Flowers, frivolous and opaque, Hide themselves like a bicycle bell. They, like many, Cannot control other’s admiration, Their assumption, How they dilute the image of you in their minds, And try to print you like a pattern, Like wallpaper. But flowers are not wallpaper, They are seeds, That crushed can nourish, That wild can overtake, That allowed to can be the whole damn system, Every cog, And every beauty in between.
The reputation of the ‘flower’ precedes the thing itself, yet it has few synonyms in the English language. Perhaps the flower’s popularity doesn’t necessarily denote a multifaceted understanding of it. Flowers are ubiquitous, mythologised on the one end as symbols of misbehaving women during the witchcraft trials and imagery for love and hate in fairy tales, and on the other end classified by the Victorian practice of Floriography and through the science of botany.
Yet, from the flower children of 1960’s America to women holding peonies as feminist protest in present-day Mexico, flowers have shown their potential as more than apolitical figurines. Beyond the pen, the courtroom or the computer, the flower retains a ‘usefulness’ as a social symbol, as a form of non-verbal communication, or as a way of questioning what being ‘useful’ is through its connection to rest, thoughtfulness, and playful environments. By launching a ‘flower festival’ through Assemblage, we can think playfully about the flower as a visual medium for reimagining social change.
To think of a flower manifesto might be to explore aims and objectives in a different way, to approach a manifesto as a constellation of poetry, collage, creative writing, and as a digital space assembled from a central floral focal point.
To prepare for the Flower Festival launch, Assemblage headed down to member Elena’s Whitechapel art studio to discuss flower manifestos as a way of collecting ideas about what we might want the festival to look and feel like.
We first went around the group and collected a floral stream of consciousness, asking ‘what comes to mind when you think of a flower?’. The theme precipitated answers of such a range that it felt like we were developing a collective flora. Members had strong personal associations to plant life, discussing buttercups and childhood, the gentle disappointment of receiving flowers, and decorating their kitchens with blooming vases. Ideas dropped petal-like onto the page, with conversations about preserving flowers, resin, and plastics departments, to debates about the temporariness of flowers, flowers in protest, and flowers as resource or medicine.
We collected these flower themes and came up with our own flower manifestos, thinking about what we might want represented through the festival. Our manifestos materialised into a collaborative zine, each page filled with collage, ink, and mark-making, creating a mood-board garden. Contained within the pages were libraries in bloom, evergreen vines growing out of technicolour dots, DIY lyrics overlapping hydrangea.
We hope to reimagine the flower as it stands today, helping us to consider the multiple branches of what a floral future might mean. Our flower manifesto is moving and growing and will be shaped by the events and artworks that develop in the next two months.
Keep up to date through Assemblage’s Instagram for info on upcoming activities, including a ‘flowers and feminism’ poetry workshop, a ‘this will get you lost’ flower tour, creative writing and design, and lots more. And of course, daisy stickers!
A superhero- singular, ‘a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers’. We tend to imagine superheroes as typically lonesome, cape billowing in the wind, eyebrows arched in a pensive state. We don’t see the power of invisibility that is held by the endless groups of people caring for the ‘hero’, such as the foster family, the friends that embrace their ‘outsider’ position, the community making it possible for them to act ‘heroically’.
A similar notion characterises the ever-elusive ‘artist’, either completely out of view or totally centre stage, the concept of the extraordinary artist and their muse denies the existence of a creative community making ‘art’ possible. It denies the caring, learning, and teaching that happens collectively, giving way to a cycle of ideas.
Through an Easter Sunday spent at the Foundling Museum’s ‘Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 years in comics’ exhibition, followed by a themed workshop, Assemblage Youth Collective spent the day distilling the assumptions around what the term ‘superhero’ means. The Foundling Museum’s history as a hospital for the care of abandoned children, founded by Thomas Coram in 1739, set the perfect stage for an exhibition around care identity and comic book hero histories, the exhibition focusing on how orphans, adoptees and foster children are depicted within comics and graphic art.
The exhibition room itself felt like stepping into the pages of a comic book: plush with baby pink polka dots, strawberry red and electric blue walls. The display held vintage comics, contemporary pieces specifically commissioned, and graphic art from all over the world. Personally, I was struck by the originality of contemporary artist Bex Glendining’s piece, Begin Again, a digital illustration designed specifically for the exhibition, exploring themes of growth and emotion in new environments. The mesmerizingly vivid blocks within the piece could be read in any order, playing with the idea of sequential art and questioning how we order time and space. This mirrored the Foundling Museum’s approach to the conversation around care, where they replace the term ‘care-leaver’ in the descriptions with ‘care-experienced’ and ‘care identity’, expanding ‘care’ out to include different spaces beyond the foster home.
Reactions to the exhibition informed the creative work that followed. Assemblage founder Tasch led a workshop centred on designing and crafting our own superhero symbols, playing with the concept of superpowers. A member of the collective, Justin, considered how powers could move beyond the visual: ‘one of the things I took away from the pieces on display was that power can be much more internal and metaphorical as well – it’s resilience, it’s accepting change, it’s staying focused, and all of that. I took the basic motif of a wing/wave shape to symbolise that ability to ride out changes’.
Other members thought about how the illustrations on display distilled classic depictions of a hero, and of a foster child. Hannah took inspiration from Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom’s drawings, that ‘focused on ‘the harsh othering that can and often does occur as a result of being an adopted child’ and ‘her use of muted, selective colours, and the textural quality of her pieces that looked almost tea-stained’. Hannah’s symbol played with conventional notions of femininity, merging bright pinks with geometric shapes to capture ‘the endless realm and range of what a woman looks like and can achieve’.
Tasch drew ideas from Lars Horneman’s illustrations of warrior queen Zenobia, impressed by how the comic ‘combined traditional feminine and masculine emblems to constitute a sense of power, breaking with more classic representations of superheroes and superpowers’.
During the workshop, I led a brief talk about how poetry writing could help inform our symbol-making. Poetry is how I care for myself and expressing feelings and observations through creative writing helped us to expand out our symbols beyond the visual, thinking about how we might symbolise our identity through sound and smell, noticing how it has changed and been informed by others.
As I made my own notes for my symbol, I wrote, ‘writing is drawing’, as I felt the bends of the letters grate against cardboard, my illegible handwriting resembling squiggles more than words, prompting my own technicolour symbol to express how what may seem directionless can fulfil an emotional or creative purpose. The exhibition itself is based on an original work commissioned by the museum in 2014, where care-experienced poet Lemn Sissay made a poem that is sprawled over the museum’s walls entitled ‘Superman was a Foundling’.
The idea of being found, instead of being made or being new, sits at the heart of the Museum’s themes and Assemblage’s workshop. Member Josh captured this through his fascination with the characters in Taiyō Matsumoto’s illustrations in the Manga series Tekkonkinkreet, who wear clothes made from found materials, emphasising how we can re-use objects and surroundings to create new identities. Similarly, member Amy’s symbol played with the recycling logo, expressing how creativity and identity exist as ongoing processes.
We continued re-imagining superhero and superpower tropes in the reflection portion of the session. Usually, evaluations after workshops can feel quite clinical, but by discussing the session in real-time, the participants created a comfortable space to share thoughts and feelings. Luisa explained how her drawing of tear drops symbolised her connection to her own vulnerability and how she cares for her friends, and Tasch drew inspiration from the raindrops in her emblem to consider how judgements and moods, like the weather, can change and flow.
As the sunshine warmed our journey home, we were left thinking about the ‘everyday superpowers’ that mark our identities, and how care becomes an ongoing and collective experience.
Begin again, Go home, Do not pass Go, Do not collect £200. Don’t leave a note, Await orders, For the next time, For the last time? No, settle in, Make roots, Don’t look back, There is nothing to look for, You might not like what you find. Only forward matters, Look to the horizon, The city you protect, Backwards always falls through. The mask is warm, It has no past, No name. The mask is yours, The mask doesn’t wonder, About before, Or about after. Be alone in the moment, Untouched, unmoored. Then, now, later. Wonder, wander, Wonder, wander, Begin again.
On Sunday 27th of March, I headed down to the Foundling Museum. On this bright, crisp day I was off to do some art with the Assemblage Collective.
I was v excited, it felt like it’d been years since I did something creative – in reality only months, but to me anytime without creating something seems to be longer than its relative time span.
I hadn’t been to the Foundling Museum before. I was surprised to find it tucked to the side of a park I visited lots as a child, always one of my favorite ones – Coram’s Fields. Coram’s Fields – even hearing the name of it brings back the sensations: a rush of cold air against flushed cheeks, legs straining to run up the ramp dragging the swing in arm, and then jumped onto it so it could zip wire me across the field. The soft feel of goats, who would like and nibble my hand and I would shy away only to place my hand back in between the gates again. Splashing and getting soaked through in the fountains, while my family ate strawberries and mini sausages on the grass. How vast it had felt, but looking into it now, it was so much smaller.
Unknowingly, the emotional journey had only just begun.
When I arrived, Tascha (Assemblage Collective’s founder & director) and the assembled Assemblage members greeted me.
Tascha explained what we would be doing and gave us a presentation on the Foundling museums’ history.
The Museum opened in 2004. I had been playing on the fields between 1995-2002.
Before being a museum, it had been the Foundling Hospital and had taken its last child in the 50’s. The hospital had been established by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1739 to care for babies at risk of abandonment. Coram, a philanthropist, campaigned for seventeen years before he received a Royal Charter from King George II to found it. A statue of him stands outside, and the fields are still named for him.
The instructions for attending had been simple – bring a piece that you have an emotional sentimental connection to.
We sat and introduced our pieces and then headed through the galleries. I kept my heart open while we walked through, I knew the emotional response I would have would be the thing to inspire the art I would produce back in the workroom.
When I found out about the tokens, I felt an obsession take hold.
In the first few decades of the hospital, the parents who left children were instructed to bring a token with them to deposit with the child, to act as an identifier. Each child was written into a register, given a number and then a new name – usually after someone famous or inspirational, think Julius Ceaser, Shakespeare, Cicero etc. The token was placed alongside the book or was written in the form. If parents wanted to claim the child back, or more likely needed to prove they hadn’t murdered the child, they could return citing the token as a steadfast identification of the child’s heritage.
The children rarely, if ever, saw these tokens. They remained sealed unless a claim was made.
Weeks later, writing this, I still get an uneasy chasm, the sense of a rupture inside. This was what I used for inspiration.
The sentimental objects I had brought with me – my first filled sketchbook from 2012, a wolf inlaid zippo lighter I had left on a rock in the middle of the sea in St. Ives (and managed to retrieve!), and a necklace inherited from my grandmother – they were all personal to me. Sentimental because of their meaning to me, and if I passed them on, it would still be the connection to me that made them so poignant.
Others had made art around the tokens too, such as David Shrigley. See below.
Back in the room, I found the things I needed to bring the visualisation of the feeling I was having to life. Some paper, glue, pens etc. which had been provided for us.
We scanned our objects – I used the gold teddy necklace from my nan – and printed them out. I worked onto the paper creating this:
A freeform automatic writing on the front, and a flowing design on the back with added phrases and words. I then created an overlay, so the sentimental reminiscent memories and exploration in the automatic writing were only caught in glimpses. I wasn’t sure if I was the object talking, or the memories. I quiet like the ambiguity of it. The line between objects we bring life to with our memories, and our memories giving us life.
The layer on top hides some of the words, so only some phrases can be seen.
To me, that represented the chasm between the parent and the child, between the reality of each of their lives. How the child must have wondered about the life they would have had if they were in the flow of time still, not ruptured, renamed and rehomed. How the tokens would have meant a different sentimentality. About how the object and the child must have felt out of time and place. There was a lot of complexity in my feeling, and I hope I expressed some of it, but it was/is difficult to get into words.
The piece reads
‘A chasm. Washed gold. Dark, deepness, subdued, abated. Memory, history, what if it had been another life, another time? What if I’d never known it come to me? What if she had given it but it had not been received? Sentimentality in the chasm, liminal and stranded, straddled and inaccessible. What if I had not been me? A shell – captured and refilled, excavated of who I should have been. A chasm. Rippled. Ripped. Disrupted. Disrupted. A rippled timeline. Julius Ceaser in the 20th Century. Shakespeare in the 17th. Who are you? Are you – Am I – in the gold chains, those tokens of love, in the moment coveted treasures and chained to me? Are you in my objects – real and psyche? Am I disrupted? I am taking you with me. And we are going nowhere. Looking up to you. looking down at me. Golden sunbeams and an unconscious stream of warmth and love passed down through time. love through a chasm – untouched. It does not touch me I am nameless and overnamed, over imbued with promise because I am you. These are memories. I am my nan. I am my mum, my great grandmother, my friends my enemy my father other father, I’m family.’
I want to turn this into a poem and lift some of the main lines I like out. I may return to it later!
I loved making it. I took it with me to the pub after, and when Chelsea scored someone knocked a pint over it (luckily I wrote in archival ink!), and it makes me like the piece more. Its imbued with its own life and memories now, a living thing out in the world. I hope to go and make more pieces like it. Assemblage Collective is making more around identity and sentimentality, and I’m eager to see what they do and how I can take part.
The Fitzwilliam Museum’s newest exhibition, The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces, is very timely – opening on the 18th May when it was finally announced that we could hug our loved ones once again. The exhibition looks at ‘touch’ in a broad sense, offering a non-chronological exploration from ancient Egypt to the modern day. It includes a range of works: from artistic depictions of touch, evidence of the artist’s touch and objects that were designed to be touched. The exhibition opened with a fragment of ancient Egyptian painting where fingerprints had been used to create texture on the hide of a deer – a ‘trace’ of human touch from thousands of years ago.
I thought the curation of the exhibition worked well, offering the viewer a wide range of information over a broad spectrum. From Early Modern sketches of the anatomy of the hand, to contemporary uses of the clenched fist as a symbol of power, the exhibition encouraged you to make connections across periods and geographies. Two of my favourite artworks were William Hogarth’s Before and After (1730-31) – humorous pendant pieces showing the hesitant beginnings and flushed aftermath of a sexual encounter. The bright blush on the cheeks of the young lovers in After really evokes a sense of the excitement of another’s touch and the vitality of the human body.
Most interesting to me, however, were the objects that were made to be touched. Especially stunning was the display of illuminated manuscripts owned by Cambridge collections. Exquisite in their use of colour and gold leaf, the exhibition reminded us that these devotional items were made to be touched and worshipped from.
Although most of the artwork on display was predominantly of European origin, it was also refreshing to see some inclusion of non-Western objects. In particular, a nkisi from the Congo was displayed as an example of an empowered figure that needed spiritual activation by hammering nails into it’s torso. This alone, however, felt somewhat disappointing. It would be great to have included a bigger range of African spiritual objects that involve this similar activation, such a Vodun bocio – a similarly empowered object which involves wrapping or binding.
Where this exhibition falls short, however, is its intangibility. With most objects kept behind glass, there was a sense of these artworks being very removed from the viewer. Of course, frequent touching of museum objects, which are often very fragile, would cause them great damage. But, there have been attempts in other museums to include a more tactile experience for visitors. York Art Gallery, for example, has several objects of textural interest which can be touched. Although it is important to work on improving the conservation of objects, museums could perhaps look into balancing this with a more sensual experience for visitors that might involve touching.
In current times, of course, this would just not be feasible. Although we are hesitantly stepping out of lockdown, restrictions remain. In museums where you still have to sanitise at the door, follow a one-way system, stay two metres away from everyone and wear a mask – the possibility of shared touching is definitely still off the cards. Perhaps this is why, although interesting and enjoyable, The Human Touch was missing something. The hushed space, dim lighting and predominance of objects in glass cabinets created a rather sterile environment. I overall felt that the exhibition was a rather frustrating experience of being encouraged to imagine the power and potency of touching, whilst being limited to only sight.
You can read more about the exhibition and find out how to visit here.
Emma is an MA student studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a recent graduate of the University of York. She is interested mainly in eighteenth and nineteenth century art and the construction of culture and identity. She also loves curating, and when she is not writing essays you can usually find her in a gallery!
Peeking out over an inescapable mask, I see once more, Women draped over ornate couches, Done with the world and its confinement, And its clothes. I see once more, Disembodied faces meeting unhinged shapes, Unsure, they attempt to devour one another. I see once more, Unlikely creatures emerging, As if willed by the vacuum of imagination. I see once more, Ambiguous structures, Soaring while more solid words explain little, Of what, perhaps, Should not be explained. I see once more, The collective embrace merge, With joint resistance, Forever twinned in a fleeting, nonchalant glance. Feeling nill, I wonder if I am measuring effort wrongly.
As the lockdown eases and shops open again, we enter a somewhat new normal… Take a moment. Did that happen? It’s surreal, a little absurd and even — at times — horrific, so how are we going to wrap our heads around this? How much of that change are you feeling? What will you do, what will you be? Where will you go? This April, we at Assemblage hope you can let yourself look around you. Take a deep breath. Enjoy what you can, in the present. Today and tomorrow will be different.
With a background in biosciences and currently studying an MA in Art and Science at the University of Arts London, Himarni is part of the Assemblage Collective writing group and active in creative projects. Her personal work spans weaving, acrylic painting, photography and collage poetry.
We worked together on the first issue of the Assemblage Collective zine, where she had the great idea of collaborating by circulating a set of images and text to each project member in turn, to ensure everyone had their input.
Loosely based around a Q&A, we discussed her projects in representing science, how she’s been keeping busy and what she’s looking forward to in the coming months – both within the Collective and in her free time.
Her current work:
At the moment, Himarni is developing a ‘cellular architectures’ project which arose partly in response to an interdisciplinary science workshop development project she participated in with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to make research into the Shigella bacteria more accessible. It is a water-borne bacteria responsible for ‘travellers diarrhea’ but can be fatal in children under 5 living in parts of Africa and Asia.Cases have also been detected in Flint, Michigan.
The theory is relatively new and still uncertain around one particular way that the immune system detects and battles this bacteria, but current ideas based on microscopy suggests that a sparse web of nanometre scale septin filaments (part of the cell’s ‘skeleton’ and can be imagined as short protein threads) surrounds the bacteria – caging and sequestering them, preventing them moving around within or between cells to cause further harm.
To fulfil this role, these filaments are believed to somehow detect the shapes in their environment such as the characteristic physical features of this dangerous bacteria.
When representing its form, she wanted to think outside of the box – while others also represented septin filaments with thread, she wanted to consider the subsequent steps by which these features can sense shape, by thinking of how it intersects the bacterial form and exploring what can be deduced from these tangents. She modelled this using a variety of simple shapes intersecting an observation tool made of a string net representation of a ‘septin cage’.
One of the symbols was of a classical pillar which, due to its symmetry, is a fairly ‘predictable’ shape compared to the helical shapes common to proteins which make up the biological architecture.
This response was part of a board game making workshop her group designed for children to make a Shigella using materials found in the household, and she used string and a tissue box, which she said pushed her to think more creatively in how to represent science.
Art as engagement:
During the Zoom workshop with the children those of younger ages were able to understand the basics of an immune response to the bacteria, and children developed maze-like games modelling the gut environment, or catapult games where the immune system takes aim at its adversaries. She said that the game format is a good way of modelling a biological environment, which is ‘like a multiplayer game’ with bacteria and various other types of cell.
Whereas microscope images and film of cells are more predetermined because they take place over a certain time frame, a game introduces chance and various circumstances, a bit like the Game of Life which models cell survival in different environments.
The lab scientists they interviewed discussed Shigella ‘sociology’ and how different strains of the bacteria interact, as they don’t seem to recognise that they are ‘the same’: ‘they’ll avoid each other and try to kill each other if they can’.
The research aims to make understanding of immunology accessible to secondary school aged children through interactivity.
How do you feel that art intersects with science in research like this?
Commenting on how her degree topic spans both disciplines, Himarni said that the choice of Masters programme was a ‘bridging’ subject, since she wouldn’t have been able to study an MA In Fine Art immediately after a biosciences degree, but ‘why not find your own niche’.
She also mentioned that art and science used to be far more closely linked, for instance in the Vedic scriptures, ancient Hindu texts, science (physics, medicine, and architecture among others) and spirituality were intertwined.
The ‘fragmentation’ of the two subjects was due to a ‘Western colonial way of categorising thought’.
How do you find working at home digitally is affecting your creativity and the way you work?
She described the ‘moment of realisation’ that the ‘transition to peach-coloured Golden Hour’ inspired creativity and energy, and the links between getting Vitamin D and motivation, especially as someone of colour.
For two or three years she had struggled with working digitally and using social media, instead sourcing opportunities and exhibitions through her university, but noted that she felt she was missing out on ‘resources that are networked within communities’.
She mentioned Nearest Neighbour theory, which I hadn’t heard of before, which is the basis of an algorithm such as Spotify making predictions based on proximity of ‘taste’ – i.e. suggesting the music that people with the most similar music preferences to you are listening to even if they are on the other side of the world.
No longer having to commute, she has regained many hours and is channeling them into creative projects. She has also benefited from having more time to absorb the learning from her degree, and created an Instagram account during the first lockdown. She has found that following her community is a more ‘cohesive’ way of understanding information – by interest rather than motivated by the commercial projects at university.
Do you feel that your work has changed over lockdown?
She noted the importance of the working environment on her creativity and the link to aesthetics. Being from Sri Lanka, time spent there would feel very close to the climate, birds, trees and provided a well of inspiration. However, during lockdown, being away from London and gentrified public space designed from within capitalist and patriarchal hierarchy, and within the ‘feminine’ domestic space where she can select her influences and environment, has allowed her to be much more focussed on her true interests and priorities, away from loud distractions and directives.
What kind of work do you hope to make over the next few months, and into the summer? Do you have any particular plans or projects?
Himarni’s interest in architecture extends from cells to the city – and she mentions that she has recently become more interested in the social role of architects.
When thinking about potentially returning to an office environment, she reflects that many buildings she has worked in have been badly designed – basements with no natural light, and that post-pandemic, workers will have to be ‘seduced’ back into a workplace (quoting Michele Ogundehin, who presents our shared guilty pleasure TV show, Interior Design Masters).
It may be that we start to see what Himarni calls ‘diverse microenvironments’ – sections within a shared space for example with seating pods, which can assist those who desire more privacy in a communal space.
Her research proposal for her dissertation will centre around how architecture can draw upon cell biology – from structure and specialised functions of cells to the circulatory systems they provide the structure for.
How do you feel about spring, does it inspire you?
Living in suburban Epsom, Himarni has been influenced by nature from growing up close to green spaces which is ‘part of [her] style’.
Her local area is closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites who emphasized the importance of working in nature to capture hyper-detailed realist imagery. On her way to school she would pass Hogsmill River, where John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1851-2) was painted – though the exact section which appears in the painting is near Tolworth, so slightly further away.
We can see from her work that nature during Spring and Summer is an inspiration:
In this collage for an Assemblage collaboration with Anita and Tascha, she was inspired by the contrast between the suburbs and the city – where life is more ‘mediated’, meaning more impacted by the role of the media.
Having attended a lecture from MST Futurism, an Indigenous group of three tribes (Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nation) currently living on land occupied by Vancouver, they have used traditional craft methods for activism to protest the city being settled and the increased pollution.
They use a ‘blanketing’ approach to set the stage for discussion, by spreading woven blankets across the floor to gather upon as a process of establishing a safe, sacred community space, and highlighting the traditional role of scientific and cultural practices in weaving.
The group also ‘wallpapered’ over buildings (in a way that reflects the values of the blanketing tradition) in the city as an intervention to protect sacred and cultural space.
In Himarni’s work, she also draws upon tradition such as in this appliqué using her grandmother’s fabric, and in loom weaving.
Some of last year’s work include acrylic painting from her home and garden, when she thought of people alone with houseplants: ‘the only living being you see is a houseplant’.
This collage of photos from Sri Lanka is inspired by the book Brixton Beach, by Roma Tearne. The author is Singhalese and Tamil and grew up in the UK. Himarni recognised some of the settings from a beach on the West coast of Sri Lanka familiar to both the author and her, and wanted to replicate some of the ideas from Roma’s other work, as a fine artist.
Centering around semi-autobiographical themes of being from a diaspora community, Himarni described the process of the novel’s character Alice collecting washed up items from a beach and using the driftwood to make a box. Inside the box she housed a shell, but the box could not be opened – as an expression of a part of herself that she cannot access after migrating.
And finally, how has being in a collective impacted on your work? What are you most looking forward to working on next?
Having really enjoyed working on the zines for their collaborative nature, and with Tascha andAnitafor the poetry pieces she feels excited to continue working on the upcoming projects.
She particularly admires Charlotte’swork, which is ‘embedded in nature’, but is grateful to Taschafor founding the collective as a safe space, valuing her inclusive attitude and adding that she’s a ‘good energy person’.
Further, the opportunity to learn about herself and explore new ideas has been good for her creatively, such as the dreams project for the Reconnection zinewhere her group explores the politics of dreams and how some dreams can be an intense emotional experience.
She doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to do group work on her course, because for academic study people have often been working on and researching themes for years, so areas of interest don’t always cross over.
We look forward to working on the exhibition together, and perhaps incorporating some more nature-based practice and workshops to the Collective’s projects!
Annie French (1872-1965), was a Scottish artist and designer, and one of the many women contributing to the Glasgow School at the end of the nineteenth century. Some of the better known members of this group, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, are widely recognised as major contributors to the wider Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the century. The Glasgow School made a unique contribution to the history of art, combining many of the decorative elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Symbolism with a resurgence in Scottish culture in the Celtic Revival. Annie French is one of the so-called ‘Glasgow Girls’, which was not an official group, but coined as a counterpart to the Glasgow Boys, working during the 1880s and 1890s, and who studied at the Glasgow School of Art during this period.
French was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in her representation of figures who, often in side-profile, display their long necks and full lips. There is little individuality in French’s women, and a sense that her figures are not specific, but rather just beautiful types. Comparisons have also been drawn between her work at that of Aubrey Beardsley, but Beardsley’s illustrations, often undercut with a sense of the macabre and the unnerving, are very different from French’s delicate visions.
French’s illustrations, many of which were published in The Studio magazine to showcase ‘New Art’, are overflowing with spring-like abundance. Many of her women sit amongst sprawling clouds of floral growth, hands holding lush bouquets, so much so that you are unclear what is woman, and what is nature. Their dresses and backgrounds are a matrix of elaborate patterns of flowers and vegetation.
In Return from a Rose Garden the floral decoration on the women’s dresses seem to echo the roses they carry, with each woman emerging as a flower herself, their bouffant skirts bulging as if about to bloom.
Although best known for her black and white line illustrations, French’s delicate use of colour in her watercolours creates soft, pastel visions; where dress, nature and flesh blur into one, such as in the translucent purples of The Lilac Veil.
In Friendship Blossoms Best Beside the Wishing Well, the beige undertones that are distinctive of much of French’s work are disrupted by brilliant bursts of red, blue and green, as if the flowers are literally blossoming out of the surface of the work.
French created a set of illustrations for each of the seasons, all depicting a woman in a central vignette, surrounded by seasonal growth. Her composition for Spring emphasises the senses, as the freshness of the white, green and blue colours in the central illustration are evoked by the woman deeply inhaling the scents of a spring flower.
French’s work has rather condescendingly been called ‘sentimental’ and ‘quaint’, and is perhaps not taken as seriously as some of her Glasgow Style contemporaries, possibly for it’s more decorative, quality and female subject matter. For me, however, French’s illustrations, with their over-spillings of floral growth, and exquisite use of colour, epitomise the beauty and renewal of Spring.
For further reading on Annie French and the female members of the Glasgow School see: Jude Burkhauser (ed), ‘Glasgow Girls’: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920.
I wrote this sonnet in 2014 as part of a Year 9 class assignment. 7 years onwards, I still enjoy what I wrote – and in a way, this connects our February and March themes! I think it's healthy to let yourself be moved by your own work, and to appreciate the unique and personal memories of the process... I remember how I was inspired by the rhythm of Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, after watching the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Lovesong for Spring
For season that gives bless’ed days in light, Your comely looks will ever leave the shore; For you a snowdrop land out for delight, I wait and yearn for honeyed sound: amour. Oh budding youth and binding honest smells, No bird nor figure did evoke my mind; Your sweet, your caprice tale in spring we tell, Your dream of slumber wrote for me designed. For you bloom lily, iris, rose with charm, That dance, that laugh and soothe red eyes so sore; So arrows cushion frays within your arms! Complete devotion of my heart to yours. By you my lonely heart shall be adored, Go onwards, so our journey upwards soars.
For me, I don’t consciously think about self-love very often. Self love by my definition exists in the moments where I am able to stop and enjoy the natural milestones of the day such as the light: staring at the shadows of the trees on my carpet, experiencing the last light of day from my desk, especially when the sky is pink and orange and the churches are in silhouette. For me self-love is feeling mindful for those moments that break the banalities of life, amuse, inspire or calm my frantic working state. Experiencing these moments are essential for my functioning when each day seems to blend into the next. Internally, I hear myself saying “hmm… you can have SOME time for yourself but you also have a lot to do and will feel even worse if nothing is done today,” so for once I decided not to listen, closed the lid of my laptop and took to the wheel…
Five miles only?
Sealing the fields with the turning of wheels Unfamiliar with undulations on this pilgrims route I hasten, Birds of prey on telephone lines hypnotised by the blue beetle gliding between furrows sown by motion alone, The milling of gravel under rubber, the vapour of glass, the shine of steel The mercy of the sea, the resting of the heel Homesteads that peer over waning shoulders, church towers squinting on tip toes Studying the milestone to nowhere, a monolith inscribed with good will alone Faint sounds of barking orbiting around the metallic shell An instinctual compass to rely on light, light that shares the way a flint might reveal its veins or the choice of a feather to sweep the bonnet
Warnings! Deer, frogs, children, the elderly Here I am, working towards the cliff like a chess piece in slow motion Blessing the fields, farms, greens and crosses which ushered me towards The sea broad and wild, the cliffs steep and mild, A lighthouse illuminated by the sun only The epitome of the liberated lonely The tide is peeling back, the light is dying She is gone and the vehicle is sighing
Listening to podcasts has been proven to improve wellbeing, since it requires both sides of the brain to listen and focus. Besides, they’re a good accompaniment to a range of mindless but necessary activities such as tidying, exercising, or if you’re like me – lounging in the bath.
In Good Company by Otegha Uwagba – Elizabeth Day (Acast)
I am a big fan of Elizabeth Day’s podcast How to Fail, and was glad to find this interview.
She discussed the power of having role models when starting a journalistic career at a very young age (12, to be exact), and the importance of the affirmations of teachers and being encouraged to start by meeting a journalist.
She noted the importance of feeling free to be opinionated at this age and how this changed over time for her. She also added that it was her self-confidence that enabled her to get a permanent role after a week’s work experience after university. When she started her ideal role at The Observer, she noted how her ‘perfectionist tendency’ and sense of ‘conditional appreciation’ led her to feel that she should say yes to everything, taking the features that nobody else wanted to write and recognised that she really didn’t enjoy being on TV.
Over time, and during a series of personal struggles – divorce, miscarriage and fertility treatments she reassessed her values and fit and decided to leave the job.
After writing her first novel, she was faced with a lot of criticism from literary experts and came to realise the opinions which really counted for her.
Power Hour (Acast)- Chidera Eggerue
More commonly known as The Slumflower, the poet discussed her new book ‘How to Get Over a Boy’, which she wrote as a love letter to the daughter she might have in the future. She details self-love techniques and the importance of leaving relationships that don’t serve you.
From her time in public life, she imparts advice on dealing with the social media expectations of others and the difference of a presence versus being present online.
She notes that while you can influence others, it is important to be mindful that it is not your responsibility to convince them to want better for themselves, and we are each accountable to our own opinions and expectations of ourselves.
The Heart – One: Sometimes It’s Lonelier in Relationships (Spotify)
In this part of miniseries One, which focuses on loneliness, Kamala discusses the anonymity of living alone in a city. How there were ‘suddenly whole swathes of [her] life that no one knew about’. After going on an unsuccessful date, she looked at herself in a car mirror ‘and tried to imagine what it was that people wanted to see in [her]’. Laughing with her friend, she said she kept getting broken up with in relationships that she didn’t even realise she was in, expressing the loneliness of uncommitted relationships when experimenting with an open relationship.
Later, she chooses to prioritise being single and self-care, musing: who gave us the idea that loneliness was unexpected, a sign of incompletion, something to be solved, a ghost to escape at 2am in the heart of something transformative? It’s always here, it never leaves. It doesn’t have to weigh on me so badly’.
Writing a reflective birthday love letter to herself, she expresses that though she feels her loneliness was constant, it may stem from a sense of want within herself that she can mobilise into a driving force.
The Mindful Podcast (Acast) – 30-Minute Body Scan for Beginners
I took a listening break in exchange for an activity, and this was quite helpful. I’m not usually that into meditation, but I do find guided exercises useful if I’m particularly stressed or need distracting. As expected, the body scan covered various areas of the body and directed my attention to making sure I was relaxed.
Unf*ck Your Brain (Acast) – Overcoming Overwhelm
A helpful exercise in recalibrating your thoughts and managing an endless to-do list, this was instructive in identifying the root of your thoughts and reactions and examining which thoughts you’d like to prioritise addressing.
By conditioning yourself to adopt the opposite thought of what you currently have – e.g., that you will be able to achieve something, it is possible to undermine self-doubt, and where this isn’t possible, identifying something which you can believe instead – such as I may be able to complete a particular element of the task or achieve a smaller goal, may be helpful in countering overwhelm.
She’s All Fat (Spotify/Acast) – The Body is Not an Apology
Sophie interviews writer and author Sonia Renee Taylor, and the pair discuss radical self love (a way of appreciating her own body of colour in a white supremacist world) and the role of body neutrality as a stepping stone to acceptance. Sonia notes that there can be ‘spheres’ of acceptance – that she has had trans partners who are fatphobic, or body positive friends with whom she has had to discuss white supremacy.
She encourages us to ask ourselves: ‘Where in my own life am I being complicit?’
Sophie expresses her difficulties in getting a diagnosis for ADHD due to her weight, and how she feels she had internalized capitalism which manifested as a lack of confidence when she was processing information differently to peers.
Sonia responds that this would have made her further defiant against the system, to which Sophie responds that her attitude had often been one of, ‘I’ll show you!’.
The discussion moves towards the pervasive nature of wellness without spirituality, as a way to justify the current system of dominance which Sonia terms the “white woman spiritual bypass community”.
Finally, she mentions that she runs ‘Radical Movement’ dance classes on zoom.
(I confess that I read the transcript online, but this took roughly as long as actually listening)
And now, to the other of my joint-favourite podcasts, Fresh Air. I listened to this one because I didn’t know much about Lizzo and knew that Terry Gross’ interview techniques would bring her personality to the fore and discuss body positivity in a meaningful way.
The pair differ on their opinions of feminism when discussing her album cover which features her naked – which Gross said would have made her question whether the woman was objectifying themselves, noting that she was pushing the boundaries of traditional beauty standards.
Lizzo responded by asking, ‘but are you only saying that because I’m fat?’, noting that women who aren’t plus sized are more often thought of as sexualised than subverting the male gaze and making what Terry had termed ‘a bold statement’.
She later clarifies that in the past, women’s bodies had been used to sell cars or other products such as albums and that now this is being redefined by modern feminism.
They go on to discuss fat shaming and a lack of size inclusivity in clothing that left Lizzo feeling a lack of acceptance. When she was in middle school, she had ‘bound’ her feet and stomach with clingfilm to try to make herself appear smaller.
Eventually this catalysed her journey of self-love and self-appreciation, making the decision that ‘I just wanted to be happy with my body, and I just wanted to be happy with who I am and […] wake up every day in the same body, and it wasn’t going to change’. She wrote ‘My Skin’ as a response to being asked what she liked about herself physically, and she realised she had damaged what her friend called ‘her beautiful skin’ by falling off a rope swing into a river. She felt that this realisation was life-changing for her and echoes the impact of the Black Lives Matter Movement – the power of choosing to love her skin ‘when that was the thing that’s held against me the most in society’.
She discusses writing ‘Good As Hell’ within minutes as a response to how a piano riff made her feel and straddling the divide of wanting to make rap which came as ‘first-nature’ and a ‘rite of passage’ in Houston. She discussed her writing in school and her experience training as a classical flautist which she did until she left College, also playing the flute in marching band and a progressive rock band.
Eventually she felt the pressure of choosing a particular affiliation after working hard from the morning through to the early hours of the next days – ‘you’re about to be who you are forever. And now who is that?’. Being drawn to continuing as a performer, which she was already doing, she decided to leave her performance degree.
She discussed how her music had been influenced by a religious Christian upbringing and culture, as her great-grandparents had founded her local church and how this led to her paying homage to gospel music in her work.
If you can manage to get past the singing at the intro, this one is worth listening to. Recorded on Christmas Eve, reflecting on the year, Adam sounds as if he’s walking along his garden path.
From starting with discussing his enjoyment of Coke Zero, I thought I might struggle with Joe being out of touch, but since I knew they’d be discussing The Staves, I had to keep listening.
A good idea which you might use socially on zoom or over the phone is exchanging audio gifts – and Adam treats Joe to a cover of a song from Muppets Christmas Carol which sounds exactly like a radio jingle to advertise what sounds like a product, but is actually an homage to Joe written by himself and recorded by the Staves!
He outlined the importance of going for a walk when you feel stressed as a way of gaining inspiration and thinking of lyrics during a half an hour walk. The website link above includes a Spotify Playlist of the Staves and a Marian Keyes video on taking care of yourself at Christmas.
(30.00) – They talk about dreams and Joe wrote a song about a vivid dream, with Adam noting that he thinks it’s the uncertainty and differing routine causing strange dreams during lockdown. He wrote a song about putting on a play which was based on an anxiety dream he had and demonstrates how music is an alternative way of processing thoughts.
Joe talks about a dream of being breastfed by Kylie Minogue as a subconscious interpretation of the experience of having a new-born child in the house and records this with a Mr Sandman-esque tune.
Now here comes the confession that I didn’t finish this podcast, but I’d still recommend it for some lighthearted Dad banter and an obvious illustration of the need for friendship for wellbeing during a pandemic.
The Mustards – ‘Is Niksen the New Hygge?’ (highlight) 31 May 2020 – (YouTube)
Also available on Acast, The Mustards podcast is my joint favourite (alongside Fresh Air) and if you’d like to watch Jenny’s quirky weekly outfits I’d recommend listening/watching on YouTube over Acast. Two Swedish vegan minimalists dissect pop culture and trends, and this video examines the Dutch concept of Niksen – or doing nothing. It doesn’t appear to have taken off as a term, however as David points out, we certainly are doing a lot more ‘nothing’ since the pandemic started.
Niksen is supposed to entail practising the art of doing something mindlessly with no intent (also covered in the Ten Percent Happier Podcast below).
They discuss the difference between actively and passively doing nothing, and the difference between mindfulness and ‘nothing time’ and the purpose of doing nothing, for example during a train journey and how this can lead to insight.
I did also listen to the full podcast, but it was many months ago – I’d recommend dipping into a few of their weekly highlights if you have less time, and if you like their style then listen to an hour-long podcast.
Code Switch (Acast) – Books for Your Mind, Belly and Soul
The team discuss reviews for alternative development books written by people of colour.
‘How to be Fine’ – by the writers of the podcast By the Book – details their experience of reading 50 self-help books. Their favourite was ‘Single Act of Gratitude’, which involves writing a letter to yourself every day.
The Key to Chinese Cooking – an authentic cookbook using non-typical ingredients. Also, Curry in a Hurry, which was written by an NPR team member’s grandmother.
‘A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston’. The Story of Whitney Houston’s relationship with her friend Robyn Crawford,discussed by Kamari and featuring an audio excerpt of Crawford talking about Whitney sneaking a flea-ridden kitten onto a plane.
They Killed my Mother, They Took our Magic – A YA book set in Nigeria, which explores fantasy and non-imagined oppression from a non-white perspective.
In the Country of Women – A story of a family’s matriarch, told by the wife of one of her descendants. She discussed the importance of posterity and representation when writing a history which was that of her husband’s black American family.
Such a Fun Age – A realist and partly comedic novel about a suspected kidnapping when a black woman is babysitting a white child, this one sounds entertaining.
Other Code Switch suggestions: The Books That Got Away, ‘What does Hood Feminism mean for a pandemic’.
Happy Place Fearne Cotton – Jonathan Van Ness interview:
Jonathan discusses positivity around his HIV status and its impact on his relationships, getting married and self-acceptance. He’s one of the most empowering people in the public eye and Fearne is such a brilliant interviewer, which makes this an uplifting meditation on overcoming adversity.
No Starving Artist (Spotify/YouTube) –Bridge Statements for Self-Love (11 Oct 2020)
Anisa talks about fostering a positive mindset – noticing thoughts and learning to change them with a therapist-approved method. She has previously held high profile marketing roles at Google and YouTube Music, now running a podcast to tackle the image of the ‘starving artist ‘also through the More by Her (@more_by_her) on Instagram, platform of news stories of thriving female artists.
In this podcast, she uses the concept of Bridging Statements as a way of aligning with our values, dealing with elements of our situation and self-shaming – how to intentionally create bridges between where we are and visualise where we’d like to be.
Bridging works by considering your most powerful and common thoughts and employing certainty, e.g., that you enjoy your own company, that you are loved. The method encourages that you stop comparing yourself and fact check your own thoughts and those of others.
This approach to self-acceptance also includes, taking breaks from work, space from people and enjoying solitude and exploring how much your thoughts are realistic or constructed by society.
Other recommendations: January 31 ‘Creative Wellness Meditation’, January 24 – ‘Never Not Networking and Clubhouse’.
Bryony Gordon’s Mad World – World Mental Health Day 10/10/2018 – Scarlett Curtis:
TW: suicidal thoughts, PTSD and chronic illness
Role of activism in resilience and improving mental health – (Gifted Scarlett’s book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink in 2019 during a difficult time and recently came across her role in the Free Periods movement in Amika George’s book ‘Make It Happen’). treatment of women medically and difficulty in diagnosis for scoliosis and internalising feelings of pain. When talking about it, Bryony Noted that she was stroking her own face and she discussed how opening up about these topics feels like ‘burdening’ others and that often you feel the need to comfort the other person.
She also told of the importance of her knitting blog as a way of motivating her but also of trying to appear productive during illness.
Born of a famous family, daughter to Richard Curtis and Emma Freud, she had felt like the ‘stain’ on a positive family, but eventually her mum realised she needed to be her mum and not her doctor, and the sense of burdening improved. When she went back to school after spinal surgery to do her A-levels after 2 years off, she experienced 5 months of every day getting worse – and had to attend a day treatment centre for a period of time. She expressed that she just wanted to be alone and would often take her pets to a country house in Suffolk whenever she could. She described needing but not wanting social interaction, which highlighted that it isn’t always easy to ask for help when struggling.
Having identified that she had PTSD about being in the room and house where she was ill, she sought support and managed to get into NYU and move to New York with 4 GCSEs. She tried to restart her life but felt hopeless and very low until she called her best friend and talked until she fell asleep.
She described the balance of learning when it’s best to push yourself and when to give yourself a break.
Having gained activism work experience at Global Citizen and started an organisation called The Pink Protest, she found that calling upon activism and feminism gave her purpose and noted that taking each day at a time is key when things are difficult. She also discusses the benefits of taking an anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication which is well suited to her needs and taking up yoga, which she’d once hated the thought of.
She describes feminism as an act of self-care and I certainly believe in finding your purpose by following what you believe in as a form of loving yourself.
Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris (Spotify) – #319 How to do Nothing: Jenny Odell
Dan frames the discussion with a quote from his friend, that ‘our desired state is always elsewhere or otherwise’, admitting to his ‘productivity shame’, a sense of needing to fill every waking moment productively.
Jenny responds that in the days before social media, she wrote in her journals about feeling overscheduled, and noted that an awareness of anticapitalism can be useful in undoing some of this guilt. By adapting the frames of reference we use to label productivity – such as considering that a relaxing activity may be productive for wellbeing, and acknowledging activities in which you find personal meaning, it becomes easier to be less tied to productivity in a market sense.
They discuss that she mentions in her book, How to Do Nothing, that she often visits a local rose garden and how going to a familiar relaxing place, observing her surroundings and engaging in unstructured time has helped her mindfulness.
She notes that during lockdown her daily walks had become too routine, but that she found herself noticing details on routes she’d walked before and had never seen certain details before. She terms this mundanity Challenging Relaxation and says ‘nothing is harder than doing nothing’.
Dan refers to non-traditional meditation, quoting habits of deliberately trying to waste time given by a fellow writer – such as sitting at the desk at the end of the work day with nothing to do, or watching old Taylor Swift videos. Jenny sees some use in the music video example of this repetition, noting that we can often ‘look again and again at something and still not grasp it’.
She recommends that mindfulness includes a connection with something larger, for example in her observation of birds when walking.
Dan notes that she is known to have befriended a family of crows which she feeds often.
(It is at this point that my phone deleted my draft Note To Self with the rest of my thoughts on the podcast. So below is what I do remember):
Wellness for Jenny is about recognizing the limits of our own responsibility, recalibrating in nature and recognizing privilege and an awareness of the local Ecosphere – the names of the rivers, mountains, or of indigenous lands. She gives the example of publicizing her book, but not through her Instagram, as this is one of the few areas of her life which isn’t ‘commodifiable.
Overall I really enjoyed the conversation between the two and found it an engaging antidote to traditional conversations about meditation.
Other recommendations: Forgive Yesterday and Reset (Spotify), #317 Non-Preachy Ethics
Tiny Leaps, Big Changes (Spotify) – Episode 657: Stop Trying to be Extraordinary.
A self-development podcast focusing on habit change and formation. In this bite-sized episode, Gregg Clunis explores the empowerment we can achieve by embracing being average to be better able to find greatness.
Being compassionate with ourselves by using positive language towards ourselves is the first step, and the following step can be a way of reacting to the judgments and preconceptions we use to label others and ourselves. By applying the philosophy of Alain De Botton, Clunis describes the ‘rigidity’ with which we treat the answer to the question, ‘what do you do?’ and how materialism defines us. The question can be replaced with ‘who are you?’ as a way of examining your own actualisation.
He sets out a series of mental principles from de Botton, which include fighting the temptation to comply instead of acting in an authentic way and in allowing ourselves to just ‘be’, we can feel more adequate in asserting ourselves and becoming who we want to be.
Other episodes: 672: Improve Your Focus Instantly, 667: The Power of Retrospection
Other Honourable Mentions:
Mad Chat (online – madchatshow.com, podcast apps). I looked online and skim read some of the transcripts since I found this one late in the research process.
However, while not specifically self-care related this podcast discusses media portrayals of mental health and illness. I only wish they had made more episodes!
Killing Eve (female focus, people’s relationship to their emotions and how this affects relating to people – Villanelle doesn’t have empathy and yet she has strong relational abilities) and Frasier (a comforting show and the psychoanalysis of the main character). The website also has detailed bio of guests including their research interests and further reading.
Snoozecast (Acast): A podcast which I often use to get to sleep. While the episodes don’t follow the same story through chapters, there is the opportunity to listen to a variety of opening chapters and later to listen to further parts of the stories as they are uploaded.
Unlocking Us by Brené Brown (Spotify) – Self-help podcast with guests including Obama and Roxane Gay
Mental (online): July 15th 2020 – 144: Self Love – It really is a cornerstone to mental health recovery with Dr Shainna Ali. Other interesting episodes: 164 Masculinity, 153 Burnout, 144 Self Love
The Lavendaire Lifestyle (Spotify): She featured on The Mustards podcast and I’ve been meaning to listen to her content, lots of this interests me so it’s on the list!
Suggested: 174 – Guided Meditation for Self Love, 173 – Closing the Creative Gap with Jade Darmawangsa, 171 – Becoming Your Fullest Self with Ivan Lam.
All in the Mind BBC 4 – 17 Nov 2020 ‘Recovery stories, personality change, Covid’ – exploring whether listening to other people’s mental health recovery stories can be beneficial.
‘WTF’ with Marc Maron: Jodie Foster (1201), Johnny Flynn (1177), Michael J. Fox (1176)
Happier with Gretchen Rubin – podcast 240 – September 25, 2019 (Spotify): The Emergency Kit for Anxiety, Worry and Stress
Feel Better, Live More: Dr Rangan Chatterjee – (155 – The Power of Plants, Love and Connection) and (158 – How to Use Running as a Tool to Change your Life)
Whispered words of stripped timber, Chanted like a spell under hot breaths, Like a song hurried through and felt. Quiet storm, do I want thee? Do I want to be, To be degraded as if in acid rain, To be a reduced solution, Part of it finally, My affects wiped away, Like paint chips journeying down the drain, Accompanied only by a swelling of circumstance.
Perhaps it is good to be reduced, Be forced towards childishness, To have to inhabit a time, When dreams were boundless, And outside of reason, A time before the weight of the appropriate and the likely. Perhaps it is a needed antidote, To the certainty and uncertainty of creeping adulthood, Perhaps we should not grow up all at once, But only in the useful branches, And stay young and budding in a few varieties of ourselves.
And then I spy a hole, Between here and my vibrancy. For just a moment, I can be excited, passionate, loud, And I can see why and how, I can be all those things and more. I have found that place, Where I do not worry or weep, For things I believe I am missing, I do not get stuck in notions of futures, Of missteps and inaction, I am living in action, And am free of the weight, That before I let crush me on this side of the wall.
The internet is a wondrous thing. When I’m writing an article and trying to steer clear of labelling something as ‘interesting’ – a term that teachers incessantly asked us to avoid – I may sift through the abundant world of the online thesaurus. I tend to struggle to find something appropriate for the sentiment I am aiming to express, because of all the choices available.
But on the other side of these digital choices and endless resources lies another issue: what are you really choosing from? In November, Google announced a ‘human-AI collaboration for writing poetry’ called Verse by Verse, which allows you to choose poet inspirations and make your own poem with a mixture of human input and artificial intelligence.
So I had a go at making my own Google poem. I was presented with twenty-two poets, three to choose as inspirations. Thirteen of these poets were white men (shock horror), eight of these were women and four of them were Black poets (one man and three women). I was asked to write my own title and first line, and given suggestions for further lines, style, and content. Putting aside the fact that it’s impossible to summarise a wealth of varied poets in twenty-two bite-size case studies, the race and gender breakdown is also an uncanny mirror to real-life hierarchies. A Creative Industries Federation report shows how much work the creative market needs to do to improve gendered and racialized discriminations.
However, another problem is precisely the inclusion of a tokenistic diversity where race and gender are made visible through AI technology. In this way, recognition becomes a tool for categorising groups according to identity. Researchers Clementine Collett and Sara Dillon put forward strategies for mediating AI discrimination with the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. They articulate that the notion of classifying faces using AI technology reinforces socially constructed categories through repetitive processes, stating that “The concept of ‘classification’ and ‘recognition’ in general ought to be questioned as a legitimate and acceptable exercise.” In fact, a Harvard study emphasized that AI techniques employed by law enforcement for identifying potential ‘suspects’ echoed the techniques used historically to segregate and separate Black people from white people in the United States. Enforcing practices of recognition risks grouping identity with criminality.
I am a huge fan of digital landscapes as spaces for creativity and really dislike the rhetoric that implies technology is ‘killing creativity’. In fact, digital art can provide us with different modes of creativity, like graphic design or digital publication (or like me writing this article on Google Docs right now!). However, the specific insertion of AI technology into the production of poetry means that rather than the individual freely cutting up and piecing together digital space, the ‘answers’ are easily generated and ready. They don’t even really make any sense: I typed in ‘four corners’ and instantly was given some numerically themed lines based on my chosen poets – not exactly a liberal interpretation. Whilst the poem was fun to make and provided suggestions that sparked my imagination, the AI generator replaced a space for critical discussion and research with an existing world full of bias that you must mould yourself into.
Google is one of the giants that make up the term ‘Big Tech’, a phrase often repeated to the point of redundancy. Google owns and controls much of our digital creative and educational space, and it is really talented at distracting you from the bigger picture that it lives in. As journalist and theorist Rebecca Solnit writes in my well worn favourite essay of hers, ‘The Garden of Merging Paths’, Silicon Valley is a symbolic maze: “And the maze’s image is echoed in the circuit boards and silicon chips […] of centerless towns that melt into each other”, the landscape is “wholly interior” and works at “eliminating the world”. Verse by Verse stands as one path to this maze, where limited choice and outlined fun obstructs the inequalities of privatized and mass-produced education.
On the one hand, I think that there is much to be gained from understanding our identities as made up of digital and physical qualities. As esteemed theorist Donna Haraway argues in her ‘Cyborg Manifesto’, we should be wary of separating the notion of human from machine or animal for fear of implying anthropocentric authority or instating a kind of ‘human knows best’ rule. In fact, the mixture of human and AI technology in Verse by Verse could be a perfect instance of Haraway’s characterisation of human and machine intertwining.
Yet the Google generator is not an instance of merging, but a direct result of humans inserting preconceived notions of poetry and creativity into technology. Sure, Google can create some jovial lines and teach me about different poetic structures and styles, which can make up for the lack of creative access in lockdown. Yet, doesn’t it truly deny the essence of a poem, which is often based on the confusion of experience or imagination, not on the flow of superficially matching lines? It seems to encourage enforcing rules instead of breaking new ground.
In the end, it comes down to how we approach teaching and learning. As Feminist theorist Carolyn M Shewsbury states in her classic essay ‘What is feminist pedagogy?’, one of the foundations of learning horizontally and avoiding power imbalances is creating community, merging the listener and the talker. When I construct my Google poem, I am met with no response, no workshopping, no challenges. Creating genuine rather than tokenistic equality in creative or educational spaces is about creating communities that support and challenge each other. Otherwise, instead of collective creation, we are just one individual led around a garden maze.
The path to creation always begins with an absence. A gap in the world appears, or is finally noticed, and it demands to be filled. In 2020, these blank spaces became even more apparent and even harder to ignore. With schedules wiped clean and the always longed for free time now painfully abundant, rifts in time could open freely. Once you have done every task you kept putting off, cleaned everything you always forget to clean and watched every show you have been meaning to watch, the beast of boredom finds a home in the newly torn hole in your carefully planned timetable. Soon your eyes, and your mind, wander. But being stuck within a finite space, no matter how roomy, means your creativity can only wander so far. Soon your view is all you have and you start to observe it at every opportunity like a comforting and well-watched film. In a way, it is simply to pass the time, to swallow half an hour or so.
This “mere pastime” of “creating”, whatever it may be, however, soon mutates into more. Once you open the door to creation, you begin to see the possibilities everywhere. The possibility of connection, of display, of being able to travel far beyond your government allotted space. You begin to realise that if you took even half an hour away from your schedule of binge-watching shows you have already seen and doom-scrolling, and instead put it towards creation, you might even build something – even if it is just a more varied day. The glimmering idea that you could even create something lasting, something to look back on one day and smile, is almost intoxicating in the current climate of total impermanence and uncertainty. The idea of being in total control of just one small thing in your day with no expectation or pressure is sort of thrilling. Suddenly the closed world you are trapped in abounds with possibility. The people you are stuck indoors with are now possible collaborators and the four walls you stared at every inch of tirelessly become your stage for creation.
Soon, however, like with many things in life, the act overtakes you. The tide begins to turn from happy distraction to all-consuming creation. You stand on the precipice between simply trying to fill your newly found extra hours to searching for further hours in the day to do your project justice. Creation becomes less of a simple salve for your boredom and begins to grow into something you almost, horror of horrors, take seriously. You feel you must justify the hours spent by making it “good” and through “committing” to it. Of course, this idea of having to justify hours spent in play is a hanger-on from the time before, the time when you had little time to play. When every hour and its progress had to be accounted for and had to have a quantifiable result. The barrage of banana bread, clay pots, photography projects and stunning landscapes that scroll past your eyes with increasing speed each day seem to be sending you a message- you must have a result- no matter how fleeting. Creation borne of boredom, however, does not always fit this rigid mould and the pressure of committing to your pastime can become overwhelming. You can see the edges of this not being fun anymore and, worst of all, it begins to feel almost like work.
It is then that the doubt begins. You look at what you have created, what you have spent your once valuable time upon and wonder if it was worth it. You allowed creation to gobble up time quickly and efficiently here and there in order to bypass the blankness. But now you worry you have been foolish, that it was reckless somehow to even try. As if you will emerge at the end of the year all wrong, all misaligned and out of sync somehow. You worry that that little half an hour here and there you were so eager to dispose of was secretly some vital element of your year you cannot quite fathom at present. Your eyes wander from your own work to the “achievements” of others – the online courses and unending zines and the quantifiable. Your work was just for you, it had no easily measured effect on the world outside your window. It is difficult now to see the true value in that when so many have worked so hard to keep the world afloat.
Finally, your creation finds its balance and begins to punctuate the seemingly featureless landscape of time rather than dominate it. You find the right mix of boredom, absorption, and sense of achievement without slipping into the bog of undue pressure. It becomes a good use of your time, a good way to pass the time, a method of self-soothing, an achievement of a difficult year, a testament to that thing you always used to wish you had time to do. The act of creation settles into a special role in your life and achieves that rare perfection of being whatever you need it to be.
Our final Assemblage meeting of the year was full of festivities and we made this very speedy collaborative poem about our feelings surrounding Christmas time.
It brought up tradition as well as trepidation surrounding Christmas occurring in these strange times. Some of us reflected on the nostalgia surrounding the end of the year, others on familiarity and homeliness. We’d love to know what you think!
Highly rated is the A5 Leuchtturm 1917 dotted notebook (a firm favourite among journallers) with ink-proof paper that pens won’t show through.
Any new bullet journaller or avid fan of scrapbooking will also need pens, such as this dual brush pastel set from Tombow. These have a fine liner and brush heads for highlighting and underlining.
3. Culinary and home-growing gifts
Many creative people find an outlet in cooking, or in creating flavour combinations in drinks. This literary themed recipe book, Tequila Mockingbird has cocktails inspired by great books.
Sous Chef also has a range of cookbook and ingredient bundles such as this pack by Dishoom – modern Indian cuisine, which is a hit in its restaurants in London, Edinburgh and Manchester.
For the green-fingered among us, a growing kit for herbs which accompany tea is ideal – this set includes fennel, chamomile and peppermint. The site also has this coffee plant for caffeinated friends and family.
Other horticultural gifts include personalised tools which are perfect for indoor and outdoor growing.
4. For artists in need of inspiration or encouragement
For sketchers, budding painters and established artists, 365 Days of Art is a book of creative prompts from illustrator, designer and author Lorna Scobie (@lornascobie on Instagram)
A good stock of stationery is key to being prepared to make art on paper, and the London-originating company Cass Art stocks a range of sketchbook options for all budgets. Their gift collections vary from lino printing sets to oil paints, and they also have vouchers for indecisive gifters.
And for an owner of pens, pencils and implements this canvas pencil roll may be just the gift to store these compactly, from Present and Correct.
Help Syrian refugee women in Lebanon by buying any from this selection of prints from Across Borders (available until the 20th of December on acrossborders.es)
6. For photographic fun
Fujifilm Instax Mini polaroid cameras are popular for their ease of use and portability, allowing you to capture important moments whenever they happen and however you choose to display your printouts. This Sage colour is a lovely addition to the range, an Urban Outfitters exclusive.
8. For soon-to-be lovers of a good ‘stitch n bitch’
These embroidery kits from UK-based Cotton Clara are a great entry point for beginners and a nice gift for seasoned sewers too.
And for the craftivists, Feminist Cross Stitch, the “ultimate subversive cross stitch book” available on Bookshop.org (remember Lorna Scobie from earlier? It’s in her shop!)
Also these two Christmassy kits featured in You Magazine would be a great way for someone to make their home festive.
9. Abstract Lampshades for all your interior design needs
From Sparke Designs (Minnie Sparke Peck) or @sparke______ on Instagram, these hand painted commissioned lampshades are a beautiful addition to any room.
10. The most comfortable dungarees you may ever wear
Lucy and Yak’s range is produced sustainably in India and have become synonymous with casual eco chic. With classic corduroy in pastels and neutrals to loud statement limited edition pieces these are an autumn/winter (and spring!) wardrobe essential for lovers of comfort.
For people who like galleries, heritage and generally wandering around an airy or historic space, there are annual passes from.
Along with a range of memberships available for individual institutionswhich are just a quick Google search away.
WeTransfer and WeCollect (online tool to share files, can easily be saved in folders with WeCollect)
Calls for Entries website (art and photography calls, some paid entries but also free, large range of opportunities including competitions, exhibitions, funding, portfolio reviews, residencies, and workshops)
Plucked from the tapestry, Of our happily forgotten past, A golden dragon prospers. With arms of steel and armour of plastic, They press their pointed brow forwards alone. They bare the brands, We gave them, And keep burning, Into them, With masked glory, And in return we get, The splendour, Of culture and unending perseverance. We can clap the studies away, Until our eyes are happily, Blind with gratitude, And they will still save us, Quietly, Colourfully, And at their own risk. But we will exalt our hands, To bloodied stumps, Before we act with fairness, And then they will lick our wounds, Once more.
Born in Taiwan in 1950, Hsieh is best known for the one-year performances he undertook while living in New York from the 1970s onwards. One of these performances, Time Clock Piece (One Year Performance 1980–1981) 1980–1981, involved punching a time clock every hour for a year.
Focusing on notions of productivity and unproductivity,
Hsieh, writes Ash Dilks, ‘has taken art to the limits of what is feasible and possible’ through his attempts to collapse the boundaries between what Hsieh calls ‘art time’ and ‘life time’ in his mentally and physically demanding one-year performances
Another significant theme that the artist took up is time. Hsieh outlined the premise which forms the basis of each of his one-year performances: that a fundamental ‘precondition’ of all life is the passing of time, or that ‘life is a life sentence’.
For me during lockdown, I felt this pull of unproductive/productive questioning what the time I was spending at home was doing/saying/expressing – was there a pattern to my day? Was there something I wasn’t seeing as time wasnt as easily documented. How would I come to remember this day from that, or this whole period?
I started with polaroid photos (one everyday for the first month of lockdown so I have around 70 of those but I wanted to examine my time further than one snap a day – I wanted to see hour by hour. So, I migrated to 72 hours of waking life documented on digital camera which is the response you see below.
Guided by the ideas:
In my own house, how was I still performing and what was I performing? How did observation of the hours turn them from unproductive to productive?
I modelled this hourly approach on Tehching’s, he was very much the inspiration. However mine was very much waking hours!
In response to Rinko Kawauchi’s dreamy works http://rinkokawauchi.com/works/, I worked in collaboration with Iryna Pustomytenko to create a video that explored human connection with nature and light as Kawauchi does, whilst specifically focusing on the breath.
In slowing down and appreciating the beauty and complexity of nature, human processes are clearly seen in connection with those natural processes. A nostalgic emotion is created in heightening these themes. Humans and nature are tightly interwoven/ connected with similarities.
Similar elements to Kawauchi have been used such as the sea, raindrops and light. A reference to her spark images has been used subtly at the end too with the credits.
This painting shows the awful human cost of the Siege of Paris, when the French capital was encircled by Prussian troops after Napoleon III’s surrender on 2nd September, 1870. Some artists fled, but Doré, as did James Tissot, joined the National Guard to defend the capital. Here, painting that winter, he seems to be recording a scene that he had actually witnessed. He depicts a nun carrying a child to safety along a snowy, blood-stained street, by a wall which might belong to the religious house where she hopes to take the child. A part of the city burns behind her, and someone sprawls wounded on the pavement further back. Ahead of her, a jagged piece of shrapnel lies on the snow, and at the side appears to be a large bloodstain. Curator Caroline Corbeau-Parsons writes, “Whether painter or illustrator, Doré remained above all a wonderful storyteller whose compositions were genuine theatrical scenes”.
Amidst the swarm of blacken’d heathen Two sacred spirits tender weaken As floating embers coax the stars From seething flames that reminisce The wounds of time that once hath pass’d
Wavering under trampled cloaks Glints a ruin of dreams and hopes That swell in ashen blood and ice Where pools of death reflect its glimmer And deepen shrouds of nightly shimmer.