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.