Standing, speaking and choking up

Pinprick Shell 1

Last week I was a speaker at Beyond Jewellery, a symposium which featured artists all making work that incorporated an element of the body in some way. The symposium supported the show Flockomania, an exhibition of performative sculptural pieces that could be worn and played with. It was inspiring to be there…the language everyone was using chimed with me instantly.

I talked about my work in relation to my own personal archive. And I was asked several times about how I felt making this very personal work and putting it out there.

It is something I think about often – whether or not it is “too much” or OK, how I feel about it now, how will I feel about it in the future….my current sense is I can tell a truth, how it is for me, and hope it makes connections with others.

I also have an overriding feeling that in the end, we are all just a shell…. I could tell you everything – and it would mean both everything and it would mean nothing.

In the evening, I went up to a woman who had the most amazing hair. It was amazing because it was a stunning shade of silver and I champion this myself. She said she had enjoyed my talk and at one point thought I had been choking up – which I had. I think the bit she was referring to was when I had been describing putting on my grandmother’s blue dress and performing in it after the death of my mother. I called this work My too blue heart on your two blue sleeves. I had felt a familiar lump in my throat when talking about it. The woman with the amazing hair said she found my talk very moving.

A long time ago, someone once said to me: how can you move others if you cannot move yourself? And I felt, just at that moment, telling everything meant … everything.

A few years ago I went to see the Mary Kelly exhibition of Post-Partum Document at the Whitworth in Manchester and also a Tracey Emin show at the Hayward. The former fascinated me with the clinical documentation of the body, while the latter pulled at all my emotional responses and made me cry (especially Why I Never Became a Dancer). This unabashed, unapologetic study – and the generosity of making these experiences public  – overwhelmed me.

I wonder about what happens when you don’t try to conceal it or tell someone else’s story, but just tell your own. It has been a long process to get to this point where I have felt relatively comfortable being in the frame quite so much myself. But when I look back it has always been my original impulse so it seems disingenuous to say something isn’t about myself – when it clearly is. We have a culture of not wanting to say “look at me”, even though we might do selfies all day for Instagram. But maybe that’s because Instagram isn’t your ‘self’ in any way. It’s a version of your most idealised, most fantastic, most amusing self.

I think it is almost our default position to look for an author in a piece of work, whatever that work may be – how many times do you hear writers being asked if their characters are “them”….? We search for clues, as if this will somehow give us a deeper, more enriched understanding of the story. It is a way ‘in’… to get to grips with it… But what happens when you just say straight away, “yes, this is me”?  Do we get past that question, to the next question? What is that next question?




Standing, speaking and choking up