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

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Wishes and memories, working with the Young Carers Group – Maria and Dagmara

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The title of our project, Snow Q, and of the original story that inspired our collaborative project, the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, could be misleading. Is the Snow Queen the main character? What about the two young people who lose and then find not only each other but also themselves. We’ve been talking about it as the story of a young person caring for someone else – going on a quest to rescue them – Gerda journeys to find her friend Kai who is missing in the snow – a story about selflessness and the determination of a young person in particular who meets and then overcomes obstacles that demand strength and courage beyond her age.

We’re working with different groups of people as part of the research and development of Snow Q. How do aspects of the story resonate with different people? We were keen to involve young people and we were delighted to have the opportunity of working with Brighton Young Carers Group and their Support Team from a wonderful organization at the Carers Centre in Brighton and Hove:

https://www.thecarerscentre.org/

Maria and Dagmara loved meeting them and were amazed at the response they got. The young people in the Brighton Young Carers Group all have someone in their family who needs their care whether through illness or disability. As a carer all too often you are trying to think about someone else and what their needs might be. We wanted the children and young people who came to our workshops to have the opportunity to think about themselves and explore their own creativity.

Here is a description of what we did and some images from our workshops held on a rainy Thursday at the Cornerstone Community Centre in Hove last month. The young carers, (aged 6 to late teens) were split into two groups and participated in two workshops: Creative Writing led by Maria and an Art workshop run by Dagmara. Many thanks to Tom Lambert, Brighton Young Carers’ Team Manager who welcomed us and arranged the workshops, to Ruth Sullivan and Paula Melis, Support and Outreach workers and all members of support staff but most of all to the shiny stars of that rainy and cold day – the Young Carers.

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Dagmara: In the Third Chapter ‘Of the Flower Garden’ young Gerda leaves everything that is safe and familiar and decides to go on a journey to save Kay. Quite soon into her quest, the river takes her to a house occupied by a mysterious woman who puts her under a spell. She brushes Gerda’s hair, feeds her cherries, enchants her with a smell of flowers and their exotic and peculiar stories. Although Gerda forgets about Kay, she is given an opportunity to rest, to be nurtured, to be spoiled.

In our art workshop, I asked Young Carers to imagine that they were about enter the Flower Garden and meet the Enchantress who would put them under the spell. All they knew and remembered, good and not so good, was to be forgotten, all, except what they could capture on a piece of paper or fabric. Young people used drawing, collage, transfer, sewing and printing techniques to create images representing happiest and most treasured moments in their lives they wanted to hold forever. Images of bike rides and trips to the beach were layered with pictures of pets and birthday cakes. Some children added words and objects that represented tools to help them with overcoming obstacles described in Maria’s workshop, for example a set of little keys to open all sort of locked doors.

Here are only a few examples of work by the Young Carers, however all work produced by them will become a part of our art installation at the Annex of the Regency Town House in Brighton. The Young Carers’ artwork will form a giant table cloth for a kitchen table in the spectacular kitchen which, with its glass roof, is not unlike a glass house or even the magical house of the Enchantress that put Gerda under the spell.

What better place to dedicate to the Young Carers but the magical Flower Garden where they can rest, grow and blossom.

Maria:  Every journey or quest begins with a wish, I told the young people. I asked each of them to speak and write about their wishes. We also played games speaking breakfast-speak – a language consisting solely of breakfast foods to get them into a novel kind of language. I was impressed by their perseverance and determination.  Even those for whom writing or spelling was challenging – everyone stuck with the tasks I set and responded imaginatively, in a lively way. Some of their words and recordings of their words will make their way into our installation.

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Wishes ranged from a new pet puppy/cat – or ferret for that matter – to travelling the world, a loved one getting better or someone who had died coming back ‘for a day’. The two groups also wrote and spoke about what gets in the way of us achieving our aims and what helps us –  the distractions of phones were acknowledged by all, adults and children alike, whilst other people could sometimes provide distraction as well as much vital support and encouragement.

The groups then went on a mythical journey creating their own quests, having looked at a storyboard of Gerda’s quest to find Kai.  Here all kinds of rivals, monsters, pirates – even a domestic cat who didn’t want its owner to leave – threw obstacles in their path, while all manner of friendly creatures and persons guided the intrepid travellers across oceans or to the summits of mountains and also helped them win important challenges (one involved caring for goats!) and of course to find happiness.

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Girl/boy – not? Maria

If you’ve been following our posts you know by now what a powerful source – Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story – we chose for our collaborative project. We are Snow Q. What does the Q stand for? Questions? Queer? Quest? Queen? All of the above and more. Unusually, most of the protagonists in the story were women.  Maria wanted to build on that, while she also knew that she wanted the two young protagonists – a little older than Andersen’s children in her portrayal – not to represent girl and boy in a conventional way.  However she saw them as still caught up in a world which discriminates on a range of counts including gender, a world which destroys the planet, which forces people to flee from their homes or to live in poverty.

Growing up I looked like a boy, got mistaken for a boy (to my delight) and had no desire to become a woman (or an adult possibly.)  Grown women wore pinchy shoes and they didn’t climb trees, did they? Hard to tell now how much of that came from inside or outside. Boys had so many freedoms denied to me as a girl. My frantic mother carted me off to see a psychologist. As I grew older it got worse, since I was attracted to other girls as well as boys. Later I found women (and men) who were detonating the notion of what being a woman means in this society.  Ever since, I have embraced identifying as a woman. I still get mistaken for a man from time to time.

Back in those 1960’s/70’s, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy, June Arnold all wrote books with characters who either switched genders or defied categorisation. They used pronouns such as per or na, instead of he and she. I also read writers like Sheila Rowbotham* on the dominance of the male point of view, Don Milligan* on gender and sexuality. There were countless books, papers, meetings and discussions on how inextricably the rigid male-female dichotomy was linked to racism, class, all the ways of dividing people. I realised I was part of something bigger. I joined campaigns and protests, became a feminist.

are you a boy or a girl
By Tony Toggles, source: https://everydayfeminism.com

Perhaps because it was so hard for me to communicate with the generation before mine when I was growing up and also since I’m passionate about language,  I’m interested in the different ways older and younger people talk about the world. Younger people are also challenging preconceptions about gender. They’re using words like ‘non-binary’ which reminds me of my experience but I wanted to hear how they see it so I asked some friends:

Tate and Jude Fletcher wrote to me saying:

“A non binary person is neither male nor female. They would place themselves on the spectrum somewhere between or outside of those two genders. In Western culture this can be little understood, however there are many cultures around the world that recognise more than two genders and have done for many generations. Non binary people have always existed in our society but it is only fairly recently that they have been able to have a voice and be more visible. Often non binary people use different pronouns to the more widely recognised he/him, she/her. One alternative is the use of they/them pronouns. This is often argued to be grammatically incorrect which is in fact false. It is usual to use ‘they’ when speaking about a single person whose gender is unknown to you. For example: “Someone has left their phone here. I wonder if they’ve realised?” There is no correct way to present as non binary. You can present in a feminine, masculine or androgynous way. So a person’s gender should never be assumed based on their appearance.

It would be a big step forwards in making non binary and trans people feel more at ease if it became the norm when meeting someone for the first time to ask what pronouns they use as well as their name. A non binary gender is just as valid as male or female and hopefully this will be recognised legally in the not too distant future.”

Tate and Jude also pointed out that being non binary can mean different things to different people and and that non binary people can present in many ways. You can’t lump any people all together. I asked writer Elly J Morris what non-binary meant to her specifically:

“I’m a nonbinary person, specifically a genderfluid femme. It’s taken me a long time to decide on the words that best describe how I feel about my gender, and for me they work perfectly. Nonbinary in the rejection of the gender binary, genderfluid in my presentation and the way I feel on different days, and femme in my embracing of feminine energy separate to being born AFAB (assigned female at birth).

Engaging with gender in a deliberate way gives me power and agency in a way that being a cis women never did. As well as being a political statement, my gender is a feeling I have within me. I do experience dysphoria, but not as severely as others. It’s more of a frustration with not being able to present how I’d like to all of the time.”

*Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World (first published in 1973! )
*Politics of Homosexuality