Saturday, 14 October 2017


  Back in May I attended a craft seminar which culminated in a session of basket weaving. We had to weave a simple platter in willow. This quickly became an intense sensory experience which was strangely similar to my own practise and yet 'other'. I was taught by Hilary Burns who grows and harvests her own willow, her knowledge of which was to me like that of an alchemist.
   The colours and behaviour of the types of willow were all known to her and she spoke of them as a living force that she was accustomed too. For me the smell of the willow was mysterious and wild and transporting. It is damp,earthy,mossy and aromatic like incense. You are weaving the wild that is within.
   Into my platter I also wove some bramble (like the artist Burne Jones I am very fond of  briar) which had been de-thorned by being dragged through a punctured baked bean tin.
   It was the moment of starting the weave that fascinated me as it was a moment of impossibility. You need the counter tension of the material to hold the weaving together but it is that quality which fights against you.When you begin you feel that you need three hands to hold it all together.It seems unlikely that you will persuade the base struts to stay in place but once the rhythm takes over and the counter tensions are harnessed a platter emerges.
  The wild willow and the wild body, their mystery and the harnessing of their counter forces. The moment of near failure and the joy of using your hands to read and persuade natural materials to move. These are profound experiences for a human. To know courage and creativity changes you.
  It wasn't surgery but I bet surgeons would enjoy it.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Stress management

 ''The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds.''  Thomas Merton

  Here is a list of the mental and emotional rubbish that must be cleared before I can work:
computers, family problems,presenting work to the world, travel anxiety. admin., financial worries, helplessness, personal safety, invasion of self, dealing with rudeness, evil.
  It is not an exhaustive list but illustrates sufficiently what affects not just my ability to do work but to make work. And of course it is not just me that experiences this.I have seen how frustrating it is for a surgeon to come into work expecting to operate on someone in desperate need only to find that there is no bed for the patient. The consequences can weigh heavily on them and whereas you may not have a vested interest in my mental health you would have in that of your surgeon.
   How do we deal with the lunacy of our lives? It is the act of making and doing that keeps us sane whether you are an artist or doctor.The need to 'do' is a powerful force in our lives and this force must be allowed to flow through us.If thwarted it makes us unhappy and sometimes ill.
   If I could I would give every hospital a garden for the doctors to tend, an art room for them to paint in and a piano in the staff room so that they could keep their hands supple and their hearts peaceful.

Saturday, 7 October 2017


I have been asked a few times now how being involved with this project has affected my practise. On the first occasion I said ''ask me in two years time''.
  The answer clipped me 'round the ear recently. I had initially tried to produce a kind of 'chaine operatoire' or sequence of events which would lead to an answer. What I made was a pile of sticky notes. It was only this summer that I then felt my answer as a delayed reaction to events.
  As a sensitive soul I feel like one of those old fibre optic ornaments with tiny filament antennae responding to all stimuli around me. When overwhelmed (often) they tend to flatten down so that I can function until 'rebooting' in safety. A new environment will induce this response and so it was with observing surgery.
 The building in itself was a big challenge and I could say a great deal about the inhumanity of large buildings. Then the newby experience of orienting myself  and my 'self' to a new and alien environment. Watching the mechanics of surgery is utterly absorbing and informative and then there is the anti climactic feeling of coming out into the real world afterwards; all these were more than enough to stop me processing something else.
  Over the summer everyone was away and I turned my mind to creating work for the project and then the download began. What became sparklingly clear to me was what a deeply profound experience it is to be in a room with so many people healing another. The energy coming from them is intense.
  Barbara Hepworth spent time as a surgical observer and spoke of the 'unity of purpose'. It is a transcendent experience to be near or in the presence of focused healing energy and it is a lasting one.
  I realise too that this is what I have physically felt from surgeons hands. At first I was puzzled by their touch. When entering a lift or an 'after you' moment in a hallway I would feel their guiding hand on me and really felt that hand. What I was experiencing was their healing energy and it is an extraordinary thing. It was all so obvious but masked by the unfamiliarity of their environment and my struggling sensitivity. Hepworth also wrote about 'things felt but not seen' and now I understand what she meant.

(quotes from Barbara Hepworths letter to Herbert Read, 6.3.48)

Monday, 2 October 2017

Necessary Beauty

  ''Beauty is not adventitious but essential''.
Nan Shepherd made this observation on a mountain.She was speaking of the curve of an eagles' wing or the movement of a running deer.Form and function are one and since nature is very efficient the shape of a birds wing is not coincidence. Beauty lies in the total fulfilment of purpose.
 In conversation with my partner in this residency, a consultant vascular surgeon, we tried to express this by saying that if it looks good it is good. Although this phrase is not as eloquent as Nan Shepherds' we were trying to get to the same understanding of our work, the idea of form and function. Some would consider beauty in a surgical stitch unnecessary but to us it implies a deeper understanding of our materials and their interactions.
  As an embroiderer a finished piece has different requirements to that of a healer and surgeon but we take the same route to get there. We understand the mechanics of the needle in material, the effect of tension on thread and needle and the micro movements involved in seating a stitch in place. If all these are correct and we fulfill our purpose in doing the stitch it is then beautiful.
  At this time of year my garden is busy with the work of the finest lacemakers in the world - spiders. I take advantage of the master class outside my studio and watch them not only create webs from nothing but also repair their successful  but damaged ones. I say this because such an efficient creature does not choose its spot in the garden lightly. It sets up a place of work and knows when it is a good one and stays there.
  The use of tension in their spinning is a thing of wonder. Science is still exploring the biomechanical marvel of spider silk and spider 'glue' but one thing is clear in their webs - there are no ugly webs only beautiful ones that keep them alive.

(quote from Nan Shepherd's 'The Living Mountain'.)
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