Making my mark

This year has been one of discovery. I have become even more engrossed in the different ways of getting under the surface of the print and working into it. Pieces have become more sculptural, more laboured, more intense. They are even more time-consuming to make. It’s a meditation. For my other projects please visit my website www.jessafairbrother.com

Armour 1 LR

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Making my mark

Another sort of archive

An Important View An Important View An Important View An Important View An Important View An Important View

As most of my work is about the archive in some way I thought I would post this from my own archive. It was made around 2004-ish and is the first serious long-term body of work that I produced. Called An Important View it documents most of the memorial benches along the coastal path in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Each piece shows the plaque or inscription on the bench with the view from it alongside. Text about the person to whom it is dedicated runs underneath. If I couldn’t track this down it simply says ‘Unknown’.

When I started making this work I was almost evangelical about how I made it. If there was a bin in the way, for example, I didn’t include it – the project was about the way people feel about a particular place, somewhere significant and important to them. I also felt, at the time, that it was about other people and their grief….But my own father had died in 2001 and looking back I do think in many ways it was a meditative documentation of my own grieving process.

Now I can see how some of the themes I still investigate started here – the familiar places we go to in order to remember, the acts we carry out to make ourselves feel connected to people who have died, the performative way in which we do this using rituals and objects recognisable to others.

One of the things I considered at the time was doing the coast path in one go – walking and making the work in one continuous stretch. I rejected this, because I felt that would make the piece about me and I didn’t think that it was about me. Maybe now I would walk it in one action – the process of walking, thinking and discovering is significant to me in a way it was not then.

On the surface it doesn’t look like the work I make now… but I think I am more at peace with that – showing where my work came from, as well as where it is going.

Another sort of archive

Written on the body

Battle Dress 1 Battle dress Battle dress Battle dress

For a long time now I have been mulling over the way in which experience is written on the body and how this manifests itself – either physically or mentally – and how this informs the performance of ourselves. One of the ways I have been exploring this is making visible the surface of the skin.

Embroidery and other forms of mark-making have become a central part of my work at the moment. Inspired by armour and other ways of protecting the skin I have used needlework and paint to embellish and adorn photographs of myself falling in space.

These images are small – just under 7 x 5 cm for the image itself, mounted and framed in gold with black ash frame at 25 x 23 cm.

Written on the body

Embroidering and photobooks

I have here a new piece which is going to be included in my soon-to-be-dummy photobook. I’ve been working on ‘the work’ for years, and working on ‘the book’ a few months. I have been reluctant to actually make a book but only because I didn’t have enough to go in it. It wasn’t until I was embedded in the Bristol Photobook contingent that I realised how much I was fascinated about what could and might make a great photobook.

The point about what I’m making is that it is that I am trying to incorporate tactile elements in the book so that it feels like the embroidery that inhabits it. This is quite hard purely from the point of view of it being time consuming. Today, for example, I outlined four shapes on some tracing paper that are intended for the dummy itself. Its taken me about four hours to do four shapes that really aren’t very big.

I’m not even embroidering them – just making the holes.

Conversations with my mother

The embroidery that the pages refer to include this piece that is going on show in Bath as part of a group show called ‘To Bathe’. It is a hand embroidered c-type photograph. Compared to the previous post showing my image of an embroidered garden, I was thinking about the hemmed-in quality of the inside compared with the vibrancy and life-smothering outside.

Conversations with my mother

Embroidering and photobooks

A stitch in time….

Conversations with my motherOver the last few months I have become obsessed by stitching my photographs with detailed embroidery. And they take a looooonnnng time. I’ve been asked why don’t I machine them? The answer is – it’s like drawing. Each mark I make is like a decision with a pencil. It just is what it is.  The irregularity is important.Using a machine would be a bit like painting with an airbrush – quicker, but it would look different. Not better or worse – just different.

I went to see Julie Cockburn’s show at Flowers Gallery in January and was lucky enough to talk to her about her work. I asked her if hers a long time, too – like, maybe I was doing it wrong… But it turned out it does (more of that soon.)

There are lots and lots of reasons to make marks by hand. I know it’s almost irresistible to ask: why do something slowly when you can do something quickly? But I think that question is really more about trying to reveal why artists do what they do.  And there is no real answer to that.

A stitch in time….

Practice makes….|…..Emergency exits

Conversations with my mother

Recently I had a conversation with someone who said: “So what is your practice about?”

I skirted round the issue, dipping in and out of phrases such as: “Well, I’m really interested in loss / nostalgia / yearning….”; “the performance of the mind….”; “psychoanalysis and its influence….”.

“Yes, but what is your practice about?”

Well….

In my head I was thinking: “Hang on, didn’t I just say?”

No. So. Cross.

Anyway, I dithered about for a bit, trying to think of a better tag-line and see if I could reel in what had just unravelled. I am obsessed with “what happens if I say / do / think THAT – what will happen?” especially when it goes not the way I had hoped.

Remember those books with multiple endings? I imagine they still exist, but it’s something I distinctly remember from childhood.

If you want to see what happened when Jane closed the door, turn to page 19.

If you want to see what happened when Jane opened the door, turn to page 31.

I would have to work out every permutation of every possible combination of each story and it’s various junctions, evaluating which was the best option.

Anyway. My practice. So I was waffling round the subject, and by now I had remembered the word ‘gesture’. Oh yes, that one. Because a lot of my work is ‘about’ that. And it’s really important…I am fascinated by it. The relationship between what one sees and does. The notational relationship between eye and hand.

And I’m still thinking about my options – what happens if I say my practice is about gesture? Not just now but in the future, too?

Turn to page 64 if you want to find out what Jessa’s practice did next on GESTURE!

Turn to page 12 if you want to find out what Jessa’s practice did on SOMETHING ELSE!

Still practising….

Then I skirted, yes, skirted round the issue of “me” – because in my head I was thinking: “Surely it’s rude to make work about ME. Who is interested in the ‘me’ unless the ‘me’ concerned has a very unusual life with lots of dramatic twists and turns?

The thing I really haven’t been able to resolve – and I think this is the part of the issue – I have strands of work which really are, on the face of it, very different. And it feels like I am unnaturally trying to bring them together for the sake of a tag-line.

But when I really think about it, the photographic object itself to me is the manifestation of the body – a body which is no longer there…

…And the gesture is the manifestation of the thought which is no longer there.

…And the object which expresses something related to a time and space which as passed.

And yet – that is not it. It’s not just that….I don’t want to be pinned down!

Turn to page 53 if Jessa’s practice is about ‘a passing’.

Turn to page 27 if Jessa’s practice is about something else…

Earlier this year I went and saw Siobhan Davies performing from her archive, re-invigorating it with dancers who took her older work as starting points for new gestures, embodying and referencing the past as they made something new.

Here I am in time and space.

Here is my gesture to the past but I am in this moment expressing it.

I felt at home watching this. I felt at home in the archive.

She spoke about memory and experience as sort of compost heap, where things happened and fed the body. I thought: “Yes! That’s what I feel! I have come home!”

So why didn’t I say something about this in my conversation? It should be so simple – my practice is about…my practice is about…I’m practising saying what my practice is about.

I worry it’s about myself and no one else is interested and it’s indulgent and narcissistic, I said.

“Do you think Tracy Emin or Marina Abromovic wake up in the morning and worry about that?”

No!

But is that it?

I am still reluctant to commit.

Turn to page 37 if Jessa’s practice is about herself.

Turn to page 9 if Jessa’s practice is about something else…

And yet…

And yet…

A long time ago I worked as a reporter and it was a useful and productive part of my career. Afterwards, when I had started working with pictures as well, I couldn’t decide if I was a writer who took photographs or a photographer who wrote. Again, decisions decisions…. It seems the very act of committing to a point of view is too much of a burden, like I need and emergency exit if it’s really “NOT THAT”.

The body as an archive…this phrase has been bothering me for some time – I guess I felt the body had to be mine… or at least be a body.

Maybe it doesn’t.

In an early piece of work, I Did, I remember the first feedback I had – the dress is like a second self, a body. And of course it is – an embodiment of hopes and fears, unrealised dreams, nostalgia and loss all at the same time. So I thought the emotional thing was what my practice was about.

Now, with this question still plaguing me, I come back to the body, the body, the body. This thing which exists itself as a signifier for the experience lived.

In Conversations with my mother I destroyed images of myself / my mother. The photograph is inadequate, I said. It doesn’t do enough. And I thought the performance of the destruction was the thing that powered me onwards. But maybe the photograph itself in that instance was the body. Here is this thing, and it stands for something – home and dreams, unrealised times, nostalgic and complicated pasts.

Turn to page 29 if Jessa…..

Turn to page 4 if…

Decisions decisions.

Once when I was 13 I couldn’t decide about which school I was going to go to out of the two choices I had been offered. I had dithered so long about this it was driving my mum up the wall. Finally, when I was in the bath one evening, she told me I couldn’t get out until I had decided. I sat there until the water was really really cold, trying to work out all the permutations.

The body, the body, the body…

The body is an archive…What I see becomes part of my body. What happens to us becomes part of our bodies. Our bodies reflect what has happened and what is happening to us. I perform what has happened to me. It’s all an act.

This is my practice on this page at this moment.

Still turning the page. Still practicing.

Practice makes….|…..Emergency exits

Stitching photographs: I

Conversations with my mother

Discovering the use of stitch on photographic prints has been a satisfying experience. It emerged organically out of working on my earlier painted and burned images, which sometimes had paper stitched onto them. As I have became more engaged in this, the patterns have became more and more intricate. It also a strangely meditative process – sitting there, looking at the image in such a detailed way. I enjoyed the technical challenges – the problems of having to turn the paper over constantly, the threads buckling, the needles breaking or blunting.

There is also something fascinating about making the marks on the paper. It is not lost on me that Barthes writes of the punctum, and here I am, piercing photographic paper with a needle over and over again.

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of something going through time and space in photography. Threads embody this for me. While the image might be taken in a fraction of a second, the thread takes hours and hours.

You can see more examples here.

Stitching photographs: I