those threads through the photograph several months ago – and while I longed to do more along these lines (sew, stitch, embroider, as I did when I started my father/daughter/history-project) I found hands and eyes were not cooperating. I can’t place a needle’s point where I mean to, am prone to pouring coffee next to the cup, drop stuff all the time (no hats!), and my handwriting has disintegrated. I’d thought I could crochet when half asleep, yet suddenly it too became a toil and my brain got stuck in obsessive loops: What did this mean, for me, my life? Was it time to finally chuck the arts in, stop trying so hard? What would that mean for me, my life? And so on. Writing sustained me for a while – I used it to keep my mounting panic in check.
I’m a bit easier now. It seems the meds I’m phasing out not only didn’t bring me closer to the vertical but may have had adverse, hopefully transitory effects on the already depleted strength of limbs and clarity of vision, amongst other things. This morning another bowl bit the dust on the kitchen floor, but I’m guiding hands and fingers towards capacity&competence through crochet-stitches executed at a cranky snail’s pace. Pens and needles will be precision-pointed in time. No matter how much I love writing, I also need to be making work.
For the above piece I took quick snaps (on the floor, in case my camera submits to gravity), tilting the threaded photograph at different angles, and these two interest, even please me. The points where the wool passes through the image follow the outline of my father’s head&shoulders from a Prisoner of War-card I’ve talked about before (see posts Jan-March 2014).
Let me describe the original childhood-photograph of which you only get a partial view: My brother and I sit in front of an indefinable background and behind a table covered with a fluffy blanket, which makes me think the photo was taken in one of those Pixi(e)-booths which could be found in 60’s department stores, cheapish versions of a professional studio set-up. We are wearing Sunday best. I, the older one, sit sideward, elbow on table, with my head leaning on my hand (rather an adult pose). My brother sits frontally, his beaming face turned to the right.
Are these true smiles or instructed ones, as the poses are? I don a secretive little one, quite aware of the circumstances, while my brother’s is just a little strained, maybe because we had to sit still for rather long. I wonder why we smiled to the right and not straight into the camera? Where my mom or dad standing there or did the photographer think this semi-turn made for a livelier photograph? To be honest, I fantasise that we’re looking at my dad, out with us (mom, brother, I) on a day off, which would have made this a special occasion.
You may remember how the gaze in said photograph of my father, taken in the US eighteen, nineteen years earlier, taxed me (see post 13 March 14). Of course when I think of sides and directions I now immediately ‘see’ the Hitler salute; remember the masses of children standing with right arms raised in Riefenstahl‘s Triumph of the Will, faces aflame with ordained love. The ‘Führer’ consciously positioned himself as a father-figure. Through the Hitler Youth the Nazis aimed to replace parents as primary raisers&educators of children – oaths of allegiance&loyalty, with a focus on duty and sacrifice to the death, were sworn to Hitler by ten year-olds.
I’m not saying that all this can be discerned from my collage; it’s what I found when I engaged with what I’d made. Those gleaming threads fall (like hair swept across a forehead), conjuring and concealing, covering and laying bare, holding, wrapping, trapping, tieing together, and throwing shadow-lines across my heart.