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The plan had been to spend another afternoon and evening in the studio.

When I woke up, the slight snuffle I had assumed to be allergy related turned out to be a cold. I ache all over, but that is more likely due to the upheaval of decorating the kitchen.

I have a performance on September 8th. My voice is not strong at the best of times. So I’ve come over all diva, and I’m staying at home in the hope that someone will look after me (I know, pathetic!)

 

Anyway…

I decided, now all the painting was finished, and the cleaning up done, I could start to reassemble the kitchen.

 

It came as a bit of a revelation during my MA studies: “ The Practice of Everyday Life” by Michel de Certeau… and it took me quite a while to understand and believe it: That my adjustment of the world around me, my acceptance or rejection of certain practices and principles was as much a part of my practice as the choices I make about the garments I work with, the sounds I record, the stitches I stitch.

 

My work is obviously in the domestic, feminine realm. I tried to fight that for a while too. Mostly through a lack of mindful reflection, and understanding, and also a lack of any sort of intellectual rigour of thinking through why I was doing anything. It all, over two years of reading, talking, writing, working, discussing and blustery arguing, gradually seeped in.

I can’t deny who I am. I’m a middle aged woman with a husband and grown up children. White, vaguely middle class, in the middle of England, with a low to middling sort of income. I’m not cutting edge really. I’m soft and cuddly (on the outside at least).

But my everyday life is my practice. Definitely. So, instead of working in the studio, today I have worked in my kitchen. I have been making decisions about what goes back into this clean fresh space. What is used, and how often, and what is not? What do I love, and what do I tolerate because of its usefulness? I have curated my kitchen. There’s a big box of assorted bric a brac for the charity shop, and a pile of stuff for my sons to plunder first, if they want it. Practices are reviewed: where is the best place for the microwave really? Probably next to the hob, but that spoils the aesthetic, so it has gone to the other side, so the eye sweeps across clear surfaces in this narrow space. I put up with slight inconvenience for the look of the thing! Every item returned undergoes such scrutiny. But my decisions are not so simple as the useful/beautiful argument of William Morris et al… Did William Morris have two plates painted by his sons for their father when they were children? Were they garish and lumpy? And actually the wrong size to be useful for much at all? Did he have a drawing of sunflowers inspired by Van Gogh done by a four year old in his first term at school? Probably not. Did William Morris have trouble finding a space for his ironing board? I doubt it!

 

My current thinking in my studio is about all of this. All this nostalgia, affection, love, attachment to things and people. I don’t have knick-knacks as such. I prefer wooden boxes to useless wooden carvings. I much prefer a jug or a tea-pot to a useless figurine. The things remind of the doing previously done – my mum making tea and doling out big slices of cake. The bowls used for christmas puddings. The plates used for a few weeks every year for mince pies… items that contain memory, tradition and ritual, kept and held close. The used item is able to hold more than the item just looked at. The kinaesthetic stronger than the merely visual memory. I am pretty low-maintenance (I keep telling my family) in that I am loyal to things and don’t want them replaced. I am not really into fashion and trend.

When I get back into the studio later this week, I intend to look at what I have been making with similar rigour: What am I keeping and why? What am I looking at? What am I working with?

 

I can also be, in addition to the soft and cuddly, I’m told, rather sinister. (There’s a sharp skewer in the back of the cutlery drawer…) People have told me sometimes my work can be macabre, spooky, and that lying very close to the soft textile surface with loving careful stitches, is a sharp edge, an ugliness disguised. “Domestic” is often used as a synonym for “cosy”. In my experience, it is more, less, different. Domestic cosiness hides the dark underbelly of domestic discomfort. I am currently finding myself a little dissatisfied with the work I am thinking about, and I think it is because I have not yet found the part where I am teetering on the edge of something. At the moment it is all a little safe and nice – god forbid! (comfort blanket! comfort blanket!)

 

So… prompted by thoughts engendered by curating my kitchen, I go back into the studio, prepared to push myself much more… leap off something… crash… dive headlong… do something vile and disgusting… repellant and violent and ugly… play with it…. and then….

 

…back off very very slightly so people can get up really close to the pretty, before encountering the nastiness within…

 


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I had a conversation with a colleague about spirituality and my work. How I’ve lost religion and a certain type of faith, but through my own art work, I have discovered something that suits me better. Two days later, I discover a student of mine has had a similar thought about how the two connect. I can’t speak for anyone else of course, but… We take our enlightenment where we can get it? The student has talked of being “switched on”. Some people are greatly disturbed by me thinking of art like this – art as “religion” a highly contentious issue – heresy even…

You can call it what you like. I don’t do that any more, I do this instead. It fits me better. It isn’t hypocritical any more.

I wrote on the nine women blog about my post-exhibition slump. It is still with me I’m afraid. This morning I was at my usual life drawing session and felt distinctly stroppy, antisocial, possibly even antagonistic. I apologise unreservedly. I withdrew to my headphones when we started drawing. I tried in vain to find an album with no gaps between the tracks. I didn’t want any speech to encroach upon my consciousness. I was successful for about four minutes at a time.

Something else: I was checking my diary, and discovered to my horror, that unless I use a Sunday, or the bank holiday Monday, it will be something like September 9th before I get a whole day on my own in the studio.

The above statements might seem unconnected, but they are not. I can feel myself going under. I need to be careful. I need to tend to myself. I need to have an extended period of untimed solitude in order to redress the balance here. I’m going to be horrible to be with. The slump will get worse. I will get no work done. The spiritual qualities of my product and my process are vital to my mental health. Quiet contemplation and uninterrupted hard work will reconnect me to myself, and in turn, with those around me. The burgeoning spitefulness will only dissipate with a period of calm self-preservation. The inter-connectedness in the work and my life I posted about last week. This self-created spiritual box of art. Fortunately I have retained insight and awareness of what’s slipped. So I can put it right as soon as possible. September 9th isn’t soon enough. I need to get back to the diary and shuffle stuff around, and fast.


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The work feels best when it intersects with life – for me anyway. Those moments when I suddenly find that my response to real life has an impact on my practice and ultimately the concepts behind it.

There have been a couple of incidents lately where people have exploded into my little art bubble. My self constructed mental and physical space where I can work and think uninterrupted was invaded.

I live in a precariously balanced place where I need to interact with people, but also shut myself away from them. I am not always able to control how this happens although I do try.

A particularly emotional interruption a couple of weeks ago left me angry, and I felt invaded. I brooded upon it, and stomped around, trying to find a way to prevent it happening again (during which time it did happen again).

Then it occurred to me that this is exactly what my work is about, that rubbing up against each other, in a non-physical way. Touch without touching.

Emotional intelligence and literacy… recognising emotion in yourself and others. To a certain extent you can, once it is recognised, deflect it. Otherwise you stand no chance, and everyone else’s anger and hurt rub off on you.

I am notoriously bad at deflecting. I am hugely affected by the emotions of others. Sometimes to my downfall. I try, if I am aware, when I feel in a bad mood, sad, angry, to try to work out why, so if I discover it is because of someone else, I can let it go. And conversely, if I do the same when I am happy, I quickly discover which people have which effects! So I try to step back from those who consistently have a negative affect on my own moods, which are pretty swingy at the best of times!

“My demeanour betrays my mood”… I embroidered this phrase on an old chemise thing over a year ago.

So the encounter left a smudge upon me, which I have since managed to brush off. It isn’t always that easy. First you have to notice. If you feel the pigeon poop land on your shoulder, you can wash it off before it leaves a mark. Sometimes circumstances mean you can’t always get rid of it immediately, even if you have noticed.

Other people sort of leech themselves into you, slowly, imperceptibly. This can be for good or bad. Realisation may not ever happen. I recently recalled an old conversation with my mother, which had happened when I was about 15. I can’t remember it ever sinking into me. But clearly it did, because I found myself repeating the same sentence, almost word for word. I had to sit down. I realised that a great chunk of my adult behaviour had been ruled by that conversation. It had become part of who I am, a big part of how I operate and interact with other people. Scary. Hit me like a sledgehammer!

So my current work has been steered again, by chance encounter, and subsequent analysis. Those bits of “extra” from other people, making a mark on me. I need to work out whether the short term and the long term are the same thing. Short term: smiling at strangers… other people’s angry outpourings… Long term: the effects of family tradition, philosophy, genetic disposition…

I’m feeling close to something… but I still don’t know what it looks like.

In the meantime, I am dismantling one item of children’s clothing in order to harvest unwoven threads to stitch into an adult dress… I am creating a smudge. There are no knots, the threads are loose, and because of this, sit loosely in the linen of the dress. They could stay, unnoticed, or could be gently pulled and removed. Their removal might leave holes. The holes might close up upon laundering… Sometimes we choose to keep the stain.

 


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Going over old ground.

I’m boring myself now!
I look at the sketch book I’m working in and it all looks stupidly familiar.
I dig out the books I worked in when Bo and I were collaborating for ONE in October 2013. So 21 months ago… It is ridiculously familiar. So much so I was cross with myself for forgetting it.
But I haven’t forgotten it really have I? I passed over it, parked it. In those 21 months I’ve done a lot of stuff! I’ve gone global for heaven’s sake, I have chucked in a job, found three more, moved into a studio…. I think I’m allowed a little laxity of memory!

So what I’m doing now, is indeed going over old ground, but with new knowledge, freedom and a certain enlightenment of my new practice. So I’m reading through and chopping out the good bits, or at least taking photos and sticking them in the new book. This time it won’t be parked in a vast airport car park while I swan about. Nope. This time I’m going to pin it down and hopefully get somewhere.

At the moment though, it does still feel a little like old work. It’s that old chestnut about taking two steps back to take three steps forward. Generally, I am a woman in a hurry. But there’s something about this seam of work which makes me want to take it slowly and carefully really…. I feel it is important to whatever comes next. Fundamental. Foundational. Functional. It feels like the Nitty Gritty.

At this point I have to say again how grateful I am to Arts Council England. The funding from them for nine women is being spent sparingly, I am hoping to make it last for ages… Shored up by other occasional earnings. Herein lies my luxury… Time. I spend little cash, but spend hours in the studio, not having to worry too much about money. (I’m not solely living off ACE, I am also sponging off my husband) I know I am fortunate, and am grateful for it every day.

This time-luxury allows me to go over old ground, digging over old ideas and stretching metaphors to breaking point.

My ideas are currently a little confused… Three or four topics overlap and befuddle me. I may have to do a Venn diagram again to sort them out. Large paper! Felt pens! Instruments of mental clarity!
Then hopefully out of this, something will germinate and grow. (Can’t help myself)

I am already stitching. I don’t know if what I’m stitching is a good thing, but it will undoubtedly serve its meditative purpose, as I read through and let things settle in my mind.

Anyway… This week I am handing over my sketch book to other people, and I’m also going to post some photos of pages here. It’s a bit exposed, and rather scary, but it’s time I added other people’s stories into the compost heap of ideas (sorry, I’ll stop now).
The reason I’m doing this is to open it out a bit, allow other people to rub off on me. That is where the work is headed, so I might as well walk it as well as talk it…
What I would like is for people to respond to things, add in comments, their own stories, opinions and challenges to my assumptions. In the real sketch book I’ve put extra bits of paper, post it notes etc. Here I will post a few select pages and see what happens. If you are able to comment here, please do so, if not there’s always Facebook and Twitter as usual…

A few notes about how things appear in my sketchbook… I don’t know why I feel I have to justify, but here it is anyway… Sometimes I write things in a peculiar way, because then it takes longer to write the words. This is sometimes for words used as titles, but also for phrases I feel I want to think about. Slowing down the writing slows down the thinking. Some of the writing will become lyrics. Some form notes for making, and it’s all jumbled up together. Colouring in happens for the same reason. It is meditative, and not solely for the purpose of decoration, although I do like the way some pages look. I have tried to choose pages that are interesting to me, and therefore might elicit a response… There is an element of embarrassment doing this sort of thing, so I have also chosen pages that are less cringe-worthy…. I hope.
Anyway… I would be thrilled if you took the time to nose about in my book, and absolutely delighted if you felt there was something worth responding to.

(For some reason, in the process of loading some of these photos have turned themselves upside down, I’m in the process of trying to find out why, will alter as soon as I can, sorry!)

 

 


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