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It’s taken a while – I’m feeling a bit thick at the moment, the hot weather dulls my senses – but I’ve just realised something…

 

The way I work, is the way I work. Despite little forays into what I think is the unexpected, I end up doing things in a very similar fashion.

 

Take the songwriting… I want to submit a song for an exhibition. Just a song, to stand alone. This will be the first time I’ve done such a thing, as the songs have, up to now, been another layer/facet/aspect/voice of the visual work.

 

So to make sure it’s a good one, what do you do? You keep working on it. Adding more sounds, vocals, words… and some more…

 

I have two versions of the song now: one is very simple, my voice, and a very spare double bass. I love it. But to make it “worthy” I decide to add stuff, all manner of sounds, effects and so on. I love doing this patchwork layering of sound, I love weaving these unexpected noises between the words. I love it when it has become so intricate you fool people into thinking the washing machine spin cycle recording is a musical instrument… that the train running over tracks is percussion. This is the way I do music. I take the sounds and chop them up and stitch them back together. Same as the textiles.

 

But, I must remember, that process is not the same as product.

 

I look back at my original lyrics hand written in my note book. I think about the emotional response.

 

So, having had two full days worth of mucking about in GarageBand, having great fun, it has to be said, I have reached a conclusion.

 

The song I will submit is the simple version.

A woman’s voice.

Words expressing a craving to not be invisible, to reclaim that which she didn’t know she had until she lost it.

A double bass… throbbing, deeply affecting, a physical instrument… you feel it in your gut, and you can feel the floor vibrate beneath your feet.

 

That’s all it needs.

The rest is just fog.

https://soundcloud.com/elena-thomas/crewe4-bassvox-forg202

 


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Even when I do something that I initially believe to be unconnected to the rest of my work, it turns out not to be after all. I find this hugely comforting but also exciting, liberating… because it means I can do whatever pops into my head!

When I embarked upon “Blown Away”* I believed it to be a special project for the US. Separate from the rest of my work conceptually, if not materially.

Over the last few weeks, having made “Daughter”, I start to make connections again. I want them to meet. So far, they have not been in the same place as each other, father and daughter estranged. At the end of August they will be united. I feel this should be some sort of event, it should be marked in some way.

I put up a statement to such effect on my facebook artist page, here, if you’re interested:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elena-Thomas-Art-and-Textiles/123618094363659?ref=hl

and Marion Michell answered…

“Post-memory connection – what we hold from our parents, what we’ve gleaned from silences and tantalisingly oblique utterances – use that as a way in?”

Of course… that parental link again. This is what I was thinking… the parent and child and the threads cast between… I’m starting to grope about for ideas to install these pieces as one.

The silences and tantalisingly oblique utterances really got me going… yes… thank you Marion!

(Marion’s amazing blog can be found here on a-n too if you haven’t already seen it https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/sleep-drunk-i-dance)

Even recently, there have been events in my life that have triggered memories, at least I think they are memories, of my mother, things she said and did… her stance and body language. Sometimes it is as if I HAVE HER muscle memory. I am not one for the paranormal, so I’m not seeing it as a possession or haunting, but a passing on of the way we behave/think/move… and the way that brings memory to the fore…

I did something, I thought something, I felt it…. it was definitely me, awake, conscious.

A memory slammed into me like a sledgehammer, of my mother, stood in the same position, saying the same words… and it has made me pick over that set of circumstances and read them differently.

I had no way of knowing, but was she doing what I am doing, thinking what I am thinking, feeling what I am feeling? I would previously have thought such a thing ridiculous… but now I’m not so sure….

 

So this piece of so called separate work gathers more and more layers of meaning…

 

At the weekend, my brother gave me a notebook. He thought that as I was now writing songs and singing it was appropriate that I should have it. It is a book full of my mum’s favourite songs, mostly popular Irish folk, it must be said. Handwritten of course.

If she had had access to all of the opportunities I have now, would she have been a singer and songwriter? I know she had a great voice, was always singing. My childhood memories are full of song, as are those of my first son, Dan. Joyous occasions, I remember like yesterday, him perched on the arm of her chair, barely a toddler, singing “Nud, Nud, Glorous Nud” as he got to the end she would say “hold that note!” and he would, almost to the point of passing out. There would be hysterical laughter, then we’d have to do it all again.

It makes me sad that my younger son Liam, born ten years later, was never to get to know her, as she died when he was 3 months old. But she sang to him every time she was with him.

I need to do something tender with this work I think.

 

*I feel I should interrupt myself here to thank Bo Jones for the title. It’s a corker, and open to so much interpretation from the viewer, it has started so many conversations, given people a point of access to the work, and discussion – artists and non-artists. Titles are extremely important. Cheers Bo!


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I am procrastinating a little by writing this blog, but I do it while I drink my tea. I cannot drink tea and embroider… I get too engrossed in the task and forget it, then come to, a couple of hours later when the embroidery is finished, dehydrated, with a cup of cold tea at my side. So like the fine athlete that I am, I like to set about the task well hydrated!

I also find being well hobnobbed is an advantage (in an emergency, being well malted-milked is a satisfactory alternative).

So I slurp the Lady Grey in an unladylike fashion, and make that “ahhh” noise that only happens when tea hits the spot.

I ponder.

I am in a pondering frame of mind today. I have just delivered the first session to a bunch of wonderful people signed up for this year’s artist teacher scheme with BCU. I envy them. I did it myself so I know how it feels.

So… the pondering ensued… I came straight to my studio, flicked on the kettle and slipped off my shoes and lay back, feet on my desk. It is allowed! If you visit me, you will be allowed to do it too as long as you don’t have smelly feet!

So much of my life has changed since I did my ATS course… can’t believe it. And it is still changing. And it is all as a direct result from doing it. I am a very lucky woman!

 

I have written two proposals very recently, which include these bras I’m working with. In one of the proposal I talk about some of the work as if it is completed, but it isn’t… quite… yet… I have set myself the task of embroidering one of these bras. It is my favourite one, the tattiest, most broken example I have ever seen… and I’ve seen rather a lot lately. But as I stitch it becomes beautiful, the flaws are sometimes hidden, sometimes drawn attention to. I feel such fondness for this imaginary woman. I have pretty much built her a life in my head. This work is hard to let go of. I don’t know how I would feel if someone wanted to buy it… I would feel compelled to ensure it was going to a good home.

 

But come on… lets face it… if you are willing to pay a few hundred pounds for an artwork that is a piece of embroidered underwear, you are probably the sort of person I would say yes to aren’t you?


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Today is “Take A Deep Breath” Day.

 

Things are settling down after my husband’s special birthday (I’m not telling, that’s up to him). My eldest son will be going back to his own home today. Tomorrow I have some prep to do for some work on Tuesday morning, then I don’t have any appointments in my diary for the rest of the week. I am planning, however, to cram in as much heavy duty studio time as I can. Because of the shed, and the end of term songwriters’ showcase, and the birthday, I have been really busy, full of family and full of art and music. I have been rushing about. I have eaten all the wrong things at all the wrong times, for three days in a row seemed to be surviving on caffeine and sugar in their various glorious forms. Enough now!

 

I need some time in my own head to process and review what’s happened and where to go next. I have a big list, of the usual making, writing, singing variety, a couple of applications are in the pipeline, and I have another to submit soon. I have another exhibition coming up too.

 

But I feel relaxed about it all.

When I had the job, eons ago it seems, I was not relaxed, I was wound up tight as anything, still trying to get things done, but not doing them well, but doing them half the time because I knew I should, but didn’t have the time to do it all properly.

 

I know myself quite well I think…

I am obsessive.

I do have an addictive nature.

I have very little impulse control.

I react too quickly and too emotionally, then have to pull back and consider, then apologise.

I’m quite often, in company, too excitable and noisy.

 

This means, when I get involved in a project, I run at it like a mad woman, I throw everything I can at it to make it work. The adrenalin and the caffeine keep me going and then I crash.

 

Not having the proper job allows for the crash time… it allows the ebb and flow of my life and personality. So instead of having to go into work after this manic period of creative activity, I really can bring myself down carefully, and build strength ready for the next thing.

 

In the past, after a period like this, the thought of work at 8:30 Monday morning, and the necessity to be sociable and polite has made me almost (and sometimes actually) cry.

Monday:

I’m off to my studio to make my plans for Tuesday, then immerse myself in some embroidery.

 

Tuesday: I kick off the Artist Teacher Scheme for BCU at The New Art Gallery Walsall. I’m looking forward to meeting those artists and teachers who sit where I sat 8 years ago. A lot has happened in those 8 years. It feels weird, but right, and satisfying, and useful, to be on the other side of the table.

 

Wednesday: Studio

 

Thursday: Studio

 

Friday: Studio

 

By Saturday, I will be ready to greet the world again!

 

 


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The whole self-employed thing is great, I love feeling so liberated, being able to decide what I do and when. However, after decades of employment and salary, however meagre, the lack of regular payment is hard going. Cash flow is an issue. I had hoped to keep credit card use to the absolute minimum, but if I want to put petrol in the car to get to work, for which I haven’t yet been paid, I will need to use it. I’m sure things will settle down, and I’ll feel a little more in control, but for the first time in decades again, I am reliant on the regular income of someone else to ease out the creases.

 

Today someone said to me “I’ll get the money to you sometime next week”. I felt like screaming at them “I’ll come and get it, I need it now, I have £3.74 in my purse!” But I was polite and professional and said calmly, “yes of course next week will be fine”.

 

I have enough work booked in over the next couple of months to provide me with an equal income to that I had in school. I am working a lot less hours to earn it too. But I don’t get paid till it’s done. Possibly a month after it’s done. I just have to learn not to panic! All will be well. If I eat less and walk further from the free parking to my studio that will do me good too!

 

******

Songwriters Circle end of term Showcase tomorrow.

(mac birmingham, in Cannon Hill Park, 7:30 if you’re interested, £2 a ticket!)

I am singing the song I wrote with my friend Nicki, and singing backing vocals on two songs by other people. I started by being so grateful for people helping me, and felt I was taking all the time, but now, a couple of terms in, I feel that I can offer something myself. not much, but something.

I like this song we wrote. It started from a poem I wrote ages ago – March 2011 in fact, which had followed on from some of the “Respectable” work I was doing. The final song is different in tone, and the lyrics are different from the poem… I like the way that the melody and rhythm edit the words, sharpen it up, extraneous words disappear, the scan changes. Sometimes, because of this, the meaning can change too, but I quite like that too really… it’s interesting…

After the show, I may post a recording of the performance.

yep… here it is on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/elena-thomas/wake-up-live

Here’s the original poem:

 

Wake up

Talk to me

Look at me

Hold me

Explain yourself

Can’t hear you

Can’t tell by looking

Can’t read you

Don’t understand

Explain yourself

 

Here’s how the lyrics ended up:

 

Can’t hear you

Can’t see you

Can’t tell by looking at you

 

Wake up

Talk to me

Wake up

Look at me

Hold me

 

If I look at you now

All I see is a man

If the truth can be told

I don’t mind if you go

 

Every time I see you

See the man that you were

The man I thought that I knew

 

Wake up

Talk to me

Wake up

Look at me

Hold me

 

If I look at you now

All I see is a man

If the truth can be told

I don’t mind if you go

 

Now the truth can be told 

I just want you to go

Don’t want to look at you now 

 

Not here

Not now

Not him 

Not mine

Not mine

 

 

 


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