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!!
Strands of wishful thinking: Hairlings and other things
2 – 30 May 2015
The Linen Rooms
32 Castle Street
Lisburn BT27 4XE