memory

Looking back to move forwards

I need to practice sharing my creative ideas in a way that makes it easy for others to understand, not just end products but the processes that lead me there. I tend to shy away from this, assuming that if people were really bothered to know then they would just ask, but unfortunately to be an artist means having to explain your art not just produce it, especially if you want to engage with funders. My games projects are as important to me as my past work in what we used to call ‘interactive art’ so I need to show where themes run through the work I have done.

I am writing a new outline of Shadowmaker; what it could look like and feel like and behave like if I could develop it in the direction I always wanted, as a VR project. I am revisiting past projects and drawing out the threads that show themes and interests and aesthetics that are about me and my work so I can write more confidently putting myself as Artist in the middle of a body of work that pulls together ideas and actions, thoughts and deeds. Applying for funding is a competitive process and that always puts me off, so reminding myself of past work that I am still pleased to have produced or been involved with is a good way to get into the right mood of:

I am brilliant, give me cash.

The funding form I am filling in wants examples of my track record as a maker of interactive work, so I am revisiting old lists of work and before I fire up all my old hard-drives and multiple back-ups I’m googling myself to see what documentation is online. It is an interesting way to remind myself of Things that I have done, and what Things might constitute Relevant Artistic Practice. It’s also easy to get distracted by internet rabbit-holes of things I’ve forgotten that may be a tiny bit relevant.

I found a bunch of academic papers & references and reminders of conference presentations, and a reference to the first computer-based interactive piece I worked on (Media, Myth & Mania) and then stumbled across a podcast from March 2011: Mobile is Pervasive (part2), a recording of a roundtable conversation at the Pervasive Media Studio. It’s a bit of a diversion from what I was looking for but a nice reminder of what I used to get up to; paid to create conversations with interesting people aka R&D. This one is Proff.Jon Dovey & Me & a bunch of BBC Natural History Unit people, talking about what was then quite ground-breaking research into Design Dimensions for creating mobile/locative/pervasive media and how it might be relevant to the BBC archive. We refer to the about-to-go-live Pervasive Media Cookbook which is still a useful online resource if you want to find out more about developing an interactive experience.

nb Wordles get a mention. This refers to wordclouds we generated about immersive/mobile/pervasive experiences from audience descriptions,  to show what words were being used most frequently. This was all part of our research into the then-developing language around pervasive media.

Listening to this podcast, I can recognise a couple of voices and names that are now quite familiar; pretty sure I hear Rebecca Bangay (who is now experimenting with 360film & VR) and we mention Jackie Calderwood, who was an early experimenter with pervasive technologies, creating experimental experiences in rural settings.

But time to close this rabbit hole and get back to writing a new portrait of I, the Artist, as an older woman…

Time for a new image of myself as artist

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Diving for sweets

Searching my laptop for files to delete I came across this home movie from #4’s birthday, dated 2008. Here’s one little glimpse of him as birthday boy on the day he became a teenager. He turns 21 in less than a month and is “not bothered” about celebrating. I’d like to celebrate him and his presence in our lives. And look at how cute they all were!

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scenting something

Yesterday a facebook friend was researching for some writing and asked us to share our three favourite smells and why they were our favourite smells. After some initial head-scratching I came up with more than three. I never know when to stop.

So, in order of my remembering here they are:

Fresh cut rhubarb – my favourite aunt would give us stems from the garden that we would dip in the sugar bowl and wince as we ate.

Another favourite smell which slightly beats the smell of the little leather shop that sold handmade bags and made to measure belts was the shop that sold animal feed – visiting to buy pet food that was stored in big open sacks. I think it was not a pet shop but that smell for some reason has me think of eyeing up small creatures – back in the day when you could buy puppies and kittens and keep a coatimundi in a cage in a shop.

New potatoes with mint. I just like food. My mum was a good cook. She also made bread and I think I miss the smell of it more than the swallowing of it. I sometimes chew a piece of fresh baked white loaf and resist swallowing, knowing I will regret it later.

Oh yes the smell of the seaside! M&S had a Sea room scent a few years back that was almost perfect in the way it made you think of clean seaweed! They also had one (called Linen?) that did almost smell like another favourite – Cotton nappies that have been hung out in the sunshine. Well, pretty much anything that has been hung out on a washing line to dry and brings in the smell of the outdoors.

And in response to someone’s post about sniffing a book with its promise of a new story, I remembered how much I loved the scent of a fresh puffin paperback too.

Today I sniffed my way around the garden centre, with flowers and leaves evoking people and their gardens, before choosing three small thyme plants to put alongside our two-yard-long path to the front door. I will take them out of their pots and embed them in the gravel, where they may be too low for us to scent when we crush them underfoot but I’ll know they smell and so will the bees.

Thyme

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The little things

Did I forget to post this? I wrote it as last year ended and I thought of the time I had been privileged to spend New Year’s Eve in your company, in a room full of people and laughter and music and hospitality. So I had written this and it may be somewhere on here, on featherhouse, but I have no energy to look for it. And it is worth repeating:

I remember you through the little things. When I put coffee grounds in a cafetiére I remember all those times in your kitchen when I made drinks for us and I always made the coffee strong enough for me and heated half a mug of cow milk for you in the microwave to add yours to. And sometimes you made me some concoction or other with turmeric grated into hot milk with a squeeze of vague sweetness and I drank it, willing you to get better as you drank yours.

And when I knit and drop a stitch I remember those last times of knitting and unpicking and then you holding the ball of wool while I raced to finish the Boy’s jumper for you so that nothing was left unfinished but everything is always unfinished. I made him try it on at the funeral and we found one hole but that made it perfect, a sign that you had been there. Every ball of wool reminds me as it unravels.

hands

When I run – not every step but at least once per run I think of how you encouraged me and gave me your old gear, an acknowledgement that you no longer needed it. We never ran together – we thought that your cough would go and one day soon you would be able to join us on the towpath out of the city. You did in September when we ran in remembrance, with photos of you adorning the bushes and telling us where to turn round. Not the same. And now another place where I find you in the little things.

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World Book Day

March 3rd, World Book Day, and all across the UK fraught parents are pulling costumes out of hats so their little ones can go to school dressed as a Character. My great-nephews are Captain Hook, Peter Pan & Shere Khan today. I hope they have read the books as well as watching the Disney films. ‘Luckily’ all my children are way past primary school age and I no longer have to scrabble through the dressing up box cursing last minute mind changes about who is the current favourite, or having discussions about whether comic book superheros count on World Book Day. I can’t even remember what my children went dressed as over the years, but I do remember encountering the head teacher in the playground wearing an elephant mask and with a colourful blanket draped over her shoulders; she was Elmer the elephant for the day. Inspired.

Then this morning I saw saw a tweet from Paul Mason about being blown away by Frank Herbert’s Dune at the age of thirteen.

I still remember reading this and loving it, to the extent of reading all the series but always preferring the first one. (Hated the film when it came out). I even used the Bene Gesserit litany against fear as a vague sort of mantra when I was in labour, but that’s another story.

That got me thinking about what books I read as a child and a young adult, books which showed me alternative world views, introduced different ideas about how to behave as a girl, led me off into fantasies of what I could possibly be when I grew up. So here’s a quick list of which books I loved or blew me away:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – because Mary Lennox was the first grumpy heroine/protagonist I came across who was redeemable, so I thought there might be hope for me yet. nb having found an image of the cover of my copy, I think it is a Shirley Hughes illustration, which reminded me of all the Noel Streatfield stories I read which also had grumpy girls who had moods and were also illustrated by Hughes. And it was a Puffin Book  – I bought quite a few of these with my 1/6 pocket money, spent hours in the local bookshop deciding which book to buy and often read the book standing there and then had to choose another one.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken – where Bonnie led her cousin away from cruel and heartless fake relatives and was much feistier and independent and determined than I ever was, and I fell in love with Joan Aiken’s characters and read not only the whole of the interconnected series with Dido Twite et al  but also Aiken’s collections of fairytales – A Necklace of Raindrops. I still love the fairytale illustrations by Jan Pienkowski, and thinking about it, the illustrations were always a treasure to find in the children’s books – comparing them to my own imaginings.

Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome – was full of girls, more than 50-50! Like most people I wanted to be as Ruth-less as Nancy Blackett but knew in my wimpy heart I was more a Peggy (especially as her real name was the same as mine) or maybe a Titty, whose inner thoughts feature large in the first book. Then bookish city-dweller Dorothea came along and I knew I could easily be her. My first Ransome was Pigeon Post, which I picked up from a new pile of books at school, fascinated by the cover drawings, and my mother was delighted when she saw it as it had been a childhood favourite of hers, and I liked that connection.

Also have to give an honourable mention to pretty much anything by Hester Burton or K.M.Peyton whose books  I devoured in my early teens and learnt about everything from French Revolution to Quakerism to teenage pregnancy to building wood and canvas aeroplanes, where the girls had minds of their own and were sometimes good at horse-riding – still on my list of things to do when I stop being scared of horses biting me.

Then as a young adult there were three books that shifted my world view.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter  – which I read as a young mother at the age of 17/18 and in the same way that as a small child I indentified with the grumpy Mary Lennox, reading Angela Carter’s fairy tales made me feel less insane and alone in any Dark Thoughts I might have.

The Paradise Papers (later renamed When God Was A Woman) by Merlin Stone, which finally blew away the cobwebs of Church of England Sunday School and all the things I had been taught through childhood, when I had read both Old & New Testaments and had never realised that Three is a magic number in lots of belief systems, not just the Christian Trinity.

The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin – lent to me by the same person who lent me the Merlin Stone book, this was a real paradigm shifter in that it imagines a world without rape, and really makes you think about what life would be like for women on Earth if we weren’t raised with that ever-present threat to keep us in order.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell – I am going through books in chronological order and I was about 21, pregnant with #3 and quite indignant about The State of The World (it was 1982) when I was given this by a friend who had been to university. It should be on the reading list in secondary schools. I once camped on a cemetery in Rice Lane, Liverpool, and went and found Tressell’s grave. His real name was something else and it only just occurred to me to wonder if he used that name as an ex-decorator!

So those are a few of the books I read as a youngster, and I’ve read a lot of books since then. I was even in a book club, briefly, but couldn’t be bothered with reading books that seemed to be miserable for the sake of being dramatic, though I did enjoy making everyone else read Wise Children by Angela Carter, which I recommend as a birthday present for fifteen year old nieces to encourage them to behave badly.

More recently, the only standout book that I can think of that really made me think differently is Small Island by Andrea Levy. Could be because I avoid reading books that make me think these days! But it is an awesome book that challenges ideas about immigration, race, prejudices, who knows what else, and should be read by everyone in the UK if not beyond.

Small Island was given out free in Bristol as part of a literary festival or somesuch and was a great read.

I’ve no doubt I will think of more over the next few days, but these are the standouts for me today on World Book Day.

 

 

 

 

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Red Flyer

A few decades ago, as a very young and single mother, I would occasionally  have panics about how to keep my three young children safe in an emergency; who I would carry, what I would carry. That was even before I read Yael Dayan’s Death Had Two Sons or watched Sophie’s Choice  It took me ages to get rid of the pushchair, just in case I needed something to carry children and household goods to flee a burning city. When the children no longer needed pushchairs I bought them a Red Flyer Wagon, and now I wonder whether it was for them or for me. I maybe watched too many war films as a child showed footage of people carrying their lives on prams as they walked forever.

Living in England, in the 20th Century, those were just bad dreams that I never had to live. Today on the television I watch thousands of people living that nightmare, landing on islands soaked to the skin, then travelling for weeks as this weather turns ever more wintry, stuck with no shelter at borders unable to travel to safety, while our government helpfully bombs all their neighbours who could not afford to escape. This photo from Humans of the Refuge struck me today, with that memory of how scared I felt to be responsible for my children, even in a place not at war, with just about enough money to feed and clothe them, if only that. I look at the expressions on the faces of the parents as they try to keep their children safe on such awful, awful journies, and me stomach turns over with thankfulness that my nightmare has not come true. But this morning I lay in my warm dry bed, wondering whether I knew where all our important documents are, and phone chargers, and emergency blankets, and medication and first aid kit, and waterproofs, and walking boots. And what about our photographs, our family histories in albums and boxes that we would not be able to take with us. And I must stop this mental inventory of the contents of our house, and whether to discuss an emergency plan. In the event of anything we rendezvous at the house, or the nearest standing building…

When we are children we believe that we will no longer be powerless once we reach eighteen, once we attain adulthood. Today I sit in my dry, warm, house in England, about to cook food, feeling powerless.

I still have the red flyer wagon in the garage, just in case.

 

 

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This is the doll

costume doll

that my father bought me when I was very small. He was a teacher accompanying Surrey schoolchildren on a cruise around the mediterranean and visited “the Holy Land”. He made the trip twice, each time he bought me a doll – this one is from the first trip. He also brought back an Ali Baba linen basket – I can still remember the smell of the rushes – and a leather pouffe.

She is battered and moth-eaten and her skirts are no longer stiff enough for her to stand up, but she still has beautiful hands. I keep her in a box to keep the moths at bay, and she leans against it, looking towards the window.

 

 

 

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