Looking forwards: 2017
The last blog became so constipated and paranoid from procrastination that my 2017 blog resolution is to post more often. I doubt my mastery of sentences to express what I want to say – when I write I feel meaning unravelling behind me even as I attempt to push forward into thought. I don't know if I can even think! Picture Mona Hatoum’s piece “+ and -” in which two blades revolve in a pool of sand – one marking out concentric lines and the other following to obliterate them.
So at the beginning of 2017 here is where I am - lots of books on the go and ideas fermenting:
At the end of last year I read an essay on writing by Anne Patchett1 There was much that seemed relevant to my processes as a visual artist. Particularly around accepting one’s own limits and plumbing deeper into them (finish what you started because the new idea always turns into the old one); separating the part that makes from the part that judges (so easy to say and so hard to remember to do); don’t just think about being creative – actually sit down and make the time to do it and something about ambition – aiming for something almost beyond your reach, be it technically or emotionally.
Every year one of my artistic resolutions is to “play” more – to make time for spontaneous and making alongside the bigger, more laboured pieces. Heeding Anne Patchett's exhortation to actually make the time for the thing you think you want to do. I realise that if I am going to play – I need to make the time and space for it to happen. Initially I thought I would make an image a day – some quick thing, or a photo of an object seen differently, or modified. I hoped that could be a way to gather up themes or find the essence of an idea by making it quickly and crudely. The things I make might be aspects of feeling or thinking which I want to reject - and I might only recognise them in the future. By documenting the creations nothing will be lost. Although why does losing stuff matter?
When I think about playing in this sense, I would like to achieve something of the quality of the experience of making in Art Therapy groups – in both my personal therapy and during “experiential” groups during my Goldsmith’s MA. There was often a moment where the feelings and thoughts of the moment and the materials available just coalesced into something very powerful. Often I did feel that I had created a jewel - something that I was pleased and proud to share. I think again of Marion MIlner's reference to William Blake's idea of the prolific and the devourer2 - needing someone to want and value what you do at at the right time; needing to believe that the other person wants what you produce. Part of the alchemy in these groups was in the awareness of being seen – working in the presence of others.
The first book I read in 2016 was Anita Brookner's Look at Me. I copied a paragraph into my diary
"it was then that I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is to me. It is your penance for not being lucky. It is an attempt to reach others and to make them love you . It is you instinctive protest, when you find that you have no voice at the world's tribunals and that no-one will speak for you. I would give my entire output of words, past, present, and to come, in exchange for easier access to the world, for permission to state "I hurt" or "I hate",or "I want" Or even "look at me".
Art objects as stand in - body double - for the undesirable real me?
The words that come to mind in relation to play are "risk", "delight", "surprise", "forgetfulness of my own identity", ~"permission". The last time I played with others was in a drama group last year - there was a lot of laughter, there was embarrassment overcome and a sense of transgression - not behaving as adults should.
I am not sure how one plays "successfully" alone?
I thought I might post the daily images on social media – one way to crack the solitude problem (albeit after the event). However once I started making images I realised I had forgotten "inspiration". Most of the things I have made so far have been distinctly dull; their objectness has caused no inner reverberation, no delight or surprise or inner chuckle. I certainly don't want to share them. I didn't need to make them; "need" has its own schedule perhaps. Sometimes I get fixated on a certain image - and when I make it it means nothing to me, but until I make it , I can't get beyond it. Maybe I am making somebody else's image. Maybe I thought the image to death before I picked up scissors, paper, fabric... Can I find a way to be open to the necessary images without imposing a rigid routine? Does it have to be daily? A time limitation (boundary) is important - the thing has to be finished in - half an hour? Play has no regrets or guilt - it absorbs and then it is done.
The only way to find out is to do it.
So the plan at present is to have a Pinterest album of spontaneous or playful images (with any associations) and share only the more interesting ones on Instagram or Facebook. I have been slow starting this - resetting lost passwords for social media accounts and finding out how they work all over again. Writing this blog. Paid work. Yawn!
I have been thinking about Picasso’s distinction between seeking and finding – seeking seems to have the possibility of failure, whereas finding is always a success in some way? So first I thought I would tag these images as finding forms, then founding forms – and last night (sleepless), I thought maybe "foundling forms" – because they are being saved from being thrown away, or maybe I can throw them away and then reclaim them - the process of documenting becomes the token for redemption?
The first Foundling Form (maybe that is too pretentious?!) that i would like to share is a moving one. I had been thinking about my goddess, revolving around herself and how my work tends to involve singular objects not groups. I often think that I want to (should?) make links between things. Although after an irritating phone call I just found myself thinking distinctly that “I want to sever all links” too. So much self contradiction! Anyway, in the studio I assembled a group of recently made, unconnected objects into a mobile – to see how it would feel if they revolved around one another. I liked the shadows and the weird confusion between the objects rotating and the static ones on the wall.
And then again a few days later – suddenly I saw how the light was catching the sheet of paper and incorporating a shadow of an object beyond the group which was hanging in the window. I am entranced by these moving images, poor quality as they are.
There is something in Luce Irigaray – about how girls spin – in relation to maternal absence (in contrast to the infant boy's fort-da). I can't find the book I was reading it in3 but it seems important.
I am reading an art therapy article about repetition in therapy and in art6. How repetition can relate to life (mastery, meditation) or to death (stagnation or simply holding oneself together). I feel ashamed of the time it takes me to make a piece of work - all the tiny hand stitches. The stitches vary, sometimes uniform, sometimes unruly - although those small difference disappear in the great mass of the whole. I found myself jotting down thoughts about goddess of death - beyond the crone. Those grinning skeletal Hindu Chamundas in the British Museum. I am listening to an audio book of Irving Yalom’s book about death anxiety and learning to endure the idea of the inevitability of one’s own death4. I am also listening to Elizabeth Gilbert on having the courage to live a creative life: to allow oneself to feel alive5.
My Skeleton Woman sculpture
I have also been reading an article about container/contained in psychoanalysis7. The idea that the infant has to experience sufficient containment/attunement/toleration of rage by the mother in order to construct a self rescuing capacity. Taking back an ameliorated emotion is also taking back some of the mother or therapist's capacity for containing - for being one's own container (soother/thinker). Without that one is endlessly looking for an external rescuer. Grappling with ideas of evolving mental space is always so rewarding - identification with the father like a mental wedge to allow separation and difference from the mother.
This article was sent to me after I presented to the art therapist/artist peer group I belong to. I made it too personal! I think that for me, sewing, repetitive sewing of 3D forms is about containing – making something which can hold securely, and that means sometimes I don’t make space for the contained. Is this procrastinating; not reaching for the core but endlessly making a boundary, a box for the thing that I am too fearful to seize? Don't feel that I can risk reaching out for the essential thing that i really want because I am so busy making the stage. Empty box, envelope, stage. I guess some of the dolls constitute action/content. Hopefully the small objects and images, risks and fragments I plan to make and save during 2017 can be contained by the net (internet) and start to dance together.
I received a copy of Marina Abramovic’s autobiography for Christmas, that is next on the reading list.
When I first became interested in labyrinths I was intrigued by their connection with ritual dance. I have been thinking about movement – how much I love the co-ordinated dance parts of my exercise classes and how I have wanted but been too afraid to go to a 5 Rhythms group. New Year challenge! In Salley Vickers’ book The Cleaner of Chartres the heroine cleans the famous floor labyrinth daily - at the end of the book you realise that each day she has also been walking the labyrinth - undertaking the spiritual task of healing herself in the guise of the apparently monotonous repetitive task of cleaning. Invisible in plain sight.
I went to see the Rauschenberg retrospective at the Tate recently and it was an absolute joy – especially the early rooms and the clips of the dancers.
Aren't mobiles like dances? The Tate's 2016 retrospective of Alexander Calder was another great revelation.
Finally, going around my mind in relation to life and death, nets and labyrinths, last November I went to a storytelling performance of some of The Thousand and One Nights. I read a wonderful version of this a few years ago8 and loved the way the stories looped and fed back into one another like a most amazing temporal paper cut. The evening involved an introduction by Marina Warner where she likened the stories to nets, protecting, trapping, tricking, deferring death.
1 Anne Patchett, The Getaway Car, in The Story of a Good Marriage
2 Marion Milner, On Not Being Able to Paint
3 HIlary Robinson, Reading Irigaray, Reading Art
4 Irving Yalom, Staring at the Sun
5 Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
6 Annamaria Cavaliero, Considering the Function of Repetition in Art and Psychotherapy
ATOL: Art Therapy OnLine 7 (1) 2016
7Jackie Gerrard, Rescuers, Containers: Fathers and Mothers in British Journal of Psychoterapy Vol9 (1), 1992
8 Hanan Al-Shaykh, One Thousand and One Nights