Bringing it all back home: latest

About two years ago I set off on a solo walk of 140 miles from my current home in Leeds, back to my childhood home, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  My mother still lives in Leeds but my daughter now lives in Newcastle with her family, including her daughter.  The walk was my project for an MA in Creative Practice- an exploration of female identity and the bonds of family especially along the ‘matri-line’ of four generations of mothers and daughters, all named Eleanor.  The 2-week adventure was recorded and re-presented creatively in a range of ways- stories and images, maps, kinetic traces, rubbings, photographic prints- everything I could gather, from river water to pressed flowers, examples of which can be seen in the Walking Home post below.

My intention was to express the deep connection I feel to the magnificent North Country landscape that I walked across- my love of it sometimes sitting uncomfortably alongside my anxiety about its future.

I also wanted to consider this experience from my particular point of view, as a 60-something solo female walker, dealing with pain and impairment from an arthritic hip.  I was exploring my emotional hinterland and personal geography, connecting with women’s stories, from the past recorded on gravestones, and the present, observing and talking with the women I met.  While wandering around graveyards it occurred to me for the first time that my mother was born before women were fully enfranchised. I became aware of how things have changed for us over her lifetime.  I was grateful for my personal freedom and agency.  I wasn’t afraid for myself as a lone woman in these wonderful open spaces at any time on the walk, partly because women were everywhere, doing (almost) everything.

Although the days were wonderfully contemplative, (I wanted to ‘disappear’) my attention was also focused outwardly, noticing  and communing with the landscape, and the history there, the flora and fauna, the new life burgeoning in early summer.  In this way I became immersed in the sights, sounds, smells, textures, memories, stories and experiences embedded in the places I passed through.

I am planning to show my work from the walk in the Gosforth Civic Theatre (very close to where I grew up) through July and August.  The show, entitled Walking Home, will include all the art work from the Matri-line project displayed together, for the first and probably the last time.

If space permits I also aim to show previous place-based work inspired by the North-East, and Gosforth, where I was born and raised.

Work will be available to buy.  Other activities are being planned to run alongside.

Watch out for further posts for dates and details.

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Walking Home

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Scale map of walk route, and other pieces, exhibited in the ‘Rebel Daughters’ show at The Point in Doncaster (Jan-Apr 2018)
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River water and names letterpress printed on to map fabric
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My walking boots- liquid light print from 35mm film negative
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Charcoal rubbing from gravestone, Arkengarthdale
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Old drovers road between Arkengarthdale and Bowes.  My route often followed these ancient tracks.
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One of series of mini-banners placed daily along my route.  This one was placed at the side of a lane coming out of Blanchland, among the stitchwort flowers.
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Tree shadow, crossing into Teesdale
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Dancing wood anemones- cyanotype print from pressed flowers
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Liquid light print of tree above Nenthead
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Cyanotype print of tree near Hexham

 

 

Coming home

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Almost two years after my ‘matri-line’ walk from Leeds to Newcastle I have organised an opportunity to show the artwork which emerged from the project and to tell the stories of those amazing two weeks in May.

The image above is an example of the work- the last of a series of hand-made banners planted each day along my way, as a conversation between me walking and the ground that I walked on.  This one was at the edge of St Nicholas’ churchyard in South Gosforth close to where I was born.

I have booked the foyer of the White Swan Centre, North Tyneside Council’s office building in Killingworth, where my daughter lives and my journey ended.  The show will be up from Tuesday June 5th till Friday June 15th and I am working on an opening event and other possible ‘happenings’ over the middle weekend.  Please save the date and watch this space.

Rebel Daughters

Here are some pics of my work in this exciting show, at The Point in Doncaster, from Jan- April this year.  Although the show commemorates the first tranche of women’s enfranchisement in the UK, it is an eclectic mix of work by women artists from all over the world, though mostly this country.

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The Matriline scale map has been embellished with tags containing text written in her beautiful calligraphy by Judy Hall.  These few words are taken from vignettes written about women I met on the walk and some of my experiences, displayed in another hand-made book.

All the artists were asked a series of questions about the work.  Here are my replies:

What does the phrase ‘Rebel Daughter’ mean to you? 

A ‘Rebel Daughter’ is a woman who seeks her own path, both guided by and challenging the model of our mothers and all the women who have walked their own paths before

What makes you a Rebel Daughter?

I was born in 1951, on a council estate and was the first in my family to go to university.  By then it was 1969 and I had left my mother and her aspirations of life far behind.  I wanted everything to be different from before, including me.  Over time my path has come much closer to that of my Mum.  She was widowed many years ago and has become increasingly infirm and I have been her primary carer for nearly 20 years.  So, though I am now more Daughter than Rebel, I still feel the pull of the two identities inside me.

What is the inspiration behind the work submitted? 

In May 2016 I set off on my Matriline project, a solo walk of 140 miles from Leeds, where my Mum and I now live and where my daughter grew up, to Newcastle, where my daughter and her daughter now live and where my Mum and I grew up.  This was a walking art project underpinned by feminist intent.  The aspect highlighted in the work on show here is my inquiry into how women’s lives have changed over the 100 years since women were partially enfranchised in the UK.  It had not occurred to me before the walk that my Mum, now 90, was born before women had the vote.

I gathered stories on the way: about what women are doing nowadays; how they inhabit the space available to them; what ground they are standing on. I also asked women friends and family to write about the strongest thing they ever did.  These stories are presented in hand-made books alongside photographic images of my ‘matriline’, four generations of women in my family, developed onto stones.  The work aims to illuminate women’s lives now and the journey we have travelled, as I walked among the ghosts of the women who stood on this ground before us.

Hinterland

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I’m working on a presentation about further thoughts from my ‘Matriline’ walk:  Here is the text so far:

From Aristotle to Simon Armitage, walking has been seen by us sapient bipeds as an aid to reflection and creativity.  Sadly, as in so many fields, women’s contribution is under-acknowledged.  I am keen to demonstrate that, although there are, undoubtedly, obstacles to women inhabiting public space, it hasn’t stopped us.  For example, in his ‘On Walking’ Phil Smith includes a long list of contemporary women walking artists, in order to challenge received wisdom on women’s willingness to step out, and prominent feminist Rebecca Solnit writes wonderfully about the cultural history of walking.

In May 2016 I walked solo from Leeds to Newcastle, traversing my personal hinterland between present and past home cities, exploring themes of connection, separation, loss and change.  The walk was an inquiry into:  how walking supports creative practice;  how women inhabit space;  and the dynamic interaction between a human subject and a beloved landscape, emotionally, politically and aesthetically.

Hence, my walk was an exercise in feminist psychogeography, investigating how my gender, as well as my age (60-plus) and impairment (arthritic hip), framed my experience.  It provoked an exploration of the concept of hinterland- defined variously as: ‘behind the land’ (from the German); or, the area from which resources are drawn; or, the area beyond what is visible or known- as a metaphor for women’s beleaguered subjectivity.  In that respect I experienced the line I travelled as the ground on which I stand and the space within which I discover who I am. This personal aspect was inextricably linked to consideration of the lives of other women, both past and present, and with stories of human impact embedded in the landscape.

I need to develop these ideas further- it is a rich seam.

Stepping out

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November sky, Roundhay Park.

Nearly two weeks since my last blog, and just over halfway through the 6 weeks healing period after my new hip was installed.

Not much has happened and a great deal has happened, at the same time.  I can barely remember the acute phase- vulnerability, shocked body, drugs, anxiety about swollen legs, spectacular bruising, dodgy bowels, seeping wound sites, pain….  The post-op amnesia is very powerful.  I’m struggling to remember even now, and people who’ve had hip replacements longer ago mostly say they can’t remember things, but the experience is so vivid at the time.

So, all of the above anxieties have receded.  The swelling and bruising has almost gone, even though I was warned it could take months for the leg to get back to normal size (I’ve been sleeping with my leg elevated).  Have stopped most of the drugs- just have to take the anti-coagulant for another week or two.  Don’t even need paracetamol for pain relief now, having been on it for the arthritis pain for a year or more.  The wound has healed really well and I’m walking without crutches, easily.  I’m building up the length of walks outside with a bit of care (and a stick for stability- I don’t want to fall over).  The picture above is from yesterday’s outing to beautiful, cold, bright Roundhay Park.  I’m more confident about managing the hip precautions out and about- seat and toilet heights etc….

Freedom and walking, walking, walking beckons.  I’m a little bit impatient so need to be careful.  I can tell I am recovering still because I’m tired, mentally drained.  I wonder how long it takes to recover from blood loss.  My appetite is still poor and I have lost weight (I need to!).  I’m starting to reinstate activities but want to be careful about it.  I would like to be less busy and have more of the time and space I have appreciated over the past weeks- I LOVE reading and thinking.  But I’m seeing friends, getting down to the coffee shop, my book group and singing group met here last week and more regular things are getting slotted in.  Alison from Kendal was here overnight last week and Mary from Bristol is coming for a couple of nights this week.  I might try going to the pictures soon.  Have managed to visit Mum throughout, as well as participate in her birthday weekend, a week ago.  The list of stuff to do is re-emerging- things for Mum, art projects, planning meals, nights out, social things, putting my nice life back together again.

So that’s all good then, as they say on W1A.

Halloween

Pic of the Spanish chestnut tree in Walsall Arboretum planted in memory of my friend Charo Rivera.

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A few years ago I was in France in the autumn and observed their ‘Halloween’ traditions.  As you’d expect (being France) it’s a day off work and school, families gather and everyone takes pots of chrysanthemums to place at the graves of their ancestors.  So, first the shop frontages, and then the graveyards, are a sea of spicy autumn colours- gold through to red and purple.  Everyone is out and about and there is an air of warm and respectful celebration. Very different from the gaudy, gory, commercialised American version, or the macabre and riotous Mexican Day of the Dead.

Halloween descends from our Celtic festival Samhain which recognises the turning of the year. On its eve the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead were thought to break down.  So, when there was a power cut between 4.30 and 5.15 last night, it felt appropriate to remember my Dad who died 28 years ago and was, for all his working life, an employee of the Central Electricity Generating Board.  I gave him a little wave in the wee small hours this morning.  The family will all be gathering this weekend for my Mum’s 90th birthday so he will be with us then too.  Mum has spent these past 28 years as a widow, most of them coping with ill-health and impairment from Parkinson’s Disease, which she has borne with resilience and good cheer (most of the time anyway).

I’ve just finished Volume 2 of the Jane Smiley Hundred Years American family saga so am immersed in the looping dramas of successive generations framed by swirling history (1919-2019) and no less intense interpersonal dynamics.  It’s a satisfyingly long perspective on the human condition and I keep playing with slotting me and my family into the structure- the story of a complex and expanding family told in 100 chapters of about 20 pages, one for each year.  I saw Jane Smiley speak (about these books and US politics) at last year’s Ilkley Literature Festival.  She is formidable and funny, around the same age as me and with similar attitudes, values, doubts and confusions.

It’s been marvellous to have time for these books and for Thinking. Highly underrated these days- increasingly squeezed out (for me anyway) by electronic chatter. Also, I’ve had no alcohol for a couple of weeks now and think that has helped with the thinking.  Apart from greater clarity I can see how my depressive turn of mind before the op twisted so many of my thoughts, memories and ideas seemed to twist into something negative and mournful, disturbing.  Now I’m lying here chewing over the same material, the mental landscape of stories, coincidences, connections that make up ‘me’.  And, overwhelmingly, they make me feel happy and grateful.

So this has brought to mind another beautiful person who died 17 years ago, my dear friend Charo, who used to describe my expansive and interesting life, as she saw it, as my ‘web’, another nice echo of Halloween. I miss her still.  And all the others- Pete, Barry, Mary, Daisy, Ken, Phyll, Fred, Ruth, Tommy, Edna, Lily, Pearson, Molly, Norman, lots more.  Good to bring them back in remembering.

I hope this isn’t maudlin.  It doesn’t feel it.

In terms of the hip, healing and recovery, I’m much better.  Had a scare about my leg swelling up but checked it out and it’s OK- uncomfortable but just one of those things, apparently.  Everything else is still improving.  I keep setting off to walk around the house forgetting my crutches- it’s a miracle.