Art in Action

Inscription (untitled III)

I have been lucky enough to get a spot demonstrating in the Textiles tent at Art in Action this year. It’s the last time the event is running and I am really pleased to get to be a part of something which so many people love dearly. I am also thrilled to be showing work there because I have been inching towards this process of being interdisciplinary. My work is rooted in the photographic and I will always love this – the relationship to the index, the way the past is always present…but the stitch is equally important. Making a mark in another time and space, stretching time and space, getting into the skin of the image – these are things that have wriggled and squirmed their way into my practice.

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Art in Action

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

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….