I’ve been working with artist Natasha MacVoy recently.

In August last year my work was installed in her house as part of an ongoing investigation into the meaning and nature of curation called HER MIT PROJECTS. Curated by Tash, these projects deal with real people who are dealing with real things. Mothers being mothers, bereaved people being bereaved. HER MIT events take place in the spaces immediately available to Tash – her kitchen, the shed, a cigarette box.

This is what happened. On a Friday night in August I took nearly nine months’ work to her house. When I returned mid-day Saturday she had curated a small number of works and installed them in her kitchen and shed.

Initially she and I toured the work together, discussing the content and her decision-making process. (Later a small audience came to view the work and share food with us.) This was the first thing I saw walking into her kitchen with my heart in my mouth on Saturday.

This pairing of collage and teapot was fresh to me.

At first you might only see a teapot on the windowsill, but then you pick up on the ear-wigging suggested by the collage. And there are little things about the way it’s placed: the collage hangs from pegs like washing might; the slight space between this and the fridge; the messages on the pegs – ‘don’t forget’ and ‘already done’. Tash playing with the idea of being a mother in an exhibition space or an artist in the kitchen?

Also in the kitchen:

The charger was given its own space. The lines are reminiscent of a string of beads or, Tash thought, indents from a small child’s finger. The ear-like leaves of the plant above it on the windowsill sends you back to the teapot at the other end.

Over the kitchen table, against a backdrop of family photos, drawings and notes from friends are two prints:

This pair of drawings (string prints) are almost repeats. In contrast to the board of ‘special moments’ they serve as reminders of the necessity for repetition in life, whether you are an artist or a mother or both. The children in Tash’s family photographs are twins, repeats of another kind.

Tash’s garden shed studio is a baby to the house’s parent. In the shed:

That’s Tash, photographing the slightly rude white teapot. You should see what she’s placed behind it…

A chiminea. It’s funny isn’t it?

Here is a close up of the detached teapot handles, wall mounted. They hark back to the ears in the main house, also bringing to mind inverted commas – perhaps because of the second speech bubble collage, laid out on the cutting mat on a table to the left.

I made these finger bowls pretty much without thinking, a simple association of breasts with food. They are begging to be lifted off the cold marble slab / body underneath them. Notice the triangular hole in the cardboard box she chose to support the marble – genius. Without the box and marble slab – Tash’s interventions – the bowls would be more limited in meaning. They were her solution to the question: how are we going to display these?

In the top drawing Tash saw male and female body parts floating in a washing up bowl. With the pale double teapot on the windowsill were two further teapots: ‘over-giving mum’ and ‘introverted mum’ (below). All the teapots – are portraits of myself as a mother.

I had written down the main themes of these pieces before leaving them with Tash. Astonishingly sex and humour didn’t feature although they are a big part of what makes me who I am. I had been playing with ‘break and mend’; ‘ideals and falling short’; and ‘the jeopardy of childbearing / childrearing’.

Tash offered the audience Georges Perec’s piece on walls from ‘Species of Spaces and Other Pieces‘ and there was an article about photographer Francesca Woodman on the shed wall, another deep thinker about the self in relation to space. So carefully chosen, these pieces of writing contextualise Tash’s HER MIT projects so well.

In summary I guess two things really hit home as a result of this joint project:

One – to see my own work through the eyes of someone, intelligent and sensitive, who dares curate so strongly is to see it totally fresh and fully realised as something other, something beyond what I thought it was.

Two – for whatever reason, I’ve moved into a place where I find it difficult to share the work publicly. It makes me feel vulnerable in a way it never has before although I believe it to be really good work.

Who isn’t intrigued by the idea of fate?  

I bought the Paragon fine china fortune-telling cup thinking it might be the start of something. ‘CURIOUS THINGS I SEE WHEN TELLING FORTUNES IN YOUR TEA’ was lifted straight from it. Other than this couplet there is no writing on the original cup – the ‘predictions’ are visual, a collection of symbols.

Manufactured circe 1930, during a craze for homeware linked to fortune-telling between the two World Wars in Europe, when people craved stability and ‘the known’. 

In response I made a series of 13 variations of a cup and saucer – suspicious, me? – using contributions from nine artists and writers: Valerie Lester; Alison Lester; Kiri Lester-Hodges; Sarah Gregory; Julia Bloomfield; Rachel Raynes; Linda Parr; Ellen Wilkinson; Sammy Weaver. My own message was written with my younger self in mind as recipient. 

The choice of a Bodoni typeface for the message around the rim of the cup was a nod in the direction of Valerie Lester’s work on the printer’s life story.

The Lester-Hodges represent three generations of women in one family as do the Bloomfield-Gregory-Raynes’s. These two families have been linked since Val and Sarah met at the gates of Garden Suburb Infant School, North London in 1972. 

There is a word for reading fortunes in tealeaves: ‘tasseography’.

My thanks to Luke and Sarah Salaman. Luke contributed technical know-how and the cups were fired in their kiln in Bristol UK.

On Saturday I led a session for eight artists at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge.

The group worked collaboratively, both in practical terms and through discussion. The aim was to look at an outline for a contemporary drawing course but the following questions arose which were, in a way, more interesting:

How might drawing be employed as a tool to expand my practice?

How does my practice relate to other practices which use drawing as a research tool?

How do I relate to artists’ research into drawing?

How might this collaborative exercise relate to our individual practices?

Is there anything here which some of us could investigate outside of the group and bring back?

I would like to pursue these questions. Am currently fund-raising towards this end.

Leonie Bradley, Editor of Printmaking TODAY – a quarterly magazine for artists working with print – commissioned me recently to chart my journey to develop a program of continuing professional development for artists. Inevitably it talks about Press Play, a unique course now in its third year, created in collaboration with Spike Print Studios in Bristol UK. The article is in Vol 27 No 4, the winter 2018 issue, published by Cello Press.

Thank you to the many artists who have made contact as a result. Let’s keep in touch.

section of the article

Enough said I think.

The Liverpool Bestiary went off to Athens as part of the international conference (ATINER ISBN 978-960-598-199-0) in June 2018. Then the IMPACT 10 conference in Santander earlier this month. Here’s the link to a pdf catalogue.

The prints are currently on show in Avenue HQ, Liverpool and will also be exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as a pop up Arts Council event on 7 October, The Williamson Gallery (Wirral) as part of a series of talks and symposia entitled ‘the things that live under the stairs’ on the 16 November and at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool on 13 October.

Incredible. That print is getting out more than I am. Here’s a link back to ‘Being Cocky’! And here’s a link to another artist in the same portfolio, Lucy May Schofield. Fabulous work.

As you know, I run a couple of courses for Spike Print Studios in Bristol. One of them – Paper Structures – was given a rave review recently by Ellen Wilkinson:

Ellen Wilkinson reflects on Paper Structures: Book Arts Unfolded

The Spike Print bursary, awarded through Spike Island’s Associates programme, enabled me to take up a place on Paper Structures: Book Arts Unfolded at Spike Print Studio in 2017–18.

I embarked on this course with a long-standing interest in artists’ books and an existing creative practice that spans visual art and writing. The course challenged my assumptions about the kind of work I thought I’d make through the year and reminded me how important the not-knowing is in creative development.

Paper Structures: Book Arts Unfolded has playfulness and experimentation at its heart, and the invitation to play was especially liberating; I let go of the worry of being artistically consistent, of feeling the need to make coherent work that neatly fits into my ‘practice’, as it appears publicly. My peers showed me different ways of looking and seeing. I took risks and thoroughly enjoyed the act of making and thinking-and-not-thinking, and followed the circuitous paths that appeared. I ran headlong down dead ends, spent hours making things that went straight in the bin, felt momentary delight and rambling exasperation: essential elements in creating anything of value.

I have new practical skills in bookbinding, box making and toy design. I tried to trap tiny paper minnows inside handmade Japanese paper but they darted away from me. I found the simplest pleasure in folding paper into 3D forms then fell down a rabbit hole of mind-melting mathematical variation. I moulded scissors from paper but they snipped themselves into self-referential confetti. I built a staircase that went nowhere. I got lost in a mirrored Cricut maze.

I left folded orange printer paper in daylight, then unfolded the sun bleached sheets and saw a calendar that recorded the final weeks of the course. This became the piece I showed at the end of year exhibition. The marks left by the light continued to fade during the show. My interest in the marking of time – which in the past I have expressed through photography and video – has found a new form in paper.

When I look back at the maquettes, the tests, the 3D sketches I made throughout the year, what surprises me most are the clear threads of ideas running through them. The act of unconsciously playing, of pressing pause on my self-critical brain, far from resulting in an incoherent mish-mash, has uncovered new ways of articulating my artistic concerns. This course enabled me to make those discoveries and leaves me with numerous lines of artistic enquiry to follow.

–Ellen Wilkinson, July 2018

(An aspect of writing that I’m very interested in is when authors – particularly of fiction – use parentheses to say the most important thing: far from being parenthetical, the brackets contain the bit that really matters. These parentheses contain Emma Gregory, who led this course with generosity, insight, challenge, support and many, many questions. Thank you so much, Emma).

And thank you Ellen.