It’s been a year of thinking about loneliness and disconnection. Of noticing that, around the world, attention is being given to these profound feelings, and wondering whether the stigma of admitting to feeling lonely is beginning to ebb. Of witnessing the huge impact speedily changing cities and lifestyles are having on family and friendship circles. And of hearing about governments who are beginning notice the impact policies and technology are having on our connectedness to others, and questioning whether our human social needs are being served well enough.
It’s been a year of making ceramic pages, of adding to A Little Library of Suffering and Joy, my growing collection of artist books. Of experimenting with different clay bodies, and with how thin I can make a page, whilst maintaining a more or less durable structure. I want them to shelter fragility but be strong enough not smash or chip when leaves are turned.
The pages are drawn of moments I have captured in my sketchbook; witnessed introspection, isolation, separation.
The writing of others has been a jumping off point to introduce text to the books. I make a collection of lyrical words and phrases cut from a single book; then become a teller of a new story without a narrative, by rearranging, forming new sentences, connections meanings, and images. I aim to let go of the known and open up a space to evoke, and give breath to that which is felt but not easily spoken.
My first, a concertina book called LOST and Loving, is an evocation of my mother’s growing confusion, merging with her grief for the loss of my father, her husband. Randomly skipping between one idea, one thought, and another seemingly unconnected one, the text and images captured and captivated my mother. She recognised herself and her experiences “Yes! That’s me!”
Ghost, a meditation on loneliness, began as an experiment to use ceramic colours on clay as charcoal works tonally on paper. The idea was to create mood using dry materials, and finding ways to get the dust to merge with the clay so it would not brush off.
For months these tiny little pages, roughly the size of a business card, sat in my studio beckoning action. Yet how to bring them to life as an artist book was elusive. I have little piles of pages all over the studio, waiting for that moment of clarity; when it comes, you savour the flow.
Whilst I was in Tasmania I rather randomly picked up a book about an early American photographer who was one of the first to document the first nations people. It was also a tale of weather, place, long periods of alone-ness, feelings of abandonment. And mood.
This technique of forming an unwitting and unmediated collaboration with the text and author brings forth new dialogues. One between the author and me, another between image and text, and another between me and my work.
Ceramacist and author Edmund de Waal wrote a book about the history of porcelain. The desire to create a translucent, durable and white, white clay body obsessed people across three continents. In the mid-1700s the wife of one, a Quaker named William Cookworthy, whose careful observations and tests began the industry in England, died at aged 32. Soon after, his four year old child, a twin, also dies. His loss is overwhelming. I turned the page to a beautiful and unexpected passage describing his grief just as I was immersing myself into Art for Soothing & Strengthening and the new workshops for bereaved parents.
You are voided, De Waal said of grief.
Of course you are. You are totally out of step with the rest of the world. A world that continues, and carries on without you, oblivious, and unaffected by your pain. De Waal wails on behalf of William Cookworthy, and on behalf of anyone who has lived through the desolation of loss; the separation between the bereaved and everyone else.
That story was also the story I was hearing right then, time and again, of bereaved parents of lost babies. His words reshaped my book, my book reshaped his words.
The Noel Streatfeild Summer Holiday Book, an Anthology. John Dent & Sons Ltd, London 1973
The Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins. Simon & Schuster, New York, London, Toronto and Sydney 2008
The White Road. A journey into Obsession. Edmund De Waal. Vintage, London 2015