Monday, 31 August 2015

Lock Outs and Lock Ins Potion

Last week was a rather wobbly one. After a long day at work on Wednesday I came straight home only to find that my key wouldn't open the front door. After fretting for some time, finally my lovely neighbour let me in round the back. I thought all was well as I could unlock the front door with a different key from the inside, but when I came to lock up in the morning I found I couldn't. Not what you want when you've been home alone for two and a half weeks!

Perhaps because of how stressed I'd been feeling last week, I took every opportunity to let my hair down. So, in addition to the lock out on Wednesday evening, I had my first lock-in at my favourite gin palace on Saturday night, with a free cocktail and the hangover to go with it in the morning.

I've been thinking lately that maybe it's time to grow up, accept responsibility and stop having so much fun. But I feel like in the years when I was "supposed" to have fun, I didn't have very much, and I'm still relatively young; not even up to a quarter of a century yet! Growing up will come with time.

That's why last week's potion reads "Take it one step and one day at a time." I don't have to "sort my life out" all at once, and, with the way I'm feeling at the moment, simply putting one foot in front of the other is fine.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Comparison Will Kill You Potion

As my previous blog post indicates, I have a terrible tendency to to compare myself to others. I really believe this can never end well; I certainly always find myself lacking when I compare myself to other people, particularly other artists.

Perhaps surprisingly, the awe-inspiring Joseph Cornell exhibition mentioned in the previous post didn't lead me to make unfair comparisons between myself and Mr Cornell. It inspired me and spurred me on to make art and not give up. For this reason, I included the ticket from the exhibition as the diaristic element of this week's potion.

The stitched words of the potion read "Not being the Best  being the Worst". As the year has gone on, the words of the #secretsofselfpreservation potions have become less self help happy talk and more straight-talking mantras. And I am happy with that.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust

Until yesterday, the most recent exhibition I had been to see was Grayson Perry's Provincial Punk at the Turner Contemporary in Margate. On that wet Sunday afternoon, I left the gallery feeling overwhelmed and underqualified to make art. Following in the footsteps of this country's biggest art star may seem a tall order for a twenty four year old at the very beginning of her career, but I've always had impossibly high standards.

I think part of why I felt so dejected after Provincial Punk is that I can see myself doing similar things to Perry in my work; exploring the lineage of a handicraft with a healthy dose of humour and subversion, and not (at least not initially, in Perry's case) executing this handicraft particularly perfectly; perhaps that's one of the reasons why it's art, not craft? Concept over construction; the ideas are bursting at the seams, the stitches fly as quickly and messily as the thoughts.

I looked at myself and found myself lacking; I should be exhibiting more, I should be selling more work, I should be making more work.

Working almost full time and sometimes at the weekends, even before visiting the exhibition, I had been finding it difficult to locate the motivation to make work. I am still struggling with this somewhat.

Which is why the exhibition I went to yesterday was a welcome godsend. The Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust exhibition is a rather ironic choice for the Royal Academy. When the Academy was founded in 1769 its edict was that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted". In Wanderlust, cut paper and baubles of all varieties are in much evidence. Admittedly this exhibition occurs in the present day, not the 18th century, so it's reassuring to see that the RA has loosened up somewhat in the intervening two hundred plus years. It's hard not to wonder, however, what the reception of Cornell's work would have been, both now and during his lifetime, had he been a woman. Women of course, as well as the working classes, were precisely whom the Royal Academy intended to bar from their hallowed halls with their proclamation. We see Cornell as alchemist and archivist, visionary and eccentric. Had he been a she, would we have seen her as a frivolous, sentimental, dippy spinster? Certainly it is difficult to separate Cornell's formidable body of work from the aesthetic it spawned. Through the lens of nostalgia this aesthetic is now seen as sentimental, mawkish, twee. It is used to sell everything from records to expensively "shabby chic" pubs and bars.

Joseph Cornell is famed for his boxes, assemblages of bric a brac, artfully arranged but often seemingly thematically unconnected. But when viewed in this retrospective, the mysterious titles of his works begin to shed light on a labyrinthine library of a mind. Because Cornell was a voracious consumer of knowledge. He read everything; from biographies of foreign princes to zodiac charts. He collected papers, documents, photographs and prints of all sorts, from maps to Victorian etchings. These he reassembled into his works, interweaving disparate material and references, creating tangential masterpieces. Cornell's genius is in never quite giving the game away, the full extent of his meaning; he leaves you hungry, as if his hunger for life, knowledge, and even travel across space and time, is infectious.

Wanderlust reminded me to relocate my curiosity; to read for the love of learning; to make for the sake of making, for the joy of it.

Monday, 17 August 2015

No Blueprint Potion

 This #secretsofselfpreservation potion brought to you in collaboration with the city of Glasgow.

In a fairly run of the mill week last week, the most remarkable thing that happened was mine and Pip's stay in Glasgow for the long weekend. We spent four gloriously sunny days in the city, consisting of rose lemonade, real roses and other flora, cocktails, vegetarian junk food, classic films, scouring Glasgow's charity shops, potato scones, running, walking, contemporary art, ancient culture, old clothes, and orange subways. I think it's safe to say that we'll be back!

So the diaristic objects of this week's potion are all artefacts of our holiday, from a leaf which matched our friend's dress to Saturday's subway ticket which matches the national drink of Irn Bru. The embroidered text of the potion reads "You don't have to have it all figured out yet." 

I seem to be having alternate #secretsofselfpreservation weeks of "Try harder"/"It's ok to flail a bit in your twenties"; my indecisiveness even comes out in the potions! But I am hoping a bit of both attitudes at work will keep me sane and well.

 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Give It A Whirl Potion

It may surprise some people who know me well, but I would primarily consider myself an optimist. An optimist who more often than not takes bad news very badly, but a hopeful person who tends to bounce back in the end nonetheless.

Lately I have been coming to the conclusion that I need to take the matter of my future into my hands; really give it some welly to make good things happen. Prestigious residency? Apply for it! A gallery starts favouriting your tweets? Get in touch about an exhibition!

I will be knocked back, but I have been before, and I have bounced back in the end. So, this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "But you must try, try and try, try and try"; a reminder that good things won't just fall into my lap; I have to work for them.

These are also lyrics pinched from Jimmy Cliff's song You Can Get It If You Really Want, a little cheery tune about persevering and succeeding "at last".

Back in April I spent an enjoyable day at Steakhouse live art festival. Amongst many hilarious and poignant works, the culminating performance by Marcia Farquhar really stood out. Marcia gave us her autobiography, illustrated (or soundtracked) with records. She finished up playing You Can Get It If You Really Want and The Rolling Stones's You Can't Always Get What You Want back to back, and those two contradictory songs seemed to sum up something of what it means to be human. Life never turns out how you think it will, but that's no reason to give up on it. Since the performance, I often find the songs playing in my head.

Yesterday, too, was a very musical day; I was at Visions Festival with my boyfriend, and we sang along to Jens Lekman and twirled to Camera Obscura. Thus, it seems apt that the name of this potion is Give It A Whirl Potion (though Pip lamented that he did not, in fact, whirl me around enough last night). I have included my wristband from the festival in the potion bottle as a memento of a week of letting my hair down (if indeed I had enough hair to let down!); fine dining and cocktails in the sunshine aplenty! I guess I'm gearing up for mine and Pip's holiday in Glasgow at the end of the week.

 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Roving Diagnostic Unit

A few weekends ago I was asked by Daily Life Ltd to be an "expert" part of their Roving Diagnostic Unit at Shuffle festival. The plan was simple, though baffling to a number of people I explained it to before and after the event; use the language of the DSMIV to diagnose selected elements of the cemetery park where the festival is held.

The DSMIV, or Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders 5, is a means of categorising the mentally ill. 

The DSMIV encompasses everything from "schizotypal personality disorder", (which I was once told by a medical professional I "probably had") characterised by eccentric dress and behaviour (otherwise known as being an interesting person), to the recently adopted "emotionally unstable personality disorder", which I consider one of the most abhorrent labels you can give a distressed human being. 

In earlier incarnations, the DSMI categorised homosexuality as not only "deviance" but mental illness, and made a distinction between psychosis and neurosis and never the twain shall meet (I am living proof that the two are inextricably interwoven).

As we began to diagnose the bins, benches and ponds of the cemetery park, the biased, arbitrary, reductive nature of the DSMIV became more and more apparent. How can an effective diagnosis be made after spending only a few minutes with a patient? What are the ethical implications of standing around talking about a subject who cannot talk back? Bobby Baker, leader of our troupe of "experts", related this to her own experiences of being on a ward round, unable to speak for herself as twenty medical professionals "observed" her. I was reminded of my own experience of being incredibly distressed, half dressed in my untidy bedroom, whilst medical professionals invaded this most personal of spaces "for my own good".

The tours of the cemetery park our merry band made revealed further categorisations which had little to do with the DSMIV; the bench and bin, man-made objects, were broadly categorised as deeply troubled, whereas the pond, though overgrown and unkempt, was diagnosed as working its way through its troubles, and the tree, splitting off in many directions (dissociative identity disorder?), was generally felt to be coping and developing its personality normally.

This speaks of a tendency to idolise that which is "natural" over that which is "artifical", which is seen in everything from the #eatclean Instagram craze to unfortunate conversations I have had where I have been asked if I am "dependent" on the psychiatric medication which, you know, keeps me alive (I wonder if the people who asked would ask the same of a diabetic who takes insulin?) This in turn reminds me of the hysterics I was in when I read in the leaflet that comes with my anti-psychotic medication that it may lead to an "abnormal feeling of wellbeing"; an abnormal feeling of wellbeing was kind of what I was going for, given that my "natural" state leaves me feeling like I can't go on.

It is always so refreshing being with Daily Life and the people they bring together; knowing you can give an honest answer to the question "How are you?" Knowing you are amongst people who have had the same experiences and won't treat you with kid gloves or from a safe distance "for detonation".

I eagerly anticipate the development of this project; Viva La Roving Diagnostic Unit!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Self Esteem Elixir Potion

I have never had an over-abundance of self esteem. It's not anyone's fault, except perhaps my own, but I would say that, wouldn't I? In any case, it is something I am constantly working on. I find self help literature and buzz words nauseatingly patronising, so I try to steer clear of that. That's why last week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Begrudgingly love yourself"; it's not an easy task, and putting myself down comes much more naturally, so I do it with a certain amount of diffidence/resentment.

The words are accompanied by a clothes peg from a performance that was described by The Journal as "A raw and awkward, yet cathartic exploration of what it means to achieve success as a woman… groundbreaking originality and captivating humour ... an outstanding piece of performance art". I would tend to agree with them, though I am slightly prejudiced, as The Main Yvette is the brain child of the performance company Good Punch, one half of whom is my dear friend Rohanne.

Clothes pegs had a starring role in The Main Yvette (which previewed at Rich Mix last night); they were one of many ways of judging the women competing to be "Yvette". The piece merits a full review which I will try to post here whilst it is fresh in my mind, if it's alright with Rohanne before she takes it to the Fringe. Suffice to say, it produced copious joussance laughter, and referenced everything from psychosomatic tics/Freudian female hysteria to Activia: for happy tummies and a happier you™. And I liked it very much.

I have named the potion "Self Esteem Elixir Potion", both in gently mocking reference to such aspirational adverts and in the hope that some more self esteem will come my way soon.

 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.