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?

Love this place

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

July 20th, 5.30-7.00 pm, drinks reception and preview evening

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

September 2nd:

2.00-4.30pm, Garden Party raising funds for the Parkinson’s Disease Society

4.30-6.30, Creative Writing Workshop led by local writer and tutor Ellen Phethean, followed by open reading with invited guests

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The exhibition expresses my personal connection to Gosforth, Newcastle and the North East.  It was inspired by my family’s journeys, from here to Leeds and back, and explores the emotional and physical spaces in between.  The work is dedicated to the women in my family, particularly my grandmother, mother, daughter and granddaughter, a ‘matri-line’ who share the family name- Eleanor.

I work as a ‘psychogeographer’, first returning to explore Gosforth, and the Northumberland coast, then setting out on a solo walk of 140 miles from my home in Leeds to my daughter’s home in Newcastle- walking the ‘matri-line’- gathering and recording images and the ‘stuff of place’.

My creative ‘communing’ with important spaces and places has produced a large body of work in a range of media, including alternative process photography, rubbings, hand-made books, kinetic traces from walking movement and wave action, and artefacts from deconstructed map materials.

My ‘moving’ story resonates across the years, with the lives of migrants of all kinds.  It explores the meaning/s of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, and speaks of the emergence of women’s ‘freedom of movement’ and independence, our ability to stand our ground- to fully inhabit who we are and where we are from.

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.

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.