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I ask the questions of myself, fully aware that memory plays tricks on us, and that reality is changed by events before and after, so that an incident fits more readily with our self image……
I embroider both figuratively and literally.

Was I always subversive?
Did I always challenge authority?
I like to think so, so perhaps I remember the scenes from my past that reinforce this, rather than the scenes which show me conforming and being “a good girl”?
I have also perhaps, come to see subversion as a positive, not a negative.
Maybe that’s why, as a teacher of sorts, that line of “naughty boys” (usually boys) outside the head teacher’s office was often comprised of my favourite characters.
Self image comes into this too. I don’t think I’m a very feminine woman if there is a spectrum of such things? I think I’m down the boys’ end of the line. I have brothers and I have sons, and I spend most of my social time with men rather than women. I think many of my personality traits are quite masculine. I think the expectations of girls to behave in a certain demure way, means that much of my behaviour would have either been ignored or even lauded if I was a boy.
I think I was often a naughty girl… At least I didn’t just do things because I was told to. I was contrary and stubborn. And I remember (or do I?) those words being used often. Maybe I should ask my brother?
There was an incident early in my school life, I think I was about 5 or 6 when a teacher slapped my legs because I wouldn’t eat beetroot. The slaps were so hard, the handprints were still on my legs when my mum met me off the school bus. Had such an expression existed fifty years ago, I would have described her reaction as “going ape-shit”. Stern words were had. The power hierarchy in my head shifted. I had power. My mum had power. Teachers are afforded power and respect, but they must handle it carefully, and with equal respect to those who give it to them.

This teacher crops up in my memories on several occasions. I remember her looking at me and almost snarling at me if I said anything out of place. I can remember smiling at her, knowing she had to be careful where I was concerned. (Mwah hahaaa!)
There was another incident, at this small catholic school, in which the same teacher had whispered menacingly in my ear that every time I sinned, a black mark was made on my soul, and that my soul would be like a lump of coal if I didn’t behave. A very visual image for an imaginative eight year old… Forward-wind a couple of years to the visit by the archbishop or some such dignitary, questioning the children about their sins and confession and contrition… I told him the lump of coal story… He looked horrified, and the dramatic, embroidering part of me imagines a group sharp intake of breath as he asked “who told you that my dear?” And I turned on my heels, arm outstretched, chin in the air, and pointed at that teacher…. Come-uppance!

I think, had I managed to stay in my job, and not resigned, I would certainly by now have been sacked for constant disobedience of a set of stupid pointless rules. The incoming headteacher did not approve of my mode of dress. Converse shoes, and flowery trousers and baggy t shirts were not the thing to be wearing in the new regime. Suits. Court shoes with heels were bound to be insisted upon, I could feel it coming.
I am made aware, through a facebook conversation, that many teachers, including art teachers are now expected to wear “business attire”. Business Attire. Think about those two words for a while.

Education is not a business.
Art cannot be done effectively (by that I mean using a broad range of methods and materials and techniques) in a business suit. Or a tie. It isn’t safe, it doesn’t make economic sense, and it isn’t right. You can’t do P.E. in a suit either.

Part of being a teacher is modelling behaviour. But this isn’t just about wearing the correct uniform in the right way, it is also about being appropriate, and also about modelling how to be an independent free thinking, responsible adult. Some rules are for safety, some rules are for the smooth running of society, for the benefit and safety of the majority. Some rules are there to exert power and establish a hierarchy. These are the ones to be challenged. These are the rules we should be teaching our children to challenge, not just accept blindly because someone on a higher salary with more expensive clothes says so. Ask why. Keep asking why, or why not, and if there isn’t a satisfactory answer. Do what you think is right.

My consistent non-eating of beetroot is now a political act, not just a taste issue.
My gradual abandonment of the Catholic Church has its roots in that black coal moment.
My problems with the current education system is to do with the new order. Uniform should be subverted, shirts hoiked up, blazer sleeves rolled, ties undone and stripped of coloured thread that identifies your house, socks should be odd, pink and stripy, hair can be orange. Have a uniform by all means, but turn a blind eye to its subversion, until it becomes a different sort of problem. Or just get rid of the uniform. It isn’t important. Kindness is important, thinking about others is important, generosity, humour, love and creativity… Fuck the uniform, (for pupils or staff) the shiny shoes, the right tie, the regimental lining up, the formulaic planning, one-size fits no-one…..
We should be teaching our children about the important rules, and how to identify them, we should be teaching them to look after each other. Rules should not keep children in Calais sleeping rough without their parents, rules should be enabling them to be returned without question to their families or the closest thing to family that can be found for them. Right now.
Growing a generation of children that wear the uniform properly and follow blindly can only result in global disaster.


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This is probably going to be a bit pick n mix today.

A few things have been going on, and a few things to feed back from too…

I’ve put some work up in the corridor, as Sarah had suggested. I will post a couple of photos, but they won’t be very good for examining the work, as those glorious victorian windows make it impossible, but you’ll get a feel for the space at least. I also have put up a price list, just in case. One red dot sits proudly at the top of the list already, I’m hoping maybe more will follow. Got to be in it to win it and all that jazz.

 

Talking of all that jazz… not that it’s jazz… but music anyway…

The performance Ian and I did on Friday evening was bloody freezing! I am convinced nobody could really hear us, my sore throat got sorer, and then I was glad that nobody could hear us as they milled about the courtyard! I’ve not got a belt-it-out sort of voice at the best of times. This performance convinced me that unless I’m in a small room, with half a dozen quiet people, I will need amplification in order to get the best from my voice! Living and learning…

Monday night’s one song was a much better performance all round. Before Andy gets big headed, that doesn’t mean he played better than Ian! A sound check, Jack the sound engineer, and a room that worked, with a friendly and supportive audience (mostly the songwriting circle, but it’s good to get out, right?)

*******

so…

If I was a painter, I would never say “oh, Mary uses paint, I can’t possibly use paint, can I?”

So why do I find myself saying similar? You never hear anyone say “Oh paint is so clichéd now isn’t it?”

As a textile artist, I do feel I have to keep an eye on what other people are using, how they are using it, and why.

It would be very easy to slip quietly into the vintage children’s clothes market, do a bit of embroidery and leave it at that.

I did dabble once with some sewing pattern tissue, until I saw a whole load of it stuck to various items at a craft fair and decided I couldn’t possibly. The fact that loads of people seemed to be buying said items only served to put me off more! What is it with artists and money? And snobbery? I’d love to sell work at that rate…. just not that sort of work… See? SNOB!

Which brings me to the dilemma in front of me. I have a collection of old embroidery transfers that were my Mum’s, dating from the mid fifties onwards. I would quite like to use them in some way. I get them out of the bag, fondle them, take some photos, do some drawings, then put them away again. In my grand sort out and studio move, they have surfaced again… I do love them. They evoke the spirit of my mother, and me, sat next to her, with my squeaky sweaty needle, trying to do french knots at the age of about 6. This ceremonial invocation of my mother might be enough. It might serve its purpose, just as that and no more…

 

…but here I am again, with these papers spread about me, unfolding and re-folding as I contemplate how I might use them…

…one day…

 

 

(PS. My Mum was known by those who loved her, as Goon)


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I’ve been saying it for a while, but more recently getting away with it less….
“I’m not a musician or a performer!”

Depending on your definitions, at least one of these is now not true.
It is true that I don’t play a guitar or piano, or any other tuned instrument. I occasionally have been known to tackle simple percussion, and of course I sing. The knowledge I have of music is increasing each term I spend with the songwriting circle. There are of course, enormous swathes of stuff I don’t know, but I could make a list of stuff I now do know. My voice is improving, in terms of range, and most definitely in strength and delivery, which brings us to performance.

I am a performer, because I have performed on numerous occasions now. I enjoy it, I love a little banter with the audience, and so far, it has been received well, and I even get the occasional compliment on my voice from people who have no vested interest in making me feel good. I love applause… An instant response to art is astonishingly satisfying!

The band of lovely men I have around me to write songs, we are collectively known as The Sitting Room. (There are jokes about us needing to sit down frequently as we are all of a certain age and need to rest our joints).

Anyway… We now have, at the last count at rehearsal last week, 15 songs. Some of these are good to go, some are just started and still need work. (In addition to these, the guys have their own huge repertoire of solo material, that we inject the set with, to give my voice a rest, and the ears of the audience a bit of variety). We would like, at some stage to record these songs. I have been assured by the band, and experienced people of the circle, that it is best to “bed in” these songs by performing them live for a while, to iron out the lumpy bits and figure out the best way to deliver them. “Ok…” Says I. Hmmmm…. Well, I may be a performer, but I think I can still count occasions I have performed on my fingers. Whereas Andy and Ian have lost count. So as such, I am loath to perform at the sort of open mic nights where the football is on in the other room and drunken punters shout ” Sing Angels! I love Robbie!” I have said I will do a particular open mic night, because I’ve been assured none of those things will happen as the audience are attentive, interested, engaged listeners.
Otherwise, what is happening is we seem to be invited to play in what I’m choosing to call “curated spaces”… Galleries, museums etc.
So what I have before me now are a list of small gigs to get me going:
This Friday, 21st October I will be doing a fairly long set, but just with Ian, at Bewdley Museum at 6pm.
On this Monday, 24th October, just one song, with just Andy this time, at The Crescent Theatre bar in Birmingham, with other members of the Songwriting Circle, 7:30pm. In November (tbc) we hope to be doing the aforementioned open mic with all three of us, doing a three song set. Then there will be the Circle end of term group concert at mac Birmingham on 21st November.

Then by December 3rd, we should be all warmed up, well rehearsed and in fine voice to tackle a set at The Old Library Studios Open Weekend! Singing with my very own band, in my very own studio… Details to follow….

If you turn up at any of these events, please come and say hello… But I’m usually more sociable and relaxed for chatting after, rather than before the performance! Be warned!


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I don’t often post twice in one day, but I’ve been having technical issues with Soundcloud, which have just been resolved, so before it all goes pear-shaped again, thought I would post this, that I intended to post a few days ago!

I’m not going to write much about this one, but wanted to post it, as it illustrates a bit of a shift again…

This is the first vocal I have properly recorded in the new studio. What I found is that I wanted my voice to fill the room. So I shut the door, plugged everything in and let rip a bit.

It is a work in progress, the vocal is by no means perfect, and neither is the production or recording, but it is another bookmark.

The song “Above the Fold” is a songwriting collaboration between Nicki Kelly, Bruford Low (on piano) and I from a few weeks ago. They have both worked on different versions of the same song. It may be that between us there is a definitive super-song, but it might stay as three versions…

The phrase “above the fold” refers to those headlines that everyone sees, because they sit above the fold…..

ABOVE THE FOLD

 


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There’s a lovely high white corridor wall just outside our studio, and Sarah suggested I put some work up.

To be frank, I could do with selling something. Not just for the money, but also as I am drowning in work, and rapidly running out of storage space. We had a discussion about what was the purpose of me putting things on the wall, as some sort of post-post-graduate show, or to sell? The two aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but if I’m doing the former, it becomes more difficult to hang older work, and justify its place. However, as I am doing the latter, I need to find a way of showing mixed work, without being such an arse about it.

So, I gather together a load of stuff from under the spare bed and out of the loft. Now we’re not talking ancient monuments here, we are possibly talking about the last three or four years. I group it all on the studio floor in “bodies”… This is one body of work, for the joint show “One” (with Bo Jones)… This is from “Are You Listening?”… This was from this, that was from that… And I was getting twitchy and dissatisfied. But this is why you need someone around you who will challenge that. Why can’t this shirt go with that drawing? Why can’t that stitched piece go with that one? Sarah started shuffling the work around the floor, unfettered by my work chronology, she could see connections that I hadn’t, because basically it hadn’t occurred to me. Of course I know that my work has common themes, but my grouping of items uses a very particular set of personal criteria. Because Sarah doesn’t have that list, she was much freer. I started to see things differently, and weirdly I started to like things again. Work that I was ready to dismiss, and put on the reject pile, suddenly came to life when put next to a newer piece. Miraculous! The layered bra drawings started to relate to the altered children’s clothes… Moth eaten vintage patchwork related to the mending of a child’s dress I completed a couple of weeks ago.

 

Having regrouped and reassessed, and fallen back in love with some of the old work, I set about reframing, or in some cases, just taking out of a frame, ironing, re-mounting, and tidying up, polishing glass etc. I attached new mirror plates, touched up white paint here and there, and now they are ready to hang. Now it isn’t rocket science is it?… but the act of refreshing the work in frames, and the two garments I have chosen to accompany them, has made me respect my old work more. It has made me see that these pieces are still relevant, still worthy of regard and discussion in a new setting.

The new setting is an excuse to get the work out, show people what I’m about, and actually, showing not just the new stuff, but the slightly older work alongside it, show people who don’t know me what I’m doing, how I think. As I look at these little piles of almost curated works, I find I’m quite pleased with how it all hangs together as a new body…

This was helped I think in part, by the buzzing around in my hind-brain of the Eva Rothschild exhibition currently on at The New Art Gallery Walsall. She choreographs the work, putting new with older work, in new combinations… Fresh views… New relationships…

I must really remember to look at my practice and the work it produces, as a whole thing, not just a series of series… The connections are clear once I open my eyes!


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