Wednesday, June 18, 2008


365-032: Gruff. (hosted on Flickr)
The illusion of strength comes from the flow of shadows.

I'm coming to the conclusion that strength doesn't come from within, it comes from without. These last few weeks have been crushing for me: losing my independence, my job and my time all to a slightly baffling cluster of tiny injuries who conspire to form some weird coven of pain that seems set to have changed my life's course. This morning, I went to the GP again to get my sick certificate renewed. I was groggy - last night we had a bit of a nightmare: Jonathan's dad's having some real difficulties at the moment and whole he was out visiting him, I went to unblock the sink here and somehow managed to cause a bit of a plumbing incident for this house and next door (luckily the neighbours are all lovely and we had a good chat about gardening, boyfriends and pets), so I hadn't slept. The certificate runs until mid-September.

I'm seriously hoping I don't need to stay off work that long, but this morning it all felt rather desperate and sad and I walked up the path over Hilly Fields to come home, very glad for the rain. It's sad stuff as much as it's frightening: all change results in some kind of sense of grief.

Once I'd tried to do as much housework as I could before my wrists started to swell up again, I sat down and slowly typed out letters to the Benefits Agency in Belfast and to my GP keeping him clear on the rationale I've given in my benefits applications, to be ready for when they contact him for validation of my claim. After all that I felt tired and grotty and really didn't feel up to going to see my art mentor this afternoon, but didn't have his number to cancel, so dragged myself out of the flat.

I walked along the South Bank just as the cloud thinned and I watched people having their pictures taken up against the giant graffiti by Tate Modern and I couldn't supress a smile. My mentor then sent a text to say he was running late, so I pondered walking around the Tate and, on impulse, called the access officer to see if he was around and fancied a cup of tea. What a good choice that turned out to be. One cup of free staff canteen tea later and we'd started putting the world of art to rights. I might be giving a couple of talks there, which is great.

The talk with my mentor was good, not just for the free-runners bouncing around outside the National Theatre. I find those sessions really help me gain clarity and a sense of credibility with the work I produce to be getting critical feedback about the choices I'm making and the directions I'm taking with my work. We talked seriously about residencies and commissions and the need to have a much clearer CV and portfolio than I currently hold. I think this might be a task for the next few days. He likes Badger, too, which is always a sign of a keen mind.

Griff met me and we got waved in to see the Cy Twombly exhibition that isn't open to the public yet at Tate Modern. I'd only seen the same Four Seasons I think everyone's seen and so I was unprepared for my response to the body of work on display there. There's a wonderful narrative to the exhibition, taking you from his early work of intuitive mark-making and scrawling to the sudden jolt of the two Treaties on the Veil. Suddenly the work clicked in as being delicate and tragic and the next room's painful outpouring of grief just cut through me.

One of the things that people always talk about with abstract art is the sense you get of the movement of the artist's body - you can see handprints from him leaning onto the huge canvases to attack with crayon, coal and paint, so when you're in a room, surrounded by waves of knotted, frustrated, meaningless textual marks, you sense the ghost of the artist repeating a futile action, trying to unlock the pain he feels. This journey through his personal underworld takes you through oceans of bereavement on wooden boats with broken oars, past sculptural symbols of new life in death, so when you reach the Four Seasons, they make sense as epic poetry rather than just another jumble that reminds you of Pollock.

The final room has paintings dedicated to Bacchus, showing the duality of merriment and self-annihilation that are that god's domains. It's a beautiful journey made more beautiful for the empty halls we wandered through.

That's when I realised that the places I'm finding the strength not to buckle at the moment aren't in me - I'm almost incidental in all of this. I'm no Atlas, by any stretch, but I wonder sometimes if it's not that I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, but that it's the world that carries the weight of me. It's just a matter of which way up you're looking at it. The next couple of months are bound to be frustrating for me, but with so much that's helping me through all of this (physically, personally and professionally), I can't help but feel like it's through these moments of individual vulnerability and when we're forced to swallow our pride and admit that we feel weak that we realise that around us is all the strength we could need.

1 comment:

call paul said...