For the last seven years since my second son was born, life has been very localised and I have lost a lot of my confidence. I make art work at home and at the studio whilst the children are at school. I have managed to find occasional paid work as a freelance artist, but money has been very tight and my income just about covers my studio costs. I have fallen into the role of care giver and home organiser where as my partner works to bring in enough money to maintain our family and pay the household bills, for which I am eternally grateful for.
This is the first international arts residency that I have felt both supported and able to participate in since my eldest son was born. I see participating in this residency as a step towards improving my confidence and as an opportunity to help develop and sustain my artistic practice.
When I first found out that myself and Naoise had been selected to take part in the We Are Resident project, I was over the moon with pride and excitement and overjoyed that I was going to be having an adventure away from home. More recently however, as the days slip by towards the date of our departure to Finland I have been feeling very anxious. It is not unusual for me to be feeling this way I suffer from anxiety. I am like Mr Worry from the Mr Men children’s story book series by Roger Hargreaves. Even if all the worries are taken away then I begin to worry about the fact that there is nothing to worry about.
Nicola Smith is very supportive and understanding. When I met up with her last week at her studio in Manchester, she provided me with maps and leaflets and practical information and contacts and reassurances. Reassurances that nothing is expected of me other than to participate in the research residency, blog about my experiences, give an artist talk and have some fun making artwork together with Naoise.
Despite reassurance however, I thought it best not to ignore these feelings of anxiety and vulnerability, but to make them material and write them into this project. I am sure I am not alone with my anxious artists and parent feelings. I wanted to make this anxiety into art, to turn these negatives into positives. To connect with others. I want to feel excited about this project again, to enjoy it, to feel calm and resilient for Naoise, to dispel some of the fear by making it word.
A dear friend of mine, gifted me this quote by Yasmin Gunaratnam in regards to vulnerability, research and arts practice;
What I have learned though my experiences and experimentation with using art in public presentations- though my breathing, nervous hands and faltering voice – is that the value of the aesthetic experience- creativity and receptivity – can be less about the representational qualities of a medium and is more about the mutual social, emotional and corporeal vulnerability that connects us to one another. A vulnerability that is all too often resisted, denied or avoided in research and in professional practice.
Where is the love?/the love/the love? …..
I fear the challenges that the residency poses in terms of collaborating with my son. How will we work together? I have some plans, some materials. There maybe nothing to show at the end of the residency. All I may achieve is some creative childcare. Some mothering. How will I represent myself mothering? How will I make this mothering visible ? What will we make together? What will he do? What will I do? Is this enough? Why do I worry that it is not enough?. What if me and Naoise cannot find a way to collaborate? What if he is difficult and stubborn and does not want to play art? What if all my strategies fail? What are the boundaries between play and art? When does art become play. Play can just be play. Art can just be art. Playful art. Artful play. Caring art ? The caring art of labour?
There is no childcare, there is NO CHILDCARE. This is the situation and all we can do is respond to our situation. I will be with Naoise all the time. I will make him the leader, and I will try to follow. I need to think about how to create some space and downtime for him and me. It will be ok for him to watch a film, to draw independently, hopefully to play with some children that I know live upstairs from my studio.
We want to make dens. Naoise wants to make a camouflaged den, a den that is hidden. I want to make a white den, a den that can be seen. A den made of material that you can draw upon. He can be in his den, I can be in mine. We might not always want to play with each other. We might not always get on. We might not even get to make our dens. That’s ok, that is ok.
This will be the furthest away I will have been from my eldest son in his life, but he will be well looked after by my partner, his dad and my mum, and besides he is a teenager and will probably love having the run of the house and some independence for a couple of weeks. He has felt envious of me taking only Naoise, but it really was the only way to make the project happen. There was only enough budget for two flights and my eldest son is entering his GCSE year so he cannot afford to take any time out of school. This will also be the furthest away I will have been from my partner in seven years, but it will be good for us to have some space away from each other, there will be something to talk about when I get home!
I will miss my son and partner, it will be challenging to be totally responsible for Naoise. I won’t have my partner with me to help with Naoise, talk too, iron out issues, to help, exchange ideas and thoughts. I will miss our squabbles and arguments and critical talk. I mustn’t forget though that there is always magic internet; Skype, Email, Face Time, so I can and will be able to keep in touch with my family while I am away.
I take for granted the support of Patrick and the company that an older child brings. Hopefully some time apart will make me appreciate them more and visa versa. Without my partner available to look after my eldest son, I would not be able to participate in this residency. I was joking with Nicola that there is probably a parallel project entitled Son and Father that could be made alongside this.
And its not just me that felt anxious about coming away to Finland. Naoise got upset and angry that he wouldn’t be able to start Junior School at the same time as all of his friends. Naoise went upstairs to the bathroom and made an angry nest of toilet roll and cuddled up inside it.
- Where is the love? Art, Aesthetics and Research, Yasmin Gunaratnam: Art Creativity and Imagination in Social Work Practice Edited by Prue Chamberlain and Martin Smith