It's tempting to use a blog as a kind of confessional, and, if you once were a Catholic, as I was , the space of a confessional is a potent one, the idea of there being that space in a life even, to tell to another those things that weigh heavy on the soul.  And also being a Catholic, or ex Catholic, the knowledge of the extremely traumatic state of priesthood, those whom we sought to exonerate our sins, often so full of guilt or complicity  themselves that rather than become a clearing space it is rather a space somehow fetid with a sense of shame.

A recent visit to Ireland connected me with the shame that was both institutionalised and still active as a force for controlling peoples minds and emotions, but also the destructive effect it has on families and individuals lives.

I was staying in a small town,

What I am Listening To

Fairy Tales Pt 1

Well, all I can say since my last blog is that fate has dealt me some serious rug pulling cards to which I hardly know how to respond, other than bear in mind the sufi saying that "we only possess that which can survive a shipwreck "  And somewhat shipwrecked though I find myself, somethings have survived.  I'm still managing to make images, and am aware that in spite of, and maybe even because of chaos in other areas, its possible to keep some sense of continuity with an inner world which at times feels threatened by events which are out of my control.  Ive been thinking about Fairy Tales again, because i can usually find a character who has been in situations that I find myself in, and I can often transfer some of the wisdom contained within as to how I might get out of a difficult situation.  

We  replay narratives, patterns that might be a combination of genetic, or family history, as well as our own early experiences which form responses to situations.   

Bruno Bettleheim says 

“The unrealistic nature of these tales (which narrowminded rationalists object to) is an important device, because it makes obvious that the fairy tales’ concern is not useful information about the external world, but the inner process taking place in an individual.” 

― Bruno BettelheimThe Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales


I am part of a group called The Crooked Rose, a fairly loose group of artists that meet up in North Norfolk.h.  Our work tends to come from fairly diverse backgrounds and ideas but we share a forum for discussion and conversation.   We are showing work as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Studios at the moment.  For me, its been an opportunity to try out an installation which I want to develop at the Counter Charm  Exh at Salthouse Church.  The two venues are very different in terms of light and space however.  

Initial aim was to work with the idea of almost being inside one of the etchings, so, take apart elements and symbolism in the images and create a physical 3 dimensional space which people can enter.  I have long been interested in psychological concepts about projection and scapegoating, so the projection is both a visual experience and refers to the action of projection onto other.  There is a small toy cot, contained within a playpen in a darkened barn, over which falls a rotating image, at present this is one large rat (yes, back on the rats!)  .  The rotation has been developed by working with a very inventive friend Chris Branford, and his friend Norman, who between them have developed a clever system of rotating the images.  I am very grateful to them, as I have been wanting to develop movement and projection into my work for some time, but have been stuck at the technical obstacles.  And also thanks to Liz Mcowan and Stuart Shearer, other Crooked Rose Artists who have been collaborators in this process. The piece has necessitated collaboration, and on going discussion and is still very much in progress. It still feels very connected to etching though.   About the nature of psychological projection,  I'm just going to paste a bit of wickipedia as I am busy and lazy 

"Projection (GermanProjektion) was conceptualised by Freud in his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, and further refined by Karl Abraham and Anna Freud. Freud considered that in projection thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that cannot be accepted as one's own are dealt with by being placed in the outside world and attributed to someone else. What the ego repudiates is split off and placed in another.

Freud would later come to believe that projection did not take place arbitrarily, but rather seized on and exaggerated an element that already existed on a small scale in the other person. (The related defence of projective identification differs from projection in that there the other person is expected to become identified with theimpulse or desire projected outside, so that the self maintains a connection with what is projected, in contrast to the total repudiation of projection proper.)

Carl Jung considered that the unacceptable parts of the personality represented by the Shadow archetype were particularly likely to give rise to projection, both small-scale and on a national/international basis. Marie-Louise Von Franz extended her view of projection, stating that "wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image".

Psychological projection is one of the medical explanations of bewitchment used to explain the behavior of the afflicted children at Salem in 1692. The historian John Demos asserts that the symptoms of bewitchment experienced by the afflicted girls were due to the girls undergoing psychological projection of repressed aggression."

Counter Charm

That is the name of the forthcoming exhibition at Salthouse Church in North Norfolk.  It's a beautiful church overlooking the sea, no stained glass, but some old Ruud screens and ancient ship graffiti.  It feels like being inside a vessel inside, empty, chalky white walls and a roof like the underside of a ship.  

And the name 'Counter Charm' what is that about?  About magic I think, it's one of those phrases that kind of came up, I liked the song of the same name by She keeps Bees and it has swum around my mind, as songs do, like joins between the conscious and the unconscious brain, a bit dreamlike in the way that sometimes you realise you are singing a particular song to try and tell yourself something you are not quite aware of yet.  Music is a bridge like that,connecting  language with  other physical and emotional  rhythms.  But the She Keeps Bees song is unsettling, summoning of some other powers.   I think it is about heartbreak and that can be a kind of door for breaking through into another kind of consciousness, the kind  of door you don't know if you open will lead to madness or understanding.  One's soul is exposed and maybe up for grabs, or for sale.  You might sell it to get your desire, to get your needs met, even knowing the price.  You might just give it away for nothing, to anyone.

So, magic, it's always been a part of my life.  All my family are into that stuff, the I ching, palmistry, my beloved adopted Grandmother Joyce who was an astrologer (aka Sybil the My Weekly astrology columnist) consulting the stars, the tea leaves, the signs, always looking for signs  ... it's been a force stronger than religion in my life ( and Catholisism was fairly strong) .  And yet, Catholicism, translated back into magic for me, the incantations, the smell of incense, the rituals.  

But of course I am a rational 21st Century woman, and I have relegated my pagan nature to a kind of eccentric aunt within the chorus of voices of my mind.  And yet, at key moments, she is always there, and she is always who I turn too.  So I try and navigate through two seemingly opposed realities, and let them both have a voice.  Both Greek and Irish traditions are laden with this magic and ritual , and to deny it would be to deny who I am, and I have tried in the past. Making art and images is a very strong part of this voice. I hope the show contains some magic, which I feel is a real, living folk knowledge.  Real magic is about being in the present and being in nature. Counter Charm is about resistance, but on a sensitive level, it's about being able to recognize the prescribed narratives and conditioning and turn them round .  A kind of psychic ju jitsu.    Here is the She Keeps Bees track 


I love his voice and the way he tells this story

I'm putting work together for at least one exhibition this year, drawing together the Romanian work and exploring the recent historical narrative and how it connects with folk story and myth.  One of the difficulties I have had in making the work has been the issue of how to process my memories of the children who I worked with in the hospital and orphanage in Constanta, Romania.   I feel that I have worked around them for some time, but have recently started monoprinting (often the way I start) using images drawn from memory.  I feel duty bound to try and work as sincerely as possible.  The abuses put upon these children mean that they had virtually no contol over decisions affecting the way they lived and died.  One of the most disturbing things I learnt is that people going to help can actually cause more harm, however well intentioned they appear to be.  The politics of aid  are a minefield.    

So in working with their images or memory it feels important for me to try and work as truthfully as I am able and to honour their story. Marcu was a little boy I knew when I worked in Romania.  An extraordinairy person in that, in spite of the awful tragedy of his circumstances, abandonment, institutionalisation and the stigma and neglect which these children suffered, seemed to have a very rich inner life, He was treated as 'simple' by the nursing staff at the Orphanage, because of his limited speech and failure to conform, and was often ridiculed.   His physical gestures were incredibly expressive.  So I've started making these monoprints of Marcu, as he is in my memory.  

Reality Checks

A friend reminded me about the work of Jo Spence recently, and got me thinking about her.  As a child I met her though I can't remember it.  She was part of a group called The Hackney Flashers that my Mum belonged to.  A feminist photography collective, very seventies.  I wish I could remember her, because that climate of both feminism and marxism in the seventies had a big effect on the climate I dwelt within.  My Mum had split up from my Dad, seeking a personal and political liberation, encountered both of these ideologies and taken herself off to North East London Polytechnic (NELP) a hotbed of leftie women's libbers, and Jo Spence and Peter Kennard .  People who had passionate political beliefs and explored them through photography and photo montage. 

There was a mini revolution in my home, my Mum organised a talk in our house with Pete Kennard,  I will always remember that, like something out of a Ken Loach film, his sincerity was so real, the dogma of marxism and other political theories she was studying became real in the campaigns against nuclear weapons and the Docklands re-development.    Jo Spence's images slightly frightened me, in the same way that perusing all the back issues of Spare Rib did, (especially the vagina issue!) These were women I knew but whose images had never been articulated.  The struggle to be oneself , the female relationship of mind to body, the stories the body has to tell.   This was a very brave woman who took risks and I am pleased her legacy is getting recognition. The friend who reminded me of her said that her work was selling so cheaply at The Frieze Art Fair and I wondered what she would make of that.  What her value was. We all know the market sucks and yet we need to survive.   I haven't got any answers to any of that, like most artists , I really struggle with these issues, but people like Jo Spence and Peter Kennard are like reality checks for me, points of reference.  Respect. 

Fighting, Owls and Playing with Fire

I Dreamt I Caught A Little Owl

‘I dreamt I caught a little owl 
And the bird was blue -’ 
‘But you may hunt for ever 
And not find such a one.’ 
‘I dreamt I set a sunflower, 
And red as blood it grew -’ 
‘But such a sunflower never 
Bloomed beneath the sun.’
Christina Rossetti 
So, so glad to be back in the studio after a turbulent summer.  I thought that I might find it difficult to begin again but, thankfully not, I just got straight back in, as if there was a kind of logjam of stuff waiting to come out, that I had been carrying around.  I've been working with some fight imagery for a few months, this has grown out of my own interest in martial arts (I do hapkido) , but more from watching  the MMA fighters at the gym where I do my hapkido. 

I've also been allowed very generously to do some drawing in there.  What interests me is a kind of physical vocabulary in fights, a conversation taking place within the movement of energy and power.  There's the struggle between two people, not just on a physical level, but psychologically and spiritually as well.  Its also working with movement, and angles, and energy and space, the body in space, what happens when one part of the body is twisted, how certain movements and angles create power.  The gym reminds me a lot of the studio too, in terms of a kind of dedication to a practice, but also theres a similarity to drawing, using lines to create tensions, explore energy, create or confine space and work with conflict,a kind of drawing with the body.  The blokes there have been cool about me drawing and don't seem to think I'm a perv so that's good

My plans not going to plan, images that want to come out aren't the ones I thought I should do.  Owls are coming out, owls have been hanging around my psyche for a while, I don't quite know what they mean, I'm hoping to decode as I make my owl images. Sometimes Ive just got to work like that, in the dark . An  Omenish bird.  Damn, what does it mean ??  Using fire and smoke, thats exciting, but I have to have the right music.  I'm finding Spiro really good, they are so meditative, and I think pretty brilliant too.  I saw them last year  ago The Foundling Museum .  Here they are

Bad Blogger...

God, long time no blog !! Here I am then writing stuff, not totally sure why, kind of like a diary one is hoping others might want to pry into and leaving it lying around in half concealed locations... Thoughts, I've had a few.  But right now it's practical stuff which is dominating my creative time.  Like how to transport that bloody rat print, the big one.  That print has been a real  labour of love.  I still love it, but the trouble I have had transporting the platefrom Norfolk  to London at East London Print Studio in Hackney where there is a press big enough to print it makes me wonder if I shall I ever work that size again.   

 One framer shook his head and refused to frame it and of course it wouldn't fit any standard size of mountboard,  
Now it won't fit in my car so I have bought a roof rack and will have to hope like anything it travels to LOndon for the LOOP show at Bankside.  Partially excited about this, and partially fearful, as I am not one of those super organised artists that always has their braddle and tape measure in a little special hold all.  I'm one of the other kind, the kind that forgets stuff, sometimes important stuff.  The kind that says she will make notes this time not to repeat previous mistakes but then doesn't.  Aye Aye Aye.  

The fox

I went to a talk by Steve Baker at the Forum last month about animals in art.  Earlier that day, I had missed a call from my friend Liz Quigley, who when taking a group of schoolchildren to Horsey to see the seals had come across a dead fox.  She knew I was looking for dead rats to draw and tried to phone me to ask  if I wanted the fox.    As I was parking the car,  I didn't pick up,  and by the time I called her back she was on the road, but without the fox. 

Later, inspired by the talk and maybe 'touched' by the bright full moon at night, I headed off to Horsey on a freezing night looking for a dead fox in the dunes in the moonlight.  It seemed like a mad quest but something was driving me on, I'm not sure what, it seemed really important to get that fox.  I had to phone Liz who was trying to direct me through the dunes along a path.  Somewhere along the way, I vaguely worried about the potential appearance of dune psychopaths and wondered if I would be able to remember the Hap-ki-do I've been learning if I encountered one.    Miraculously, I found the fox, a beautiful healthy female fox .  I carried her in an old jacket, and she was heavy in my arms.  I later connected the whole thing  with the recent death of an aquantaince, a woman of the same age as myself, a single mother who I used to see every day and chat to.  Her death was sudden and unexplained, and there was a sense of shock and difficulty in understanding it.  She had been very fond of animals, including rats, and had an unusual untamed quality about her.  She wasn't a good friend, or someone I was particularly close to, and yet I felt her absence very strongly anyway, I took the fox home, and drew straight onto the etching plate. Etching it next week....

Bestiaries and Rats

There are two things going on at the moment.  I'm putting the Romanian work together and trying to resolve it in some sense.  This is turning into a kind of installation and I'll show it in May and June as part of the open studios, alongside some other artists   It seems like a good opportunity to try out some new ways of presenting the work. I am struggling with issues of presentation as regards the work -  I feel really anti frames, and white walls .  I  like the sense of the fragility of the paper being close to the touch and vulnerable and the opportunity for the viewer is presented to destroy it.  The sense that they could.  But let's hope not....  

Then there's the Dreamers Bestiary that I'm putting together for Cley 13 ,  The initial idea was to collect dreams people had which feature animals.  So I've asked friends for dreams, and they've asked people, and I have a collection of people's dreams.  I hadn't thought too much about collecting other people's images, but having them gives me a sense of responsibility.  It's quite trusting to give your dream to someone to play around with, there's an intimacy about it.  I've been having more dreams about animals myself since I started this too.  There's an increasing fluency to the dreams the more attention I pay them and I begin to think increasingly in images. 
Anyway, doing the two streams of work, means being organised! 

In The Studio

I'm looking forward to a weekend in London and seeing shows and connecting with the City.  Norfolk can get hard to leave, and it will be the first time since finishing the MA in September that I've set foot outside the county.  The energy is so dramatically different between the two places.  Norfolk means nature, nurturing, introspection but also cold and isolation at times.  The sense of being 'out of it', disconnected from other parts of the counrty.  It is impossible to ignore the land, the seasons and the animal and plant life here as they saturate your daily life and conversations.  Samll children seem to know the names and folklore of animals who I would have considered pretty obscure. Stories are still passed down, being 'out of it' means something has been preserved.

The studio is housed in two converted pigsheds just outside the village of Burgh.  David who owns the buildings  told me recently that when they moved there the very pigshed we are in had been absolutely infested with rats.  I feel kind of connected with those rats somehow, scratching around in that space, drawing them.  I've grown to really respect rats, unloved as they are through drawing them.  They just are themselves, and fierce survivors.  I think about animals who have become domesticated and ones for whom that seems impossible.  The ones we cannot domesticate seem to be the ones on whom we project a lot of fears. 

What are the new Questions ?

I have been thinking about trauma a bit recently as one of the critisisms I get is that my work deals with that subject and it's a bit of a personal trip.  To go back to the Ana Maria Pacheco issue - there were three very influential  female artists who addressed this issue for me initially, and 3 more who I found later.  The first three were Ana Maria Pacheco, Paula Rego and Frieda Kahlo and the second three were Kara Walker, Marina Abramovitch and Kiki Smith.  I think it's a rich, if painful, if sometimes unspeakable place.  I think that the visual and musical ( and smell) can access parts and memories than words can't.  That said, I don't want my work to keep re-treading the same territory.  The last couple of years have required me to re-visit some painful early experiences of hospitalisation, and the way that these marked my life and gave me an understanding of some of the issues around power and control. 

I see I am constantly trying to come to an understanding about the abuse of power - how and why it occurs , without becoming analytical about it, and staying true to my own experience.  There is an obstinacy in my position, I suppose, a kind of knowing where you stand (with the victimns of abuses of power) This feels important because when dealing with stories of abuses of power, the idea of truth becomes so complex that it is easy to lose ones sense of ones own story ( there is some really interesting work  done about of the truth and reconcilliation committee in South Africa about this very issue) but perhaps I am encountering the limitations in this position.  I am wondering how I get to a different space without abandoning my story, which after all, if I do not tell, will it ever be told?  The motivation here is to say "This happened" to be a witness, objective or no.

But a new space seems to be opening up too, and probably as a result of the immersion in the trauma, but I am not too sure what the questions are yet.      

Ana Maria Pacheco Talk the Other Night at Norwich

At last I am going to try a bit more blogging, I know I have been remiss and apologies if anyone does actually read this.  I have finally finished my MA at Camberwell, and now in a kind of reflective state, trying to make some kind of plan, but trying to make sure it's the right one.  The pressures of trying to make any money as an artist, balanced against making work which isn't always terribly house wall friendly.  Amongst all the emerging questions, I went back to Norwich School of Art and Design (as I shall continue to call it) for a talk by Ana Maria Pacheco who was the Head of Fine Art when I was there.  She is a Brazilian  born sculptor, printmaker and painter and now nearly 70.

There were a few instances of her spontaneous kindness and humanity I  will always remember from my time there, but alongside a kindly side she certainly kicked ass!  She faced considerable opposition from the old guard within the college,  she fought it, won the backing of the students, and was radically different from most tutors I had come across, christ !she was so hands on, she came and worked alongside you.  When we had a 'work in to protest against student fees she worked  in the life room with the students.

  Her  talk the other night  was a timely reminder of the importance of being yourself and doing it your own way.  Seeing her work for me, made me for the first time realise that I could use personal material, be narrative and use where I was coming from- my own visual language and heritage to make  work with.  It was as if I was, after trying to paint like a string of artists I admired or who were held up to be great, given permission to explore myself. 

I was so struck by the raw power in her work again, the erotisism and the exploration of so many interconnecting stories.  I'm still mulling over things she said.  I really still wonder why is it still seen as so problematic to be narrative within the fine art world. 

Still writing my paper for my MA, and whilst I haven't written much (if anything) in an academic way for years, I'm just about beginning to enjoy it, now that the fear of "annotations" and "harvard style bibliography " have worn off, and I've just been able to absorb myself in some of the ideas. 

The subject is about myth and  storytelling in contemporary art and it looks at the use of animals in particular, and the symbolism they are given, and the way in which we project parts of human nature which we are uncomfortable with... . Plato says in his republic “Then the wild beast in us… becomes rampant… in phantasy, it will not shift from intercourse with a mother or anyone else”  . Licentious behaviours  are referred to as "animal passions" " he behaved like an animal".  The anthropologist Mary Midgely in Beast and Man responds to this thinking  

"Man fears his own guilt and insists on fixing it on something evidently alien and external.  Beasts Within solve the problem of evil.  This false solution does man credit because it shows the power of his conscience, but all the same it is a dangerous fib"

and as this is my blog, I don't have to annotate that!


 If you are looking at this, you have probably seen some of my work and figured that my imagery stems from some of the darker side of life.  I used to worry about being overly personal or "therapeutic" and this is always an issue for me.  It is both of those things, but the aim is always to communicate experience and keep trying to refine a visual language in which to do that..  There's a whole issue about articulating experience that I am struggling with, because some of these stories deal with unspeakable things.  (something fariy tales do so well).  Writing my essay recently, I have come across the artist Krzysztof Wodiczko who works in a variety of ways,, often projections onto buildings, and deals very much with this issue of articulation of experience, by outsiders. 

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