Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Ok, I'm going to have another crack at identity. I am still in whirl of thoughts, i feel like I'm caught in a spin of wind and leaves but here goes because sometimes putting words to page helps me to make sense of the clatter and rattle, the whisper and whirl. 
Identity has been a summer long point of contemplative focus and one of the things I've been thinking about is identity and social media and the internet. The internet is a bizarre phenomenon, being half way through a century my history spans back to a time when it was unimagined in everyday minds. My children and more so my grandchildren surely could not conceive of a life without it. 
And what has the internet become ? It arrived as a blank space in my life about fifteen/twenty years ago. And probably common to many middle-aged users I have left a heavy trail over those years. I didn't know when I chose my email address that I'd still be using it twenty years on, or any of the user names I have on various social media platforms. Now when I'm asked for my email address i apologise because it feels pretentious and silly but it's the name I gave myself then and I don't care enough to change it. 
Way back before facebook became a thing people used friends re-united and my space to link to their yesterdays and to display themselves to a fairly exclusive world. I don't even know if those two platforms/ethereal places exist anymore, I imagine my space might be quite interesting for fans of retro and vintage. I never used either, in fact I scorned them, like round robin emails they turned me off. Odd really because facebook is a bit like all those things rolled into one, perhaps that's the secret of it's success. 
Because facebook, beast that it is, is huge. Being half a hundred or perhaps too dreamy I can't keep pace with the whole thing. I think I got lost at drop-box and haven't found my way to Instagram, linked-in is awful and Tumblr conjures up images that maybe I don't want to see, Pinterest too but Pinterest is very browsable. I am active on facebook, am a bit hooked on facebook if I'm honest, which means that intermittentantly I have to withdraw just to come back to my self. Here is where I connect to identity and some of the thinking I've been doing of late, and over the years. 
I think I have touched on how our identities are often given to us by others from pre-birth onwards - lord, who knows, maybe it goes back even further, I may pick that up later - and is perpetuated by those who surround us and later who we surround ourselves by. 
But this brand new blank space that opened up way back at the end of the last century, offered each one of us a chance to recreate our being and our sense of self. I know, for me, writing my blog has given me a voice, has allowed me to expose elements of myself that in conversation might easily create a very uneasy atmosphere, conflict, disapproval, disavowel. But in a blog, which is my notebook, my journal, to hell with it, lets lay social niceties to one side be as open and bare as possible, lets lay by the fear of being socially ostracised and say this, this is me, this is my story, my story, refute it if you will, but I claim this as my country, my land. 
Is identity a country ? Is that where nationalism stems from ? When I speak of country I speak of country as spiritual matter more than physical terrain but maybe those states of being are one thing that each of us relates to according to our temperament. 
How does that connect to identity ? Hmm. 
On facebook my identity shifts, I am friends with some 300 people in theory, and whilst not denigrating any of those people or friendships the reality is that most of those people I don't know or barely know, or knew years ago. Facebook is a very, very peculiar place. It's a superstore, a Walmart, fluorescent lighting and musak, it has everything and nothing. I use it to scrapbook, often posting just to myself so it acts like a catalogue of ideas. But my face to the outside varies and has changed over time. Sometimes I am shout-y, fed up with politics, begging, or berating, the world to engage, please engage, use less plastic, vote Labour, sign this. Sometimes I post personal stuff, family pictures, or photos of places I've been to, or I might make public some of the things that have come to me from the internet, music, images, articles, and often I'll share my blogs to my page so that friends or those interested will know I've been scribbling or posted a picture of something. All those aspects of me are me and yet something about my facebook identity feels unwholesome. The unwhole-iness is perhaps the centre of the conundrum. How can I be whole in that sphere which is so very unphysical and in many ways unyielding and enclosed ? The air on facebook is often stale, breathed and filtered and breathed again and again and again.   
I think I mention this because it's hard to pick up nuance and intention on facebook, it's designed for pedestrian encounters, the surface self, when it goes deeper darker aspects of our selves can emerge unchallenged by the restraints of face to face, or day to day, contact. If I know you as a person rather than a string of mostly quite carefully edited images and ideas I will know you differently to if I spend time with you, drink tea, eat cake, hoot with laughter, maybe dance, maybe cry, walk, talk, practice yoga ...  Of my three hundred and whatever friends, some I know from other times and I love to see pictures of them happy and smiling, sharing the delights of their lives and I am sad when they post their sorrows, but lots I have never met, I have linked to them through a mutual interests, art or words or maybe politics, we share a world but our concrete realities are separate. But then there are my specials (I'm guessing we all have those) the people we really cherish, our best-best friends, our families, our comforters. 
Oh what does that have to do with identity ? Recently I went to a short workshop with Hayley Matthews who is currently working on a dance piece called Home-Solo to be performed at the end of November https://norwichartscentre.co.uk/events/home-solo/?spektrix_bounce=true. This is a point within a work in progress that she began four years ago. I have watching with interest the evolution of her ideas and was really happy to be able to learn more through participating in this workshop which took the form of a guided conversation, physical and spoken. Sharing ideas about home in a sensitive held environment with thoughtful, interesting and interested others was a real gift. I mention this workshop because, amongst other things thought, it got me thinking about how much identity is wrapped up in the place we call home. The discussion that happened in the workshop was open ended, there was no right thought or wrong thought, no definite because in each of us, perhaps, resides our home and that which makes us feel at home, and no other can really prescribe that home to another, it is a belonging that belongs to the belonger. 
Oh, belonging, that is whole new blog so I will rest here with that. But surely belonging is wrapped up in identity and comfort and integrity within one's being or identity. 
I have diverged in this blog from my initial intent it is often and commonly the way but maybe I will find my way back to an intersecting pathway and be able pick up threads I have put down but still care about as I continue my journey. My search is still active.  



Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Some string made from the silk threads from corn on the cob. Very light and quite stretchy. It casts a pretty shadow and smells sweet, like sweetcorn, surprise surprise. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

It's Autumn. It's still warm and the sun still shines tho' night begins to close in earlier each day today it's 6.45, not dark but darkening, and in the morning there is damp in the air and at about 6.45 it is also half light. I know this because I've just re-started the morning yoga class that I love to go to and I leave my house at 6.20ish and it wasn't quite day when the class began at 6.45 this week. 
I feel like I am assimilating the summer and even the stuff that went on before summer tho' that feels like a long time ago. It's been busy and challenging, in good ways mainly. Lots of walking, lots of weather, and lots of thinking. 
I am still thinking about identity which I blogged about a month or so back, but the question that keeps popping into my mind at the moment is "if" .. is that a question ? Not really, but it comes to me like a question and I think it is suggesting new directions in my life. Possibilities.  But the nature of those possibilities is unclear there is only "if", it goes no further. 
Maybe this is a good thing. I am tired after the summer. I'm aware that I seem to have much lower stamina than most of my friends and family, I am quickly exhausted and have to pace myself. I burn out quickly. I wish I was stronger but I'm not so I have to go with what I've got. So although I was hoping to teach a few workshops over September, October, November, the reality is that whilst I have begun drawing them up I am nowhere close to being prepared and my home needs a little tic before I feel comfortable inviting strangers into it as a place to learn. 
My garden is a crazy mess too so I have begun the roughly bi-annual turn of my compost heaps which is a homely, grounding thing to do, a nice way to settle in to the end of the year. I have three bins, the green bin, the halfway bin, and the scrumptious last bin. The end product compost is sweet smelling and, after sifting, soft and crumbly. This is going on the beds in my front garden at the moment. Then there is the clinker, small bits of half-rotted wood mostly, this is going around the base of a small yew tree, and some ferns and hydrangeas. And lastly there are twigs that are still hard and unbreakable these I will use for kindling when they are dry. 
This sifting and sorting game connects me to the earth and the season is earth-y too, fruit is now ripe or over-ripe and mushrooms are popping up everywhere so the air smells of juice and fungus. I think letting myself pause and drop down, mentally, physically and emotionally may be just what I need to do before choosing an if, a way, to go with. 
My if definitely feels like a crossroads. I've come a long way from my past, have built up a length of past that supersedes that which went before and it is unclear to me which way I want to go. So pausing and holding still may be my best option at the moment. Mostly I tend to have too many ideas bouncing around, I do now, but I have a deep longing for rest and play at the moment. Or maybe what I mean is that my focus is rest, and that my hope is that in resting I will re-find my play, re-find my capacity to yield, to soften, to release, to allow, to trust. And that as I do that my choice of path will become clearer or else I will have built up enough strength physically, mentally, emotionally, to make a decision and choose one way and see what comes of making that choice. 
It is possible to double back on a wrong decision but the reality is that often one is so far down the road that it isn't worth doubling back and one way just leads to another and another, and even if you found your way back to the starting point you'd be a changed person anyway. And the starting point too might have shifted. 
So damn me I may have just written another blog about nothing much. Reader if you have come across me by accident or do not love or care for me, please excuse me.    

Thursday, 21 September 2017

And breathe. I did my final sit as a sculpture last friday. I totalled ten days in the end. Ten seems to be my accidental lucky number this year. 
Being a sculpture was truly eye-opening. I gather that I received some votes in public vote for their favourite piece in the exhibition which feels like acceptance and validation. That feels good. I had gone into the sculpture trail imagining I would be a vague presence, a solitary stitcher, an unseen being. But the situation became something else and it quickly became apparent that i needed to give the ride head, and that my task was to hold on to the reins and hope i didn't fall. 
I was one in over forty sculptures, or points of focus. There was a fantastic range of work, the trail was a treat, there was something for everyone. I guess in art terms what I was doing could be called a performance piece, a visitor and fellow artist described it as dialogical art, a term I'd not heard but which seemed to fit because from the first day it was clear to me that what was interesting about what I was doing was not me but who and how I was being seen, the conversations held and the passing of thoughts from one to another. 
Normally I will erect a piece of work and then leave it to be, to stand for itself, putting a piece of work up is a bit like sending a child to university, it's a survive or don't situation, and as an anxious parent I am with that child but not with them, attending, but not attending, because life goes on, the child will hopefully grow and succeed becoming independent as it does so, and the piece of work similarly must fend for itself, accept the onslaught of the elements, criticism and judgement of others.
What was amazing about putting myself into the position of person as sculpture, as object, was that I was privy to the audience response. It felt in many ways like being a mirror. In essence each person who saw me or spoke to me would have seen and spoken to the same person. But there were changing parts. My external presence was fairly constant but with each interchange I took on the gaze of the viewer whether we spoke or didn't. And their gaze interpreted what they saw and gave rise to their response.
Obviously the viewers who made the deepest impression on me were those who spoke to me directly; the ones who took the idea of what I was doing and ran with it, offered their view to me, gave their vision to me, of those who spoke only a very-very few were rude or unpleasant, rudeness is always shocking but it was well balanced with positive feedback and was interesting because as an object my worth as a person was detached from my worth as a sculpture. One woman repeatedly told me that what I was doing was a "cop-out" which felt odd and was hard feedback to receive. It was strange to be so surely dismissed but her viewpoint was viewpoint, and the situation gave license to her to voice her judgement. By contrast the man she was with spoke in softer tones and was one of two people who suggested that what I was doing was brave (not in the sense of climbing mountains brave but, as I understood, raising questions brave which was what I had hoped for).  
What I feel I learned through  the course of the ten days was that how people see may connect but belongs essentially to them, is their sight, their belonging, that we bear witness through our own eyes and bodies, are open or closed, accepting, acquiescent or rejecting, resistant according to our selves, that mostly we project onto any thing our sense of the world, I guess this is why babies and small children are such delightful company their sense of the world is generally clearer, more transparent, more honest, by the time we reach adulthood we are likely to have acquired a semi-fixed sentience born out of our childhoods and those and that which we came into contact with during that time.
I was very lucky to have been supported in this experience by the curator of the trail and the trail was a sheltered space for me to lay myself bare, to offer myself as an object in the hope that in that offering I would give something to those who chose to look. 
There were times, over the course of the ten days, when I experienced serious doubt, and continuing forced me to draw will from my reserves to keep going tho'. I was aware that what I was doing might draw scorn, that my medium being thought might be too ethereal to be called sculpture. I was aware of needing to hold quite a solid entity for the duration in order to ground the experience. I was fearful of being seen as vain or pompous or self-absorbed or full of bullshit. I hope I didn't. In the end I could only be me and I hope that I am not those things. 
It might seem like a very little thing, more natural performers would perhaps make less of it than me, but this month of "being" felt extraordinary, a gift, but also a monstrous challenge. I went in blind, thinking about prayer, and presence and intention. I have come out with my eyes and heart  more open, with new understanding, and a jungle of ideas to explore. 
Would I do this again ? It was amazing but it was also peculiar and exhausting. Would I do this again ?  I learned so much and I know that I am prone to follow my learning. Would I do this again ? I  would. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

And then a little light relief. A Little Bo Peep made out of recycled packaging, made to amuse my daughter and grandchildren who were coming to play later in the day. 



Saturday, 2 September 2017

It seems like the right moment to blog what I am up to at the moment. It fits with the previous posts about clothes, identity and performance, and stories, and being. Being. What is being ? I am at present "being a sculpture" "being a living installation" as my friend David described what I am as number 41 on the Waveney Sculpture Trail map this year. 
Having spent the first part of the summer protesting that I am not performer how do I square that with what I have chosen, what I chose to do way back in Spring when I committed to being a living body at work on site. I had not at that point done anything remotely like what I am doing now but the call to do it was strong and when I mooted the idea with Sarah Cannell, the curator of this years trail, and she came back with a yes it felt like a chance that could not be missed. 
And it is proving to be an extraordinary experience, a fascinating and challenging journey. A weird and wonderful, disturbing but beautiful trip. A peculiar kind of learning that I had not even half guessed at. 
To say I am a sculpture perhaps conjures up an image, suggests that I am holding a pose, painted to look like bronze or stone. I do not think I would be strong enough to do that. What I am is "a being" and in that being I am whatever the viewer sees in me. And as a being I offer myself up as an object. 
But the situation creates uncertainty. Is a person, a living thing, a sculpture ? What nonsense is this ? On the first day I had nothing to mark me as an exhibit tho' the invigilators gave me a sign on the entrance desk saying "Rebecca Clifford is working on site today". Now I have a post with my name and number which lessens the ambiguity and makes things easier in some ways and harder in others. Being defined changes the situation for both myself and the visitor but that in turn creates new quandaries. 
What am I working at ? It is a work day. But it looks like play. It begins when I turn the key in the lock of my front door and set out to get to Raveningham. My journey to site takes the best part of 2 hours and includes about an hours walk to and from my bus stops. And I am never quite sure how I am going to get home tho' through that I have met with unexpected kindness. The walking is important because it allows me to feel the area, I will surely be returning to explore the thereabouts after the trail is done when my feet are free to wander where they will. But at this moment I am coming to know the paths I must take - my commute - what grows where, the  buildings, the animals, the trees, the sounds, the light. This knowledge chimes with the work I made for this exhibition when it was on the old site at Earsham, formerly The Waveney Study Centre, and  before that The Otter Trust, and now Earsham Wetlands Centre. Walking allows me to connect with place, with time, with wonder. The information I gather informs the work I make about a site if I am making something site specific or else the walking helps me to transform my thoughts into something different, by preference lighter and clearer tho' this not always the case.
But as a sculpture I am just me. I am dressed "just so" in a hat, sitting on a white and blue blanket, sewing. I would say that as a sculptural form I only have a small niche market, but as an idea, an odd thought, my being, my posing as a sculpture has sparked some really interesting conversations. Well interesting to me, and hopefully interesting to the visitors with whom I have spoken.
One of the fantastic surprises I have had is that what I am doing seems to create space for people to tell me their stories, not deep confidences but things about themselves that have come up from the situation they find themselves in as we talk, about how we see art, what we see in art, about spirituality, and sewing, and families, and threads, and prayer, and god or no-god, and narrative, and looking, and art again and what is art, and being, and presence, and absence, and more and more and more. 
Over my mother's old kitchen table tablecloth, which I am mending and prettifying after it has sat two generations of children down to tea and has got stained and worn, conversation seems to flow as it would over a meal table. Talk is sparked by my children's and grandchildren's handprints and the fact that the tablecloth has already been witness to my family story. But what is so perfect, so gorgeous, is that each person brings their  own perspective, their being, to the situation. The situation, of a sculpture not being a sculpture, not fitting the accepted terms of reference, sculpture is a fixed entity, sculpture may or may not look like a thing, but sculpture is definitely not living, it may move but it cannot be a human, not a human nobody, allows extraordinary things to be said because the situation is not normal.
Now not everybody wants to look at a human being. I do not know how I would feel about a human exhibit if I went to a sculpture trail. Some keep their distance and look past, one or two have shown obvious contempt but that is the viewer's prerogative, if I was not alive I would not see their response I am challenging the order of things, albeit quietly, and so must accept that my challenge will not necessarily be met with approval. 
It is an odd position to have put myself in. makes me think about zoo animals, and how I see people who stand out in the street, often the people who stand out are society's misfits, the drunks, the addicts, the homeless, the beggars, and the weird, very occasionally the beautiful. It's a strange place to have put myself in, a situation that takes away any semblance of sensible, suburban, safe-thinking, no comfortably sane person would put themselves up as an exhibit, it's a fool's task. 
I will save thinking too much more about the fool for now but there is a part of me that wonders if perhaps that is the space from which I am coming from. The fool as the innocent, as the trusting child. Most of us outgrow this part of ourselves, we have to outgrow this part, or else we cannot thrive, we meet obstacles and as we overcome these obstacles our naivety is somewhat lost. But deep inside of us this elemental character still resides, the need to wonder, to feel delight, to be unwise, to trust is as key to life as more obviously adult facets of our being that help us to navigate our way in the world.
I am back to being. Being is in essence what I am calling visitors who are prepared to see me to consider, my being, their being, our being, the being of this, that and the other, living or unliving. When we talk, if we talk, after a while we seem to meet at a place where we are kind. One visitor said "if only we were all kind then the world would be a better place". 
So what does any of that have to do with identity and clothes, as I am sure I promised I would write about, well it doesn't really so I am sorry for that. The clothes are a thing, because clothes have come up in conversation with one of the other exhibiting artists who wears quite a wild outfit to make his performance art, and I have as result of doing this thought about costumes in film and theatre and so on. My dress for the trail is actually super ordinary in order to be visually unchallenging, I wear a battered hat (this is my concession to costume I think) and jeans and a top that makes no great statement, the picture I want to present is "woman sewing in pastoral setting" a scene that is common and as ageless as a vase of flowers or a child with a ball or a fruit tree or a herd of cows. 
Why have I chosen this as my skin for the exhibition duration ? It's because it's a very real part of who I am. I sew. And sewing is unthreatening. 
My original proposal was to stitch prayers, prayers being of no religious denomination, but more simply the place from which prayer emanates which seems to be common ground. Prayer in this sense is also a deep stream in me and combining stitch with prayer has been part of my creative and personal practice for the past four years and so drawing attention to these elements of my being by being a sculpture feels quite natural and honest and unperformance-y. Which I think is at the crux of finding one's true identity, the man/woman behind the mask, behind the layers that have accrued over years to protect or seduce (more of that at a later date as I feel I am drifting into the comedia dell'arte with all this talk of mask). Earlier I referred to a visitor wishing for kindness to be more prevalent, the word kind stems from old english gecynde meaning natural or native, at other times when prayer is spoken of we all refer to place inside of us which seems to be a manifestation of this natural or native aspect of our being, simple, generous, unblemished and peaceful and unifying. I will follow up on this blog as I hope at least five more days where I will be "working on site" and if the first six days are anything to go by I am in for a lot more thought provoking interaction before those days are up. And maybe that is just how life is, it keeps moving, we can't hold it still, even a seemingly still or fixed thing may find itself covered by that which moves faster and so it's stillness or fixedness cannot resist inevitable change. So Hum. And so hum. Maybe that is why the activities that draw us into our interior selves are so important. Therein we find our eternally newborn selves, our naked selves, free of judgement and censorship, in our vulnerability there we meet, maybe just for a moment, the spirit of prayer, the softness of trust, trust that all shall be well and all shall be well and all shall be well.  


     

Monday, 21 August 2017

Before I go any further with my meandering conversation with myself about identity I want to write up a little bit about the boots and also the Walk a Mile project. 
Quite a while back at the beginning of the summer my facebook-feed threw up a flyer for Zannie Fraser's intergenerational Walk a Mile project, a series of ten free workshops leading up to and culminating in a performance session. Now I don't really see myself as a performer (more about this later) but the project looked really exciting. Zannie is a professional puppeteer working all over Britain using shadow puppets and the project was based around the clothes we wear and the stories that are linked to them. I love clothes, stories, puppets and shadows. And I had crossed paths with Zannie a few years previously when she was researching a work based on Rumplestiltskin so I knew she would be interesting to work with. 
The brief for the first session was to bring an item of clothing with a story. I took my boots, boots that had seen me through the past ten years, four just about identical pairs. Why buy four pairs of the same boot, oh because they fitted like a dream and I don't love shopping but I do love walking. 
The story of these boots really goes back to before I had them. Way back when my children were small and I really was struggling to keep my head above water, I used to read books about the Holocaust. Grim reading you might think, a bit dramatic, maybe. But in bed hungry and cold and feeling wretched and alone they somehow gave me the strength to keep going. I used to think that if people could survive that then i could surely get through what I was going through which was nothing in comparison. 
As a result of reading around this period of history I came across Primo Levi and various books by him including 'If this is Man' and 'The Truce'. One of the things that hit home was how footwear made the difference between survival and demise in the lager at Auschwitz and later on the journey back to Germany. I think good boots may also have came up in 'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich Von Remarque which I also read at this time. Anyway the message hit home, especially as I had just spent a winter walking around in boots with holes in the soles because I couldn't afford new ones, that keeping my feet well shod would likely make a difference to my life and ever since then I have had at least one good pair of walking boots. 
The boots that relate to the workshop had only been around for ten years but all of them were/are reaching the end of their days. One pair is no longer useable even in the garden and only two pairs are good for walking, and even they couldn't do the long walks they did back in the day. 
Oh boots. They are only boots, but they are marvellous boots. Boots that hold the memories of that decade. 
One of the things that was very exciting about the workshops was that it was mixed age groups, this is uncommon. The mixing of teenagers with pensioners and myself and Zannie and a couple of assistants in between made for a challenging but very inspiring atmosphere. Sometimes it felt quite chaotic but somehow Zannie would pull us all together and I would always leave with my head full of thoughts brought on by the sessions. Now a month on there are still things that spring back to mind that I'd like to follow through.
But, there was a pitfall, I had seen that the workshops led up to a performance on the flyer, but for a good six or seven weeks I was in denial, I think I was hoping that everyone else would be desperate to be centre stage and that I could hang back in the wings pouring squash or sweeping up or something else kind of menial. However as the performance date drew closer it became clear this was not an option. And I felt unprepared which as someone nervy and unused to performance made the whole shenanigans a tad too much. I bottled it. Or really nearly bottled it.  
But Zannie and her partner Bob came to the rescue, gave up a couple of hours on a sunday mid morning to lunchtime, by the end of which there was something showable. And hats off and gratitude to them for doing that because, as they said at the time, if I'd bottled it I would have been disappointed. 
The night came and each participant and/or piece of clothing got given a moment in the spotlight. And Zannie and Bob showed us the multiple pieces they had been working on which was fascinating and worth the gulping down of stage fright just to see. How they pulled off the show they did in ten weeks is beyond me, I am always astounded at other people's capability and cleverness. Huge hand clap for all the work they put in. 
And oh boots, what a wonderful hero's send off. Those boots have been a part of me and my life. They have been to Cornwall, Devon, Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, the Lake District, the Dordogne, Italy, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, and all over Norfolk and Suffolk and even a little bit of Kent and London. They have seen me through university, various jobs, rapturous love and desperate deadbeat love and heartbreak and coming back to myself after heartbreak, and illness, and from full-on mothering to my children leaving home and on to becoming granny. Those boots represent a seminal chapter in my life, a period in my history when the changes came so fast they were falling over each other, an exhilarating, exhausting and enormous period of time in my life. And so it seems a bit appropriate that I should have had to face up to one more fear to celebrate their being before they take their final bow. 
Thank you Zannie.