“How can you move others if you can’t move yourself?”
This sentence came from a teacher of a class I took at drama school, over 20 years ago. Although the class was ostensibly about physically moving your body around the room, I consider the sentiment extending to a more encompassing idea of performance. As I continue my path these words continue to live with me and informs my practice now as a visual artist.
It surfaced in my mind when I really embraced making personal work. I had / have been thinking long and hard about the purpose of making such work – was / is anyone else interested in it? Will it connect to others? What is the point of it? These thoughts originally had coincided with my growing reluctance to photograph other people. I felt inherently uncomfortable about these power relationships, how someone else was fixed in the image by me, wielding the camera. I felt very uneasy about being the recorder of such things, and more at home with the ambiguities I could explore within my own story and how these could radiate out instead.
But this sentence kept reappearing in my mind…the one from the movement class.
I became aware that I was only really comfortable with stories originating from me…so if I could explore that with openness it would hopefully make meaning to someone else.
It has been a stitch-heavy couple of months this Spring, making a larger version of the ‘quilt’ that has been part of My Mother’s Daughter. I am pleased to reveal this new work – Role play (woman with cushion). This large-scale piece is made of digital C-types stitched together, then painted with inks. I embellished many of the images with needle-marks, additionally painting over the top. A border is hand-stitched at the bottom, with hand-pierced sides. The work is suspended on a gold wooden baton. To see the work please come to FIX Photo Festival at the Bargehouse, Oxo Wharf, London. It is open May 12th – 21st, with slightly varied opening times depending on the day. Please see the website for details.
Earlier this week we had our opening for My Mothers Daughter – a group show with Celine Marchbank and Paloma Tendero about what it means to be a daughter when the maternal line behind you has been fractured. Each of us in the exhibition have lost our mothers and we all explore different aspects of what this means for us as adult women.
For me, it was very emotional. It was the first time I had shown this particular set of work. Although I had taken the pictures during the same time as I was making Conversations with my mother I did not know what to do with them. They made me very sad, because I was right in the middle of treatments for fertility. It was all a bit – well, raw.
When I got the email from Celine about making a show together, I didn’t know I was going to show them. It kind of just happened, and I didn’t have time to think about it too deeply. That was a good thing. Sometimes you just have to almost “not think” about it, because if you did maybe you wouldn’t do it.
It was immediately apparent after our first group Skype that we had a deep understanding of showing together, and were sensitive to the subject beyond just saying so. When we hung the work it looked so right together.
I love sewing. I love sewing photographs. I love paint and making things. My mother taught me to knit when I was about 6 years old – it’s just plain and purl, and that’s it. I probably learned sewing about the same time – I can’t actually remember. But I do remember making my own clothes a lot – from the age of around 8 or 9. So I must have been sewing before then.
My mother made a patchwork quilt that she really loved when I was a teenager, but about 8 years ago she took it to the dry cleaners and lost the ticket and it disappeared, sadly. I have another one she made, but the first one definitely has gone. Even now when I walk past the dry cleaners I look hopefully through the window, despite knowing it went to a charity shop and will belong to someone else. I have been making a patchwork quilt of my own since I was about 19, thanks to inspiration from a friend at university who even made patchwork shower caps! It’s got fabric in the middle which I bought from Dingles (anyone remember that department store?) when I was – well, about 9 or 10 I think. So that’s the back story to this work: Role Play (woman with cushion). I hope you can see the show – it’s on weekdays, 9:00 am – 6:30 pm upstairs in the Health Centre on Bartholemew Road, Kentish Town, London NW5. More info about Free Space Gallery here.
Earlier this year I was invited to show some work with Celine Marchbank and Paloma Tendero. The result is My mother’s daughter, opening on March 9th at Free Space Gallery in London.
When we started discussing what it was that we were exploring it became apparent we were all trying to make sense of what it was to be a daughter with a gaping hole in the maternal line preceding us. For me, the opportunity to show work together has been about looking in more depth at pictures I made that consider my experiences with miscarriage and fertility treatment.
When things had become initially difficult for me it coincided with my mother dying. I tried making pictures for a ‘performance of pregnancy’. I was continuing my attempts to make work despite having no space to think, trying to articulate everything that was happening. I acted out shapes of a swollen stomach with a cushion, wearing my grandmother’s blue dress. But I found it all a bit too sad….so I stopped.
Later, after my mother died, I found some beautiful pictures of her pregnant with me – two 5×4 transparencies, glowing like tiny Dutch paintings, taken by my father in 1975. Even though they had been in my possession for years since his own death more than a decade before I had never looked in this particular box, only opening it less than a month after her funeral instead.
I have always been fascinated by children’s role-playing… imagination propelling their games of dress -up. I did it myself, putting on my mother’s platform shoes as a little three- or four-year-old girl, tromping about the garden as a ‘grown up’.
In my first months and years as an adult orphan I started to perform this role again. Only this time I was grown up – I was just still pretending to be a mummy.
Along with my solo show Armour studies (regarding skin), currently on at Vittoria Street Gallery in Birmingham, I am “In Conversation” this Thursday 2nd February at 5:00 with Sian Hindle, as part of the series Talking Practice. The event is free but you need to book – link here.