On Thursday my work arrived at R-Space Gallery in Lisburn/County Antrim. Two large but lightish boxes filled with smaller ones containing selected hair-work, crochet-pieces, photographs and artlings, crossed the Irish Sea, all carefully labelled with instructions as to how I’d like them installed.

Packing is hard to do when your arms aren’t up to much weight-bearing, raising, carrying, holding, and esp. when you spend most of your time lying down. At the moment exhaustion, nausea and vertigo are fighting for dominance during the day and insomnia reigns at night, so physically assembling the work was a very slow process. Pleasure&pressure were in balance though: the process of considering and (ever so tenderly) preparing individual pieces, one at a wobbly time, choosing #artlings to send, imagining how it might all be presented in the gallery – ooooh! My art was about to go places. I got there in the end, on a (ping)wing – new cultural reference! – and a non-pious prayer, some days wringing only moments, minutes from the grips of fatigue. Good thing I knew what I had to do – I rolled like a rock down a rubbly slope, taking care of one wee thing after the next, as and when I could.

All other activity had to be cancelled/postponed. In a month I only left the house once for a lie-down health-appointment; unattended mail collected in a drawer; phone-calls were curtailed; blogs and tweet-rolls overlooked unless I was directly addressed; etc. etc. – focus of my meagre energies was of the essence. I felt like a very tight bundle of muscles and nerves. At times hysterical giggles were heard…

Why am I telling you this? Partly because I want to get it out of the way (during my Skype artist’s talk next Saturday I want to concentrate on my work, not its conditions, although supinity will feature), partly because I’ve been thinking about professionalism&competence and wondering what they mean and if&how they can be counted when you literally don’t appear in the world much. Producing my work is the easy part; getting it seen (other than on-line) is a challenge when I can’t network, easily meet other art-professionals, explore exhibitions and connect&contextualise. I have days when I cannot get dressed, answer a phonecall, sit through a meal, open the door to the garden or do any kind of mental arithmetics. Although I reach for the crochet-hook or something to lay out on the floor as soon as I can achieving a real sense of competence, of professionalism, is bloody hard. But here is a wonderful opportunity and I’ve done my thing, at my own slow pace, and while I sometimes despaired at my ponderous progress I am delighted by it all: This is what I really want to do and do well: get my work into the world, have it encountered, evaluated, acknowledged. Because the only question has to be about its quality. The proof will be in the exhibition pudding.

Luckily I had help from friends with what I call heavy lifting and stuff I couldn’t do around the house, like creating paths through topographies teeming with artwork, garment boxes, tissue paper and bubble wrap, and myself curled up in the middle. And, on a different level, I felt wonderfully supported&sustained through daily contact with my art-sister Sonia Boué, who was sounding board, agony aunt, encourager, believer, distiller of worries and utterer of home and other truths.

So: a kind of getting there, without getting there (I’m still mourning that I can’t go myself): supine competence and a kind of compacted professionalism were achieved, I hope (although I’m sure there’s a lot to learn). And all being well my pieces will shine, as ambassadors in Lisburn from the land of in-between.

PS. When I try to even remotely describe my circumstances worries about pathos&pitifulness creep in. I want to make this clear: I do not mean to inspire, do not want to be called brave or heroic or some such (I hate that word). What I want more of is for my work to count, and my artist-self too, in the outside-world; to connect meaningfully, have critical and constructive conversations. And a bit of fun with it too.


My focus is absolutely on preparing for the exhibition at R-Space Gallery, but inspired by Sonia Boué I thought I’d give you a visual post – a sequence of my last seven artlings, featuring old things, new things, borrowed and blue things, made, acquired, refashioned things, assembled and reassembled, always in process.

You can follow my narrative threads on twitter under #artling @marjojo2004


A few weeks ago a friend sent me a booklet, an illustrated version of The princess and the pea, which much delighted me, partly because, as she knew, it brought childhood memories, partly because my body/skin can be fired up with painful sensitivity to every little weight or wrinkle, any kind of pressure, from bedding, clothes, a person’s light touch… But what pleased me most was a twist I had forgotten – the pea, proof of proper princesshood, was preserved and presented in a museum vitrine.

I wonder if there is a kind of test for a real artist? Could I, once and for all, be declared one, and would I believe it? My conception of my (professional) artist-self is ever so brittle, easily pierced. To some extent that’s normal fare for most artists, but my ties into the (art)world are like withered air-roots, sparse and precarious, and constantly under challenge. Not because I ever stop making, but because my not-being-in-the-world means a dearth of direct connection, interaction and exchange.

In December 2013 I accepted – full of delight – the opportunity of a solo-show at the Linen Rooms in Lisburn for this May. I thought that, with help, I would be able to go, deliver a talk at the private view, meet people, see how my work comes alive in another space, and while I’m at it, douse myself in the glorious sound of spoken words (for which I’ve got a thing)… It was just around the time I was diagnosed with P.O.T.S., which seemed to offer a real chance of improvement in health as, unlike with M.E., there was medication to try. I started the year 2014 with a huge infusion of hope and optimism. Unfortunately one drug made me deteriorate, and the other brought no discernible improvement in terms of energy, no move towards verticality. I’m still in bad shape, steadfastly supine if you will, and extreme fatigue often pulls my day under.

At the beginning of the year I had to face facts: I cannot manage the journey to Northern Ireland just now. With a great sense of mourning I wrote to the gallery, explaining my worsened circumstances. I shifted the focus of my original proposal a bit, making my modes of production a feature of the exhibition, and suggested giving my talk via Skype. Then I held my breath until the gallery sent a positive response.

I realise I am still and always measuring myself, the scope and scale of my work and its complicated pathways into the world against how I think things could be if I was well, able to get out, share a studio, go to shows, private views, talks, seminars, apply for residencies, etc. – as I see so many of you doing. I can but fall and fail then, set myself up for frustration. Maybe it is time to be more realistic, dream and aspire within reason so-to-speak, and – with support – explore new ways of getting my work seen more regularly, my practice discussed, evaluated, challenged, contextualised, really engaged with. I need to get myself to a place of clear purpose, confidence and entitlement, a place with a bed of blankets on the floor, yes, but still one of subtle strength, determination and slow-burning intensity.

But first there’s a talk to write. I’ve got a solo-show!!

Marion Michell
Strands of wishful thinking: Hairlings and other things
2 – 30 May 2015

R-Space Gallery
The Linen Rooms
32 Castle Street
Lisburn BT27 4XE
Northern Ireland

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At the moment I’m not dancing, sleep-drunk or otherwise, not even in my imagination. The last six weeks my meagre energies have been shrunk&shrivelled by sleeplessness. I’ve reached the stage where most mornings my eyes feel as if chafed by sand-paper lids. Anxiety and self-doubt abound. My skin is crackly-thin – I seem to inspect every utterance or lack thereof for slights&disregards. Research, reading and writing for my father/daughter/history-project have ground to a halt: my brain only operates with much coaxing and at minimum level. Concentration austerity!

I have almost abjectly missed posting here – blog&project are where I feel most competent (relatively speaking), plus it is my main communication-tool. Tweeting, as part of my #artling series and a small, delicious&stimulating cooperation with a group of artists (#catalyst2 – about which I will write in due course), has kept me going and at least momentarily connected – each image and the handful of words accompanying it a whispered and tentatively hopeful ‘count me in!’.

As you well know, the crochet-machine never stops. How glad I am once again that I found this way of making work in the supine, slowly, steadily, even when all else fails. It gives me continuity in the best possible sense.

I’m also preparing for an exhibition. Yes. That’s quite a sentence. More about that another time – this is just meant to be ‘hallo’. Part of the process of planning a show is reviewing one’s work, clarifying content&context, choosing pieces which form a coherent (but not overly) and stirring whole. So I’ve been lying here and there, eyes open as wide as possible, trusted iPad on belly, looking at pictures and compiling screengrab-lists. It’s so easy to forget what one has made when most of the work resides in blogs and boxes. The unwavering support of a couple of art-sisters has been instrumental in getting my confidence up if not running, and today, having slept a bit more last night and feeling almost human, I arrived at the point where I believe: This is going to be a really good exhibition!

One of the pieces I ‘found’ (although in full view on a book-shelf) is And maps in silver lines a hungry grid. Searching for a title I came across a poem I wrote aeons ago. I was struck by how much it ties in with my project after all, which is why I’ll post it here:

The waiting game (Clytaemnestra)

Take one who weaves with measured industry a web
that cannot hold her grief. She finds relief
in hating, tracing her loss in warp and weft,
stretching her rage as cord on cord unreels.
How fast he dropped his father’s cloak for armour.
If only she’d unstitched his sails, slashed stays,
lopped masts, strap-strained his greed
to hear his name sung.
A girl’s death plumped limp sails!
Instead she spins fast strands, soft-gleaming
in the light like strings of rain, last robe
to stain in hues that are his royal due
and maps in silver lines a hungry grid,
empty just now, a subtle gift, a trap.


The images I mentioned in my last post, from André Singer’s Night Will Fall, remain so very much and overwhelmingly alive in me, that I haven’t been able to watch any of the other programmes I recorded around Holocaust Memorial Day. Nor have I listened to Richard J Evans: The Third Reich at War which means I ‘am’ still in Poland at the beginning of the war, which commenced when my father was thirteen and a half years old. Four more years of war to hear, to bear hearing, when what the Germans did right there&then in Poland is already the very worst and yet only marks the start of atrocities ever increasing in savage intent, purpose and execution, and I almost feel I should listen to it over&over again, to remember every detail of what actually happened, was done. And yet I cannot hold.

These slow, stretched out processes of mine, and the time they require, impress on me once more how in so many ways I live in the frayed folds of pastpresentfuture, with instances of unfurling and peeking out into the world before rolling back into the dark… Ever since I started my project I’ve been taking steps rearwards, forwards, sideways, treading in place, forgetting, retracing, which reminds me of describing my kind of walking a few years ago, on a little foray to the corner of my street which I haven’t been able to do for a while. I looked up what I’d written then, and found myself falling into layers of memory, half pleasing, half melancholic, and then coming up with a start:

“A slow walk on a hot summer’s day, excursion beyond the realm marked by silver birch. My steps almost in tune with the heat, stately speed, syncopated by stick’s rhythm: one crisp beat to two measured steps. In time they become halting, energy trickling out of me fast, traceless. More rest-points on way back, sit on fences, walls, parapets; savour stillness in air that comes with heat. Turn face towards pale blue sky dabbed with thin washes of cloud. Breath in, breath out, steady now. Up again and onwards, slower and slower, teetering, every so often scuttling sidewards like crab – waste of precious steps, but also little involuntary dance, celebrating the spot I tread around. A memory alights, of school-outings, where some of us would link arms and temporarily walk in step, chanting: ‘Ein Hut, ein Stock, ein Regenschirm,/und vorwärts, rückwärts, seitwärts, steh’n.’ And again. (In the interest of maintaining innate iambic rhythm I translate as follows: ‘A hat, a stick, umbrella too,/and forwards, backwards, sidewards, still.’ Shout out and let right leg swing and stop, like a 3D-pendulum.)”

Savouring the descriptions of summer heat and school outings I stumbled over the words ‘walk in step’, which took me where I end up more often than not these days, no matter where from. This in turn reminds me of my dad, who, towards the end of his life, often hijacked seemingly innocent conversations and would suddenly say something which suggested he was in a place where we couldn’t follow, which I hesitate to call a ‘theatre of war’, an expression which remains puzzling to me, although I do wonder now whether that’s what it is, for us who look in from the (relative) safety of our place&time.

Anne Carson in her foreword to Grief Lessons. Four Plays by Euripedes, wrote: ‘There is in Euripedes some kind of learning that is always at boiling point. It breaks experiences open and they waste themselves, run through your fingers, phrases don’t catch them, theories don’t hold them, they have no use. It is a theatre of sacrifice in the true sense. Violence occurs; through violence we are intimate with some characters onstage in an exorbitant way for a brief time; that’s all it is.’

So when I pick up the threads of what is and isn’t my story I remind myself that they aren’t reins, that I need to allow and follow their flow. This project is all about process, not progress; about meandering and happening upon, not measuring; about looking, not staring – staying alert&alive to what emerges, and taking time with it, letting it breathe.