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A conversational aside about age and identity in an email from Kate Murdoch prompted a memory…

A few weeks ago I was strolling around a favoured local gallery with a friend.

Picture the scene… short, round, brightly dressed middle aged woman with grey(ish) hair and a patchwork bag strolls around the gallery in the usual manner, striding past some stuff. Getting her glasses out and peering closely at others. She approaches a sectioned off part of the gallery and the young(er) gallery attendant approaches her, her head to one side, and hands the woman a leaflet, and says that it might help her understand the installation. She mindlessly accepts the piece of paper, as if it were a coupon for McDonalds or Subway… and bumbles into the gallery…

One minute later… tall, slim, casually dressed man of a similar age with backpack slung over the shoulder lopes across to the installation. The gallery attendant smiles at him, he says good morning, and enters the same area, where middle aged woman is seething.

He thinks it is funny, but I get this a lot.

I don’t know what is worse, being invisible or being patronised.


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I’ve just completed my very first application for arts funding. I know. I’m 52 for goodness sake! What have I been doing all my life?

Anyway, it’s done. I’ve done my best with it. The rest is up to someone else. If I don’t get it I will have to raise the money some other way, as I am now determined to get me and my work to New York somehow!

We wait with baited breath, fingers crossed, touching wood and avoiding ladders etc.

Meanwhile, now it’s done I’d like a couple of days of making please. I’ve got a couple of pieces in my head that I’d like to make ready for the exhibition in Ledbury. One is a tiny little thing, that will probably only take me a morning to make. The other is somewhat bigger, and requires a little construction and forethought. And lots of quite technical stitching. Remember when I had my hand injury and said rather rashly that I might not show any stitching at all? What b*ll*cks!

What that few weeks did though, was make me consider how and why I stitch. It made me consider what was necessary. My stitching has always been my thing… and to have gone through a process of reconsideration through enforced circumstances has been more than useful. I’m sure I could make this second piece with different materials if I chose to, but why would I? It wouldn’t say it properly. I am fluent in stitch and fabric. So that’s what I’ll do.

For the show with Bo, I have stripped it all back. I have considered ONE stitch, and ONE stitch at a time, making ONE thing at a time. I’ve thought about the power of ONE or the weakness, and considered the strength in numbers, the effects that working as a group can have. Stitching is the ultimate collaboration. So stitching stands as a metaphor for the rest of me. I work best, strongest when I have someone to bounce off, laugh with, snipe at, argue with, drink tea with.

So of course I am a stitcher not a painter. Obvious isn’t it?


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I’m often found reflecting on the nature and effects of collaboration on my practice.

I am essentially a lazy person. I follow the path of least resistance in many areas. I’m not really driven by money, as long as I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge, and a bit left over to splurge on second hand clothes, I’m ok.

Without collaboration I wouldn’t be an artist I don’t think. I would make stuff… I made stuff for years, quite happily on my own, without any of it being art.

Collaboration is my kick.

Collaboration gives me access to other people’s toy boxes. There is no way I would be recording sound and no way I would have wrestled with GarageBand, or become this megalomaniac event manager without collaboration with Dan Whitehouse. There is no way I would have survived with sanity intact from my recent injury without the input from Bo Jones. No way I would be using digital media… I would still be just stitching – great though that is, it was never challenged. Bo challenges it, coughs the words “comfort blanket” and makes me review my processes and output. Because of that, every stitch now counts. The exhibition that we are working towards approaches… I can’t wait to see this work up, all together, his and mine. It’s been a really good year.

Any ambition I have comes from the need to collaborate. I have to be honest, it comes from a confidence issue too… on my own, my self esteem takes a bit of a dive. If I surround myself with people I value, it goes up. My recent involvement in the group of artists working together to get to New York is not so much about my ambition as an artist, (“How good will this look on my cv?”) but from a desire to talk to different people. To get the work out there, get it talked about. The conversation, as always, the impetus for further development.

The skills I collect, are collected out of necessity. Nothing is spare, all accumulated out of need. If I want to make a song, I need to learn how to use GarageBand. If I want to work with digital images, I need to learn how to use PhotoShop. By exposing myself to different collaborative experiences, I acquire new desires, then new needs, then new skills.

For me, the ideal collaborator is someone completely different… well, no, not completely, but sufficiently different to make an impact. There should be mutual respect, and no fear to say what you think. You develop a way of being explicit about your work and theirs, you have to explain yourself clearly.

Collaboration is my kick. Again I use language that alludes to addiction. Collaboration provides the medium, the atmosphere, the right conditions for validation when done well. If it is a good partnership – I don’t want someone to just say “that’s nice dear!” – I need to feel I’ve worked for it and it is valued. I need to feel they are getting as much out of it as I am. This is rare. I have had a few collaborations that haven’t worked. I was dead against them for a while. But I think I didn’t understand them. I looked for someone the same as me. Big mistake. Having a partnership with an artist similar to me just provides competition, and no spark. There is nothing either can offer the other. It was only when I started talking to Dan that this changed. We were working in completely different fields. We had a completely different language. We were complete strangers at the beginning, and decided between us that we had to be completely open and honest with each other. I learned the skill of very kindly and politely saying no, and for something to be explained for a third time please, as I didn’t understand. There’s nothing like spending time with someone, working hard, coming away from the day exhausted but exhilarated by what has happened, inspired to do more, seeing new ways of working that wouldn’t have occurred to you before.

Collaboration is addictive.


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To be honest, I can’t wait to get in amongst it.

It’s all there, just waiting now.

The work is trotting along nicely for “ONE” next month; A small group of Junction artists and I have a month at Wolverhampton Art Gallery next year; The funding applications and work for the trip to NY in April is bubbling under; and at some point, I want to get myself over to Bulgaria… all the plans for the project there are in my sketchbook just waiting to happen.

My fingers itch with the thought of it.

There’s a countdown going on in my head (think Thunderbirds, not NASA).

You see, right up to the point where we open the doors on “ONE” it will all be of someone else’s making. Or an assignment. Up until that point it’s just Rodney and Del Boy saying “This time next year we’ll be millionaires!” It’s all a fiction, a figment of my imagination.

At the point when that door opens on October 28th it’s real, and it’s me.

There is of course, an inherent stressy panic thing going on…

Occasionally though when this thought catches me unawares, I am electrified by it. It zings through my head and shoots down my spine. My hands shake and I get a bit giddy. I giggle a little bit… teetering on the edge of hysteria maybe… I have used the words obsessive, and addictive, and engrossed… It is a good job it is only occasionally, because it is quite overwhelming.

I can’t believe I have spent such a long time NOT doing this! What happened to all of these thoughts when I wasn’t doing this? No wonder I nearly went bonkers! I have these thoughts, they mill around my head until my hands find a way to express them, make them known. And now I am expressing them, I can put them up for people to see. Some of it comes from a very personal place… some of that shows, thankfully most of it doesn’t. But whatever ends up on the walls or hanging from the ceiling or piped through to your ears… it is the contents of my head. It took me a long time to get here, and I’m not a young woman. I also look at all those much younger artists around me: Do they appreciate it? Do they realise how amazing it is to live like this? Or is it just because I am older, and it’s taken me a while to get here that I feel this way?

So, when I am being a moany, cynical old blogger, point me back to this post. I hope I never lose this feeling of excitement and possibility.


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I like my blog.

I can write how I speak. I can prattle on a bit, go down cul-de-sacs, take a tangent or two, and meander slowly back to where I started…. Or not!

It’s when it comes to “Important Writing” I have problems. I write essays like an 8 yr old… or at least, I think I do. Other people’s writing is always more intelligent, cleverly structured, properly argued. I always feel mine should be peppered with “yeah, but” and “ ner ner, told you so” and “I think you’ll find I’m right!” and even the occasional “oh f*ck off” when I encounter a standpoint I don’t understand.

So the funding application process is fraught with danger. I have no confidence that what I am writing makes any sense to anyone. I am convinced I am repetitive, leave out the important bits, presuming the funder is psychic.

I was the same with the essays for my MA. Backwards and forwards they went, till they made no sense to me either. I don’t think I learned much about the process of doing it, despite the best efforts of my tutor.

Last night at this year’s MA show at Margaret Street, I met a few people about to embark upon the PhD option… I truly and deeply think they are mad. I wondered about it for about a week. Then I said “I have to read HOW MUCH?” and “I have to write HOW MANY words? No thanks. The thought of juggling 50,000+ words when I have trouble getting to grips with 500 brings me out in a cold sweat.

I admire these people greatly. They are doing something I feel I am never going to be equipped to do.

But I bet they can’t do a decent French Knot for toffee!


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