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Performance then…

Suffice to say I didn’t make an absolute tit of myself.

I had practised (a lot) so was confident of not forgetting the words, or the structure of the song.

It helped my confidence enormously that I had two talented and experienced musicians either side of me, including Dan Whitehouse, (whose presence is reassuring: he has come to know me and my abilities and terrors well) and Chris Cleverley who had helped me wrangle a song out of the basic melody and the lyrics… you would be surprised how much more it takes! (Look Dan and Chris up on t’internet, they’re great)

So off I went… I sang it as I wanted to sing it. I didn’t chicken out of the louder, higher bit in the middle, or the slow bit at the end with the longer notes. At the end, I introduced the next performer and scuttled to my seat at the back of the room, to let that hot feeling subside, and my knees to stop trembling.

I can’t say that I am a natural performer. I work hard at it, and force myself to do it. I’m still not quite sure why. I believe it to be good for me I suppose. But going to the gym would be, and I don’t force myself to do that do I?

Maybe it is something to do with the instant response you get from an audience that you don’t get from a gallery… you don’t get a laugh or a round of applause.

There is definitely something about singing. Those of you that don’t, should. Even if it is out of tune and not for public consumption, take yourself off somewhere and let it rip!

Singing at all is a whole body experience. Singing words and melody you have written yourself can be a whole soul experience, whether you have an audience or not. I have no pretensions to effecting my audience in a deep and long lasting, meaningful way, but as an audience member, there have been moments when I have been moved to tears, even sobs. I have been moved to giggles, sympathy, anger… grief… whatever. Some songs stay with you for that reason. Songs that do this are very personal. My list wouldn’t be your list.

Also… you take music with you, in a different way to a visual image. The hook does its job, and crops up when you least expect it, and sometimes don’t know where it has come from.

During the process of doing the MA, I started work on this. My final exhibition included a song, and for the final assessment, I did sing, sat on the steps in the dim basement of the School of Art in Margaret St, Birmingham, accompanied only by a stout pair of dressmaking shears.

Since finishing the course, I haven’t really done much. I have recited poetry, and very occasionally sung that. But it isn’t the same.

A SONG can be a beautiful, magical thing. Modern songs have a recognisable structure and ingredients. These can be spotted across the genres. So you build it…. When it is finished, sometimes immediately, sometimes after a great deal of hard work and wrestling and wrangling…. Sometimes you find you have something perfect, beautiful, emotional.

To reiterate a phrase I have come to take as my motto, Aristotle’s “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” A song has the ability to transcend, rejoice, protest, lament….

So, natural performer or not, I find I want to write more songs, work them and hone them, just in case, one day, it makes one person swallow a bit harder. I find the lyrics develop as I make things, the visual pieces I make prompt the making of story and character, and this is where they come from, so this is where I want them to sit, alongside the visual pieces. I want to sink the hook in, make an association between the audio and the visual, so that my work is taken away.

Got a lot of work to do.

https://soundcloud.com/elena-thomas/numb-live-song…

https://soundcloud.com/chris-cleverley

https://www.facebook.com/chriscleverleymusic

www.dan-whitehouse.com


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I had a dream about my Dad last night.

So forgive the nostalgia…

Two remarkable things there: firstly, the advantage of finding currently that I can sleep for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time is that I have started dreaming again, secondly, I can’t remember the last time I dreamt about my Dad. I dream about my Mum all the time. She is present in my waking hours too as I go about my day. But not Dad.

Anyway… he was “helping” me hang my work in a gallery. I don’t have any idea what he would think about this life I lead and this work I do. He died in 2005, before my life totally changed. Sometimes I wonder if it the passing of both my parents, and both my parents-in-law that was a catalyst for the change.

My Dad was a practical man. He was a man of sheds, string and large nails, not screws. His skin was walnut brown all year round until his very late years, when due to lack of outdoor activity, it paled. He was as strong as an ox. He had the muscles of a working man, not a gym man. (My youngest son has his grin I think.) As a child our back garden was used for vegetables. I had a small area with a home made swing right outside the kitchen window, on a small patch of grass. The front garden had snowdrops, primroses, violets, a pear tree and thousands of wasps that never stung me…why was that? Anything decorative was planted in straight stripes either side of the path… but he couldn’t really see the point.

When he visited us here, he used to shake his head in disbelief that I had TREES planted in POTS. And they weren’t even fruit trees. What is the point of having a horse chestnut tree, or an ash, or a rowan, or a beech in a POT? (Note to family: when I’ve gone you can set them free and plant them somewhere nice). He was called the “Phantom Pruner” because if you didn’t watch him closely, he would chop everything down to ground level, mercilessly. If you hid the secateurs, he would use the age old stone-sharpened knife in his pocket.

My childhood memories of him are that he worked hard, from early in the morning, and I didn’t see him much. So when I do remember him it is for daft things. I used to ask him to draw for me… he had a small repertoire, consisting of chickens, ducks, pigs and houses. Careful examination of the feet was needed to distinguish between chickens and ducks. He also used to sing a couple of songs to me. Out of tune, and in broken English. I can remember both drawing and singing rendered me helpless with laughter, as he would protest with mock indignation and swear never to sing or draw again.

So why was he helping me in my gallery then? I think he was reminding me that pictures can be hung with nails and it is ok. They don’t always have to be level. They can be wonky, and someone that loves it will love it just the same. No one ever went into a gallery and made the comment “Those pictures were hung so level, and screwed so securely to the wall they made me cry!”

I think it might have been a way of reminding me which bits are important.


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Loads of things on the go in the studio to pick at in turn. When an idea occurs to me, I can just do it! Freedom!

But I did feel after the weekend, that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I’d done another bra drawing, a really big one (drawing, not bra).

I’d pieced and layered up some more fabric for goodness know what purpose, but it might end up as a mask of some sort, or perhaps a blindfold. It’s not huge, but it is densely stitched and time consuming.

I finished a song. If I get a half-decent recording, I’ll put it onto soundcloud. The song is a thing I worry about. You may have read here before, I am not a musician. The Songwriting Circle drew me in, and it’s great! But I’m a fish out of water. I flounder quite often. I stumble over my words because I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to explain myself. But they put up with me. I am bowled over by their ability to hear structure, detail, nuance, in one hearing of a new song.

The culmination of the term is a performance. Other people have, it seems to me, ten songs each to choose from, all of them sound bloody brilliant! They go away with their instruments and they practice and it sounds wonderful. I have no instrument except my croaky voice (and a plethora of household percussion). So I go away and sing along in the car to a very rough recording. I will have one evening to practice with my collaborative guitarist. He has such a distinctive style of playing I feel very privileged he is accompanying me. Performance then? I am sh*t scared! I will let you know how it goes. Unless it is so excruciatingly embarrassing I can’t bear to.

The collaboration with Bo bumbles along, poking its nose in here and there, sometimes unbidden. A part of my brain seemed to be thinking this work was a separate thing. Another part of my brain knows it is the key to more. So the brain needed spring cleaning.

I pinned a large bit of paper to the wall, and got out the coloured pens. I wrote out all the ideas that were pinned up, in my sketchbook, and floating about in my head. Some were finished items, some were old ideas, some new half-baked bits and pieces. As I wrote them up, links started to form between them.

What I now have is some semblance of coherence in the body(ies) of work here.

The songs and the bras are connected. There are links between the bras and the protection issues I’m looking at with Bo. The layered fabric on the garments lends strength and protection from harm, infection and the influence of others. The bras and the songs are all about the influences of others. The textiles are layered up, the sounds are layered up, and the drawings, smooth, on tracing or layout paper, are layered and show through, influencing each other. The crumpled drawings on tracing paper seem more fragile, and once crumpled cannot be smooth again, I tried, even with an iron, the crumples remain, a testament to their past. They are not made weaker by the crumples, merely scarred.

So if I get crumpled, singing to a live audience, I’m hoping I won’t be weakened by the experience.

Numb

I don’t feel that anger

I don’t feel that pain

Sometimes a numbness

From my heart to my brain

I’m having trouble sleeping

Can’t get you out of my thoughts

This can’t go anywhere

It’s coming to nought

You asked where my spark was

I said I was tired

Really I was deep in thought

What I said was a lie

I don’t feel any jealousy

I don’t feel any hate

I don’t feel guilty

But have a sense of my fate

An old memory I found at the back of the drawer

It just made me feel like we’d all been here before

You asked where my spark was

I said I was tired

Really I was deep in thought

What I said was a lie


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I sit here machine piecing together some fabric I’ve had for probably about 5 years, collected over a long period, from old clothing and bits and pieces, none bought new. They are making a quilt, to go with the “new” curtains that have been stashed under the bed for about 8 years. I have no idea why it has taken this long. We had a window replaced in the bedroom, and the plaster has remained unpainted in all that time, waiting for goodness knows what. It’s our bedroom, so nobody sees it but us. So we neglect ourselves.

I have written here and other places, and discussed at length, the difference between art and craft. I have plenty of craft skills, immodestly I proclaim some of them to be pretty damn good. I have honed them over my entire lifetime. I can stitch anyone into a cocked hat!

Then I did an Artist Teacher Scheme (twice) and a Masters in Arts Practice and Education. The Fine Artist in me didn’t want to do “just” craft… The poncey fine artist wanted elevation! Garbage.

Does craft have no meaning then? Does the craftsman or craftswoman not think? Does their work not evoke an emotional response either in themselves or others?

This quilt I stitch here, heavily loaded with haptic reward is equally heavily loaded with meaning. I have been under stress for a while. These things grow without you knowing, and without you being able to pinpoint where it all started, or which little thing was really the thing that broke the camel’s back. This quilt, alongside my unpackaging the curtains, and buying green paint for the bedroom wall feels hugely symbolic. The making of it is cathartic, possibly therapeutic. It is also both practical and decorative. I plan to stitch useless embroidery all over it. It marks my mental state, and puts forward an intention. We should not neglect ourselves.

I am not renouncing the fine artist, merely pointing out that she was there all the time. I was just too busy trying to be poncey to see it.


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This afternoon saw the launch of the spring show at ArtSpace. A selection of work from all across the area, and a representative sample of mine in its own spot. It was a good afternoon, and about half way through it something dawned on me: This isn’t really a new thing at all. Someone came in that I knew from Wolverhampton, someone else from poetry nights in Kidderminster. Someone I taught about 20 years ago. There were afew laughs, conversations were had, ranging from the experiences of Romanian immigrants in Dudley, to the inclusion of expensive adjectives on bags of crisps… salt and vinegar being so much cheaper than Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar…

Several people were one-step removed from other artists I knew, and new links were forged. That’s a little bit of a Dudley pun.

What this did was reassure. I felt I was in the right place, that I could do something here. Also, it was a good place to inhabit, among like minded folk, while I discovered where I was going to go and what I am going to do next.

This current body of work feels almost done… and the next thing hasn’t quite dawned on me yet. I know it will, because I still have lots of stitching to do, and that always oils the thinking cogs.

The Greatcoat for America is packed up and set to go. I feel a bit of a parental pang, sending it away on its own.

We have been disappointed not to get Arts Council funding for the US exhibition and allied projects, so although it will still go ahead, it is at our own expense, and with the generosity of our American friends, and whatever funds we have raised ourselves up to now. But having had that disappointment, it is with a heavy heart that I wait for the result of the funding application that will allow Bo and I to work together properly for the first time.


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