I am so pleased to be able to share news of my solo show which opens in the Print Sales Gallery at The Photographers’ Gallery on March 8th. The work, Constellations and Coordinates, comprises of two parts. Constellations features needle-mark unique black and white hand-prints with numerous perforations made to raise the surface of the image. Coordinates offers a range of highly colourful embroidered pieces, each making a different gesture and offering a point of familiarity in a path of navigation.
A few of my newest hand-marked works will be exhibited in Print Sales Gallery at The Photographers’ Gallery, London from April 27th until June 9th. I am delighted to be included in the show Work in Process alongside Julie Cockburn, Felicity Hammond, Alma Haser and Liz Nielson. More details here.
Pieces from my series “Dragonflies” will be on display, with their hand-marked perforations made slowly on the surface of photographic self-portraits.
This continues as part of my long-term work Armour Studies (Regarding Skin), a consideration of skin as the permeable layer between interior and exterior, and the porous body.
There is a group of us in Bristol who meet up every now and then to connect through our shared pursuit of very diverse photography practices. It began more than a year ago in a cafe, just four of us having coffee and hogging the table for about three hours. It has gradually expanded to be a group in which there must be more than 12 women on the email list, although it’s generally no more than a handful of us that meet at any one time. There is no pressure to turn up, and no agenda.
Mostly we’ve met in a cafe near the train station, which was borne out of the fact it was central and a couple of people live a relatively long way away. But this time, we met in someone’s house one Saturday morning, at the kitchen table.
It is an amazing thing, a kitchen table – it never just means meal-time. It is an object that sees partners splitting up or repairing painful wounds, that looks after piles of clutter, watches children having tantrums, that witnesses friendships affirmed or broken. I vividly remember the kitchen table of my own childhood – it had a split down one side where the wood-join a quarter of the way in had long given up, darkened with both age and food, the top scrubbed sometimes with bleach. I worked in an antique shop for six months in my early 20s and learned they were actually dubbed ‘scrub-tops’ and always went for a good price – that rustic feel which promises Ma Larkin is just around the corner to make everything all right.
Although the group of us who meet up mostly know each other’s work it was the first time we all actually got something out to share and get feedback on. I’m sure it was the influence of a table….the lack of pressure, the home, the familiarity of what a kitchen table means. It is a far cry from a formal ‘crit’ – and all the better for it. There’s a time and a place for that. And there is a time and a place for this – following in the long lineage of women sharing: quietly, at a kitchen table.
I have often been asked “Was it therapeutic making it?” in relation to my project Conversations with my mother, in which I explore maternal severance. I understand the impulse to ask this question, and mostly attribute it to someone wanting to ask me something personal. But the reality is no – no it was not therapeutic making this work.
On one level I could agree it was restorative – but that is because I worked every day to make something – and it is the routine and act of making which is satisfying for me. Many people can lose themselves in the process of work in order to recover from a difficult life event and I certainly found it beneficial to go to the studio daily.
But to say it was specifically therapeutic detracts from the significance and relevance of the artistic process. I also fear that to say it was therapeutic would detract from the role of the artist in making something which is for going out into the world: an artwork to make meaning in order to communicate to someone else for their benefit (not for the artist). That’s not to say I don’t experience some sort of catharsis and it would be disingenuous to say that I didn’t – making is a journey and I would be loathe to say I didn’t change along the way. I guess I’m trying to emphasise it would be too short of an answer to say it was therapeutic…to me, that would imply I arrived at some sort of answer and that I made it more for me, which is not true. I made it because I had something to say.
My focus is on making work deliberately and consciously to make connections with others, rather than making work to stay personally with me. I do that by telling a story about something real to me in some way – but one which is has some recognisable quality for other people.
The title here may be a bit misleading. I’m not going to write about ladies who lunch. Specifically, that refers to a song written by Stephen Sondheim for the musical Company. It is sung by a woman who growls her way through it, with a kind of bitterness and knowledge that comes with years of hard-knocks and it’s a very interesting, many-layered piece of work. If you want to watch some amazing performances of it just look up Elaine Strich or Patti LuPone. Rise! (You’ll know what I mean if you do.)
I picked it as one of my song-choices when at drama school when I was 21.
What a ridiculous choice for me.
As a rather baby-faced 21-year-old there was no way in a million years – or, maybe, another 40 – that I had the experience to embody a relevant point of view of the world in order to carry off that sort of song. I would only ever be performing a dreadful pastiche of what I imagined it should be, not growling but employing irritating mezzo-soprano vocal-fry.
On some level I remember why it was practical for me to choose it – it’s a sort of tragi-comedy you can mostly speak the words over the top, doing a lot of ‘act-singing’. So it’s great from that point of view as I’m not a confident musical singer (I’m not actually any kind of singer). But I couldn’t have even begun to inhabit the role at 21 and I’m still too young for it, probably by around another 20 years.
I am talking about this because I have been thinking of the problematic of looking at something you are interested in but do not inhabit yourself, and trying to tell that story. You can apply that to many topics. I don’t think we should necessarily always turn away from this – if that was the case there would be a lot of stories we wouldn’t know, perhaps, and we tell stories for reasons stretching back to the beginnings of time. But sometimes, there are stories, like songs, that really don’t belong to you until you get there. And sometimes, they never belong to you at all.