My studio is in my bedroom, up two flights of stairs and our house is rather off the beaten track compared to the other studio spaces, so I've never been able to take part before. I always felt that it would be far too disruptive and difficult for us, being a dual disabled household with a nervous cat.
But this year my friends Helen and Caroline from Ribbon Circus have kindly offered me their lovely conservatory space behind the shop as a little pop-up studio. I will showing a combination of brand new and recently completed older work. There will also be a piece in the shop window.
I will only be there on Saturday 6th July and Sunday 7th July from 12-4pm on both days. I decided not to do the full 3 days or the longer hours because even this level of commitment will be a challenge for me with my precarious health.
If you're local and can come along, I would love to see you; I'm at venue 55 right on Market Street and you enter through Ribbon Circus. Unfortunately the venue is not wheelchair accessible as there is a small flight of stairs and then a narrow corridor but it is manageable with a cane.
This is the second time I'll have exhibited in a haberdashery. They're clearly a great fit for my work, so hey, if anyone else who happens to have a haberdashery wants to show some of my work, just let me know.
The Death Of Roses brings gifts, welcome and unwelcome.
The Death Of Roses was an accident. In October 2016, I needed a last minute Halloween costume because I'd misplaced the make-up I needed to do a broken doll's face. With only a few hours to come up with a new idea, I looked at the lace and rose gothic dress I'd planned to wear, remembered a skull and rose head-dress I'd recently been given and the phrase 'the death of roses' popped unbidden into my mind.
'But what does The Death Of Roses do?' I immediately asked myself.
I knew that the phrase 'The Death Of Roses' would be meaningless to people: to give her a bit more heft, she needed some kind of shtick so I decided that she would hand out rose mottos. In a flurry of activity, I hit the internet to collect a selection of phrases, poems and lyrics that mentioned roses and then printed, cut and folded them into little 'rose fortunes'.
In retrospect, it's no accident that my instinct was to give out rose mottos - my recent art has been very focused on the concept of the gift and I've become increasingly fascinated with the interactions, obligations and cultural meanings involved when you give something away, especially in the context of art.
Dramatic red and black make-up with thorns and black roses drawn on in permanent marker (not too permanent on skin, thankfully!), a lace rose choker and a handbag made of red fabric roses finished my transformation into The Death Of Roses.
I circulated at the event, walking up to people and saying, 'good evening, I am The Death Of Roses, would you like a rose motto today?'
As soon as I started handing out the rose mottoes, I realised that I'd created something far more compelling than a simple Halloween outfit and that it was an art performance piece.
The interactions with people were fascinating; some people were suspicious, some assumed that I wanted to be paid but usually people instantly 'got it' and most absolutely loved it. I would hand an entirely random rose motto to a person, only for them to read it and be staggered by how beautiful it was or how resonant it was for their life. It was a powerful experience for both me and the people I interacted with.
It was immediately apparent to me that I could take the idea much further. The Death Of Roses 'wanted to be real', so I started thinking about other events she could attend and whether I could create a mythic figure by 'seeding the culture' with the idea of her. I've been very immersed in David Southwell's Hookland of late and his work on that 'real folklore from a fake county' has inspired a lot of my thinking around The Death Of Roses. There's a good interview with David here or you can follow Hookland on Twitter for a bit of daily weirdness.
So who exactly is The Death Of Roses and what does she mean?
Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure yet because she's still developing. Obviously given her name, she's an avatar of death, but as with the Death card in Tarot, I feel she is more about transformation and change than literal death. I think of her as bringer of truths but sometimes not gentle ones - roses have thorns, after all.
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!
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