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Yesterday was a difficult day.

I had cleared and cleaned the studio and my desk. The space in front of me was emptied of all that wasn’t directly related to current thoughts… Basically two bits of material.

I paced about, ate too many biscuits, paced about some more. I stuck some fabric to a box to store my mic in, and made some earrings out of scrabble tiles – don’t ask. Then I paced a bit more. Then I decided I needed a shot of proper caffeine and put the coffee on. Then I wandered about the charity shops of Dudley and bought a pair of baby’s dungarees. Khaki. Khaki ffs! I took them back to the studio, took a photo of them, sent it to Bo and asked for help! What on earth am I doing with them? It was a knee jerk panic reaction to having nothing in my head. Comfort blanket purchasing at its very worst!

 

I paste below some of Bo’s comments, and my responses… If I didn’t have him around I dread to think how I’d be going on!

Bo…. I Just bought this at charity shop and got back and put it on my desk and then asked myself what the f*** for? Because I can’t figure out what I’m doing I’m following old patterns and buying second hand children’s clothes. Stupid nonsense…. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with them! 

HELP ME!!!!! HahaHaha! Madness ensues!

 

And then Bo said:

 

You need to read what you wrote in your blog…..

The obvious enough way forward I think for you now reading what you wrote, is to return to the stitch. I suggest producing a giant one…..

Let the stitch now lead you. You’ve done with props….. Your songs have embroidered them…. Where else does the stitch now lead….

When I met you, you were sewing text into fabric…. You use text to create your songs…. How can you now combine this with the stitch…

Let the stitch do the work…. Use it as a starting point, I don’t believe you ever have, in an unconscious way and see where it leads…. Like Kandinsky painting music……

Just a thought or two…..

(our communications often follow this pattern, me manic and all over the place, his responses considered and calm…)

Of course I need to read my own blog! Sometimes though it is like a different person has written it, in a different state of mind. The woman that writes my blog is often a different woman to the one in the studio… She’s much more on the ball than me…. Anyway…. I read the blog, read my sketchbook…. Read Bo’s email again and responded:

I think up to now the work has been quite figurative… Whether that is text or hands or whatever… 

I think I could move away from that now… Just stitch… Maybe stitch what I hear…. Maybe still into clothes… Starting point…. Link to what is there but a step further… Then see what it looks like.

( I had started to do this with work for ONE but then stopped…)

I think…

That it doesn’t need to be a hand or words…. Or anything else “readable” The stitches are the hands and the words. I’ve very pompously said for quite some time now that the stitching is my voice, I can’t speak paint, but I can speak stitch…. So it’s time to put my needle where my mouth is and stop trying to translate it into other languages and just go for it….

You know I like that the work is accessible, and I think those things have been what I’ve been clinging to, but I think I can let that go a bit more… Make the audience work a little bit harder….

Having made this decision, I am actually quite excited about starting again… I want to go to the studio right now at 5:55am…  And start stitching…. I need new needles….

I might even strip those child’s trousers down for parts… Like your car….

Strip down a car and line up the parts on the ground….. Now drive it to work…. Take your family on holiday, and build memories… Get the dogs all muddy and put them in it… Take Someone to the doctor…. Go Christmas shopping…. Load all that hope up and go…. You can’t. The car is more than the sum of its parts…. People are more than the sum of their parts…. The bit that is MORE THAN is the bit I’m interested in…. 

Put someone together… Build them up and fill them with experience and memory as a parent or a friend… Or have an affect on someone, knowingly or otherwise, and the extra bit happens… The world knocks bits off and pours bits in… 

Yesterday was hard, and I did nothing  really…

Today I want to make…. Light bulb moment… I want to have something made/started when I next see you.

A giant one though? A giant stitch or a giant piece of work? Why? What does bigger do? I have seen students do “a giant one” for their degree shows and it rarely adds anything to what has already been done… It’s the same. But bigger…. (In my opinion)

 

So today I start again… I’m (maybe) going to strip the dungarees down for parts. Then I stitch…. And wait for the why to come along later….

 

Cheers Bo… again…


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Here I sit then, in a state of bewildered contemplation about the work.

For about five years now I’ve been working on things to do with relationships, mainly between children and parents. About two and a half years ago that morphed into work about one stitch, and many stitches, I felt I needed to tackle the materiality of my work… why did I stitch? I really didn’t know, but it is clearer now: parallels were drawn to family and society and group responsibility. I did work about opinion, identity, respectability… all the time with a niggling feeling that something was holding it all together.

I developed a sort of theoretical muse about the bits in between people. The bits that make a group of five people stronger than five individuals. I started to wonder about the extra bits. I wrote “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” on my wall (Aristotle said that before me). It became a sort of mantra, a watchword, a catchphrase… a tenet to work by… a filter that everything ran through.

The nine women project ran through it too. These women left much hanging around them when they were gone… love, faith, jealousy, joy, resentment… all those emotions which require at least two people to really get going.

Once the stitching was done, and the songs were written, I looked back again at my mantra. These women had had an effect on me, and a few other people too… through the stitches and the songs.

So I decided it was time to tackle it head on.

I have abandoned the last vestiges of any faith I ever had over the last ten years. Five years ago became annoyed with myself that bits of me were still pretending. I now even believe that perhaps my leaving the Catholic school I had worked in for ten years was also more than a little bit about the hypocrisy I was feeling. I now feel free to examine it, but worry that I have just replaced it with something of my own making. I am my own cult*. I don’t believe in life after death, reincarnation, an all powerful deity, a creator. I believe in people though. I believe in love. There is something between people that connects us, a common experience of humanity and inhumanity (there’s another thing… what’s the difference between those two? I think it’s like flammable and inflammable… they both mean the same)

Up until this point I have always stitched first and asked questions later, always saying that the “why” happens while I stitch. But this time, the “why” is the whole point. I cannot stitch, because I don’t know what to stitch. The stitching seems to have no focus…. I don’t know where the materiality is with this one. I have no idea what the work will look like. I don’t even know if it will have a “look” at all. I do, however, have some words, lyrics, and even the embryonic stages of melody. The “look” may appear out of that, or it may not.

I don’t know if this is a piece of work on the way, or me just developing a philosophy from which all subsequent work will come. I do know that this blog post sounds as if I’m preaching it from a place where the sun doesn’t shine. I hope you will forgive me for it… I’m just trying to make sense of the work, not the world. I hope (or expect) Bo Jones will have something to say about this… he’s good at prodding an idea until it either falls apart or shores itself up. He was there when all this Aristotle stuff reared its ugly head, and collaborative work with him formed its beginnings, so I wait with trepidation for either a decent discussion *cough* argument or a decent idea to turn up!

*Uniforms, ceremonial robes and celebration holiday wear will be brightly coloured and heavily embroidered… join up now! Bring your own sequins! Feathers optional!


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Feels like ages since I posted, but it has been a week that’s all.

But it is a week that I have spent “Working for The Man” as my friend Laura puts it. The Man in question being Birmingham City University. So in the scheme of things, not dreadfully arduous, and in many respects, extremely exciting and inspiring: leading four artist-teacher-students in various states and through various times of trepidation and terror into a place where they can re-engage with their art practice. If you are an art teacher, or know one, who is feeling a little squished by The Man, they could do no better than the Artist Teacher Scheme at BCU. It has the potential to be life-changing. It changed mine, and now I’m back, temporarily on the other side of the table, leading it. It is a real privilege to catch the expressions of fear that turn into pride that turn into light bulb moments of realisation and joy, then back to terror as they realise the world could be the other way up if they let it happen…

All that aside though, doing four such intense days all in a row, even as leader rather than doer, has been exhausting, physically, intellectually, and emotionally. I have possibly related too closely to these students… that could be tricky.

The drive to and from, either up the M5/6 or into the centre of Birmingham has been a blessing and a curse. The time/concentration buffer is useful between work and home, but the journey also tiring. Each night I have come home to a variety of bath/pyjamas/wine/take away… then bed for fitful sleep. People often comment on the times of my emails…”Did you REALLY send it at 3:57?” “Yes… Yes, I did”

So today, I reset…

I’m back at ArtSpace Dudley for the final week of “nine women”. I’m at the workshop table downstairs as the music plays upstairs… as I type this, the lyric “Too old to be cautious, too young to be wise” drifts down the stairs, and I dedicate it to Karen, Chris, Melanie, Lisa, Carol, Zoe, Elizabeth, Jo and Sarah… thanks for a bloody brilliant week!

 

CAUTIOUS (click here to play)

I’m too old to be cautious
And too young to be wise
I see it all clearly
Through clouded eyes

It’s like watching a replay
I can only run slow
There’s not a great deal of difference
Between my stop and my go

But I’m not going to hold back
Not going to be shy
I’ll say what I want to
Before I die

I’ll throw it all to the wind
Watch me fly by
There’ll be more time for caution
After I die

 


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I do know that I have written before about the secrecy surrounding “getting  work in a proper gallery”. I do think that things are getting better… processes are more transparent than they once were, in some places. But I find the whole process actually quite stressful, and ultimately disappointingly negative. I ought to say this is not coming off the back of bitterness through receiving yet another rejection. I do feel though that it’s as if someone has a secret knock, or password that they’re not telling me… that I couldn’t possibly afford, or that I’m just not good enough to be given. I am stumbling my way around, bullheaded, determined, although actually quite naïvely. I don’t know anything, so I ask stupid questions, then feel inadequate and pathetic.

I should know that some galleries are booked three years in advance and that the work I’m doing now will be completed and over and done with by the time they get round to me, even if they say yes. To expect current work to be in the gallery is silly. If I want to apply for a residency to work within a particular setting, on a particular topic, I should know they might be booking a couple of years ahead too, so in writing a proposal for that, I should be sufficiently vague to enable the work I’m doing then to fit. Well that isn’t going to work is it?

Am I missing a trick somehow? I am just being ridiculous aren’t I? I will have to apply for work such as nine women to go into a gallery three years from now, when possibly I’m no longer interested in it. I will have to write a proposal for a residency that really I’d like to do within the next twelve months, to a gallery that even if they say yes, it won’t be for another two years, by which time my work will undoubtedly have moved on, and the submission I wrote now irrelevant.

Even if I decide to go for a hire space, time is still an issue if it is a good gallery that has some sort of selective procedure.

 

Ideally, I want the work I’m doing now to be the work I do in a residency now. Ideally I want the work I’ve just finished to be the work that gets put up in the gallery now.

 

Never going to happen.

 

So……

What I’m going to do is this:

  • I shall apply to a few hire space galleries of good standing to show work I’m proud of, that hopefully will still stand up to the rigours of exhibition in three years time…
  • I shall write a proposal for a residency, in the hope that I will still want to do the work in a couple of years’ time. But I think the crucial thing here is to establish and maintain relationships with the people concerned so that whatever turns the work takes in the meantime, can still be accommodated, if they say yes!

 

 

If I look back over the last few years, I think my work, although changing, still has my own personality and preferences and favourite themes at the heart of it. My brain still ploughs over the same field perhaps… albeit in a different direction, maybe wearing a different hat….

 

So I think I need to get over myself. I need to stop thinking the galleries will halt their programmes just so I can do what the hell I want. I need to find a way of writing to fit.

 

As I reach the end of this piece, I am wondering whether to post. Whether it is cutting my nose off to spite my face. But you know what? Blundering around, asking stupid questions and being a bit dense has stood me in good stead so far. Also, if I don’t post, I’m just perpetuating the problems.

I know I have been very fortunate recently, getting Arts Council England to fund my project. What I have found is that because of this, people seem to assume I know what I’m doing. I have no idea!

So there you go, it’s out there. I’ve come out. I don’t know what I’m doing for the most part, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

(I show this image as a way of reminding myself that work done three years ago is still good, relevant, and I would be pleased to show it anywhere, even now! So get a grip Elena!)


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“Right then” I said…….

Nine Women is up and running, work complete and installed. Yes of course there will be follow on issues and admin and trying to get it into other spaces, but this body of work is now complete (unless I change my mind and find out it isn’t at a later date).

“Right then” I said again……..

I mentioned that I had another idea to be getting on with, in a previous post. Now that the exhibition is up and running, I actually have time to attend to that idea. It has been an itch that needs scratching, for about four years, and now, it needs treatment, infection imminent!

Running as an underground stream of thought since about the middle of my MA… Maybe early 2011… Has been this thought: we are touched by that which doesn’t touch…. The things that make us who we are cannot be weighed, counted, audited, scored…. It has no physical weight, form, mass…. But nevertheless it weighs heavy. It lies between us. It affects others, and we are affected by that of others around us. It is the thing that is extra to our bodies. In pinching and appropriating the words of Aristotle, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

This thought has got bigger in each piece of work since then. In Nine Women it looms large…. Well… For me it does… I’m not sure if it does for others. But regardless, this now needs to be dealt with.

I sit in the studio today, with a new sketchbook. I have bits of writing that I’ve cut out and stuck in from various other sources, backs of envelopes and so on. It has been a while since I started something new…. And I have almost forgotten what to do. I write, I draw, I think, I drink…. Some of the mental meandering will come to nothing, some of the visual will be nonsense, but all part of the process. I went through my songwriting notebook, which is full of notes about 9W of course, technical stuff and sound ideas, set lists and running orders. In among all of this “working document” sit lyrics, bits and pieces here and there, or so I thought, but actually, upon reading, counting and labelling with the ubiquitous post it note, I discover I have twelve songs! All of these songs allude in some way to these new ideas…. It appears I have already started processing!

The visual will emerge from these thoughts… I will keep wrangling nibbling and worrying at it until something appears…. At the moment, I do have a song about a chair… The sort with someone’s “butt groove” (Homer (Simpson)). (I hope you’re impressed, Aristotle and Homer in the same post! ) I can see this chair, so I shall draw it and see what happens. I like chairs…. I made a chair before….

 

The Chair

I talk to the chair
But the chair ain’t listening
I don’t really care
As long as I can say it out loud
It’s been a while since you sat here
Been a while since I looked at your face

I want to keep asking
But I know you’ll say no.
I want to keep trying
But you still have to go

So I’ll talk to the chair
The chair ain’t listening
At least the chair
Can’t see my heart break

Thing is, you always say the right thing
Thing is, you’re always fair
Thing is, you make me feel good
Come back and sit in your chair.

 

“Right then……….”

 


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