Working 9 to 5 part 2 – Wendy

What goes on behind the scenes? Recently Dagmara told us about her working process as an artist taking part in Snow Q our project to re-imagaine Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story.  Here Wendy tells us about her relationship with her own inspirations and creativity:

I have always felt a curiosity to create in some shape or form but it took me time to discover how. At school I was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t conventionally draw or paint,  I was excited by the idea of performance but lacked confidence being watched and seen. I enjoyed creative writing but dyslexia held me back. I loved music but didn’t have the patience to learn an instrument properly. So around the age of 15, it was a relief to eventually pick up my Dad’s 35mm SLR film camera, there was an immediate sense that I had finally found a tool that I felt comfortable with and a medium that would help me to pursue my creativity. So I went on to study photography but have battled using photography to fulfill my own creative practice over the years. It’s expensive, competitive, ever changing and there are often a lot of considerations you have to take to make certain types of photographs. In my 20’s and early 30’s, I was also typically distracted with instability, relationships, work, lack of money inexperience etc.  I had managed to learn the craft of taking photographs and I was finding some freelance work in creative environments as an editorial/commercial photographer. My career as a photographer sidelined for a while whilst I learnt new skills in digital media and I then went on to work producing web based projects and short films for several years. This change of career served it’s purpose, it was lucrative and when I eventually found my way back in to photography, the new digital skills I had acquired were applied to the developing digital medium. As I approached my 40’s, I was skilled up but there was a yearning  to reconnect with my own inspirations and visually express something meaningful to me. So I took a bold step and embarked on a part-time Photographic Arts, Masters course. I did my BA in Photography & Film, in the 80’s when I was only 19. I was young and insecure and the course was rigid and the lecturers didn’t have the nurturing approach I needed at that time and it was unfortunately not the most inspiring place for me to be. So I felt cautious entering education again later on in life but I had maturity and experience on my side and sensed that arts education had moved on since the conservative years of the 1980’s. I am a procrastinator and the priority of the course was to serve it’s purpose as a weekly focus to nourish my inspiration.

So I made the most of the MA. I realised that arts institutions can still be tricky places to navigate but I managed to rise above the institutional politics and I finished the course feeling confident about my identity as an artist and was proud with what I had produced. It was reassuring to have some recognition for what I had created and the university was a great place to connect with a creative tribe and find a new network to play in. During that time, I dug deep within myself and made a conscious effort to respond to my chaotic thought process. I felt more skilled than I was in my 20’s navigating the niggling doubts that often pop up around new ideas, such as ‘are my ideas any good’, ‘are people going to be interested’, ‘what’s the point’ and people have probably done it better than me before’ etc. I was determined that all that negative mental chatter was no longer going to be a barrier between me and my creativity and it was time to toughen up and listen to my inspirations and act on them.

So during this period I also realised the importance of regularly visiting exhibitions, watching documentaries and films and reading arts books. I also enjoyed listening to other artists talk about their work, engaging in discussions and learning about new contextual theories and I started to value researching my ideas more deeply. All this activity helped tease the inspirations out from within. I moved from London to Brighton in 1999, whilst I was working in the digital media industry. I was brought up in a village and although I liked city life, I had reached a point of yearning to live closer to the countryside again. I think I also unconsciously knew at that time, that I needed more connection with nature to eventually help feed my own creative practice and being in nature and light has become an important source of inspiration for me.

When I finished my MA, I knew that I was still capable of procrastination if I was left too long to my own devices. So I decided to set up a peer mentored group with a friend Miranda Gavin who is an arts writer and experienced mentor. We put a call out to other photographic artists to join the group and created Tri-Pod .  I became one of the participants and Miranda was the group mentor. I fed ideas back to Miranda about how to steer the group from a participant’s point of view and we shared a similar ethos. Our aim was to provide a supportive group for visual artists to develop their personal projects. We would encourage healthy feedback and also create a focus for the groups to create work and do potential exhibitions together. It was successful and Tri-Pod and the group was an important commitment and another support network to help me continue developing my own artistic practice.  Creating can often feel isolating and frustrating and I can’t emphasise enough the value of finding a community of any shape or form that you can engage with to help feel motivated and inspired.

So the latest source of inspiration is this Snow Q installation project. Working with a multidisciplinary team is an exciting opportunity and I’m sure it will be a transforming one. We haven’t all collaborated together before and we have different tasks to do. So listening and patience is important when working out what others have to create. Making considered responses to others ideas and suggestions as well as encouraging everyones efforts and acknowledge our successes along the way is a healthy approach to keep the project moving. I believe when we all support one another, everybody and the project will benefit and I look forward to seeing what magic we concoct together on December 21st.

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Dagmara Rudkin experimenting with light in The Meat Store
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Filming puppeteer Isobel Smith
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Filming puppeteer Isobel Smith
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Researching the Snow Palace Room

 

 

Slant – Maria

Work on our collaborative project Snow Q to re-imagine Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen is intensifying. Rehearsals with our actor, Rita Suszek are underway.  Creatures are coming to life  – and being filmed. More about all that later. Meanwhile some of us still grapple with never-ending questions.

Friend* (after I have told her about Snow Q,): so are you writing a feminist version then?

Me: that’s a good question… (gulps)

Next I’m reading Helen Simpson’s introduction to Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (which I’ve found unexpectedly poignant) who says it was a misnomer to call Carter’s stories feminist versions. Carter herself said she wasn’t writing versions at all – she was drawing on the latent material* in European fairy stories and inventing her own stories. Now I’m worried. Have I accessed the latent material?! I’m certainly inventing things…

I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t think I’m writing a feminist version either. I mean what I’m writing is not not-feminist. Feminism is always there for me. Whole volumes have been written about how women’s position in society relates to mental health, isolation and while some men and boys (like those in the Young Carers group we have been working with) are carers too, it is traditionally such a female role.

I’m heartened to read in Dagmara’s recent blog that she questions what she’s doing every day. It’s not questions I mind but the rising panic or sense of doom which accompanies them.

fullsizeoutput_2ea5I speak to another friend and indefatigable activist/feminist artist Caroline Halliday. She says feminist art ‘supports/raises issues of equality for women, and for many others’. I tell her what I’ve been focusing on is writing poems in the voices of two young people, Gerda and Kai, poems of miscommunication, yearning, withdrawal and isolation. We agree it is difficult to express what makes for a wider definition of feminist art. Caroline Halliday says she often thinks in terms of a painting of a cat. (I adore cats but mentally translate the cat into a Snow Q animal, elk, reindeer, crow…) IMG_7249Is a painting of a cat feminist or not? She says to be feminist art it has to ‘show directly OR in its presentation/title or context that it has a feminist intention. Otherwise it continues to be a presentation of the status quo (patriarchy)’.

Does my intention show?

Not for the first time in my life I hold two thoughts in my head. All art is political and to pretend otherwise is just kidding yourself as well as an abdication of responsibility. And at the same time every artist must be free to ditch (conscious) intention. In fact most writers I know deliberately try every trick in the book to outwit authorial intention as it stifles the creative flow.

And then I listen to Aviva Dautch, another friend and wonderful poet talking on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour about her poetry, about her mother, mental illness, about survivors of the Holocaust and political writing. She reminds listeners how Emily Dickinson spoke of telling all the truth but telling it slant. She describes her own writing as ‘political but not polemic’.

I go back to writing the poems.

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*Writing pal, Kate Wesson

*violence and sex in Carter’s view

 

 

 

Working 9 to 5? Dagmara

Morning diaries pagesHere in the U.K the sea is still warm (apparently!) but there is a definite autumnal nip in the air and Winter Solstice seems much more of a reality as we get closer to the collaborative installation marking the culmination of our research for project Snow Q.  Our starting point was Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story which has been changing in our minds into something of our own. We’ve been sharing our working process with one another –  where and when we work, how we get the inspiration to work creatively.  Our project manager Mark has been coming up with ideas at 2am.

Dagmara tells us a bit about her process here:

How do I get inspirations? They rarely simply just come to me.

I don’t stumble across them or wake up with them.

I have to lure them in.

If I show up on time and feed them, I know I am more likely to earn their trust.

There are several routines which help me with doing this. Because I live in a busy and lively and a messy house, I try to put time aside in the early mornings, before everyone wakes up, to write Morning Pages. I learned about them a few years ago, when a friend recommended ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

Morning Pages are to me a cross between a diary and a sketchbook. I seem to be able to write them only in the morning, in complete silence and stillness, when everyone is asleep. If life gets in the way and I stop writing them for a while, it feels like I have closed a gate or like I have stopped showing up. I truly recommend Morning Pages to everyone.

Morning diaries pages

COLLAGES AND 3d PROTOTYPES

Because my young family is getting quite independent now, I can leave them to get on with it and can still ignore my other commitments for a little while. If I don’t have an early start at work, I take our dog for a long walk and this gives me a chance to think of what was caught in my Morning Pages. I walk or I run. I am tremendously lucky to live here in Kemp Town, Brighton, near the sea and the little woods. So I have my dog, a great silent companion with me and either the majestic sea or the rolling fields of the Downs. The rhythms of tides, the ever-changing landscapes calm me down and energise me at the same time. If anything, this puts my life and art practice in context- even if most of my ideas come to nothing, I feel grateful to be alive and to be able to work.

Then I either go to the college where I teach Art or to my studio at the Phoenix Brighton. They are both energising and creative environments, filled with like-minded people who all try to juggle their family life, making a living and doing creative work. Conversations with my colleagues at work, most of whom are practising artists and designers and other artists at Phoenix are always a great source of strength and support to me. Teaching young people is also inspiring as I get exposed to ideas and imagery I would not otherwise consider.

I belong to Fabula Collective: a group of artists and designers I met a few years ago at the Uni. We meet to support each other and every now and then we collaborate on art projects. We all come from slightly different backgrounds and it is good to share our art practice:

http://fabulacollective.com/

And then, there is my wonderful SnowQ team who has become a new source of inspiration. Except for Mark, I have known my Snow Q partners for many years and worked in the past with Wendy (who is also my work colleague and who is also based at the Phoenix) but I haven’t witnessed their own processes of working until now and it is a very informative experience.

Having my own space at the Phoenix is really special: https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/

At the beginning of each project, I cover walls with visual references of all kinds: works of artists I love, Mood boards of images printed from Pinterest Boards I create for different projects.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/dagmararudkin/

I try to visualise ideas I have described in the Morning Pages through sketches. This can be done through drawing or collage or material swatches .

Or I empty bags of garments and various broken objects I have been collecting over the years and see if I can provisionally put them together. They are essentially 3D doodles and extensions of my sketches. I love exploring the narrative potential of materials and and objects and I think that this suits my practice well because I like working with layers- layers of materials and layers of meaning.

 

studio 3D

As I drew and paint and cut and sew, new ideas may be suddenly rushing in and I write them on walls or on small pieces of paper which I stash on my window sill. I put my new work on my studio walls so I can see it first thing when I come to Phoenix another time.

That means that I can look at it with a fresh and hopefully a more objective eye but can often be a disappointing experience; it is disheartening to realise that the entire day’s work was rubbish.

  If I have to concentrate, I work in silence but if I have to do something more mechanical, I play music or listen to podcasts. I usually finish working at my studio or my teaching around 6pm and go home. Our family life has its own routines but if I have a little bit of time, I will do stuff that does not require mental energy but maybe is time consuming and needs to be done to allow me to progress with more creative work further. This can be cutting images for collages or sewing bits of textiles. As a result, I often bring bags of stuff home and clutter our already cluttered kitchen table. I try to clean everything up before I go to bed because I need the space relatively clean to do the Morning Pages eight hours later. I tend to spend weekends with my family and try to see exhibitions and performances as much as I can. They almost always enrich me and make me believe that the Arts are important for us to stay well.

Just to keep myself going, I take small challenges on with other Fabula members, such as  ‘January Draw’ .

There are days when work goes smoothly and I feel like the luckiest person in the world but more often then not, I feel very frustrated with what I create . I question myself as an artist and the purpose of art in general almost every day. That’s why my morning routines, my support groups and witnessing other people’s creativity is so important. I don’t think I would be able to go on doing art otherwise.

Katabasis! Dagmara and Wendy

 

Katabasis is an ancient Greek word meaning a descent. It can mean the sinking of the winds or sun, following a river down towards the sea (in some texts it’s a military retreat) or – more importantly for us – a trip to the underworld.  A gradual deepening or descending in the search for understanding.  Team Snow Q recently re-visited the Regency Town House Annexe Basement in Hove – the site for our collaborative installation re-imagining Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, which will take place at Winter Solstice, on December 21st, 2018. Details about this will follow in a later post but meanwhile Dagmara and Wendy explain why we chose this exciting space:

There are many stories within stories in the Snow Queen. They vary in length and pace and some may even lack an obvious purpose. The structure doesn’t have an apparent pattern, symmetry or rhythm, yet re-reading it doesn’t increase one’s frustration but allows one to see new and unexpected themes and moods. The layout of the basement annex, which was the former servants quarters of The Regency Town House and the chosen venue for our production, is not unlike the story of the Snow Queen. Once you step inside, the long dark corridor takes you straight through the entire basement. All the rooms lead off the corridor and the visitor can experience the space as easily as you can read Hans Christian’s Andersen tale within one sitting.

There was an obvious parallel for us between the story of the Snow Queen and the dark ambience of this basement annex.

The Annex wasn’t completely new to us as we had visited it over the years to see art exhibitions and events but the potential to transform the space still feels limitless. Like in the Snow Queen, there are as many moods and emotional textures as there are rooms within the basement. Each room seems to offer a different scope for an emotional narrative. The newly restored, austere servant’s room we imagined could be occupied by the puritanical Grandmother character of Kai and Gerda (or maybe even by Andersen himself) while the servants’ kitchen we can visualise transforming in to the flamboyant flower garden. There are stairs that lead nowhere. Hiding places for keeping secrets, windows and peeping holes and a claustrophobic, moody meat safe.

Every time we examine this space, we step into another world and discover something new.

If you would like to know a little bit more about the history of the Regency Town House and the Basement Annexe where our event will take a place, please visit this website:

http://www.rth.org.uk

Exciting events are organised on regular basis and you can even be taken on a guided tour by one of the many very knowledgeable volunteers.