Threads between words, music and a bundle of old clothes.

 

 

(Occasionally, images posted here do not display correctly depending on your browser or devices, if this is the case, please try my website where these problems don’t seem to occur: www.elenathomas.co.uk )


0 Comments

The Tenth Woman paints her face, girds her loins, takes a deep breath and walks up to the mic…

 


0 Comments

Do objects speak?
They do to me, particularly garments, or domestic items. But do they say the same thing to me that they do to other people, other artists?

This weekend I found myself (with my family) among “LOST” by Issam Kourbaj at the Museum of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge. The pieces were set among the museum’s permanent display of over 450 plaster casts of classic sculpture. It is, quoting from the museum website “…an exhibition of plaster dipped items of clothing belonging to (Syrian) refugees who were lost at sea whilst attempting the perilous journey to the island of Lesbos.”

So the plaster-dipped clothing is from children who have died. The textures and features of the garments are intact, and have been split along the side seam and sleeve in order to open them out. They are not casts, as the surrounding sculptures are, the original garments are still inside the plaster. They are hung from pins and nylon wire.

The things that I treasure garments for, are not there. There is no softness. It is a hard memorial. I recommend that you watch the video of the artist here:

http://www.classics.cam.ac.uk/museum/exhibitions/exhibitions/lost

These garments and the words on them are final. What I use in my work is the life, the continuation, growth and memory…and these garments are the death, the premature halt… There isn’t a name. Just an approximated age, boy or girl. They are heartbreaking. The splitting of seams to me seems unnecessarily brutal… And that upset me…

The text, although I couldn’t read it, I knew what it was. The terrible way these children died was reduced to a cataloging… A list? There was no way of knowing anything about them (I presume DNA was taken for future reference?). The placing among plaster casts of classical Greek sculpture was poignant, and I approve of the material links, but it felt a little cold. These “stone” memorials hung from breezeblock walls with nylon didn’t seem quite appropriate, it wasn’t tender in any way. I swing between thinking that tenderness would be inappropriately manipulative of my emotions, and thinking that memorialising in this way is more appropriate, as after all, I’m bringing my own brain-full of sentiment… hmmm…

So, then, these are no longer garments. The seam splitting and dipping renders them non-garments and takes the one piece of soft humanity away. Having the same starting point of a discarded item of clothing, I understand that the manner of their discarding, and the manner of their finding means that they are very different to the garments I use. You could hang them un-dipped, un-labelled, next to un-worked garments I have collected and wouldn’t know that. The work of the artist then, is to take that garment, and it’s story/history and say something else, draw attention to its difference.

This then, is an interesting point for me to think about when looking at the garments I collect.
What does it say before I start, and how has its life changed it before I get there? What do I do with it?

I suppose the story starts for me when I get the item, and work on it.
But these “LOST” garments have had their story, and Kourbaj has drawn attention to the stop?

Is there then a moment at which these two garments worked have a common point of contact? The point at which they leave their place of manufacture labelled “Age 4-5 years” …is it only at that point when the two say the same thing? Or is it even then?

I look forward to the research happening with The Museum of Object Research, and hope to find a little clarity for my thoughts…

 


0 Comments

It’s a complex raft of emotion…

My friend Sarah has moved out of our shared studio and I am bereft. In some ways this is ridiculous because our arrangement was that we never actually worked in it at the same time: timeshare was the thing. We had a blackboard calendar and chalked up our times.
But I miss the presence of her beautiful work and her quiet thoughtfulness.

At the same time I had to weigh up whether I needed to find someone else to share with. How could I replace this unique partnership? The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t bear it. So…. Having got the ACE funding recently I decided that for the next six months, initially, I could afford to occupy the whole space.

This is huge.
(Both the space and the decision)
But I recognise that this is an opportunity here. The space is breathtakingly beautiful, large, white, slightly crumbly Victorian walls… Enormous windows and shafts of light fill the room… It’s bigger than my art room in school was. I might never again in my life have access to such a space, so I must say yes. So I must occupy it in a way that I’m not forever mourning the absence of Sarah….

Yesterday I exhausted myself both physically and mentally trying to expand physically and mentally across the invisible divide. Furniture helps start that… I inherited from her some shelving and tables. I decided that I could separate areas for producing sound from the rest of my work… If it is all permanently out then I can pick it up whenever the mood strikes. Equipment and materials are now on show, instead of shoved in boxes under the tables. I have more table space. I can sit six people very comfortably around the table, and so I will be able to do a few workshops!

I have spread work around the walls in some sort of ordered fashion so can see the connections clearly, and the progression of the ideas… I’ve moved things around, so that when I come back from a few days away, I can come into the space renewed, refreshed and ready to make the most of it while I can.

I look back over my life and I realise that every space I have worked in has had a developmental effect on my practice: my bedroom, the kitchen table, my workplace, out of the back of my car, my shed, my school artroom, my first studio above a community art space in a shop, back to my dining room working out of the heap of boxes, sharing a huge space and now having the whole space… Each one has its own special way of making its mark on what I do. At the end of six months I might end up working from the garage at home. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that that will probably be ok too.

Thank you for rescuing me, Sarah, when I needed it the most. I shall miss you. Love xxx

 


0 Comments

It has happened a couple of times this week – once with a piece of textile work, once with a song.

The textile was a scrap of unremarkable looking printed cotton, stitched to the front of a plain cream coloured child’s dress, covering a hole. It is stitched with withdrawn threads from a different dress.

The dress is a substitute for one that my mother wore, in a drawing I had done when I was about 18, from a photograph taken when she was a small child, scuffed shoes, doll’s pram, bonnet, dolly…

The fabric scrap was from a skirt given to me by one of my mother’s friends at the time of the drawing… so… late 1970s. The skirt had been hand stitched by this close friend, in about 1950.… are you able to follow this? It is a faded raspberry sort of red, Liberty print, dandelions, blue and grey and green, not yellow. I wore the skirt until constant laundering rendered the fabric liable to tearing when I sat down, so it was put on one side. I have used the fabric carefully in various pieces of work, because it is precious to me. The friendship was precious, the photo is, the drawing is. The dress will do as a substitute, the style and fabric are right. The hole beneath is also significant. There are other holes in the dress, but this one is front and centre, for all to see. I’m not sure if my drawing attention to it in this way is defiance and disobedience… but it is certainly full of love.

What happened was a sharp remembering of my mother and her friend, laughing hysterically, I have no doubt at something rude. They were close, and always seemed “up to something”. I have found friends in my adult life like this, but not as a child I don’t think, and not as a teenager. Those younger friendships were far too self-conscious. And so it reminded me of another moment, me recently with another friend. This tangled remembering of image, work, fabric, relationships, is exactly where my work sits. The object holds it all, and pulls me back to the moments. It connects them to each other, and to me.

The song was a surprise though, as it hasn’t been so long that I’ve been writing, so the length of memory held is less likely. However, there it was. The lyrics hold a description of the Malvern Hills – I grew up looking at the weather crawling over them through my bedroom window as a child. But the description is a metaphor for a mood change. So although the song is fairly new, the image is old, and fixes a time and place. The metaphor is newer, and more raw. The music, built from a basic top-line melody hummed to my band-mates and co-writers, holds the mood. A bass guitar rumbles the dark grey cloud over the hills. The music, lyrics, image combine to form a complex picture of a hurt emotional state. I don’t feel the sting as sharp, but I have the memory of it. The end chorus pulls away from the rest of the song. Defiant. Self-sufficient. Hopeful, but a little bit scared.

After my early songwriting angst, I now find it gratifying that I find links in my working methods between the stitching and the songs. They are so close to each other, I can’t now understand why I couldn’t see it at first. Perhaps it was the cloud cover?


0 Comments

 

And here we are again.

I think I’ve learned something, and the cycle of work spins, and a few months later I find I have to remind myself again and go …”oh yeah, this!”

Balance.

I’m working on the research and development stage of The Museum of Object Research with Sonia Boué at the moment. We have Arts Council funding, and this is a wonderful thing. I really appreciate the opportunities afforded me by ACE since I became a full-time artist. They really are an amazing institution.

But getting funding comes with a responsibility to deliver. To work hard. Which of course we are. We are developing a fascinating collaborative team practice that is informing both of us about our working methodologies. We are thinking about the project, sending emails, writing press releases, proposals, ideas, statements, lists, budgets, tasks…

This week I think I had a sort of mini-migraine that started with a twitchy eye thing, made worse by driving across Birmingham city centre and out the other side and back. a thirty(ish) mile round trip that took two and a half hours. Horrendous. The trip wasn’t project related, but of course affected my ability to do much for a while. While I lay in a darkened room I reminded myself that one of the ways we have decided to work is to keep an eye on pace. So, I wrote a list, and worked on it, crossing a few things off. And then I stopped.

What I realised, and I know I have said this here before, is that you can actually spend an awfully high percentage of your time as an artist, not actually making any art. I actually suspect you could get up into the high 90s before anyone (including yourself) noticed you hadn’t made anything for months!

But this state of affairs is not why I gave up working in a school, this isn’t why I became self employed freelancer… I want to make work!

So, for a couple of hours Thursday, Friday and today, I have made a point of going to the studio, putting on some music, and stitching. The twitchy eye thing has subsided. I feel better already.

There are things I need to do, but they are not the only things I need to do. So, having done that which needs to be done, I then pick up my needle and get lost in that mindless/mindful state of up and down, in and out… that rhythmic flow-state that restores my equilibrium.


1 Comment