Back in the studio, the effects of Sweden are still swimming around in me. I’m hoping that it lasts.

I have taken down all the large drawings of sticks and stones, feeling that they have done as much as I needed them to do. They might return, once I’ve taken another turn around the mountain.

The things on the wall facing me now are the pods and the aprons, waiting for Helen and I to configure them, and still the wrapped twigs. I have on my table a pile of textiles, including the sheet and pillow case given to me by Stuart, and the vintage cot sheet and baby pillow case I bought at the huge second hand shop in Örebro (amongst many other items ). Following on from the residency I am carrying on with the arranging and rearranging. I find it fascinating how a pile of twigs in one formation doesn’t work, but when I shuffle them round into a different configuration, they work. I suppose it is a matter of language, of semiotics… pile them up on a tablecloth, no, line them along the floor, no, arranged like a nest in a baking tin? No, but nearly… Cram as many as I can into a pillow case… yes. The pillowcase does it. These symbols work. I am thinking I might submit this piece to the RBSA Prize show. It speaks to me, it’s now just a matter of whether it speaks to the selectors. These twigs are still standing as signifiers for the children living in poverty. The wrapping and the pillow case is an attempt by me to give them comfort. I think the title will be “How Do They Sleep at Night?” Which works for me, in the week before the election… I’m full of hope, somewhat desperate hope, that there will be change soon.


I’ve come away from Sweden with a profound sense of clarity about who I am and what I should be doing, and feeling grateful that I can do it.

It wasn’t without its difficulties and obstacles. I must say up front though that it would not have been possible without the amazing phenomenon known as Assisted Travel. If you have mobility problems and they are preventing you from getting out into the world, book yourself some assistance. It makes the totally impossible completely achievable. My time while there was also eased by the care and concern of my kind friend and host, who made things as easy as he could for me, without making me feel like a burdensome old baggage.

And I am resting now. A bit of gentle physio and a bit of stretching… in a couple of days I should be back to my normal level of mobility. At the moment I am in quite a bit of pain, I’m stiff, and not very mobile at all. Don’t attempt any meaningful conversation before I’ve had tea and medication.

I am hoping by the next time I go over, I will have a new knee… two would be good, but you have start somewhere right?

Anyway… considering all that, we did quite a lot!

Two very full-on days in the studio/project space; an artist talk; a day in Örebro for an arts festival; a day in Stockholm in galleries and shopping… and eating cinnamon buns of course. (Definitely worth falling off the gluten free wagon)

The whole trip was a good balance I think between looking inwards and looking out. The days in the studio helped me think through a few things, gave me some ideas about the work I’m doing at home. The days out, particularly in Örebro showed me options I might never have considered.

Last night over dinner, my son asked me about my trip, and I got a bit emotional. It was fun, intense, exciting, creatively and intellectually stimulating and challenging. It is still with me, I’m thinking about doing all sorts of things in a different way. It has opened my eyes to new possibilities. Part of me wishes I was still there… and that the things I’ve imagined doing would be easier in Sweden, in that I think they would be received more openly and with more appreciation. One of the things I have in my head would not find an easy audience here. But maybe it doesn’t need to.

Maybe I just need to do it?

Kanske jag bara behöver göra något?

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Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when they rig up a helicopter with banks of lights and speakers and send it up to communicate with the mother ship?

Bah bah bah baaah BAAAAH! KABOOOM!!

That’s what we do… that’s what we did… Day one of Correspondence sees Elena and Stuart in their helicopters, sending out signals. We are trying to find a useful common language. I bring my twigs, Stuart brings his ties, and we see if they can communicate. We try various arrangements, (like building a hill in furniture or mashed potato) just to see if we can find something in common as a starting point. We have loads of “stuff” so we keep trying, adding, connecting, with string, wool, little clips, tying things together. We wrap things and we stitch. We draw lines on the wall, write words, ideas, and we set down traces on the surfaces from one item to another. We arrange similar items in groups, and we start to classify… we start to draw similarities.

Sometimes while we are doing all of this we are talking, commentating as we go, about what we are aiming for, and what we hope it will achieve. Sometimes we are working silently because we have an idea that doesn’t have words. In retrospect now I think about that process, it did have a cadence… an ebb and flow. And that cadence was mutual, because I can’t think of a time when I thought “I wish he’d stop talking, I’m trying to think over here!” I must ask Stuart if he thought the same? Maybe I was not so perceptive?

I think by the end of day one we had established the rules of engagement, and we had a basic vocabulary.

(No KABOOOM here!)

Overnight something changed. By the morning we had both come up with things we wanted to try, so when we got to the project room the first part of the day we spent dismantling, in order to give ourselves space. Interestingly we were both happy to remove, to take it back a step, more than a step in fact. Almost all of the arrangements of the previous day were taken down. Neither of us felt the need to cling to much, it had done its job and so NOW we were ready to start.

Given the empty space, we were now able to put together phrases, spare and eloquent, in contrast to the excited jabbering of the day before. Day two’s Correspondence was about light and form… and of course materials, and the appreciation of folds, holes, texture, shadow.

We both wondered what would happen if we had another day… or two… or a week… and I now wonder if any of what we learned about each other would change if we decided that we would open this conversation to the public at any point? Would the prospect of outside scrutiny have changed the way we worked?

What I have learned about myself is that to fire on all the artistic cylinders, I need to feel that the room is a safe place, there’s respect and trust. But there is also a light touch, humour, a finely honed Sense of Daft. I find, in working with Helen and Bill, as well as Stuart, that the Sense of Daft is serious business. If you are willing to let things go, without fear of ridicule, if you are happy to be truly playful, and not worry about how other people see you, then you can find something really rich.

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Hosted by Stuart Mayes and Glitterball Showroom.

This residency took place at Ateljeföreningen Hospitalet, Uppsala, Sweden from 12th to 16th June 2024

I took with me a bundle of the wrapped twigs from Five, Six, Pick up Sticks, and a bag of materials to give to Stuart: some ties, some detached shirt pockets and some old crisp white starched collars from formal dress shirts.

Stuart supplied all sorts of materials and a selection of fixings from his studio.

The initial plan was to keep in mind the word and concept of Correspondence… because that is what we have been doing since 2011. We have commented on each other’s blogs, emailed and sent images, we’ve critically discussed each other’s work, commented and supported over the last 13 years or so with increasing frequency.

Stuart and I met in Stockholm just once before, in 2016. The conversation has continued and we now often have Skype studio visits and work in parallel while we talk. After a few of these, we decided it would be great to meet again, and maybe do some work together.

So here I am, Corresponding!

We worked together, sometimes in companionable silence, sometimes in raucous laughter: “It’s NOT a Dick-Hat, it’s a Reading Bonnet!

Day 1 (Thursday) felt a bit like a getting-to-know-you dance: we took it in turns to place items and manipulate the space, asking, seeking agreement, “Do you think it would be good if…” “Do you mind if I try this?” We established our language and our modus operandi. We assessed the potential for correspondence. We left the space at the end of the day happy and thoughtful. That evening over dinner we discussed what had happened, what had been successful, what hadn’t, and ideas we had for tomorrow.

Day 2 (Friday) was interesting in that we slowly dismantled and replaced what we had done the day before. Even those things that had seemed precious in the moment. We stripped away all the colour, to concentrate on form. We folded the tables we had worked on, to give us back the space in the room. If day one had been about surfaces, lines, and negotiation, day two was about space and form and spontaneity. On day two, it was harder to tell who had contributed what. I think we talked less, and possibly laughed more.

Stuart has a grand collection of fabric and household textiles. These loves we have in common, and he has very generously given me some to bring home.

We lifted sheets into the air, hanging them from the ceiling to divide up the space, to conceal and reveal as we walked around the space. We let them bathe in natural light, from sunshine in a bright blue sky. We tried artificial light, we closed the blackout blinds and added spotlights. All these differences were noted and documented. But we felt the liberation of not having to make decisions, just experiencing the different opportunities offered.

We collected new, naked twigs as we strolled around the Hospitalet grounds (the old psychiatric hospital is surrounded with huge and ancient trees, appreciated and planted for their healing nature) and then we stuffed them into pillowcases, carried them around, piled them up, placed them and balanced them carefully. These materials provided from both our studios started to correspond sensitively to each other, making friends, as we did too.

As we reached the end of the afternoon, it was good to welcome Stuart’s friend Mareia into the space too, good to see her move quietly among our makings, appreciating the qualities of light and form, and of course the materials that had brought us together.

As we disassembled the installation, we took last chances to rearrange, and took things away slowly, enabling us to reassess, and take even more photos.

We put the room back together for the next users, stacked tables and chairs, and swept up the debris of threads and twigs, leaving no evidence of the activity, creativity, and the products of those things.

I expect both of us will study the photos over the next weeks, extracting meaning, and inspiration, and we will no doubt post again with those findings. But for now I just wanted to describe what happened, what we experienced, and how we worked around and with each other. It felt rare and special, and effective. We will undoubtedly be following on from this.

On our last evening together as we ate leftovers and shared the last cinnamon bun, we talked about how risky this might have been, or might seem from the outside. We’ve only really met once before, and despite all the Skyping, it might seem foolhardy for a 63 year old, not very mobile woman to fly to meet someone she doesn’t know very well, to live in his home for five days. And risky for Stuart to let this woman into his house, without even asking if she had a criminal record! (I haven’t).

The correspondence that led up to this however, brought us to the point where it didn’t seem at all risky to us, just a natural progression for our professional relationship to explore the collaborative possibilities. And of course to cement our friendship. Stuart will I’m sure appreciate the peace and quiet this evening, as we have only stopped talking to sleep since he met me at the station!

A friend who can make you well up, and then laugh with you till your ribs hurt, is a good friend.

So now it’s gone a bit quiet, I think I should don my Reading Bonnet, and perhaps my new green Ladies’ Slack.

(Is that a slack for green ladies?)

Thank you Stuart. x

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On Wednesday I fly to Stockholm.

It seems weird really, that this thing is actually happening. 

I have known Stuart Mayes for about ten years, since starting my blog on a-n.co.uk. We started out by commenting on each others blog posts, and talking about each others work. There seemed to be a correlation in the way we work, and the materials we use. Then a few years ago we met in real life when I went to Sweden with the group of artists that had been involved with the Colonize group exhibition in New York. We spent a wonderful afternoon together and didn’t stop talking, we drank tea and coffee and ate cinnamon buns… as is required when in Stockholm. After that, the correspondence continued, friendship sealed by the real world contact. Then recently, probably over covid and since, the correspondence has become more specifically about how we could do a joint show, or collaborate in some way. I sent Stuart some shirt collars and cuffs and he made a beautiful piece of work from them. When it comes to garments, and using them to stand as signifiers, I think we are on the same page. It seemed to us that the way forward was to spend some real time together in the same place. 

Last year I decided I needed to release a small pension. It really isn’t much, but it adds a little to my monthly income, and I set up an Art Travel Fund with a lump sum. Once that was done, the obvious place to go was Sweden.

So here we are now, my suitcase is almost packed and I’ve even learned a little bit of Swedish. 

The plan is that we will work together in a project space that Stuart has booked for our residency, with whatever materials we can find to express this feeling of connection, this Correspondence. We don’t know what this will look like, but I am sure that we will come up with something that neither of us would make on our own. A good collaborative relationship shows you the world through someone else’s eyes, using the tools in someone else’s toolbox maybe?

We will also do an evening event of conversation with each other and to other artists. 

I have had other artists ask me how I “managed” to go to America, and over the last week or so, how did I “manage” to get myself invited to Sweden. They ask as if this is some sort of magic. It Isn’t. Neither is it some sort of Grand Networking Scheme. What it is, in both cases, is years of Correspondence. Connecting with people, not out of a desire for global travel and status, but out of interest in each others work, I talk to people, to artists, whose work I am fascinated by, we talk about what we are reading, making, seeing…

In my experience, artists can be insular, exclusive. Take a leaf out of the musicians’ handbook. Musicians are more curious about what other musicians are up to, and musical collaboration comes more naturally, it is the nature of the beast to be in a band. So this is what I am, I’m in a band. It just so happens that we aren’t all living in the same country.

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