A blog about a collaborative project with my mother Catherine, for an exhibition on illness and photography for the ‘Fotomanias’ photography festival in Malaga, opening next week. The blog will document my/our reflections and experiences of the project so far,the preparations for the exhibition, and our experiences of going there for the show.
Thinking, this morning as I walked the dog, that this time next week I will be in Malaga, installing our work for the exhibition.
Both excited and nervous.
I’m listening to Spanish podcasts to brush up on my (very) rusty Spanish so that I can communicate with people over there– I’m hoping that a week of constant listening will render me fluent by next Tuesday. Hah. I’m also attempting to tweet in Spanish which is fun for me but probably not for the people who follow me (www.twitter.com/jeanmcewan) for anyone brave enough to entertain my bad Spanish tweeting or who is willing to correct it!).
Mum and I are doing lots of last minute emailing about the presentation – framing, text, etc. There are still lots of things to sort out.
This will be the first time we will have been away together on a trip just the two of us. The last time we were abroad together was a family holiday in 1980, just after my dad died. I’m so glad that we did and are doing this project.
The last couple of days I have been selecting and framing up archive family photographs which form part of our work for the exhibition.
Last month I went to visit mum in Glasgow and we spent some time going through photoalbums and piles of photos, and together picking out photographs we thought would work for the show. Our pile was a bit too big and bearing in mind that I’m taking this work on the plane with me, I decided to edit down our selection. Just by accident, looking through my own archive of photos, I came across an old photo of me from about 10 years ago, jumping next to the sea. I remembered that we had picked out a picture of mum when she was young, running to the sea. I immediately thought of putting them together. It worked so well, and seemed to speak of the synchronicity we have both experienced in doing the project. i began to find other ‘pairs’, and re-looked at the photos in a different way. I found 8 pairs that seem to go together. Presenting them in this way underlines the fact that the project has been about our relationship, not illness. Looking at these images together, I am struck by the connection between us – and realise, to badly paraphrase a Beatles lyric that
I am she and she is me.
The joys of collaboration
The collaboration between me and my mum Catherine originated when Madrid based artist and curator Maria Cobo, invited me to participate in an exhibition about illness and photography for the Fotomanias photography festival in Malaga. I think originally Maria had in mind a participatory community project, as I have done a lot of this kind of work over the last few years. After some thought I decided against this, but instead had the idea of doing a project with my mum. Catherine, my mum, has lived with M.E. for 25 years, since she was 40 and I was 15.
I am a serial collaborator and among my collaborators have been my 3 brothers, who are all musicians, for various projects over the years. Mum writes fiction and I had always wanted to collaborate with her nothing concrete had ever presented itself as an opportunity till now. When we discussed how we wanted to approach the project, we decided that we didn’t want to focus on the negative aspects and impact of illness, but rather use it as an opportunity for a creative dialogue.
So over a period of one month, from January to February 2011, we worked together to creatively explore together intersections between wellbeing, creativity and family relationships via a playful exchange of photography and text. The work for the exhibition reflects and documents this process and dialogue, presenting a range of photographic and textual elements including a photo dialogue, a photo blog, text, and photocollage alongside an archive of family photographs.
The process has been one of deep creative and personal engagement for us both. Through the simple daily exchange of photographs and text, we learned so much about the mysterious and complex nature of our mother/daughter communication – how much we share, and where we are different.
The project has also been a another opportunity to work with Maria Cobo, which has been a joy. I met Maria in 2002, when she was on Erasmus exchange on the Fine Art course at Leeds Metropolitan University from Madrid Complutense. We struck up a friendship and when I went to Madrid on the Erasmus programme the following year, we ‘swapped’ aspects of the other’s lives – I went to live with her parents in Madrid while she took on my part time job in Yorkshire. Since then we have worked with each other on several projects over the years. Last year, when I curated my first solo project, P.S I Love You, a week long programme of events at Bradford Playhouse, Maria not only showed work in the exhibition but came and spent the week there. Now its my turn to show work at an exhibition Maria is curating – seems to have a lovely symmetry.
Now, as I’m getting all the work ready for the exhibition, I’m looking forward to going to Malaga to install the work, to hang out with Maria, and for my mum to be there for the opening and for us spend some time together. This blog will be a document of the experience.