A Necessary Language

IMG_3347I’ve written many times about my creative process, but thoughts and insights about my work evolve so quickly that any words rapidly become dated and redundant.
I once compared my art to a language that I learn only by direct experience of each letter and word, or a jigsaw that I don’t realise what the the final picture is, until it is completed.
I work with road kill, debri, the naturally dead and the discarded. I always have, but then I’ve always had the same fascination and perhaps identification with things that are not seen as beautiful unless you look at them through a different lense.
I’ve been creating totemic art work with these items since my teens when in some respects it was part of a counter cultural tribal expression; an eighties thing, part of the anarchic taboo breaking at a time when the world was changing or perhaps even on the cusp of ending.
I stopped for a while when I disconnected from myself in a drug use then drug recovery free fall, and when I became me again, I found it necessary to resume the process.
The more recent trend in taxidermy art hasn’t made me a star or increased sales of my objects as my work don’t seem to slot into that genre. I suspect it is too primitive and perhaps that is a good thing as my ‘creatures’ as I call them, I tend to view as my sometimes recalcitrant children, and I would have difficulty sending them to homes which could be unsuitable.
I’ve gone through a minor crisis of late, which though unpleasant can actually be good to have as it shakes things up and creates new perspectives and directions.
I’ve been to the Chelsea district in New York and seen high end conveyor belt investment art, where I most definitely don’t fit, and as I said I stand outside the current cool taxidermy trend (too old? not dressed properly or presenting a cool enough persona?) and my pieces are not overtly occult so that’s another niche market lost. So my work slides between the gaps which is maybe how it’s meant to be. Not an action that makes me money, but something which I have to do, an act which creates insights and expressions.
If I exhibit I sell, but I’m just not ruthless, driven or financially canny enough to do this frequently or in the conventional manner, and I like to play too much.
If I have an exhibition I don’t want a static event. I want a fluid creative dynamic and that edge of chaos element is definitely not a good basis for money making.
The creation of my pieces are not planned in advance. I have ‘ingredients’ that nudge me to amalgamate them when the time is right and they flow into a shape until reaching the point where they become alive.
Years’ ago, when my mother died I had a nasty existential crisis, what is the meaning of life and such like, and I realised, simply enough, life is about creativity.
Creativity is the balance to destruction (both the necessary and unnecessary kind). Creativity is having children, gardening…and art.
So my life is built around the creative act. Illuminating or appreciating the dark corners, expresssing and celebrating the lost, the forgotten, the confusions and the debris.
Fluid in expression but a non negotiable and very necessary act.

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THE PRICE OF HOPE

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I just couldn’t wake up today. I tried, but was trapped in a near paralysing foggy exhaustion that made it necessary to take the day off.
Usually I can fight through tiredness with a combination of bloody mindedness and caffeine but this time it wasn’t possible, so I went back to bed for many hours.
I planned as I drifted off to my second sleep to use the day to write a blog on my art, but now I’m actually (finally) operational I thought it would be more beneficial to write about how the Epclusa treatment for my hep c is going.
I’m in my third week of taking a drug that has seen me travel through anxiety, mania, nausea and irritation with a constant of heavy bodily exhaustion.
Some of the emotional swings I initially went through I realised were related to the past horrors I suffered on my previous pegulated-interferon treatment, and were anxiety related. Thus when I started to ‘feel’ side effects of this treatment I panicked and needed remind myself I was taking a drug potentially powerful enough to knock out a virus I’ve had for 30 years, so of course I would notice it in my system.
I’d done research on the drug prior to starting the treatment, and watched various of my peers take this medication, so was relatively informed.
I have noticed that the routine the hospital runs me through is not as intense as it was when I was on the interferon. No regular weigh in’s, blood pressure taking etc.
Today I was looking through online sufferers reactions to the drugs, including those who would love to take it to clear their illness but simply can’t afford it and I realise that this is yet another drug trial where fear of what could manifest means people, ‘the lucky ones’, are willing to pay 1000’s of pounds to use a new wonder drug that has not had its long term effects extensively researched.
The same happened with the peg-interferon. There was a given success rate of clearing the virus that didn’t take into account those that were unable to complete the treatment and those for whom the virus returned after its initial clearance.
Scrolling through comments sections on Epclusa, I don’t see the problematic side effects of the interferon but I do see side effects, I do see cases of the virus returning, and I do see possible post treatment manifestation of other illnesses. However seeing the heart breaking posts of those who cant afford this drug (including of veterans who contracted the Hep C in Vietnam) balances the risk somewhat.
So I’ll continue taking the pills. I’ve seen too many peers die horribly of illnesses related to Hep C, and though I’m relatively healthy (not drinking for 21 years has been a huge benefit of course) I’ve had times of liver related sickness that were horrendous and I’m aware that as I get older, these may well increase.
That’s today’s blog done.
Perhaps later I’ll write about my art but at this point it seemed more compelling to exorcise my fears and thoughts!

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THE BADGER, THE RUST KING AND THE SHATTERED GLASS

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I wouldn’t say that I’m clumsy, just over enthusiastic and prone to rush without thought of consequences or safety. This is why my phone case is one of those pieces of equipment used by the military, that can be dropped from high buildings or fall into deep waters, with no ill effect.
The fact that the indestructible glass on this case shattered whilst I was taking a photo at a week long exhibition/event that I recently co-ordinated, could of course show a design fault, but I think it is more likely an indication of how much adrenaline was flowing through me at the time.
I stopped organising events many years ago in order to focus on my own work. Sure I still organised exhibitions for myself and others but until now I’d managed for eleven years to avoid organising a large group of artists, performers and other creatives.
Some things are to be expected, such as fellow artists throwing up from fear and stress, integral pieces of equipment being lost, and contributors who needed a complex set up arriving from another country an hour before the preview party. I’m used to that. I’m an artist who buzzes off working with others, so stress, neurosis, chaos and drama are part of the equation.
What I had forgotten was how people find it difficult to appreciate and accept something that is free and unconditional as well as the invariable mean minded suggestions of ulterior motives on my part and the businesses that refuse to promote the event because of petty grievances or insecurity despite already working with some of the artists involved. All of this could have dragged me down if I’d allowed it, but I was too thoroughly immersed in stress and organisational logistics to fully register this, except in retrospect.
I put on an exhibition that was a backdrop to a creative morass, designed to inspire and stimulate.
It was a wonderful event but reminded me that often, that which has no obvious currency is regarded with suspicion.
When I was in treatment, the woman who ran the refuge gave me a nightgown, new, beautiful and still wrapped.
I was suspicious and angry. Why did she give this to me? What did she want?
Some twenty years later I gave a safe platform for art and change and community, and the reactions and aftermath are just as much part of the event as the event itself.
Now I’m very tired, but feeling good. No comedown, and this analysis will lose any emotional impact as soon as I write it out, although hopefully the insight will last.
Strangely enough, on the first day of ‘Rust,Blood and Bone’ I received a call from the hospital to tell me that my treatment for hep C had been approved and I’ll start next week.
Every night after we packed up the exhibition, I’d see the Mortuary Chapel’s resident badger ambling among the graves, looking for any left overs we may have scattered.
Transformational art magic with claws!

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Alice: The Fall, The Paparazzi, and The Transluscent Rabbit Hole.

IMG_1564Several years ago I compared participation in an art exhibition to a shamanic, initiatory descent.
Well I’m presently free-falling in a very non spiritual way and with only two weeks until my exhibition, I’m tettering over various precipices of anxiety, madness, confusion and frustration.
To create that extra frisson, as I’m wont to do when pushing the envelope of my own sanity, rather than a simple exhibition I’ve gone for a multi-artist, multi-media event. So I’m not only trying to hold together my own crumbling remnants but I’m also trying to organise a group of similarly inclined creatives.
I was talking to someone recently about writing a book and they were surprised when I said that if the writing of a book takes 3 months; the rewriting, editing and working with your publisher to get the book ready for publication, takes at least another 9 months.
Art is a similar process.The creative act occupies a pitifully small amount of time compared to the stress inducing dealing with social media, self- promotion, presentation and business organisation…all of which encroach horribly and occasionally painfully on the joyous making time when you are alone with your muses and various ingredients.
Working with other artists is an inspirational joy also tempered by those damn logistical technicalities.
The more I’ve allowed my art to dominate my life, the happier I am but also the more I get in touch with my inner space cadet, so to speak.
All of this runs in often direct opposition to my programme of recovery which is very much about order, structure, balance, measured behaviour and safety.
However for me true recovery meant connecting with the person that I am meant to be, the person that was lost for 19 years whilst I frenetically danced with my demons.
I had an exhibition in London several years ago, and I was flapping around (being around a lot of people makes me skitty) when I realised that this was who I was meant to be. Not the aforementioned crazed and anxious reactive behaviour, but rather the artist who creatively explores any and all strange spaces and as part of this, takes the risk of presenting her work to the public.
When a point of such tension is created, there is also created a gateway to what can potentially be huge transformation and change.
So in three weeks the long descent will be over. I’ll probably be in an exceptionally odd state for a while afterwards, but eventually I’ll emerge in a new aspect, slightly battered no doubt but invariably changed.

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In Praise of Future Spontaneity.

imageAn old friend from my drug using days in New Zealand, died recently.
I hadn’t seen him for many years and aside from sadness at his death I also felt an internal disquiet, as he was yet another of my peers to die from complications that developed from the Hepatitis C which most of us had.
In one of those quirky life synchronicities, around the same time as Simon’s death I was offered a course of Epclusa to treat my strain of the virus.
The original treatment that I was on, ten years ago, was a Ribrofen/interferon combination that was horrendous with side effects that caused me life threatening illness and terrible depression.
The treatment didn’t work and precipitated an early menopause and triggered Graves Disease, so in many ways I ended up sicker than when I began the course of medication. Strangely enough however, the interferon did have a huge benefit. The drugs temporarily destroyed my logical thought process to the point I couldn’t figure out how to open doors, use a can opener or recognise money, but my brain compensated this with a strengthened lateral perception. Once I realised this I channeled all my madness into creative expression. The effects of the medication indicated that I was interferon intolerant and I consequently spent years waiting for a medication that wasn’t based around this drug. Unfortunately when other options did become available the price was so prohibitive it was only offered by the NHS for sufferers who had already developed cirrhosis or liver cancer and were already seriously ill. Many in this country resorted to buyers clubs similar to those set up in the US in the height of the AIDS epidemic, and perhaps indicative of the present state of the healthcare system here, some UK doctors actually agreed to monitor those who have taken this route. I’ve been lucky enough to be offered this new drug regime by the hospital and a team that have been working with me for over a decade. Initially I had some trepidation about another course of medication when I’m feeling relatively okay, especially after the trauma of my last experience.

Then I realised that unlike the time I underwent the first course of treatment, I’m now ready to let go of the past. Several years ago I wrote a book about aspects of my earlier years, created accompanying art works and re visited New Zealand where most of the events that set the course to where I am now, occurred.
Whilst I didn’t get any answers as to why certain things happened in my life, I did find acceptance and a sense of release, integration and closure.
It’s difficult when consequences of a period of time that occurred so long ago, linger and effect everything so profoundly, even when ostensibly one has completely moved on.
I was chatting to someone I was once in a relationship with, and I asked him if he remembered ‘the talk’. For twenty five years now, prior to sleeping with someone, I’ve needed to tell them about my HCV Status. I would have ‘the talk’ where I would tell a potential suitor about my virus then give them time to get their head around it, perhaps do research, then decide whether they wanted to take our relationship further.
The thought that one day I could choose to spontaneously sleep with someone without major planning and deep conversations, is amazing!
Whilst of course this would be one of many advantages to clearing the illness and in the scheme of things a pretty minor one and likely a choice I wouldn’t choose to exercise… but still, it would be incredible to be able to do.

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CROSSROADS AT TWILIGHT

imageI’ve been working a lot lately so haven’t been writing. There doesn’t seem to be anything to say. Ironic really as I’ve been in a dark hole, a transit space waiting for the world to light up and everything make sense again, the sort of place where ideas and thoughts are tumbling over each other in a constant analytical thought process.
No particular reason, just one of those grey times. Perhaps there is a tedious mid life crisis in the mix that makes me wander down various ‘what if’ alternate time lines that see me with children/husband/profession (and in those parallel time lines I would probably also be a tad flat, and also be exploring various junctures and turning points of my life).

There have been quite a few deaths of my peers recently. No one massively close to me. Not deaths that devastate my world, just chip away at it and leave it in a different shape.

The thing is, these are the times when I should write. Okay, it probably wouldn’t be for public consumption (hash tag mid life angst) but it would ease off the heaviness of the dark mantle and make the possibility of colour seeping back into my life, less remote.

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Beauty School Rehab

I staggered off a plane in Hong Kong when I was twenty five years old, clutching the empty litre bottle of opium tincture (90% alcohol/10% opium) that I had needed to get me through the 20 hour journey.

Admittedly I’d missed my connecting flight in Sydney as I was engaged in a debauch with new found friends at the airport bar, but I eventually reached my destination and my poor, shell-shocked parents.
The first step in my new life was to try and sort out my opiate habit. I made an appointment with the family G.P. The waiting room of his practice in central Hong Kong contained the glossy and wealthy, my sweating and shaking self, someone with a textured tumour covering half his face and several Transexual bar girls from Wanchai, Hong Kong’s red light area.
A lovely man in an immaculate tailored suit, ushered me into his office, waving away the cigarette smoke as he did so. He came from a monied English family and his wealthy Hong Kong clientele obviously bored him so he would take on the occasional more interesting, non paying patient. Hence the transsexuals and the tumour man and also myself and my family, whom he would often forget to send the bill to.
As I  settled into Hong Kong life and the alcoholism that too often runs alongside trying to recover from drug addiction, I would ocasionally see him at four or so in the morning, in the most down market Wanchai bars with the most worn looking of bar girls hanging off his arm. Always the gentleman he would never neglect to buy me a drink.

Once a maintenance and withdrawal programme for my addiction was established (as well as very heavy anti depressants which quickly bloated my emaciated junkie frame) and I acquired new teeth, I realised it was time to complete my life reconstruction and start earning a living.
So I embarked upon beauty therapy training which seemed to be thing to do if one was dealing with drug problems or other life reconfigurations.
I soon made friends on the course that I could both drink with and also share details of the best chemists to buy diet pills.
There was Ruth a young woman from Columbia whose sister had married a Hong Kong man after a mail order courtship.
Ruth had a morality that combined the influences of a superstitious and Catholic family with later life on the streets of Bogota. Sexuality was a commodity, she was the best thief I’ve ever come across, she always slept with her feet at the head of the bed for some spirit fearing reason but assidiously attended church. Unlike her sister who was blonde, Ruth was dark and stocky. She would consume huge amounts of diet pills to attempt to slim down so she could snare a husband, but it never seemed to make any difference. Her family had originally been farmers but gangs of drug lords and gangs of police regularly rampaging through their land and beating them, eventually forced a move to the Colombian capital where she hung out with street kids and saw some of her young peers incinerated by corrupt police.
The stories of her life were horrendous and she had scars on her back from various whippings, so I could understand that she was desperate not to go back, but despite her terrible background Ruth was great company and very, very funny.
I also become friends with a Swedish girl on the course who became a stalwart drinking companions.
Louise had learned English through watching American series such as Dallas and had an amazing accent. She was beautiful but developed acne die to the Asian climate which understandably, upset her terribly and made drowning her sorrows in alcohol an imperative.
She was particularly focused on training in cosmetic tattooing as it apparently had the potential to make great money on cruise ships. Louise used me as a model for her first tattoo work, on the eyebrows. I was willing to take the risk as I reasoned that I had a lot of eyebrow so there wasn’t much scope for failure but a particularly heavy drinking session the night before meant Louise was a tad shaky.
With a little help, the inking was a success, and 26 years on they are still visible albeit blue as old tattoos are wont to be.
Somehow I managed to graduate from the course and specialised in the more alternative side of the field.
On occasion I’d have a terrible hangover and would slam eye pads on the client, ramp up the whale music, and go to the bathroom and throw up.
However working hard and playing hard is the Hong Kong way and no one castigated me for my full on lifestyle as it was pretty much the norm for that time and era. Gradually the drugs started amplifying their personal siren song to me, and when the call became irresistible, I moved to London for a final five years of opiate addiction.

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