This morning I spent with the amazing 'Displacement Aesthetics' group at the Whitworth exploring ideas around the collection. We have been talking through many complex issues about politics, power, identity and culture which are all being opened up by the group working alongside curators at the Whitworth. The aim is to see how to rethink the displays and collecting policies of the gallery through the lens of displacement and have this as a model that other galleries and museums might want to use. All the info is here about the project
It is a huge privilege to be working with this group and I have been so moved by the sharing of our stories. The issue of postmemory came up in relation to my contribution.
As part of the group I have chosen the following piece
It is a Russian mat and will be the focus for my responses to all the generous and deeply provocative conversations.
The collage I have been making this winter using all my old pastels from the late 90s is somehow also in the ring with my thinking about these debates.... The reframing and digging underneath the surface of often violent stories of displacement which have often generated such powerful new stories...
Also I am reminded again of the often large and significant gaps (see the Still below taken from the video made 15 years ago 'From Bohemia') that are part of these important conversations.
I have been daydreaming a great deal since the arrival of beautiful Arlo.
In the studio the collage pieces continue in a different form. Reflecting on the the enormity of pregnancy and childbirth the work I think is about the continual reframing and reassembling that happens as daughters become mothers and new threads entwine with older ones.
The earlier motifs I made as a young mother have been pieced together with newer marks and patterns...
After experiencing the magnificent Howardena Pindell show at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge (see image below) I have been reflecting once more on the idea of the painted collage as a space for healing. Pindell articulates brilliantly in her descriptions the importance of making large abstracts in enabling her to work with traumatic subject matter, especially racial violence. The show travels to Bristol soon....
Images from making of FOLD
After the busy summer months of making and sharing time with little ones the collages for Fold are complete. The findings for the project were unexpected but as with all work made in partnership and collaboration this reflected the bigger context of political upheaval and emergency we are all now experiencing.
The material from the care homes (apart from one set of fascinating images) did not arrive. As I thought within the settings themselves the low levels of staffing together with the switch back from working online had impacted heavily on all participants. The CultureBox team wanted to know whether or how I would proceed at this point and I made many notes in my journal to think through what might be useful at this point.
A series of 60 small 'Diaspora Collages' came to my mind. All part of a 'group', folded together conceptually by the merging of my own experiences of being with our beautiful Pippa and the previous work I had done in Bury. And at the centre of the Fold was the memory of the batch of images sent by the one care home who had participated.
Here are the notes from my journal that track the process of these last stages of Fold
How do I progress Fold with only 10 images from one Care Home?
motifs pop up on the sheets sent to me in a disparate way. They are 'on their own' unrelated to the rest of the sheet. Floating in space on the sheet
*space as 'possible loss' a key element?
*the loss of planned composition possibly mirroring loss of planning?
*resilience and focus on a set of patterns (think about lace)?
*lace drafting for pattern?
*something of the magpie idea, with the dropping of motifs and words (reminds me of Pippa and her collecting of twinkly treasured bangles even at later stages of her journey through dementia)?
If no more images are received I have many images from the Bury project to reflect upon. Get these out
Most of these shared the same element of 'dropping in' that characterised the HazelGrove images that arrived
As I have used the process of loss of image (PRINT) with the Bury commission maybe think now about focus on a different process that reflects what happens with making marks and exploring memories in the Care Homes
The series of COLLAGED cloths could highlight SPACE and attempts to JOIN SPACE and possible loss of whole image
Experiment also with working into the nest idea (placing treasured objects in holes). The experience of P making nest with her hands with the sheets still strong. A 'containing' movement that linked to the feelings of a magpie collecting items in a nest
Try using scraps of old artworks which are already torn up ready to use (in painting experiments)
Thoughts on nests after test pieces
*too hidden and not connected to the set of images from HazelGrove that point to a different PROCESS
reflecting again on these HazelGrove images
*no central image
*space central to the ideas
*PATTERNS emerge from the images
*knitting, maths games, music notes
*feel like I am peering through to a space and time before the present. The connection to Fold is in here - time and space folding in on one another. My responses also now folding into the images as I revisit them over and over again
QUESTION:HOW TO MAKE VISIBLE THIS PROCESS?
Messing about with granddaughter Izzy, I played alongside her with her 'scratch' book. The flower garden and princess emerged bit by bit as flecks of the outer layer were removed. As she scratched I reflected on the idea of deep hidden images (scratch the surface).
Remembering the old method of wax crayon layers I did a quick trial....
*wax enables me to viscerally feel my way through a process of uncovering a hidden motif bit by bit.
*most of first layer of image can remain covered and hidden from view while other bits emerge
*experiment with cutting out the wax layers into small pieces (cutting and sticking without too much thought and enjoying the playfulness and memory of childhood activity)
*ironing a similar deep process that is embedded in childhood memory - the joy of flattening out the cloth
As the experiments continue I am finding more and more connections to my original Fold concepts. Making a series of layered images (glued, folded and stuck together) means that elements are folded in on one another.
The iron on interfacing is especially important as it allows a ghost like shape to take form harking back to shapes that are important to me and reappear consistently. I can respect the cut outs from other shapes - showing how a previous action (seemingly negative) can be included in the image
List of processes used:
*inclusion of bits of photocopies taking hold now
*the bits of lost records I cannot fathom
*'lost' images and fragments that still feel wounding
Discussion with artist Michelle Olivier after showing her one of the 60 emerging pieces:
"each collage is from a family with some likenesses but each an individual. Like your family they will be dispersed. In this case between the care homes (not around Europe). The memories are linked - a series - a Diaspora Collage"
Above: black and white tissue and chalk picture by Veena from Spurr House Care Home, Bury 2014
At long last the first images for the Fold project have arrived. They were so different from anything that I had seen when I worked at the Bury care home a few years ago now.
The first set caught me by surprise. I was delighted with them and spent some time making some notes and realising immediately that these would change my initial ideas about what I might make. I could tell from looking at the folders on the screen that the care worker and the resident had worked extremely closely together.
The images had a powerful 'repeated' pattern within them and exploring them with an old colleague I realised that the images were provoking a completely different response to those I experienced in Bury. These responses I realised were prompted by my own recent and personal experiences of spending time with my beautiful sister-in-law, Pippa, who died last month and who had lived with early onset dementia. I talked with Ela about this at length.
My own feelings about my her were somehow projected onto the images that had been sent to me from the care home. I need to make sure that with the work I make that this experience is explained. The first step of this is outlining as best I can these very profound feelings on this blog. The inclusion of the concept of a Deleuzian Fold allows I feel for the 'sandwiching' of experiences together and I will be thinking more about this as the work progresses.
The impact of seeing the ‘spaces’ in the chalk and felt tip coloured patterns was the first thing to strike me as I opened the online folders. Also the large areas of blank black tissue which surrounded the small chalky motifs. This was a different type of image from those made in Bury when the same materials had been used. The carefully drawn flower shapes on one of the images made me think again about spaces and holes. About lace. About loss but also containment.
The other conversation we had concerned the difference between my initial idea of making a series of 2-D pieces to making a series in 3D. Ela and I discussed some of the reasons this why this might have occurred...
As I had explained to Chloe Asker when she interviewed me for her blog entry on the CutureBox project, I feel very much that it is the response to the ‘process’ of the making in the care homes that I want the work to reflect. This was how I had approached the work in Bury and I want to continue this.
There is a complexity to this commission because with this new work I am not able to be ‘in the room’ with the participants. So I am unable to pick up the nuances of the gestures or conversations or movements during painting, drawing or modelling. And importantly the discussions between resident and the care worker.
So I can only glean from looking at the images through the filter of the screen what that might have been, and in so doing I realise that there are also gaps or 'holes' in my understanding of the process.
This is part of the process of working from a distance or within a virtual network and I will aim to reflect this in the final work. It doesn’t mean to say that the pieces I make will be any less responsive or less distinctive or less profound. It will mean that I am responding to the work the care homes create itself and the different processes.
As I explained with my initial proposal for Fold the nuances in thinking that would occur as we all move through the project might change the eventual materials (from those initially envisaged) and the final realisation of the pieces. Allowing the process to ‘unfold’ and responding to it. Rather as a jazz improvisation.
The impact of my reading of the images that I have received via the screen now are folding together to create something different to the work I had initially imagined. That difference is taking the form of a desire to make the work in three dimensions rather than two.
It allows me to look at the imagined conversation or the imagined gesture or the imagined emotional discussion. And also to integrate the experiences of my time with Pippa and my thoughts about memory work.
Binding it together within a small three-dimensional sculpture forces the viewer of the objects I make to have more time when they see it at the care home and experience the sculpture.
In a two-dimensional piece the reading is different.
This project has forced me to spend time reflecting on the filtering or ‘translation’ of ideas. If you like it may be considered as ‘walking around the idea’ in the same way that I might walk around a three-dimensional piece of work.
I will work on bringing together some of the beautiful motifs found on the screen possibly with some of my own recurring motifs made after my own care home visits. So they might recall or respond to the individual images I see on screen (so far grids, patterns, spaces, numbers and words) and these will be folded together with my own experiences.
So the whole piece is looking at the way that we might come to see memory loss like a canvas where holes may appear against a vista of dark or light. But these holes contain a distant memory which may not be fixed or clear. They create another space of intricate and beautiful images which Fold will try to make visible.
The Fold project is on a back burner while I wait for one of the other artists to start. It has given me a bit more reflection time which is great, and I have been experimenting with different types of interfacing fabric so that I get exactly the right 'fold' in the material...
In the meantime I have been working on further research for the Begehungen' project. Whether we get the funding or not Julia and I have decided to go to Chemnitz...
Here is my summary of what is happening in the project proposal together with a little sketch. Working on the project has given me many new ideas - I have realised that a time based work is important - and that it can sit alongside completed pieces that are here for the duration...
For the Chemnitz Festival 'Begehungen 2022' the installation proposal 'kleine Wellen (Ripple) brings together many years of research. The ‘piecing together’ of this history, with its great emotional impact, is akin to a detective story. This intervention will form a ‘splash’ into the disused Thalheim pool (the site of the residency) that contains the colourful stories of our lost family. Using small tiles of copied archive material (photos, letters, documents) we will begin to trace the connections between them and the other tiles which during the duration of the residency may be added by the local community.
The many threads in these stories often lead nowhere, but sometimes a sudden linkage of strands unravels something hidden. The journey to understand a dramatic family event is often linked to political upheaval. It is often akin to embarking upon a detective case, and in a similar way the 'evidence' will build up within the Thalheim pool.
I began work on Fold this week.
It is such an exciting project and it has taken me back into the work I did in Bury at wonderful Spurr House.
This first few weeks I have been rethinking the process of making work in the care homes. How will we do this without me being present?
Errol Francis from CutureBox and I agreed that I would send material via their boxes which go to all the care homes....So I have begun to look at an instruction sheet - mainly in pictures, about selecting some important and special objects.
I got out the treasured copy Mum gave me of 'Old Peter's Russian Fairy Tales' together with a photograph of Grammy on a bus in Spain and a few other bits and pieces... It took me back to the first moments at Spurr when I simply explained why I connected to these little objects...and showed some work I'd made about them. I'm hoping that telling this in simple phrases on the sheets will enable the care home 'dyads' to begin. Fingers crossed. The first step its to note down words that the resident and carer share with the object...Here are mine!
In the basement over the past few weeks I have started working with some bits and pieces alongside the torn up photocopies...My friend Karen, who has always been an inspiration (her thoughts on making and artists often bring on a productive time), brought over some packing material and we made some pieces together. This was the result.
'Nest' responds to a series of other works on the wall, which you can see below just out of focus.
The past few weeks have been full of new ideas and challenges. The Culture Box project came through and I'm busy experimenting with the ideas I sent them..... Thinking more about how to make visible my own process of sifting through images and forgetting most of them but selecting and working round and round the very strong few...And how this process can be used in working with people with dementia to celebrate the visual processes explored during the AHRC funded project in the south west... My proposal had to be rewritten (twice!) but to my delight we were all able to agree the commission after some really energising conversations. Here is the core of it
'This multimedia piece will explore complex themes concerning creativity, care, imagination, respect, compassion and security.
It will sit within the relationships between staff and residents strand of the Culture Box Show, which is the final part of an 18 month AHRC project exploring how creative activities can support people living with dementia in care homes.
I will take the notion of the Deleuzian fold to generate an interactive piece. Deleuze describes how the world is interpreted as a body of infinite folds and surfaces that twist and weave through compressed time and space - a metaphor for describing the complex and evolving research on creativity and dementia and my own practice. The final 29 pieces will be made in collaboration with the five Dyads (care worker and resident in the participating care homes), one artwork for each home, responding to activities that can be done remotely and with appropriate art materials. These final pieces will explore in their construction and the process of the making the notion of Deleuzian fold.'
So I have been down to the basement a lot and started experimenting with collage moments. Just a tiny bit of a photocopied image is enough to kick start a whole host of emotion - bringing shapes and colours together to describe the longing. Without the tiny torn up copies this does not happen. The addition of the torn up pieces (from my bag of early drawings and prints) seemed to feel right. Memories became embedded into the paper. This melding together was satisfying - and related back to the Deleuzian idea where things can be 'compressed' within the fold...
Experiments without using the torn up old artwork or copies left a void of feeling in comparison... And the collage images although decorative didn't have the presence of those with that embedded layer...
Next step is to work out how to make the pieces on fabric that can be folded and unfolded between residents as in Her Tree...Its been a beautiful few days and I have dreamt of Mum so many times while making all this work.
At last I have been able to move through a process of spending time with the photo box and then collaging together pieces of plaster of paris bandage. - layering, then painting and repainting. The so far untitled object (possibly a 'herloom') tells the tale of my relationship to the things I have felt drawn to in the photographic images...
For this little sculpture, I became engrossed with the myriad of little designs on the backs of the Russian photos and the imagined colours of Helena's brooches and bangles....
It has been an exciting day as I met the wonderful Michelle Olivier a fellow artist who lives nearby and we talked about ghosts, collage, identity and converting rooms to studio spaces...The word 'violence' came into our discussion on the process of collage - tearing and cutting are acts of sabotage somehow. I hadn't thought about collage in this light before. I have maybe used collage to mend and smooth together in the pieces made during lockdown but its true that I may be attempting to cut through some deep fears with the cutting out of elements and the action of sewing in (making holes). I described this in the audio journal made for Lodz Banquet.
It's maybe a good idea to keep researching the ideas behind the collage process - as they seem to reappear all the time in the making.
Feeling excited today after our meeting and moving along with the new pieces using old drawings, photocopies and fabric...
I began writing this blog to share the 'process' of making a new project that brought together the research, collaborations and issues as they arise in the making of a piece of work.