Hello, I’m not dead!
Not only am I not dead, but I’m making new work and I’ve finally started showing again. This is by far the longest gap I’ve had between shows since I graduated in 2002 but deliberately taking a break was very needful.
Anyway, I’m delighted to announce that I’m in the Shoddy exhibition in Leeds in April. Shoddy is a show for disabled artists working with textiles, so of course I had to apply and I was very pleased to be accepted.
From the exhibition brief:
Shoddy is the name for new cloth made from woollen waste and recycled fabric. This original meaning is now largely unknown, and the word has come to mean of inferior quality, shabby or broken-down. This is the starting point for a project by disabled artists working with woollen or other yarns and fabrics, or recycled and reused textile materials.
We are challenging ideas that disabled people are second-rate. Instead, we think that shoddy could be used to describe the government’s treatment of disabled people, with cuts to welfare benefits and public services.
I’m making a brand new piece of work for the show.
Tatterdemalion consists of 255 rocks wrapped in torn cloth and sewn along all the seams so the rocks are completely encased like tiny shrouds. It’s a rock for every month since January 1995, when I first became ill with ME/CFS. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until much later, that’s when my health started to deteriorate.
Here’s the wall text for the piece:
The work explores the on-going nature of chronic illness and the way that many disabilities are invisible. The work speaks to the inherent contradiction of disability; that we are so often perceived as vulnerable, worn-down or damaged yet we often have a hidden core of inner strength. We need that strength not only to accommodate the limitations of our own bodies but also increasingly to deal with the prejudice that people with disabilities face in these harsh times.
The piece references the British thriftiness of ‘make do and mend’ and the Japanese tradition of Boro. It uses recycled fabric from my own life, including fabric from my first art installation from before my illness. The sewing is deliberately rough and threadbare, emphasising the oldness of the cloth by leaving small holes, raised seams, frayed edges and darned areas. The smooth stones become uncomfortable to hold.
On a personal level, this piece is about coming out. I spent many years denying and hiding my illness, at one point even concealing it from my family. It is the first time I have made art explicitly about my ME/CFS and the enormity of seeing 21 years of illness made manifest has been sobering.
I’ve been making the piece since December and I currently need to sew three rocks a day to make my target. Each rock takes a minimum of an hour and often longer, so it’s generally around 3-5 hours of daily sewing. With my illness, I’m finding it very physically taxing but I’m stoically plodding along.
It’s a stretch but it is doable. I did the maths before I started: I’m not completely masochistic! As my illness has worsened over the years, I’ve had to adapt my practice to accommodate my limited energy, which means being realistic about what I can achieve and allowing myself more time than I think I need.
Barring disasters, I’m currently on track to finish the piece in time. I reached 190 rocks last night, so I only have 65 to go with three weeks left to complete it.
It’s immensely satisfying to be making new work again – even I can only pin so many pins before I get a bit bored – although this is certainly not the first time I have wrapped objects. Whilst in college I wrapped cherries in silk and made a silk pillow filled with rose petals and the jars featured several wrapped objects.
The rocks are intended to be displayed in a large pile and I think they’ll have quite an impact en masse. This image is only the first 16 rocks; it’s hard to comprehend what 255 will look like – even I won’t know exactly how they’ll look until I install them.
It’s interesting looking at these first photos of the work because my sewing has become much neater as I’ve perfected the technique. Which means I need to decide whether I’m going to go back and tidy up these first rocks to match the later ones or if I leave them as they are.
The opening of Shoddy is at Live Art Bistro (LAB), Regent Street, Leeds, LS2 7QA from 6-8pm on Wednesday 6th April and the show runs until Saturday 16th April. If you’re local, I do hope you’ll come along. Please share the information with anyone who might be interested – the Facebook invite is here, if that’s a better way for you to share.
Right, got to go, it’s gone 10.30pm and I still have three rocks to sew today – I don’t often say this but right now, it’s a good job the ME/CFS comes with side order of insomnia!