Several 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.
An 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.
I’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.
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.
At the beginning of this year I had six weeks off work and was able to immerse myself in the finishing of a writing project and my art.
My creative regime tends to be skittish and hyperkinetic. An ideal day includes intense bursts of writing, several hours of art, gardening, the occasional foray into minor domestic tasks, a constitutional walk and photography to fill in any gaps.
Having more time than usual and being a restless soul who constantly craves new stimulus, I helped out several people I knew by writing them bio’s and necessary blurb, and creating a blog for a friend’s shop. I didn’t get paid for this but loved doing it.
Simply enough I find words exhilarating. I thrive on the challenge of rearranging language and structure to convey different intent and identity.
A little like a puzzle where the words are components that can be arranged to create different worlds.
For me, everything is a pattern. I think and see in curves, colours and multi dimensions rather than in linear or flat terms.
When I was young and very shy and socially inept, I would closely watch people’s behaviour to try to understand right rules of conduct and perhaps find a way to fit in. This admittedly, was a bit of a disaster as individuals aren’t particularly logical, and until I learned this, I had periods of depression and anxiety trying to understand why people acted the way they did. I did discover however that groups who centre around certain occupations or lifestyles did behave relatively predictably and as I drifted into fringe societies built around drug or alcohol use or certain types of spirituality, I was able to fit in more easily.
My art work is also very much about patterns. There is the soothing repetition of multi layered bead work, the fascination of playing with camouflage techniques to create depth and subterfuge, the joy of creating movement that makes the life that I see inherent in everything, visible to others.
Interestingly enough I don’t do jigsaw puzzles and whilst I’m comfortable with computers, they don’t interest me.
Geometry doesn’t press my buttons and I wasn’t particularly good at mathematics at school until I studied the subject at a higher level and it became more abstract.
I can’t tell the difference between left and right, am still unable to tell the time on a conventional clock and driving a car or riding a bike are skills I have never been able to master.
Straight lines and boxes make no sense to me unless I pull them into three-d shapes which I find great fun, but not joyful in the way I find curves, which are limitless and filled with potential, movement and adventure.
Patterns hold a way of communicating that to a degree I understand and have control over. I learn from them and find them stimulating and exciting. Falling into them is like drifting into a lullaby that is the antithesis of this crazy mundane world.
Above Image- Clobster Servitor created by Charlotte Rodgers, photographed by Gerard Hutton.
I started off today with memories of my parents swimming pool in Singapore, fifteen years ago.
Every weekend morning we would meet there, friends and family, the self termed ‘Rejects Club’.
Cliff would join us after his morning constitutional which always included a post walk shot of Baileys served by his ‘man’, a Malay servant who had been with him since his army days and was really more a friend who had needed a home than someone who fell under the antiquated appellation of ‘manservant’.
Then Karl and Tim would arrive. Karl was an American who had lived in Asia many years and Tim, his long term Singaporean partner who still hadn’t told his very traditional parents about the relationship.
Invariably Karl would bring a flask of coffee, some cookies he had just baked, and news of the Los Angeles gay scene which he still kept contact with.
Then there was Peter, a very old family friend who had lived in Singapore for 30 years. He would be accompanied by his wife of the moment, and sometimes his visiting children from Australia.
All of us had been drawn there by the charismatic mistress of ceremony; my mother with her walker, huge sun hat, Pucci sunglasses and portable oxygen tank.
We would be there for hours, occasionally swimming but mainly talking. Talking about politics, world affairs, art and the neighbours, while the Singapore sun grew stronger.
I remember once seeing a lizard,’Jesus Lizard’, running across the water of the pool.
There would be flashes of yellow as bright birds hurtled through the trees and an occasional ‘whump’ as a ripe coconut hit the ground.
Peter is dead now, as is his son and my mother. Cliff is blind and bedridden and his ‘man’ died many,many years ago.
In my mind the swimming pool is now covered with dead leaves, Jesus Lizard is gone and the birds have lost their colour.
This morning’s music brought back these memories as I struggled with thoughts of, ‘am I old now, should I save my money and buy a decent computer, a greenhouse and a dog? Should I stop travelling and sleeping on the sofas of strangers, and spending all my money on fantastic projects and artistic folly’s?’
My friends talk about menopause related vaginal dryness and I wonder if I’ll ever have sex again, if I’ll ever feel the madness of a new love affair and whether I should stop talking to people young enough to be my children, as equals.
Then I change the music to something beautiful that soars and I am reminded of my ability to fly with ideas and excitements, and I know as long as I can feel like that, I can never be old.
Music to soar to
Roberto Fonseca ‘Mi Negra Ave Maria’
Roland S Howard ‘Autoluminescent’
People tend to be surprised that someone like myself, who makes art with bones and roadkill, is a vegetarian. I believe that vegetarianism is a perfect accompaniment to the way I create, as working with the dead forges empathy and a compassion for them that doesn’t allow for casual consumption.
I think those that hunt to eat or as part of their culture tend to have a greater respect for their food source, a respect that isn’t prevalent in a society that mass consumes without looking at the origin of what they’re devouring.
I have similar issues with fur. I react strongly and negatively to people who wear animal pelts as status, when in reality they have the money to buy something just as beautiful and warm and don’t need to prove how important they are by paying for an unnecessary and often brutal killing.
Running concurrent to these thoughts has been an interest in why there is a resurgence at present in the art and appreciation of taxidermy. An interest that was particularly popular in Victorian times when there an enormous disparity in income, technology was surging forward, intellect ruled over the heart, and many aspects of society be they women, the poor or aborigines in colonies, were considered less than human.
I grew up in an animal loving family, and had occasional contact with extended family members who were of very pragmatic farming stock.
As soon as my younger sister could articulate she refused to eat meat, as she found the idea of consuming animal flesh repugnant.
In my early teens I became vegetarian but I suspect this was partially a way of reducing my food groups to accommodate my active eating disorder.
Later, as I travelled in countries where vegetarianism wasn’t an option, I relaxed my dietary choices as it was either eat meat or go hungry.
When I first travelled in China in the early 1980’s and tried to explain that I was a vegetarian, it simply wasn’t comprehended except perhaps as an affectation of a member of very spoiled, capricious and wealthy society.
I still prefer not to eat meat although every few years or so there has been occasion, generally when I’m travelling, where I find it necessary. It is never casually done and I’m uncomfortable about it, but not enough to go hungry or tear myself apart with guilt.
As I’ve aged I have become more aware of life and how valuable it is. I won’t deny others their right to eat what they want, but if people were mindful of the process it would invariably change perspectives. Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to choose what we eat. I’m lucky enough (with a bit of research) to function well with a meat free diet, but not everyone has the same physical make up. Years ago when I was teaching yoga, one of my pupil’s who was constitutionally not suited to vegetarianism, gave up meat and became very ill.
When I walk into work, occasionally trucks filled with live stock pass me whilst on their way to the slaughterhouse, and I’ve thought that there have been times (still are for that matter) when certain human beings were regarded as being worth no more than those farm animals, and at some point in the future there may well be a point when we realise what a crime we are committing by treating animals as such a disposable and non sentient commodity.