The Friends

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The Friends

Bringing chocolate and memories to Betty.

Her delight in seeing me expressed as always:

“Love you to bits”

“What times we had”

“Happy days”

In a voice which grew up on Gosforth streets

Like me and her best friend, my Mum.

“What a lovely surprise”

Repeated, echoes down the corridor as I walk away.

 

Time with Mum comes in shorter spells now,

So diminished,

Sentences run aground in your mouth:

Words unsaid but meanings understood.

I hold your hand,

I smell your oldlady smells,

I taste the sweeties I bring you,

See your shrunken body and feel your bony back,

As I hug you goodbye and tell you that I love you,

You say you love me too.

The air here tastes lonely but is piquant with trying- still to be.

Music puts you back together,

Your muscles move in time and your smile returns.

You are still joyful, sometimes,

Somehow.

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Gathering

An important element of the Love This Place show is my family story.  This image below is a screen print of a charcoal drawing of my Mum, Eleanor Wood, along with a rubbing of the family name, a map of Gosforth where we grew up, and a slideshow of photos of her and her friends.

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A recording of a conversation between us, based on looking at the map which is of Gosforth in 1913, plays through the headphones.  The conversation took place in 2013 and would not be possible now because of the Parkinson’s Disease she has suffered for nearly 20 years.  I live a couple of miles from her in Leeds and have been looking after her through those years, alongside my two sisters and many other family and friends.  She turned 90 last year and has weathered her illness with resilience and courage, as well as a great sense of humour.

Love This Place honours women’s strength, my Mum and all our mothers.  It explores the complex relationships around and along the matri-line, embodied in my walking art project- from Leeds, where we live and my daughter Eleanor grew up, to Newcastle, where my Mum and I grew up and where my daughter and her daughter (Isla-May Eleanor) now live.  While the show has been on lots of connections have been made and meetings made possible- between grandmothers, mothers and grandaughters, old and new friends, people from most parts of mine and my family’s life.  The show has reached out along many matri-lines and friendships, creating new stories and bringing people together.  My university friend Trish from Glasgow turned up with her granddaughter who had a lovely time playing with my granddaughter, friends from Holland called in and met Eleanor and her children, marvelling (as you do) at the transformation of girl to mother, my family friend Jane has got to know Rebecca who now lives in the house where her mum, one of my mum’s best friends, grew up (next door to my mum).  Stories to make your head spin.  I am taking mum up to the show today with my cousin and his wife (who grew up in Newcastle) and we will meet my daughter and her children- a memorable gathering.

Yet more gathering will be happening on Sept 2nd, a Garden Party at Gosforth Civic Theatre.  As part of the show I am organising an open event to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK, the main charity for research and support for everyone affected by the condition.  There will be food, stalls, live music, singing, poetry and an opportunity to be together, see the show and support a good cause.  As ever, it is has been made possible through the generosity and care of family and friends who have donated money and things to sell and raffle.  Hard work but worth it.

The show goes on

Love this place has been up for a couple of weeks now and is going well.  Around 50 people came to either the opening or the gallery talk and some people have travelled from afar to drop in.  It has been wonderful to know that visitors enjoy and connect with my work, especially since the conceptual elements I want to convey are so personal- physical and emotional connnection to place, family and friendship, appreciation of nature and landscape, the female ‘line’ and female experience.

I put together a guide to the show, reproduced below:

Love This Place- gallery guide

Introduction

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The image above is from St Nicholas (Gosforth Parish Church).  It is a photograph of a small banner I placed at the edge of the graveyard there, on the last day of my 140-mile solo walk from Leeds- one of 14 such banners placed along my route each day of the walk.

My family has its roots in Newcastle, my mum and I grew up here, and both now live in Leeds.  My daughter grew up in Leeds and now lives in Newcastle with her family including her daughter.  This ‘matri-line’ (we are in a line of six generations of women named Eleanor) was the inspiration for this show, celebrating women, mothers, family, belonging and love of place.

Here we four are, on stones:

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My family moved from Gosforth to Leeds when I was 12 and part of me has never recovered!  I remain nostalgically attached to the North East and return regularly for holidays and visits to friends and family up here.

So when I was coming up to retirement and followed my dream to study art, it was not surprising that my art practice focussed on my connection to the North East. I attended Leeds College of Art from 2012-16, culminating in an MA in Creative Practice.  The work in this show tells the story of my developing art practice- evolved through exploration of place, finding ways to re-present experience and express emotional connection.  This guide is a walk-through of the show explaining concept and media to support audience engagement.  Much of the work is for sale and a price list is included.

Description of work

Entrance

Love this place framed photograph, image described above.  Unless stated otherwise all the photographic images are from 35mm film negatives developed using liquid light applied to a range of substrates.  Each print is hand-made and unique.  After the foyer, on the left-hand wall there is another framed photograph- of my boots from the ‘matri-line’ walk, the actual boots are on the floor below.  The image below is a photograph of said boots developed on stone using liquid light.

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Memories of Gosforth and my Mum

In 2013 I recorded a conversation with my Mum which can be heard via the headphones.  The images on the monitor are of her in recent years with friends and family.  The conversation was based on us looking together at a map of Gosforth from 1913 which is also on the wall, below a framed rubbing of the family name, Eleanor.

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On the ‘matri-line’ walk I collected rubbings of women’s names from graveyards.  The stones tell stories of women’s lives over the last couple of hundred years.  Before the walk it had not occurred to me that not all women had the vote in the year of my Mum’s birth.

Above the monitor there is a drawing of my Mum screen printed onto map fabric.  I remove the open-weave linen fabric backing of old maps by soaking water.  It is an evocative substrate for my work.

Also on the wall is a framed photograph of Holy Island.

Map and flower prints

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On the right-hand side of the entrance is a scale map of my walk.  The line traces my path, with my night-stops also indicated.  The small tags contain vignettes of encounters and experiences relating to women.  These are expanded in the Standing Our Ground book (see below).  On the left of the map are a series of prints (scans and cyanotypes) of pressed flowers I gathered during my walk.

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River ‘totem’ and water

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My walk took me over the Pennine Dales crossing several watersheds.  The image is of the names of these rivers letterpress printed onto map fabric with bottles of water from each river collected on the walk.

Books and cards

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Also in this area are cards for sale (cyanotype prints and wave traces, see below), and hand-made books:

  • My notebook from the walk
  • Stories of women’s strength gathered through correspondence with friends during the walk
  • Images of the banners I placed each day along the way
  • Standing Our Ground- stories about women
  • The maps I used to navigate the walk each day

Walking traces and recovered banner

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In the centre of this wall is one of the original banners I placed on the walk, just leaving Arkengarthdale.  It was recovered six months later showing signs of weather damage and decay.  The original banner is pictured below.

Around this are arranged a series of kinetic traces from each day of the walk.  I lined a rigid cardboard cylinder with paper into which were sealed pieces of charcoal, and placed this in my rucksack.  The resulting patterns are a direct record of my movements each day.

The two remaining walls- prints, cyanotypes and traces

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When you are walking stop and smile at a stranger– this is a quote, an ‘instruction’, from Louise Bourgeois letterpress printed onto map fabric.  I followed it on the walk as much as I could.

This is flanked on the right by cyanotype prints of Sweet Cicely (a North Country plant) and a Northumberland hillside , and on the left by walking and wave traces.  These were created as described above but using colour pastels and, in the case of the wave traces, by repeatedly throwing the (waterproof) cylinder into the sea at Tynemouth.  The small walking traces record walks along the Northumberland coast around Embleton Bay.

Endlessly stitching- letterpress print on map fabric.  The text is quoted from ‘The Plough and the Coble’ a book of poetry about Northumberland by J C Grant, published in Newcastle in 1967.

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Samples of photographs from the walk and previous trips to Northumberland.  These are unique prints created in the darkroom from 35mm film negatives using ‘liquid light’, a light sensitive gel painted onto substrates to create unique patterns and brush strokes, as well as enabling photographic images to be developed on unusual surfaces such as the stones below.

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Thanks

I am very grateful for help and support from friends and fellow artists:  Peter Cartwright and Ann Pillar for letterpress printing, Judy Hall for calligraphy, Richard Honey for digital printing, Lynette Willoughby for design and print, Alex Craig for installation, Louise Atkinson, Nichola Pemberton and Carla Hall for personal and technical support, and helpful staff from Leeds College of Art and Gosforth Civic Theatre.

Prices

Liquid light photographic prints                     On paper (framed)                 £30-50

Liquid light photographic prints                     On stones                                £35-50

Wave traces                                                                                                    various £25-45

Walking traces (framed)                                                                                £30

Cyanotypes (framed)                                                                                      £30-50

Letterpress prints on map fabric

River Totem                                                                                        £45 (framed)

Endlessly Stitching                                                                              £35 (unframed)

When you are walking….                                                                    £60 (framed)

Cards                                                                                                               £2.50

 

 

 

Commissions taken, contact:

Lesley Eleanor Wood, lesleyeleanorwood@gmail.com,

Tel: 07704452862, web lesleyeleanorwood.com

Love this place- schedule

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Everything is now confirmed for my solo show at Gosforth Civic Theatre (gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk) It will run from July 20th to September 14th, and include other events, as below:

July 20th, 5.00-7.00 pm, drinks reception and preview evening (free)

July 31st, 7.15-8.30pm, informal gallery talk with the artist (free)

September 2nd:

2.00-4.00pm, Garden Party raising funds for the Parkinson’s Disease Society (£2 admission).  Donate via Just Giving

4.30-6.30, Creative Writing Workshop led by local writer and tutor Ellen Phethean, followed by open reading with invited guests (7.30-9).  Workshop plus performance £12, performance only £3.

See you soon

Gosforth Civic Theatre- a perfect venue

Finding my way to Gosforth Civic Theatre is another serendiptious part of the story of my Love This Place show.  It’s a great setting, close to the Regent Centre and other civic buildings and community infrastructure, library, leisure centre etc.  It seems it wasn’t being as well-used as it could be, so a group of young social entrepreneurs working for Liberdade have taken it on.  Here’s what they say about themselves:

“We’re an arts venue and cafe in Gosforth, just north of Newcastle, which is home to, and run by, Liberdade Community Development Trust.  We’re a truly inclusive space for performance, music, cinema, and community activity at the heart of Gosforth that aims to break down misconceptions of learning disability while also being a space where everyone can enjoy our café, get involved in a class or go to a show.  We’re a not-for-profit organisation so every penny you spend goes back in to Liberdade and the venue.”

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I found my way to GCT via a chain of friendship connections, just at the moment when my original venue fell through.  I called by on spec and chatted to one of the team and it was on!  My proposal was formally accepted a few weeks later and I’ve had a great time working with the staff on organising the show.

There are many reasons why GCT is a perfect venue:

My grandparents looked after us in the school holidays just down the road so it resonates with my artwork about my family and its roots in Gosforth.  All the family homes are a short walk away

It celebrates Gosforth and invites local people to visit GCT, to know more and feel good about where they live, and get to know all the great things that go on at GCT

It’s a big, convivial and beautiful space, with lots of flexibility and plenty of room for my artwork, as well as safe, pleasant outside space

The staff are great- flexible and helpful.  They have created a positive and relaxed vibe

GCT has offered some great opportunities for collaboration.  There is a yoga class for people with Parkinsons which prompted me to get together with them to organise a fundraiser- a Garden Gathering on Sep 2nd (I have been caring for my Mum who has Parkinsons, for over 20 years).  There is a choir rehearsing for a performance, Sing Home, on Jul 18th.  I have been in touch with them about possible collaboration because of the obvious thematic connection.  I am going to offer an artist’s talk to follow on from one of Judith Stevenson’s ‘Talking Art’ sessions, on July 13th

They have been particularly welcoming to me as a woman and made it clear to me that they are keen to support and amplify women’s voices at a time when we are creating important shifts

I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks and getting to know the space and the people better

 

 

Talking with Mum about Gosforth

Five years ago I recorded a conversation with my Mum as part of an end-of-year project at Leeds College of Art.  It was the first time I had shown my work and even more nerve-wracking than putting on the upcoming show in Gosforth.  It consisted of a 1913 map of Gosforth which I embellished with found materials and photographs, a recorded conversation between my Mum and me about the map, and a charcoal drawing of my Mum screen-printed onto map fabric (below).

1913 Godfrey map of Gosforth embellished with 'stuff of place'

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So yesterday I searched for the recording on my lap top.  After an hour or so in technology hell, I found it and listened to it for the first time since then.  It lasts 32 minutes and I intend to make it available as part of the Love This Place show.  Still working on uploading it here.

Much of the time nowadays it is hard to have a conversation with Mum.  This is because of her advanced Parkinsons which impairs both her cognition and her ability to speak. Back then it was starting to get harder to chat but it is a fantastic conversation.  Several times her sharp, wry sense of humour had me laughing out loud.  She sounds very Geordie- as she noticed when she listened to herself.  She said she had meant to talk posh but forgot.

The map was a useful prompt for Mum’s memories of growing up, having kids and eventually leaving Gosforth for Leeds.  The Second World War loomed large in her childhood- she says that railway stations have made her feel sad all her life because of their association with saying goodbye to her three older siblings when they went off to serve in the war.  She describes how her dad, who was lucky to survive years of active service in the trenches of the First War, sat and wept when the Second War was announced on the radio.  Our chat covers a lot of ground- school, family, Gosforth, being a Geordie and her positive feelings about ‘moving up in the world’ from a council estate to our own house in prosperous North Leeds.

Over time our roles have been reversed.  I look after her now and try to make sure she is happy, safe and well, as she did for me all those years.  I’ll take the recording to her nursing home to listen to together.  Listening to it yesterday was extraordinary.  It was very moving and hugely entertaining.  It made me feel confident about myself and my work, as it contains many of the threads which I have been weaving together in my art since then.  You can hear that we love each other, sometimes a bit awkwardly across our differences.  She is cruelly diminished now, only 5 and a half stone and there is just much less of her in every way.  The recording brought her back- even more of her than I knew then.  You never really know your Mum but these 20-plus years of caring for her, and this precious conversation, mean that I can keep seeing her in new ways and have the opportunity to deepen our relationship.

Best of all, listening to the conversation did the job of a Mum- it made me feel that everything’s going to be OK. She will enjoy knowing that she can still do that for me.

Putting on a show

My solo show in Newcastle has partly been a result of my desire to take my work ‘back home’, and also been greatly helped by happy coincidence and friendly connection.  It is hugely challenging and a bit lonely to present a one-person show, especially as my work is experiential and personal.

This post is about how I have managed this challenge.  Here is the mind map I’m working to:

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In recent years I have been trying to make it a rule that I don’t work alone, on anything.  Some offers of support and collaboration arrived without me trying too hard- Alex coming up for 3 days to help me install the work, finding Ellen (via Clare) who will run a creative writing workshop and performance, my cousin offering his fundraising organisation to help with the Garden Gathering, bumping in to the local Parkinson’s UK group at the venue, and lots more connections, people who know people.

Perhaps I should trust more in this relational part of the process- the conversations.  My most effective defence against the inevitable (is it?) self-doubt is a belief in my work- that it tells an interesting story which people relate to, often quite strongly and at an emotional level.  After all it is about family, mothers, connection to place, home, belonging, separation, female identity….  So the process involves connecting to people, introducing them to the story of the work.  It has been lovely to see how people respond.

As well as lots and lots of useful conversation with friends, it was fantastic to call on support from Leeds Creative Timebank, a time-sharing community of creative people in the city. So far I have had 6 hours of (one-way, they were there for me!) invaluable support, from Nicola Pemberton and Louise Atkinson.  They have helped me draw the mind-map and gave me encouragement and technical assistance, especially with social media.  They have affirmed and supported me.

Now all the tasks and issues are on one page and are getting ticked off as I work through them.  I wonder why we (I) ever even think that we (I) have to do anything alone?