I suddenly realise today that I’ve not really written here about my text collage work. It is all over my instagram account though, (elenathomas13) and last weekend I did a small workshop in my studio, and will do another at the end of the month. Here’s the eventbrite link if you want to join in… I only have room for 5 people though, so if it suddenly gets popular you might miss it!

I don’t think I have spoken about it, because I don’t see it as “Important” really. It’s a thing I do as a meditation or a warm-up. It serves as an intermediate activity between home and studio. I mostly do it at home these days, but occasionally it strays. I don’t invest much time in it, and I certainly don’t invest any money much – one tube of pritt stick goes a long way.

So here is what I do: I tear pages out of Sunday supplement magazines. Usually a page from each long article to start with, and always Caitlin Moran because she has a great vocabulary and a turn of phrase that suits a fellow midlander. I slice it into columns, getting rid of headlines, call-outs and photos. Then I chop each column into three and mix them up. The idea is to lose contact with the original context. I then choose a few at random to slice into lines of text. Up to this point I am not reading, just cutting. When I have a heap of lines, then I start reading. What I’m looking for are groups of words and phrases that can be used in a new context, and throw off the old, so their original context cannot be gleaned any more. 

Then I lay them out, still jumbled on a piece of cloth. Still not trying to make sense, I start putting phrases and words together to make a new sort of sense… at that stage I might have four groups of pairings or threes on my mat… then at some point, as I add more words, now chopping as I go, new meanings start to appear. It is only at this point that I start to feel the need for individual words to connect what I have… I might spend ten minutes looking through the cuttings for “because” or “actually” or “bigger”… or a couple of days ago I must have spent about half an hour looking for “concentration” to complete a phrase!

It is the process of this that holds my attention, in addition to the poignant or funny or political statement I might end up with. 

The activity of removing from a recognised coherent source, destroying that coherence and constructing something new fascinates me.

I find that random really the wrong word here. I choose the pages fairly casually from a known and chosen source. But it isn’t random, but rather without a discernible pattern. The way I chop things up follows rules. The way I then choose the words and phrases is more aligned to whatever I am thinking about. That might tie in with my visual work, or a social or political theme… what I end up with is undeniably mine. 

What I really like is the exercise it gives my brain. Sometimes in order to say what I want, I have to adjust the grammar to the available verbs and pronouns. Sometimes I have to find alternatives… instead of the impossible to find word “carefully” I might have to say “with a slow hand” or “his actions showed love”. This has a really interesting affect on my lyric writing. There’s more than one way to say I love you. More than one way to say the sky is blue.

So… having written about this activity I do in such an off-hand manner, maybe I should look at it again? Perhaps I should assign it more importance… or at least relevance… within my wider practice?

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I’m still thinking about that tiny – but ever-growing baby…

And I am starting to wonder about a few things.

I never knew my own grandparents. I met my mother’s step mother once, when I was about 7. My childhood contained other people’s grandparents. I had no real aunts and uncles, being the child of solo immigrants. But my brothers and I had a raft of our parents’ friends who were, as was the thing in those days, also called auntie or uncle.

My own mother died suddenly when my youngest son was only four months old, my eldest was ten years old. So now, after the birth of my first grandchild, I am now seeing what has been missed.

When I was in America, looking at my retrospective exhibition, I started to see more and more connections. Since coming home, and letting the experience filter through, I am seeing even more. I see the repeated need to figure out relationships, familial and friendly, because I think… that the friendly relationships, and the future lovers, are actually founded on an inherent understanding of family. So, I had no doting grandparents, and, as my two brothers were 8 and 10 years older than me, I have started to see my rural childhood as somewhat solitary. I think it suited my character to a certain extent… or is it that my character developed that way because of the the solitude?

I have had so far a 41 year marriage. A close relationship, with two lovely sons, now adult, and the grandson… I have good friends… some I have had for a long time, but not from my childhood like some people do (including my husband). I don’t have friends from university the first time round either. I have been known to say to myself that this is because maybe I wasn’t a very nice person in my youth. I certainly think I could be “difficult” to get on with. My oldest friends are from when my own children were young… and I cherish them. Sometimes I don’t think they really understand what I am doing, but they don’t seem to care and they seem to love me anyway.

So I think what my work does, is enable me to have the conversations I missed, that I want to have now. They are tentative explorations of relation, connecting, loving… from different angles, in different media/voices, in the hope of reaching, finding the things I want to say to my mum, to hear the answers I think she might have had, had she lived long enough for me to feel comfortable asking her.

I think I am searching for some roots. I can’t go back very far in my family tree. On paper we have gone back a couple of generations… but I don’t feel connected to those names.

With the joyful birth of my beautiful new grandson, and of all this love, I am coming to realise, that I don’t really need to dig around for the roots. I have become the roots.

New work is being forged with these things at the forefront of my thinking, no longer swimming around in the fog, unidentified, unexpressed.

Is it only BECAUSE I have fifteen years worth of work to look back on that I can identify these ideas? Would this realisation have come to me had I not spent those years making and searching?

A bit of a breakthrough maybe?

Back to the twigs………….

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