Word Up

762EDB4B-417B-4716-87EE-F2F692BFFA4BThe first nine months of this year were hectic and now I’m drifting uncomfortably around the spaces in-between.
I’ve initiated some major changes in my life and as I wait for the results of my explorations into new directions, I’m feeling slightly lost, powerless and extremely discombobulated.
Many years ago I had a partner who said my problem, and the problem of most of the human race, is the perpetual need to strive. I can see where he was coming from, but fighting to move forward can sometimes be a necessary good.
I look back on how fear ridden and neurosis driven I was for many, many years and my struggle to constantly push onwards has helped shape a person that is genuine, confident and mostly at ease with herself.
Even in the last decade I have changed dramatically and I feel that I have grown into the woman that I was meant to be, rather than someone shaped by pain and trauma who didn’t realise that she had a choice in the way her life was lived.

Recently someone was saying to me how self assured I appear to be and I wanted to use this blog to talk about how an aspect of my art helped develop this trait.

15 or so years ago I was asked to give a talk on my creative process and research that was focused on blood use in contemporary spiritual practice.
I gave it a go, as I always do, and the process pushed me to organise my thoughts into a structure that laid the groundwork for a book I later wrote on the subject.

I had studied public speaking when I was very young, initially to correct a slight speech impediment and as an attempt to correct chronic shyness. I continued speech classes in my teens because I enjoyed and was good at them (also it gave me an excuse to avoid P.E classes which I hated) and I had vague thoughts of becoming a barrister when I left school and believed that public speaking skills would be an asset in that career.

Well being a lawyer didn’t come to pass, and speaking about contemporary blood practices in front of a large audience who had access to a bar was very different from inter- collegiate debating, but I gave that first presentation and it went over well enough for me to be asked to speak again on many occasions.

My approach to these presentations has remained relatively consistent.
I initially write my talk out in an essay format,and as I practice through reading and recitation, I modify it.
I’ve learned techniques to create a bond with the audience and also to cover any stutters, mistakes or stallings that I may have. I have also trained myself to be self sufficient and very organised in case of any problems (which there generally are) with tech set up.
I studied how performers often step into a persona when they walk onto a stage, and I chose to do the same with an alter ego that was a strong, eloquent and confident version of myself.
As I continued to speak at conferences and events I gradually integrated this superior me until it was no longer just an alternate or occasionally projected personality.

Over time my talks improved and on occasion I would ‘nail it’ to the point they were effortless, fluid and natural. However I always used the written talk as an outline that on a good day, I could comfortable deviate from and I continued to remain emotionally reliant on my notes.
On occasion I might shake things up a bit and work with a musician, band, or different visual stimulus as I believe if I aren’t passionate about what I present to an audience, no matter how good an actress I may be, that ennui would seep through and negatively colour the result.
Also, every time I do something differently, I learn.
A while ago I spoke at a conference and was very unhappy with how it went. I was tired after travelling continuously for several days,I hadn’t done the necessary research into the audience and how to approach them, and the tech went tits up.
Rather than castigating myself (well not too much) for making a mess of it, I decided to do my next talk differently.
With the following event I had no written presentation or notes and no backdrop of images. There were no distractions or shift of focus away from me talking about a subject I knew well…my experiences and development as an artist.
I spoke easily for an hour and it went incredibly well.
Whilst I wouldn’t do this regularly as I prefer to create a written transcript for whatever it is I’m speaking about, especially as it is often published later, I gained a shot of confidence from approaching things from a new angle and knowing it could work.
So that is a synopsis of how I acted ‘as if’ in the name of my art, and eventually started to became the person I was meant to be.

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A Mission Statement

6B1F6D3B-E980-4A82-A066-D209642AF136I think I’ve become a bit lazy.
After my exhibition in August I settled into three glorious and frivolous months of simply, having a lovely time.
Sure I still worked in my day job and laboured on a huge creation for a Christmas window display, but during the spaces in-between I read voraciously and rapaciously consumed culture of varying degrees of worthiness.
I merrily lapsed into the habit of staying up until three in the morning reading addictively formulaic books then staggering out of bed late the next morning feeling like a defiant, dishevelled teenager.
In the last few weeks I’ve exponentially started to feel jaded, uncomfortable and more than a little guilty about the way that I’m living.
Over many years I’ve built up a disciplined regime which allows one outing a week, be it coffee/film or such like; an occasion where I keep up with my friends, enjoy the outside world, and avoid becoming too hermit like.
My main socialising has generally been at events that I’m either speaking at or involved in.
On the three days a week I’m not working, I’d attend to my household requisites, do my morning yoga and catch up with e mails, then focus on my art and writing.
I’ll have an early afternoon break where I’ll go for a walk, and in the evening a few hours before I go to bed I pack away whatever I’m working on and read.
I’ve never been someone who can complete projects at the nth hour or who could stay up all night cramming for an exam; being rushed or overwhelmed makes me anxious which is counterproductive, so my best approach is through a regular rhythm of productivity.
The pressures inevitably occur, but if I’m reasonable prepared, I cope.

I had a few months of frenetic deadline meeting at the beginning of this year where I spoke at conferences which required complex travel organisation and needed to submit several articles and prepare for an exhibition, but by and large it has been a gentle year.

I haven’t written a book for about five years now, although I’ve consistently written articles, and created presentations.
I suddenly seemed to have reached a point where I have several large projects lined up for 2020, one of which will hopefully lead to another book, and I have to seriously reevaluate and overhaul my working methods.
I’m actually feeling a bit anxious about this and self doubt is loudly clamouring ‘can I do these things, am I too old or too tired, do I have the imagination and intellectual ability, do I have the discipline and ability, and am I able to put myself under that sort of pressure again?’
As always my answer is, I can only try.
I’ve an exciting fresh blank notebook and I’ve started creating lists of what needs to be done, what must to be read, and who I have to contact.
At one point today it all became a bit overwhelming and I succumbed to an afternoon nap, which I never do, however I’ll let that one go for now and if it becomes a regular necessity rather than a blip, I’ll work with it.
I’ve had a glorious few months drowning myself in cultural stimulus and spending time with people that I genuinely care for, who affirm my feeling that my life is actually, a very good one.
Winter is the perfect time for research and writing, when I naturally tend to tone down not just my social life but also my art work as working with solvents indoors is dangerous, even with a mask.
It’s time to get insular, get hands on and start weaving words and ideas into form once more.

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Apocalypse

A0FCB21C-6ED3-4C25-B204-8F7730ED075AOnce again I was planning to write something completely different today but decided instead to give you something to conjure with.
The thing that artists want most is inspiration and what I’m about to write has haunted me somewhat, creating a domino effect of thoughts and imagery, so perhaps if I can articulate this properly it will do the same to you.
Yesterday I needed a break from doing.
I had stumbled out of bed and spent the next six hours alternating between research, emails and art.
I was doing detailed work on a sculpture that required heaving a large, delicate and very heavy structure around whilst I contorted myself into sometimes painful positions to glue beads onto it, all the time wearing a sweaty uncomfortable mask to protect me from solvent fumes.
I went for a walk to stretch my screaming shoulder muscles and clear my head, and as I realised that I would be fully absorbed with similar work the following day, I decided to stock up on food and have a charity shop rummage in a shopping centre of a small suburb a few miles away.
It was a wet and miserable Sunday so the roads were quiet when I headed back home.
Crossing the road that lead towards the motorway bypass, I passed a car that looked as if it had started turning, changed its mind and then stopped, cutting off both lanes.
I paused on the other side of the street and looked at the silver Audi with an immobile man in the driver’s seat. He hadn’t moved at all in the minutes since I’d passed the car and now stood watching him.
A couple and their dog, the woman holding a full dog poo bag, walked by and as they approached me on the pavement I pointed him out and asked them if they didn’t think it was all a little strange.
The man said, ‘no, the car is just turning’ without breaking his stride.
I looked at the car and the driver still hadn’t moved, his hands immobile on the steering wheel.
There was no other traffic nor any other people to be seen.
It was that liminal time on a Sunday where everything is silent and very still, when everyone else is with their family having the ritual roast dinner followed by somnambulism and television.
I walked up to the car and saw a young, pale, Chinese man, still locked into position, and I asked ‘are you all right?’
He looked at me and nodded; he was crying.
I hovered for a minute then walked back to the pavement, watching and wondering what I could do.
The car started up again, then drove away.

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Making A Golem

4711C859-CC9C-408B-89D0-68E245CB3589I think I’ve established that the creative process, the ‘making’ is inherent to who I am. As you have probably ascertained however, I have a few issues with the promotional necessities of putting myself forward; creating the brand of ‘me’, so to speak.
Simply enough I’m a person not a brand. I’m feminist from a generation that finds a lot of conflict in creating a commodity of myself and I’ll put my thoughts on that out there before I go into a dissemination of why I exhibit and and sell the results of my creative process (which I believe is a different thing from packaging myself as a brand).
Of course creating a brand of oneself and by an extension whatever it is that you do or create (or vice versa) has been done for centuries before this social media ruled era; Albrecht Durer and his distinctive signature was probably one of the first self branded success stories and wouldn’t be considered to have sold out nor made a diminutive of his work.
I’m aware that creating a personal brand doesn’t mean sexualising yourself but I do know that there is a degree of image marketing that goes with the territory and through years of observation have noted that with the type of work I do, I would perhaps have greater success if I photoshopped off a few years, made my tattoos more evident, had a wilder image and wore more black.
However none of those things are,I feel,representative of who I am or what I create and I don’t feel it appropriate that either me or my art works should fit into a definition shaped box, even if the categorisation would make my work more relatable for the public.

For me exhibiting and selling my work is a natural progression from its creation.
I still work part time to keep a base level income going but the thought of making my living doing something I love is a dream and goal which my anarchic inner saboteur can often tend to run ramapage over; perhaps fuelled by some residual remnant of punishing Catholicism that sees this life as a martyred grey run up to the next phase where things are pastel peachy hued, or maybe some lingering low self esteem stuff that says I can only survive through the performance of duties that make me unhappy.

If I sell my work I make money to create more art, clear space in my shed/studio to put aforesaid new art works and also gain affirmation.
When I do it the right way and in a good frame of mind, promoting myself is simply another facet of the creative process, another pattern to be explored.
Recently I put up a blog about my problems with ‘having to’ use social networking platforms to put myself out there; ‘having to’ being the operative words. What I did to break that potentially destructive impasse was stimulate myself with some courses on the subject, looking at new approaches and working with people who were actually excited about the process, because excitement and passion are contagious.
It worked; when I’m passionate about something, I run with it. It’s the chores on the mundane middle road that I let the analysis destroy for me.

Another thing about showing, sharing and selling one’s art, whatever medium it might be, is its potential to help you find people with a similar vision as yourself.

I will not deny that is frightening to display an expression of your inner self to a wider audience than your shed/studio provides but it is a worthwhile risk as you connect with people who appreciate and resonate with your vision and this has an ability to take you out of the lonely place where an artist occasionally dwells.
Knowing that others understand your work (even if their perception is something that makes no sense to you at all,and with the pieces that I make I do get a lot of misinterpretation, some of it not particularly pleasant)can be incredibly strengthening.
Often when I do a presentation about my work I am asked questions about my creative process and belief’s and this probing creates realisations and insights on my own part which can be revelatory.
I work alone for long periods of time and whilst that is what I need to do and I enjoy it, taking me out of my safe zone can challenge and inspire me to be more.
I decided that my most recent show was to to be the last one in a particular venue and city where I’ve shown my art many times over the years and many of the people who attended it had followed and supported my art since I started exhibiting.Their presence meant so much to me, and the energy I gained from the occasion fuelled my ability to make some major changes in my life.
Through not just my art, but the promotion and sharing of my art, I’ve developed a sense of strength in self and also in community, and that is an immensely powerful magic that weaves power through my work to inspire forward movement.

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If I Don’t Remember You, Do You Exist?

D40076A0-D170-4BEC-9C1F-7E9B3F5B856AI’m hopefully in the final stages of an ear infection which has left me slightly deaf and feeling as if I’m trapped inside my head. It seems appropriate whilst I’m living in this introspective bubble to blog about memory, a concept which inspires so much of my art and writing.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of memory for years, trying to pinpoint what it is and how people experience and define it.
Personally I don’t have any memories pre puberty. After puberty there is a sense of knowing that some things happened that can be triggered by music and on occasion taste or smell, but for me, memory isn’t a visual experience but an intellectual, embedded and conceptual thing.
Floating and quite nebulous.

It’s ironic that my personal experience of memory is indistinct but I have a very strong sense of inherent memory and an awareness of stories that exist within objects and occasionally, people.
With people I suspect my insight is partially intuition based and partially a hyper awareness of appearance and stance which has been sharpened by life experiences and imagination.
As I’ve felt myself to be an outsider most of my life, I’ve found it necessary to watch people closely in order to maintain a semblance of right behaviour and I suspect this has meant that I’m more attuned to human characteristics than most.
Objects I’ve always appreciated if there is a sense of age or time or mythology within them. This is what has made me adept at finding antiquities and reselling them, as I gravitate towards inherent feel rather than visual appearance.
I will acquire something initially because of instinct (and of course because I like it) and then research its actual provenance. As I seem to be very good at this I set myself boundaries of operating within a very low price range, otherwise I suspect I’d be one of those people who live within such a cluttered environment they need to be dug out of their acquired detritus when they die. Some years ago I met the charming and very successful antiquities dealer Oliver Hoare. We discussed these ideas and he was on the same page as myself in that it isn’t the item itself that pulls one to it, but its feel that radiates an attraction of sorts.
An intangible glow granted by time.

I spent many years having to endure a multitude of hospital appointments and related invasive treatments, made all the worse because I hate the bloody places and they create a lot of anxiety and fear in me.
Before these visits I would visit charity, second hand and junk shops and rummaging amongst the old things, often donated as an estate of the dead, would invariable calm me.
All of those stories and whispers.
I believe bones and wood and natural objects also contain a tangible essence although their story line isn’t structured into an easily understood format as it operates outside most human standards of interpretation (I read once that we anthropomorphise trees, for instance, to make them comprehensible).
Human bones to a extent still hold a link to the aforesaid structured and easy to translate format, and the bones of pets, but not remnants of the natural and the wild.
However everything that exists and holds history wants and often needs acknowledgement. In a way is akin to the conundrum of whether a tree falling makes a sound if there is no one to hear it; it isn’t a question of whether something happened but more about how it is perceived and interpreted.
When memory is articulated, as interpretation is so personal, it will constantly vary but can’t be wrong, just a different angle of perception although there is always a common ground which is where things like atavistic consciousness come into play.
All of the pieces that I use as a point of focus in my art holds a story. The bones and shells and discarded jewellery, the remnants of roadkill, the broken ornaments and stopped clocks. I collect, listen and are calmed by them, then I fall into their various mythologies and integrate them into a new legend.
Just as history of mankind, of wars and events and happenings is considered to be written by the conquerors, true and intrinsic and emotionally experienced history is often, most correctly conveyed by the artist.

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Memories Have Teeth

 

 

A0A7B1B8-9905-4A4F-A59D-4FE21ED5C34FSo ostensibly today’s written ramble isn’t about art but as it is about an artist’s life, I think that should create necessary leeway for a bypass in blog focus
Yesterday I had six dental crowns taken out, with a view to replace them in the near future.
Six dodgy old crowns which were well overdue for removal and that were causing all sorts of nasty problems.
Finances prevented my rectifying this at the beginning of the year when they first started moving around and generally acting up. The delay was partially due to money (I have dental insurance which I set up many years ago as the NHS weren’t able to supply the means to look after my life abused teeth, so although I only to pay lab costs for any work done, it is still a substantial amount of money) and partially fear.
All my offending teeth are in the upper front of my mouth and though I have friends with missing and ‘English’ teeth, and I have let go of many aspects of vanity as I’ve aged, I am not ready to let go of my six front teeth and poking around the offending items seemed a bit of a risky business.
So I sold various books and household items and raised the amount which my insurance didn’t cover and I’m finally in the clinic’s waiting room together with an elderly man and an elderly woman, sitting separately, opposite me.
For some reason, we all, three strangers, started talking on an incredibly open and personal level.
The man was a teacher who had come over from East Germany in 1972, and never went back.
He spoke of family members who had been shot by the Stasi, and of the many jobs he had undertaken in England as he had struggled to support his family.
Queuing up outside the Austin factory to do a night shift which paid enough for the family to survive for weeks, working casually as a hospital porter and initially studying medicine until he released that it wasn’t financially viable and he switched his focus to teaching languages.
The woman who had been widowed with four young children when she was in 30’s spoke of her husband’s death and her struggle to raise her children and nurture their individuality and how she succeeded to the extent they grew up to be brilliant, highly successful and pugnacious to the point she didn’t actually like them.
Truth to tell I didn’t contribute much to the conversation, just listened and asked the occasional question or interjected with a comment or two.
I left them to have a very intense three hour session with the dentist, filled with drilling, tugging and clouds of rancid tooth bone smoke.
I saw the first four crowns lying in a dish (a Hong Kong dentist in the early 1990’s replaced my drug and bulimia addled front teeth after which I avowed never to binge/vomit again, and I didn’t), followed by the next two crowns (an NHS dentist, Mr Smiles, in the late 1990’s when I had just left a treatment centre with advanced damage to my remaining teeth caused by drug use and neglect; after these were replaced, I never used drugs or drank alcohol again) and thought that maybe this will mark a new era for me.
I staggered out of the surgery with my temporary crowns, which despite placement at awkward angles and looking as if I’d been eating white bread sandwiches and not brushed my teeth, and though feeling as if I’d been on a three day tooth grinding rave session, I felt slightly better now that the poison was taken out.
At reception I once more saw the elderly woman and as we said goodbye she clutched my hands and said she felt as if we had strangely and suddenly become, old, old friends.
So perhaps writing about my dental visit is very much about my art, because it is about memory captured in objects and bones and how that memory can create reactions and revelations, and that, is very much what my art is about.

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The Artists Janet and John Do Social Networking

11ED3D04-118C-42E1-9A91-513387531B9E

It’s quite amazing that I’ve never written a blog about social networking before as it is such a dominant and conflicted part of my life.
I have no doubt others feel the same way about the internet with its powerful addictive properties, illusory glamour and the necessary obligation to engage with it.
My phone tells me that I spend an average of three hours online per day, much of it flicking from one social networking site to another and often mindlessly scrolling rather than actually interacting.
I’ve been an active member of the online culture longer than most as my father was part of the first wave of those who worked in IT and as a child I drew on discarded computer print out paper and still have vivid memories of dial up tones, AOL and early Yahoo chat groups.
Later my invalid mother who lived in Asia was very ‘on’ with new trends and would encourage us to use various of these to stay connected.
It was through my mother I first heard of facebook, Twitter, and Second Life for example, and a need to keep connected with family and friends whilst I travelled was what precipitated my initial setting up of a facebook account.
The irony was that in those early days many people who worked in IT didn’t have social networking accounts (in their own name anyway) as they were aware of data mining, government surveillance and other associative pitfalls.
Today the drawbacks of online interactions are well documented but ignored in favour of how necessary it is in order to be an active part of this society, without actually having to leave the house.
In my own passive and complicated way, I’m a stubborn and rebellious person who doesn’t like being obligated to do something.
All artists need to promote their work, and are cognisant that a reasonably large part of their time must be allotted to doing this.
I’m sure there are many creatives who use social networking in the right way and don’t see themselves losing hours of valuable creating time to extracurricular scrolling, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.
In the build up to specific events I have no problem with working with twitter/facebook/instagram etc; it’s a pattern I enjoy working with and that I find fulfilling and exciting.
However those times aside I generally find social networking superficial and shallow, which isn’t a good attitude. The long and short of it is I need to work with the behemoth and if I’m analytical and bitter it makes the process miserable and life is too short to choose misery.
In 2018 I did little social networking and happily lived my life to the full with few distractions, but the resultant loss of public interest in my art was both humbling and dispiriting.
Earlier this year I worked intensely on online promotion for my exhibition and I found it exhilarating although the accompanying acceleration of advertising and strangers popping up on messenger wanting to have long conversations with me was an unwanted consequence of this. After the show I’d burned out and stopped using these forums and when I did post again the algorithms had changed and I was seemingly punished for my lack of interest by decreased ‘likes’.
I love instagram as it is visually orientated and less inclined to flame wars and trolling (on my feed anyway) but sometimes I find myself looking at real life and thinking how I can frame it for online presentation, and that disturbs me and I feel it is then time to step away from the virtual and return to the actual.
So that’s where I’m at.
Part two of post exhibition analysis which may well be leading to revelation and perhaps even a gentle rebellion.
I’m well aware that moments of such rebellion can be career destroying and I really should just grow up, grit my teeth and get on with it as truth to tell, social networking is simply the fabric of these times.
However pissed off I get about necessary networking I’ve either got to roll with it, subvert it, or change what I want and how I’m willing to achieve that.

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