Sunday, 30 March 2008

The artist’s dress

The handlebar dress had been nagging away at me, it never felt quite right and I wish I hadn’t posted it. Took it out again a couple of weeks ago and unravelled parts of the sleeves and about half of the skirt. For a moment I had the impulse to go on and undo it completely but then decided to try one more thing and here it is. The underside of the sleeves are sewn to the skirt’s hem. This dress-shape has been on my mind for a while, it crops up again and again in tiny drawings all through my sketchbook, but I’ve had reservations about making it (and posting it). It seems it needed to be done. And now reflected about.
I’ve been thinking about myself as an artist, as usually having a bit of a crisis about it, and wonder if this dress may be about how I feel as an artist. The kind of work I make is not abstract, it is heavily anchored in being and feeling, in being embodied, being a woman. For me the artist’s work cannot be done without questioning aspects of oneself. It means that I am laying myself open, to myself first of all, but also to anybody who looks at the work and engages with it.
Inhabiting this dress means being locked in that gesture (until 'she' slips out of the dress), every movement of her arms has an impact on the degree to which she conceals/reveals herself. Being an artist is what I consider best about myself but it is not a clear-cut thing, its aspects pull in opposite directions: there is the urge to tug away at curtains, to worry wounds, to reveal and display, and vulnerability, even shame about doing just that and maybe doing it badly. Also fear and uncertainty about what one brings to light, as that is by no means obvious when starting the work.
This dress has gone through so many shapes (and even this text has gone through umpteen mutations, its slant changing, its mood, its content). This is its ultimate shape and as a mark of finality I have washed it. In the morning, when I decided to post the dress, I had no clear idea what concerns it would bring up for me beyond what made me do the work in the first place - they came out in the writing. More questions buzz in my head: Do I see the artist as a child? (No, but…) Is my work too self-referential? (Maybe, but…) To what extent can one control how one’s work is read and is that an issue that the artist should consider? How does one cope with criticism or the lack of interest? And fundamentally, for myself: is it all worth the effort? There's more, there's always more, but I'm too tired now.
Fittingly I have started crocheting a mask, knowing full well it will conceal as much as it will reveal.

Dimensions: 46 x 68 cm (incl. coathanger)

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Girl, crocheting

Leashes stretch from her hands in ruddy colours.
Head bent she takes stabs at a flaggy fleece,
pricks and probes.

She wields a small metallic rod,
curled at one end,
miniature bill blunted for girls’ hands.

Despite her attempts to subdue
a mangled triangle grows slowly.
Its twin stains the floor.

The eyeless needle delves in, pulls out.
Between her fingers trail
thin ribbons, bloodless arteries.

Clammy hands drag loop through loop,
stitch curly hieroglyphs, each row
a protocol of checks and curbs.

From patterns written in a secret alphabet
she casts spells beyond her years:
chain, cross, lover’s knot.

In time stray threads ensnare and enmesh,
cast snakes down her lap,
ripples on floor.

Reds, pinks and blues entwine -
her heart in her hands
contracts and expands.

Every stitch unties a knot.

Monday, 17 March 2008


After the last blog of plenty now a blog of want. Obviouysly inspired by Heinrich Hoffmann’s Suppen-Kaspar, whose diminishing boy-figure I’ve never forgotten, the dress was crocheted from a finely spun silk/wool-mixture, using a thin crocheting hook. Lots and lots of tiny even stitches. As with all my dresses I worked from the centre: down from the narrow waist for the skirt and up for the bodice. I loved the feel of the blue skirt flowing slowly from between my fingers. The bodice was a sweatier affair, wielding a very small crocheting hook to produce extremely tight stitches. I wanted a dense, firm and contracted feel here and chose the pattern to give the impression of bricks used to erect a tower, all in contrast to the softness of the wide flowing skirt. I had chosen another pattern originally and when I changed my mind about it half way through I found it was impossible to unravel the stitches as they were completely interwebbed. Had to cut everything off just above the skirt and start again. That bit of necessary aggression seemed strangely fitting.
The dress hangs from a mattress needle. It is gigantic, 25 cm long, and looks and feels like a needle made for a giantess. I imagine her sitting on top of a hill with legs stretching into the valley and mending her daughter's torn dress with dainty stitches (in giant’s terms). I’m digressing, but in a way it makes sense, as the dress is also something to do with how much place one wants/dares to take up in the world. Of course it’s always more ambiguous than that – by trying to make yourself small and almost disappear in thin air you also stand out. Delicacy set against and with stressed, strained toughness.
With each dress I crochet I fantasise a girl. I see this one as having come to a stage where she refuses to take anything in. Not food, not air, not filth, not hair, not insult, not injury, not fear, not hope, not affection, not

Dimensions: 61 cm x 90 cm

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Grins and tears and more grins

Just in case I’ve been giving the impression that I’m always struggling here’s my entirely positive post-birthday post, as ever written way after the fact.
On the day a group of eight friends took me to my new favourite
South-Indian restaurant for a delectable early evening birthday dinner. Everything was organised, I had no hand in it at all (it clearly wouldn’t have happened if I had) apart from crying yes yes yes. At said restaurant I sat propped against the wall with the widest of grins on my face, really, my smile muscles got a full and steady workout. Just when
I was about to flag beyond repair the most beautiful birthday cake was brought in, a gooey chocolate one topped with red candles, and when everybody burst into ‘Happy birthday to you’ I duly burst into tears.
Blew out the candles (won’t say how many), made a wish, ate a
sliver of delicious cake, then back home and straight to bed,
still grinning.
A real cornucopia of presents too, from everywhere: a red camelia, whose first opening blossom I greeted in the garden this morning, a luscious red-golden throw (which graces my sofa now), a soft crimson-flowered winter-scarf, a spring-coloured stola, bunches of pink and red tulips, a pink-red-golden tin for everyday treasures… You’ll have detected the colour-theme by now, but here we’re going beyond: books of poetry, fun and serious, a beautiful book about the artist Sophie Calle that holds surprises, the Cranach-poster that strangely caused controversy on the tube, two gorgeous drawings by my favourite little boys, a wee silvery two-in-one salt-pepper-mill, chocolates, music, snowdrops for next year, a tiny plastic greenhousy thing for sowing seeds inside, lots of seeds too, oh, and of course the aforementioned heavy tomes of dictionaries, destined to sow seeds in the fallow furrows of my cloudy brain. Quite a bit of dosh too which will purchase red (yes!) blinds some day soon, and a pair of long overdue reading glasses. A lovely brotherly and sister-in-lawly visit concluded the festivities the following weekend.
Since I fell ill I haven’t celebrated my birthday in a larger group, often too tired even to take note, definitely too tired to organise anything much. So thank you, dear dear M., for making it happen, thanks to all who came and grinned back at me and thanks to all who sent me those beautiful presents, cards and thoughtful good wishes.
I’m especially touched too by the (pink, ahem) envelope to R.’s birthday card, on which she has drawn a few choice samples of my artwork, and very beautifully too.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Back for a day

Things have changed since I’ve started the poetry-writing course as it absorbs almost all my mental energy. I don’t crochet. I don’t make notes about ideas. I don’t sketch. I don’t read blogs, I don’t write mine very often. It’s quite disconcerting, these activities did fill a good part of my days and shaped how I saw myself. My visual brain was always working, always churning away, and now that the coursework greedily devours all my attention, it is still, dormant. In some ways the new regime suits me: writing can be done almost anywhere I sit, lie, stumble. But trying to write poetry is hard work, slow work, every word needs to be weighed and appraised and weighed again, and I do feel on unsure ground. Yet when I’m on a roll something high voltage kicks in that makes me feel utterly alive no matter how my body feels. It makes me kind of surge internally, if you know what I mean.
So instead of being surrounded by yarns, needles, crocheting hooks, sketch books, pens and pencils I’ve now got within reach pens and writing paper and my beloved Thesaurus. The two very heavy tomes of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which I can hardly lift, lie open next to my bed of blankets on the living room floor. (There’s something about a dictionary – I love leafing through its pages, looking at words that are as yet utterly mysterious to me and wondering how I could stretch myself to use them in some way. Unfortunately they escape from my brain like puffs of smoke almost as soon as I turn the page…)
It is strange that my visual side can lie fallow like that. And I feel the lack of blog-bonding acutely, miss the exchanges, the mutual inspiration and encouragement, and don’t want to lose touch. As I’m not producing just now I thought I’d go back to what is already there and what still and again interests and fascinates me: the imperfect body and how it can be imagined to speak of emotional states. Here are two drawings made a couple of years ago, clearly linked to both my paper figures and dresses.
Now I’ll disappear again, off to try to write a poem about speaking, the physicality of speaking, probably way too ambitious a task for a beginner but as with my visual work I’m going for what grips and compels me. I’ll learn from my failures. And maybe you’ll hear a holler or two when I think I’ve written the perfect line.
I do hope to check in with you soon and see what you’ve been up to in the meantime.