Takahuhuti, Number 80 bus, Tampere Railway Station, Above the clouds, Helsinki Airport, Manchester Airport, Todmorden.
All three of my anxious alarm clocks sound, 7, 7.30, 8am. Its been so hard to get Naoise to wake up in the mornings, I have had to ensure that I leave plenty of time so that I can get him up in order to leave for the bus at 10am.
Naoise snoozes until 8.30 as I pack the last of our belongings into the bags.
In 1974 Joseph Beuys made ” I like America and America likes me”, a performance where he spent three days in isolation in a room with a coyote. The action took place in New York, where he was met from the aeroplane wrapped in felt blankets and transported to the gallery in an ambulance. The only connection he had with the outside was through the Wall Street Journal which was delivered to the space each day. The coyote urinated on the paper. At the end of the three days he was wrapped up again in the felt blanket and transported back to the airport in the ambulance. Beuys saw nothing of America apart from the inside of the gallery and his companion the coyote. The piece of work was seen as an action against the Vietnam War.
Perhaps I could have spent two weeks staying here in Takahuhuti with Naoise. Not venturing into Tampere. Seeing nothing but the studio, the corridor to the shower, the dark bedroom, the toilet and the kitchen. I still would have learned so much. This time in Finland reminded me of the days I spent with Naoise before he went to school. The days were endless and went on and on, each melting into the next. Apart from playgroup, the park and a friends for coffee, they were intense days of endurance and love and boredom. Time disintegrated. I existed but in the world of my child and the adult world seemed far far away.
In 1968 Lea Lublin performed an extraordinary piece of work entitled Mon fils (My son), where she cared for her baby each day during the hours of an exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
I decided to shift a moment of my daily life to an artistic venue. I exhibited myself with my seven month old son… My son in his cradle, above it a work made of to sheet of transparent Plexiglas and graphic inscriptions of his ‘portrait’, sourranded by elements that overlapped his blanket, I performed the little everyday acts of devotion, I fed him, diapered him, talked to him, played with him.
<Naoise runs down the stairs. His tooth has fallen out. He jumps into bed with me, and I place the tooth in a lipstick case to keep it safe. He is tired, back to school tomorrow, he needs to rest and recover from our journey>
Small gestures of care are of monumental importance,yet largely they go by unseen, unacknowledged, and undervalued within our society. Let it be seen. Let us be seen. Parent artists organise, unite, make a new, shake up the system, question, dissent, change.
I think about our time here. Carrying art materials around in rucksacks, drawing on the nightie, the sheet, playing ball, bubbles, trains, pushing cars down a huge ramp, discovering people and playgrounds…throwing apples over the high metal fence into the amusement park. Holding hands, sleeping next to each other, talking, being critical, observing, negotiating a foreign place, a language, home.
Cuddling, crying, consoling, laughing, being compassionate and understanding. Arguing and disagreeing on what to do next. It has been challenging to settle at anything in two weeks. It has been hard to break through to the other side…..it has been hard to see what it is that we have been doing. There hasn’t been another person to share the childcare, or document and record what we have been doing. Its just been us. Mother and Son.
Everything is covered in Moomins, even packets of tissues. Upstairs I hear the footsteps and what sounds like a toy being trundled along the floorboards.
There is a big shower and a little shower cubicle within the same space. Naoise enjoys the big space and I retreat to the smaller shower around the corner. There is endless hot. He squirts me with fountains of cold water from his shower into mine.
Naoise hugged the shower goodbye as he loved it so much.
We have enjoyed being able to structure our days in what ever way that we have wanted. Even though the days have been mainly structured around Naoise sleeping patterns.
You cannot put a child in an acorn. The acorn will want to grow, to branch out.
We set leaf boats adrift on a bobbing lake. Loneliness.
Home is family and friends not bricks and mortar. Home is connections and relationships and reaching out.
The forest is safe. Next time I’d like to find out more about the forest, and to be able to see more art, make more connections with others. To see the stars at night, maybe even the northern lights. To go hunting for mushrooms. Pick blueberries. Take a dip in the lake. Find a bear. Bring a companion. Another adult to share the weight and responsibility of looking after a child while also making art.
The load of being a mother. Trudging, pulling. A constantly moving, hanging out and waiting day. I don’t look forward to our journey with all our kit to carry. Naoise still asleep.
Virtual face time breakfast with Patrick and Syd. Naoise runs into the studio takes hold of the wheel of the printing press and says look mummy I’m a bus driver.
The journey back was better than I imagined. Naoise was very helpful opening doors, pulling a suitcase, pushing the trolley. We were also helped by strangers, apart from a teenager who was more interested in her smart phone than us. We asked questions about our connecting train and got answers, We took the lift instead of the escalator.
We did’nt feel the need to make art. We just cuddled and talked, and gazed out of the window. We tried to take in as much as we could, so that we could remember. I made some crap Marmite Sandwiches, and we had a plastic bottle that I had filled with tap water. Naoise refused the sandwiches each time I offered them too him and just laughed back in my face. He ate a little chocolate, sucked a lollypop and told me that sugar made him feel happy.
On the plane Naoise studied the safety diagrams and decided that it would be fun to slide out of an aeroplane on a blow up shoot. I held Naoise hand tight and felt the sweat in my palms and the tension in my body. Naoise watched the on-board screen that flashed details about how fast we were traveling and delighted in the information ” 100 miles per hour, 200 miles per hour, 300 miles per hour..we are taking off he said”.
I am not convinced about the choice of extreme sports; climbing, mountain biking, night-time ski-ing is a good choice of films to make an anxious person feel relaxed on a plane journey….but the Charlie Chaplin films were enjoyable.
“You can have complimentary coffee, tea and DELIC……IOUS blueberry juice……”
The path that the aeroplane takes is shown by a blood red line on a simple map. I read out loud to Naoise from Tove Jansoons The Sculptors Daughter and we make it right to the end of the book.
I was stuck by this section in a story about Tove being snowed in with her mother in a strange house in the forest;
In fact, she said after a while, we have gone into hibernation. Nobody can get in any longer and no one can get out!
I looked carefully at her and understood that we were saved. At last we were absolutely safe and protected. This menacing snow had hidden us inside in the warmth for ever and we did’nt have to worry a bit about what went on there outside. I was filled with enormous relief, and I shouted, I love you, I LOVE YOU, and took all the cushions and threw them at her and laughed and shouted and Mummy threw them all back and in the end we were lying on the floor just laughing.
Then we began our underground life. We walked around in our nighties and did nothing. Mummy did’nt draw. We were bears with pine needles in our stomachs and anyone who dared come near our winter lair was torn to pieces. We were lavish with the wood and threw log after log onto the fire until it roared.
Sometimes we growled. We let the dangerous world outside look after itself, it had died, it had fallen into space. Only mummy and I were left.
Tove Jansson, Sculptors Daughter: Snow, Page 138
Naoise was thrilled when he could see the coast of the UK outside the aeroplane window. “We are back in England mummy. We are home.” There was a little bit of a bump as we landed but mainly it was smooth…I reach to get our bags down from the overhead locker, and a Japanese man behind our seats smiles and smiles at us. I smile back.
We wait and wait and wait with the sheep herd at border control. It is slow. We wait with tanned holiday makers, families with babies and small children, with french people, greek people, finnish people. We wait. We watch some people going through the automatic passport barriers, their faces being scanned by a flashing white light and a screen. We wait in the que of people arriving from the EU.
It is not a friendly welcome at Manchester Airport, after the long long wait, we have to pay £1 for a trolly to put our suitcases on and the luggage belt keeps stopping and starting and its an age before our bags appear. But we are so glad to be home safe and happy.
Patrick meets us at the barrier outside the arrivals gate. Naoise face lights up when he sees his daddy and he runs towards him and his dad picks him up and Naoise wraps his arms and legs around his dads body and clings tight to him like a little monkey.
I go to the toilet alone. The first time I have been alone in 14 days.
It is so hot outside, as if we have landed in Spain rather than the UK. In the car on the way home Naoise said; I missed you lots and lots and lots and lots and lots Daddy.
Patrick has made vegetable burritos for dinner which is Naoise favourite and has bought a bottle of cider for me. Syd is out at band practice.
Finnish people are quiet, polite, serious and reserved but they are also kind, gentle, friendly. We met many people with open hearts who made our time in Tampere extraordinary. There are lots of thank you’s. Kittos. Kittos to the family who live upstairs at Takahuhti, all the number 80 bus drivers, the mother I met on the bus who told me about her daughter at the International School, the woman at the Moomin museum for directing us to the nearest cash point machine, the librarian for showing us where to find books on chemistry, the woman at the kirpputori for keeping the lights on when we were the last to buy, to Rivta for printmaking with us, Leena and Tina for baking with us at their home, Saara and her children for spending the day with us, Päivi, for sharing her lessons and class of school children, Arja for helping to facilitate the presentation at the Maltinrantra art centre.
Special thanks to Naoise for being such an amazing collaborator, my partner Patrick and my eldest son Syd for their constant love, support and inspiration.
To Nicola Smith for initiating her brilliantly supportive We Are Resident programme.
To all the supportive and inspirational artists who have helped me on this journey:
Lena Simic, Mo Brown, Sally Barker, Paula McCluskey, Eti Wade, Anna Townley, Lawrence and Hope, Martina Mullaney, Tracey Kershaw, Amy Dingham.
To Catherine Putz for sharing all her friendship, knowledge and connections to Tampere.
All those who took time to send me kind messages and comments via the blog, email and social media.
We Are Resident, M(other) Stories, Artist/Mother/Society, Mothers who Make, The Mothernists, Cultural ReProducers, Motherhood: A Social Practice, Artist As Mother As Artist, Birth Rites Collection