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...
The Anglesey sky wrapped me in a calm zone like a bath of warm water this week...
I was able to think further about the collage work and the fragments from the photographs - motifs all lodged in my head which sometimes appear in the paper shapes and gaps and at other times emerge as painted motifs...
the brooch from Helena's blouse and the little frill on Ida's collar...
Im thinking about how the paper knitting, collages and painted sketches can come together in a series of totems. I have the mod roc to start the series with...
Im thinking about language again and how the simplicity of the scissors and sticking was the starting point once more for bigger ideas. The action of cutting into copied of photos giving me endless room to remake narrative.
So possibly as the video camera was my sketchbook when I began using it, I have now replaced this with the scissors and glue.
I'm excited at the idea of walking around the pieces when I have made them. The movement around a sculpture, however small seems to allow time to play out differently when you experience an object. It means you see it from all directions, but the view always changes.
Interesting to think about this in relation to memory which is always changing.
The summer has flown past and I haven't had much time to work with looking after the little ones which has been taking up so much time and energy. It has meant I am ready to get things moving again and even though still small scale I think these weeks of playing and being wrapped up in physical contact at long last has allowed the ideas to come together. And in a way I couldn't have imagined in the spring.
The desire to make more collages this week followed hot on the heels of my deep reflections last week about the action of cutting. Possibly the power of the scissors is akin to the power of the pencil? The hand cuts directly into the material - a signal sent into the hand without mediation, and capturing a feeling instantaneously.
The misty images (like the one above) transforming into more readable sharper abstract shapes.
The collage I began this time I realised had been in my thoughts for many years. When I have completed it I will post it on here , but for now I wanted to set down what is happening in the making of it. As with all the other recent collages I found an old photocopy of a photograph that satisfied my sensation of the moment.
Today I was concerned with outside and inside, windows and light. The one I set upon was of a hotel room in southern Europe somewhere - our Grammy in shadow - deeply involved in what looked like eating breakfast in the room. The action of cutting into the upper half of the photocopy at first felt difficult, but once in there I began to imagine I was in the room with her and as the scissors worked around the table edge and window frame the sensation of 'being inside' the space was heightened...
Once satisfied with the cutting out of different elements I began rearranging them to express my own feelings about the stories we were told about her travels, and also my confusion over where these stories ended. Some of the remembered shadows of childhood emerge during this process... The collages are about memory and emotion. But the sticking of the positives and negatives becomes a healing process that allows a new image to surface.
Last week a wonderful friend and old colleague came to the garden to talk about a possible project that we would research to continue the flow of ideas that we have been working on for over 20 years.
We wondered what the drivers were for the impulse to work in a particular way. Why was language, representation and collaboration so important to us? We shared many deep thoughts about family, early experiences and the need to understand the motivating forces that impacted on us as artist and researcher.
Our slow but animated conversation led us to think about the creative elements that might inform some work in our much loved city with families who want to share their histories in new ways. 'Literacies to heal' which might include collage and oral histories felt like a good place to start. The ease of cutting and sticking and the sense of (re)forming, and making new images from old (memory) flowed through our discussion.
Each family tree made up of a direct but different language that can be shared between generations.
I am beginning to think more about the ongoing appearance of particular forms and what is the intention of the pieces I am making. Jack Whitten's exhibition a few years ago reminded me that the form you choose to make the work - the process of the making - should reflect the ideas you are trying to convey. The painting above is called The Gift: dedicated to the memory of Packy, 1988. Packy was a student of Whitten's who had died prematurely - and so he posed a question to himself 'how do you memorialize a person or event without resorting to illustrational devices?' he goes on to write in his journal that he uses material to transfer this information..the fragments of the acrylic in the painting are describing a set of feelings.
Many, many years ago I first started thinking about the way family myths and narratives (often circulating within and next to the old photographs and baldessa camera ever present in our childhood...) can impact on the way a child perceives the world. And this impact has constantly played over in my mind as soon as I settle to making a piece. These pieces I have made for over 20 years are consistently trying to redo, reinvent, massage and recreate. And in choosing to use the medium of sewing and collage I feel able to cut, stitch and remake.
What am I remaking?
The beautiful photographs I received from cousin Helen, together with the magnificent albums my friend showed me of Carl Tighe's collection of Polish photographs, reminded me that my history is not simply of a gaping hole, a grainy black and white image of genocide, or a loss. It is of presence amongst the absence. I can reimagine my great grandmother's thick textured cloak with the crochet style detail peeping through behind the clasp and think about how she must have lingered around the rolls of funky textiles in Lodz, maybe sewing and resewing, stitching and creating.
So here we are again, Finding Helena is finding the medium...
I wanted to say something about the titles of things I do.
It seems they are a way of pulling things together but they often change....So why 'Finding Helena'?
Helena was the name given to me 'because it was your great grandmother's name- she was left behind in Poland'.
And for all these years up until the landing of the box from Cousin Helen I hadn't been able to work out if I'd ever seen an image of her. The only place I'd seen her name was on the Chemnitz monument in the large Jewish cemetery there.
And so seeing her with great grandfather Tobias (I knew what he looked like as Mum had once confirmed that a long time ago when looking through the photographs she had) was a moment of confrontation as much as contentment. The fixing of her image in my mind set in motion more questions than it answered.
Standing clutching her handbag in a beautiful embroidered cloak, Helena looks directly to camera. But there is no story to accompany the image. A blank is lodged there, making the 'seeing' of her particular smile and dark eyes a powerful but difficult moment.
So I asked myself why at this point I wanted to begin making work on something that caught the essence of a search or a 'finding'.
What are photographs without a context?
Or maybe the context is the absence?
The context is the knowledge of her murder and of the silencing of her story to muffle the deepest pain the photograph must have brought when looked at by her surviving children and grandchildren.
These are the questions I want to ask, amongst many.
I realise 'publishing' her face or any of the other 'unknown' women's and children's faces online is complex. This is part of a long and complicated journey which began with the first installation I made in 1997 .
The details I picked for this blog are of small corners of the photographs. A visual grazing which is part of the 'Finding'.
The search for the Finding of Helena I am sure is not for the simple 'recognition' of the image but of something else....
And I will add more to the blog as I delve deep into the reasons for these dreams of longing and constant excavation. The little corners I have posted are from the new set of photos, and they are small spaces - ones I can hide behind.
Like the pieces I made for 'Cornerworks' in 2007 they skirt around the people that were there at the moment of the shutter clicking. You sense they are maybe ghosts at the edges where a figure is pictured further to the left, right, above or below...Lost in space.
Making the new collages at the same time as writing this will I hope will bring me face to face with these difficult questions.....
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.