women artists

A spontaneous encounter with Dracula

I have been fighting with my daughter for nearly two hours – trying to cajole her into going for a sleep. She normally goes for one at 12ish, but lately it creeps further and further through the day leaving me no choice but to wait patiently for her to succumb to the tiredness she must surely feel given that she is on the go from 6.a.m.

I cannot even begin to put into words the desperation for a moments peace – for a small chunk of time to sit and be quiet. To do something or nothing. To recoup. Having the promise of it dangled before my drooping eyes by a 2 year old saying ‘not bed mummy’, after two separate occasions of lying her down in bed with two stories (one won’t do) and warm milk – and my whole psyche aching for the moment when I say, “have a nice sleep, see you in a little while” and she says “bye mummy”. And yet it does not come – 2 false starts – Agony.

Anyway, she is asleep now. Thank the heavens. I am supposed to be on a detox of 2 oranges, 2 bananas and the juice of one lemon blended into a drink 3 times a day for 3 days. It’s no big deal and I have done it before – but I am sitting down now with a coffee – and although not strictly allowed I figure one can only aid with the detox – 2 on the other hand… now that would be toxic of course!

So, on to more interesting pastures. I wanted to write about my Saturday at the Phoenix and the Count Dracula animation workshop for art therapists and arts in health workers. It was run by Tony Gammidge an artist, art therapist and film maker with a number of years experience of leading CPD workshops. We worked with the story of Count Dracula using a variety of art making techniques including video and animation, sound, puppets, shadows, light projections, drawing and installation. The emphasis of the workshop was on experimentation with a variety of art making processes, collaboration and reflection on both what wisdom the story might hold for us in our personal and professional lives and also offer a glimpse of a different way of working in a clinical setting.

A very interesting day – and a challenge both creatively and personally. I nearly sabotaged the whole thing for myself – first by staying up really late (1.30a.m. – that is really late for me! Cos I know I’ll be up by 6a.m. With a couple of interruptions at 2 and 4a.m.) and by drinking lots of red wine – which although accompanied by pots of weak early grey tea and glasses of water still left me worse for wear and sitting on the edge of my bed, head spinning – thinking about being an artist and about the painting I had been working on that day of Winni dancing.

So, I was a little delicate as I jumped on my bike with 10 minutes to get there. I had my coffee in a flask and wrapped my bagel in tin foil and stuffed them into my rucksack. As soon as I was on the bike and charging along at top speed I felt free and engaged. I locked my bike up on the railings outside, entered the Phoenix building and as I climbed up the two flights of stairs to the studio – I felt a little wave of butterflies as I reflected on the fact that these were the early days of me starting to re-engage and reinstate myself in the adult world without a small child attached to my ankles. And it felt so exciting – like I have a whole chance again to reconnect with people and with my life and what I am about.

I didn’t know anything about the story of Count Dracula when I sat down in a circle with the other 6 participants – all women. We introduced ourselves and shared a bit about why we were there in the traditional workshop opening stylee. In the blurb he sent out before the workshop Tony had said we did not need to know the story in any great detail. He did add that we might want to think about what it is that draws us to the story; an image, a particular scene, a sound etc. but that it is OK to be spontaneous about this on the day….no pressure. As a result, I deliberately decided not to find out any thing about the story – because I did not want to pre-empt myself and I was also curious to see what spontaneity might feel and look like.

We talked as a group about the story – people chipped in with bits they knew. I got my note book out and started to scribble and think. A pleasure. My mind went to blood letting, and associated ideas like rejuvenation and release. I thought about Count Dracula imbibing another’s blood and the control that might afford him over their spirit, and how when you are in love you can feel a vast pain and vulnerability (as well as joy) from closeness to another. That feeling of connectedness that comes with loving and the fear of separation from or loss of it. I saw the isolation of the castle and thought about motherhood and how difficult it is to come back from. About being unreachable, and inaccessible – at times even to oneself. I wondered about the importance of stories and how we all have one to tell and how our own interact and weave with those of other people and about authorship and truth.

We spent half an hour making an individual response to these discussions – and I found myself making (suprise suprise – I really am starting to take ownership!) a tiny baby figure cut out of white card, a larger pregnant female standing figure with streaming hair, and a lying down female possibly dying (or giving birth) with a mouth open to suggest screaming. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them – but I was thinking about motherhood; death and rejuvenation in terms of identity and about being an artist and how to keep it all going.

I worked with two other women to make a stop frame animation. We just got stuck right in and collaborated each bringing the things we had made and with an overhead projector and whatever props we could find we made a sinister little piece using the paper baby placed in a plastic back which looked particularly womb like with a piece of red acetate held over the camera lense and these Dracula type claws coming into the space trying to pluck the baby from the bag and the mother fighting the claw to save the baby – in vain. At the end of the day we showed our little films to each other and what was quite remarkable for me – was to learn from Tony that in the Count Dracula story – there is a scene in which count Dracula returns to the castle to find a trio of female vampires who appear from nowhere, trying to seduce Jonathan Harker – the increasingly reluctant guest in the Count’s Transylvanian castle. Dracula screams angrily at them and drops a bag on the floor containing a live baby for the women which they then kill.

How weird is that? Having not known the story at all – I work with two other women and we end up making a piece that reflects a particularly disturbing image in the story. It was not lost on any of us either just how powerful the images were that we conjured in our little film. It was striking how the Dracula story emerged through my own, through the animation and you could as Tony suggested read it in many ways…i.e my child sucking my ‘creative blood’ (not a nice image). As he says, “hopefully the workshop gave you a much needed transfusion!”. And… I’d say it did.

I want to find more out about the story of Count Dracula and in particular the references within it to mental health. It would be interesting to look at what was happening in the field of mental health around 1897, when it was written. Has anyone read it? Do any of you know anything about this narcissistic Count with the soul of the hunter?

To see the films have a look on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMq1P-L8XXI

For more info about workshops:

http://movingtalesworkshops.blogspot.com/
http://tonygammidge.typepad.co.uk/

Enemies of Good Art

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”. This was written by Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise, 1938. Connolly was a writer trying to understand the reasons for his own failure to produce a major work of literature despite being recognised at the time as a leading man of letters and a great critic.

What affects your ability to make work and to make ‘great’ work – that you value and that is recognised by yourself (and others?) as having something to contribute? Does this even matter to you?

Does being a mother relegate your work?

I went to an excellent free event at Fabrica Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago. It was a creative drawing extravaganza organised by a local artist Jane Fordham called Smudging and Scratching and Dancing in Coils, combining a contemporary dancer and four cine projectors loaded with found film from the 20s to the 60s.

I had been up in London the night before hanging out with my brother Fin and my dad. The reason for going up was a meeting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery called Enemies of Good Art. It turned out to be a very interesting gathering of over 40 mothers, most with babies or small children. We came together to explore our shared experiences of being artists as well as parents and how to manage the demands of both and enable ourselves to continue making creative work. We talked about the negative feelings towards the presence of children in the art world; in terms of their physical presence at art related events or in gallery spaces and as subject matter in the work of female artists.

I am particularly interested in these negative ideas towards children and mother artists as earlier on in my motherhood I realised somewhere along the line I had somehow managed to imbibe them quite successfully. Filled perhaps with my own internalised negative constructions of motherhood as being somehow less than, low status, undervalued by society etc. etc. (we know all this)… I was not about to embrace it as central to my art practice, either in process or as subject matter. So, I struggled to maintain a very rational and pragmatic approach to exploring my visual language and to focus on anything other than my pregnancy or soon after my brand new little Winifred sleeping by my side or staring up at me as I painted strong images of line and physical domestic space. I didn’t want to fall into a stereotype, I didn’t want to fulfill other people’s negative ideas – but in my efforts to avoid all this – I was missing the point. And that is… about embracing the challenge, and being brave enough to be all of who I am and say what I want to say and decide how I want to say it – with the art that I make. And…to stop self censoring and second guessing how it might be received.

I find that sooo difficult. It is hard to be free…sometimes I associate freedom with naivete, and I don’t think any of us can afford to be naïve. I studied Social Anthropology and it gave me a real education in culture and men and women. I remember so much poignant stuff about male and female relations in cultures across the world. One anthropologist, Sherry Ortner pointed out that, cross-culturally, woman is “identified with, or symbolically associated with, nature, as opposed to man, who is identified with culture”. Ortner, argued that women are more closely identified with nature because of their bodies, specifically their sexual and reproductive bodies. This association explains why women’s closeness to nature seems inevitably to become a mark of second-class citizenship, for while women create “only perishables–human beings,” men create “relatively lasting, eternal, transcendent objects”. This was what she found from looking at the place of women in society.

I will say more about this another time – because I have a lot to say about it and I find it fascinating in so many ways. But for the purposes of now, my received wisdom while studying anthropology was that across the world (past and present), there are examples, so, so many – of how women are relegated in one way or another in culture and society. I spent my late teens and early 20’s therefore developing the idea that I was not going to let myself be associated with things that were being denigrated i.e. being a women (or a mother). Enough said. My ongoing challenge is to find ways of integrating all that is me – all of my selves regardless of society and other people’s judgements. And, I am just about starting to do that in my work quite effectively! I think.

Back to the mothers meeting at the Whitechapel then (woops!). I was really interested in discussions about how to get studio space and how to develop both a national and local network of artists with children. I also like the idea that if we are going to make work – we should/ could do so with children in tow in public spaces, rather than hiding ourselves away and pretending that our children and our mothering identity are not crucial and relevant to who we are and what our work is about.

The drawing class back in Brighton, followed directly from the Whitechapel gathering and needless to say it felt great rocking up to Fabrica direct from London, with empty sketchbooks in hand and a bag full of drawing equipment. I sat on the floor in the darkness (among loads of other people of all ages and backgrounds) making marks fast, freely and joyfully. Turning over the pages quickly, putting down black onto white sheets, responding to the dancing body clothed all in white and the flickering projections of a 20’s wedding, children on beaches and an elderly man and women standing uncomfortably looking into the lens, searching for the comfort in each others hands.

For more information about the Enemies of Good Art meeting
contact:
martinamullaney@googlemail.com
I just found this interesting website have a look at http://www.whodoesshethinksheis.net/

Doing two things at once?

I really struggled to plan and manage the final major project for my Art Foundation due to having a baby. I was probably being overly ambitious even thinking I could do both at the same time. Lack of time, energy and focus were a major factor and ‘planning’ when you don’t know what’s happening from one moment to the next isn’t really practical. Even down to squeezing paint out of a tube. Acrylic paint dries quickly. I got through a lot of it and not because I was painting! I worked out how to use every moment on offer to do or think about something useful. That in itself was pretty excruciating. I am instinctively someone who will put off starting most things forever if I can – which of course is seldom possible.

I had to question my motivation. I had been searching for something more than to fulfill the course criteria; for a direction and a focus that would take me beyond the course into the future as a new mum with artistic aspirations. While deadlines were helpful, in some ways they interrupted and confused my development. I struggled with my own process and purpose. Generating ideas wasn’t a problem. However, settling on one and following it through was not at all easy. The challenges I faced making any decisions on direction are reflected in my journal. My lack of development shows.

Feedback from my mum and dad has been similar – interesting for me given that they separated many years ago and are not in contact with each other. They both went to art school and my dad is a painter. As well as being supportive and encouraging they are also the most honest and critical (!) about my work. They both independently challenged me to develop my technique in drawing and painting and not to rely on quick wins or clever gizmos to get me through. My strength lies in drawing and sculpture. My painting technique and understanding of paint and colour etc. is limited and yet this is what I tried to grapple with.

In retrospect to go for painting (not my strong point) and to work on portraits (which I have never done before) seems a bit crazy. I could have given myself an easier time and stuck to my own brief and worked on a sculpture. The portraits taught me a great deal but the result does not reflect the dynamism of my ideas and some of the other work I have done. It’s a shame. My last minute departure into abstract painting in the last week before the deadline was an attempt to give myself some space to express, to play and to be free. I had a good time doing it – but the tutors’ faces when I turned up with that monster and set it up against the wall! Baby under one arm, canvas under the other. My little world almost imploded.

I have generated enough ideas and dabbled with enough technique to keep me going for some time. The artists I looked at were an inspiration and gave me the confidence to make my pregnancy and the birth the subject of my work. This also meant putting aside a whole load of my own negativity about women artists and women’s art and wanting to distance myself from this.

The ongoing challenge remains; how am I going to keep going with this painting and drawing with a small baby on the go the whole time. I got a good sized table set up in the window. Paints all lined up in a nice wooden box I rescued from the street. Sketchbooks and reference piled up neatly. Deep breath, turn over a page and make a mark.