LJ Roberts’ Queer Epics

LJ Roberts (b.1980) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and is known for large-scale textile installations, intricate embroideries, artist books, collages and sculpture. Their work investigates the overlaps of queer and trans politics, alternative kinships, narrative, and material deviance. Daniel Fountain speaks to LJ here about the relationships between craft, identity and queer theory, and how this manifests itself in their practice.

LJ Roberts’ Queer Epics

Anne Jackson: The Witchcraft Series

My current body of work examines witch trials and witch-persecution, in European history, and as a metaphorical lens through which to explore some of the fears and prejudices of our own time. 

I know that the absolute truth of past events is inaccessible. All I am doing is reflecting my own fantasies, attitudes and prejudices, using whatever shards of information I have managed to gather. Sue Rowley writes, in her introduction to ‘Reinventing Textiles: Tradition and Innovation’, that in these times, ‘[t]he authority of history [is] challenged; histories are understood now to be partial, constructed narratives which cannot substantiate a claim to be disinterested, unified or conclusive.’[1]

There is something about a series of flimsy narrative threads being pulled together into a compositional whole, being knotted firmly into place, as it were, that is at the heart of what I am trying to do. The further I progress in researching and making work on this subject, the more I know that I am just grasping at the edges of something. ‘Witch-hunting’ can be viewed from a historical, but also psychological, political, or even theological point of view. I end up working with scraps of folklore, mythology and often legal documentation reflecting the history of witch-persecution, in England and across Europe.

A number of the works in ‘The Witchcraft Series’ commemorate individual women, tried and condemned by English courts in the Early Modern period. The tapestries, made using a hybrid of knotting and woven tapestry technique, illustrate testimonies from witnesses or the accused, and sometimes from their young children. My source material is the trial documentation of these individuals. Does it represent the accounts of the women themselves? These were mostly illiterate, poor women, and their testimonies were recorded by literate, male court officers. The ambiguity of these voices, and the question of whose stories were actually being recounted, is part of what interests me. 

I use primary historical text whenever possible. This can involve a kind of archeology, as I try to decipher lines of print in court testimonies, from ancient books, facsimiles or faded photocopies. In her book The Witch in History, Diane Purkiss writes, ‘[w]hich stories sound likely?…Why accuse this woman and not that woman? The fragmentary narratives of witchcraft are already absurd; they are torn even where apparently most whole.’ [2]

These fragments of narrative are like shards of pottery I have unearthed, which might be pieced together to give an indication of an individual story or larger discourse. Flashes of dramatic storytelling emerge. People accuse each other of making milk curdle, of harming children and consorting with the devil. I respond to these dramas by slowly shaping each letter of a printed phrase, translating it from my design cartoon into warp and weft. 

The history of witch-persecution provides numerous examples of humanity’s inhumane behaviour, and I’m making these pieces at a time when widespread peace and prosperity feel less than assured. Incidents of hate-crime are being widely reported, and outsiders are being treated with hostility and aggression. The willingness to turn on the “other” when times were difficult was a fundamental aspect of historic witch-persecution, and the shadows of such events fall directly over contemporary discourse. The sense of powerlessness, uncertainty and fear arouses echoes of the past.

Why I should then feel compelled to create something visually arresting, even sometimes beautiful, reflecting on brutality, fear, oppression and negative aspects of human history, is another question. I do believe that textiles can provide a powerful means of drawing the viewer in, with seductive materials, colour and composition, perhaps encouraging them to pause and read a deeper meaning into what is being presented.

I also sometimes introduce references to modern science, as a comment on the way it is depicted as strange, dark and sinister ‘witchcraft’ in modern-day thinking.

My work has always been concerned with breaking out of the convention which associates textiles and woven tapestry with a sense of cosiness and comfort, the domestic and the ‘feminine’. From the beginning of my career I have made work which introduced elements of irony, or made the viewer think about the issues I was raising, while also presenting an object which was visually arresting.

My current practice also includes writing, curating and public speaking.


Text revised from ‘The Witchcraft Series: I’ll just leave this here…’ in A. Jackson, Witch, Hexe, Sorciere: Works from the Witchcraft Series (2017)  

Sources

[1] S. Rowley, ‘Craft, Creativity and Critical Practice’ in Reinventing Textiles, Vol. 1: Tradition and Innovation (Bristol: Telos Art Publishing, 199), p. 6.

[2] D. Purkiss, The Witch in History (London: Routledge, 1966), p. 62.


by Anne Jackson

Follow Anne on Facebook (Anne Jackson: The Witchcraft Series) and @knotgirl1 #CertaineWytches on twitter)

Jane Fairhurst: Wands, Fetishes for Uncertain Times & Women’s Work

Art and Ethnography

Jane’s approach to the production of art that refers to ancient or other cultures comes from an intention to firstly understand something of those cultures and this she does through reading. Sourcing books and information in various outlets including the internet, those books in turn referencing further reading, thus she gathers information to inform her artwork. She describes her work as “like an iceberg with two-thirds of it hidden, the research, and one-third on display, the art”. Through research Jane aims to gain an understanding of the cultures of the past and the role of the female within those cultures.

Such is the case with her Wands for Fryr. Here she read of the Ancient Norse wise women the Volva who used their wands to weave the fates of humans and particularly to influence the outcome of battles by accompanying their warriors and observing the fighting from higher ground they could determine the fates of those in the battle using their wands. The wands were distaffs, a tool of weaving regarded as magical and so deeply connected to women that the word is used to describe people related through their mother as the distaff side. 

So significant was this connection that Jane determined to create her own wands. Collecting ash staves, making the connection with Yggdrasil the mighty Ash tree of the Vikings, she wound each one with strips of cloth then added found objects, animal bones, beads, bells, plastic toys, oak galls, nazars, small mirrors, shiny buttons, coloured threads, each addition giving totemic power to her wands and imbuing each with apotropaic magic.

There is significance to the found objects Jane uses in her work, each one is carefully selected from pieces she has collected over the years many of which have come to her as gifts from female friends or items left in her studio by fellow artists and visitors. Some have been collected from flea markets and bazaars whilst travelling and others she has gathered whilst walking in the fields and woodlands near her home. Each object carries with it a person or place remembered.

She imagined the wand carriers waving their wands, the light flashing from various shiny objects, the banshee wail of ululating women calling upon their goddess Fryr all gathered on a hilltop creating an awe inspiring and powerful female presence.

Wands for Fryr detail
Wands for Fryr  (various heights to 2.5 metres)

Following a timeline from the Ice Age Venuses of the Paleolithic, the goddesses of Minoan, Ancient Egyptian, Old Norse and Ancient Greek cultures of the Neolithic Bronze Age to the present day Jane observed the diminution of the female in the human story. Her response was to create a series of textile sculptures including 

Women’s work is never done…. a vitrine filled to overflowing with knitted Venus figures that she continues to make, each with a safety pin for a mouth to signify the silencing of the female story and Matronae, (Three ages of woman) three female figures made using orange felt and representing the wise women of Celtic and Ancient Germanic origin. The significance of the three ages of woman reflects Jane’s recent status as grandmother with a daughter and granddaughter, the lineage of the distaff side.

Women’s work is never done…(70 x 40 x 25cm) and detail (24 x 20 x 4cm)
Women’s work is never done…(70 x 40 x 25cm) and detail (24 x 20 x 4cm)

Matronae (50 x 60 x 29cm)

Following a decade of research into age old belief systems and folk magic Jane created her own objects of agency, Fetishes for Uncertain Times, as textile works that challenge form and function in a shifting world where previously held certainties are no longer in place. 

Created from randomly shaped fabric off cuts sewn together in no particular order their asymmetry a device that serves to confuse the evil eye. The shape only emerges as wadding is forced into the fabric shape whose surface Jane then decorates with amulet devices in the form of twisted threads, shiny buttons, sequins, nazars and beads, embroidered knots and wavy lines all serving to avert any negative forces. 

With the creation of textile works Jane acknowledges the enduring association of the female with the production of cloth and is grateful to the generations of women who have passed on their skills for her to employ. 

Throughout her research Jane came across the phrase Mysteries of Women and seeking to uncover its meaning she eventually came to understand that pregnancy, childbirth, spinning, weaving, knowledge of healing plants and herbs, complimentary medicines in the form of clay figures and chants and incantations spoken in relation to the phases of the moon are some of those mysteries. She had discovered a deeply rooted female power that has never been completely eradicated by monotheism.

As sacred objects and to give them a sense of animation her textile sculptures Fetishes for Uncertain Times are elevated on metal stands to form an omnipresent installation.

Fetishes for Uncertain Times
Photographer Matylda Augustynek

With these textile works Jane confronts the viewer and asks them to reflect upon their own relationship with cloth and our current disassociation with the deep history of global textile production and its importance and intimate relationship to all people. The production of cloth is as ancient as ‘civilisation’. It has protected, decorated and defined us as clothing, been taken as treasure-trove after battles and cherished for its qualities.  However, mass production has brought us to a place where we no longer value cloth, we have become detached from its production and large amounts of cloth and clothing end up as landfill.

In her work Jane has chosen an individual, anti-formal direction that co-exists alongside the mainstream, making available useful strategies for negotiating meaning into objects. She circumvents the idea of ‘progress’ and by referencing nature and ancient ritual opens up rich areas of content. Producing objects that mimic the timelessness of authentic ritual objects, which follow a set pattern and remain unaltered over generations creating a reality that is timeless and independent of circumstances.

Jane Fairhurst studied at Liverpool Art College in the early 1970’s and gained her Masters in Fine Art with distinction from John Moores University, Liverpool in 2010. She established Cross Street Arts studio group in Standish, Wigan from 1999 and is a studio member and trustee of the group.

A Doorway In: My Own Way In

A Doorway In

As I settled into my new routine, I began to explore the country, visiting Loch Lomond and the Hebrides, the Highlands and Orkney.  While I felt such joy in each new place, I still had trouble connecting to the place-specific energy of the land. And so, I developed A Doorway In as a way to reflect upon my relation to this new place and also to experience more deeply the land around me.

My artistic background is primarily dance based.  Therefore, I began by finding quiet places to improvise dance.  This developed into a regular practice in which I would find small subtle ways to dance in new environments.  I noticed that the movement was different in each place because I needed to respond differently to the landscape.  This was my doorway into the energy of the land.

Video: A Doorway In Land

When I was not travelling, I began to explore different artforms as doorways inward.  I began with my long-time fiber art practice, knitting, spinning and weaving. These are slow and methodical, therefore meditative, artforms and thus provided me with an opportunity to center and ground into my own energy.  To this I added a new artform, sculpture. I picked this up in order to give form to the archetypal character, The Figure at the Gate, who stands at the entrance to ritual space and asks the participant to release all things but the true self before entering in.  Working with the shaping of the clay and forming a relationship with each statue as my hands worked helped me to enact that letting go. Finally, I turned my focus to the processes of felting using locally sourced wool and naturally dying fabrics.

For the felting, I took inspiration from the waulking traditions of the Hebrides and created large felted wool pieces.  For the natural dying, I used recycled materials and food scraps to impart designs and colors. These crafting traditions all felt like ties to the past, using slow processes and materials at hand to create lasting and useful works. Little has changed in the form and function of each tradition and the magic(k) associated with them over centuries of time. The process of creating something with the hands links the crafter with the creation and reflects the inner and outer landscapes experienced by the artist, making them tangible. 

Into the felted pieces I incorporated the use of a symbol from Celtic stone carvings, the triskele, a three-armed spiral pattern.  The triskele opened yet a deeper doorway into discovery of the land, bringing the practice full circle. One of the many modern mythological associations with the triskele is to the concept of the Three Realms of Celtic myth: Land, Sea and Sky.  These are a form of the elements of life, most often seen as Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, also including the Spirit in many traditions. In the case of the Three Realms, they relate more specifically to the landscape of Britain and Ireland which is mountainous and windswept and high cliffs connect the sky and the sea to the land.  The process can be used with any symbol but the use of the triskele which has more localized links allowed me to explore in a more connected way. I began to focus my improvisations on the connection to Land, Sea and Sky and I found within that practice my own link to the land and to myself.   

Video: A Doorway in Sea

After a year of this creative operation linked so closely with my spiritual practice, I began to notice the patterns of the year and the seasons and felt a deeper connection to the new place in which I found myself.  The early stages of this project, as it is still ongoing, culminated in an exhibition of examples of work and videos of the improvisations in a gallery setting that I transformed for the purpose of ritual. Now the process continues and is likely to for a long time if not forever.  Endlessly changeable, I have found this intention-driven practice of self-discovery through art to be a perfect way to create while looking both outward and inward seeking connection.          

A Doorway In is an artistic ritual practice that developed from a long-term project in which my goal was to connect to the land through my spiritual practice of Paganism and magic(k).  Having recently moved to Scotland from the United States and from rural to city living, I struggled to find satisfaction in a new and different landscape. As incredibly beautiful and exciting as I found my new surroundings, I had much more difficulty connecting with the unfamiliar land than I expected being that I wanted to live in Scotland for many years particularly for the landscape.  Much of my eclectic spiritual practice was derived from the folklore that inhabits the area and I, mistakenly, believed that the transition from my old home to my new would be a simple and straightforward one. How wrong I was.


Christopher Croucher is an artist, dancer, and long-time practicing Pagan currently living and working in Massachusetts in the United States. Having lived in Scotland for an extended period and hoping to do so again, he is a recent graduate of the Master of Letters Program in the pathway of Performance during which he developed for himself the process presented in A Doorway In. With a background in classical and modern dance technique, fiber art and other eclectic media, and particularly in nature-based spirituality, Croucher’s artwork is an amalgam incorporating all of these in varying degrees to create experiences for the viewer. His aim is to make work that acts as a Doorway into…

To see more work and to contact the artist, Christopher can be reached at:
Web: http://www.ccroucherpointe.com
Instagram: @manenpointe
Facebook: /manenpointe

Machina Incantatii (Spell Machine) by Anna Nolda Nagele

‘Machina Incantatii’ (latin for ‘Spell Machine’) was conceived to explore the question of how digital tools can be used to create and introduce spiritual experiences by emulating a magical ritual of spell writing. Creation of individualised texts can inspire users to explore their thoughts and find answers within themselves through interpreting the short texts. By associating the output with a request by the user to the machine, trying to find meaning in the relation of  the output to the input, it can help the user to find an answer to what they are looking for. Written words can make up things and thus create new meanings and thoughts.

‘Machina Incantatii’ is a wall hanging made of conductive yarns and fabrics that combines physical and representational materials into an interface for a magical ritual. Each individual is encouraged to select one element and one planet for their personal incantation by touching the conductive patches on the cloth. Based on the assigned powers of the selected items, the digital shrine generates a spell.

A combination of ‘old’ periodic alignments (the stars) with ‘new’ periodic alignments (the Markov Chain) leads to a poetic generation of texts. The outcomes are unique and personal non-linear verses. The Markov Chain is a statistical model often used in natural language processing (the automatic generation of texts), where sentences are generated word for word. The sequence is based on the likelihood of all possible words which could follow each previous word. All possible words are based on existing texts which have been written for and assigned to each planet and element.   

The work was knitted and stitched from different fabrics, threads and e-textiles. E-textiles are able to conduct electricity while having all properties and form of normal fabrics. To use soft materials for the interface and crafting it by hand was chosen to present a contrast to stereotypical images of mass-produced technology being cold, rigid and slick. Soft and textured surfaces are inviting to be touched. The physical activity of having to move the arms to reach out to the selected patches, which is necessary due to the size of the wall hanging in relation to a human, can be observed as ritualistic movements.

Similarly to the Markov Chain which stitches word for word to form a poem, the fabric is embroidered and stitched together, layering different fragments of information. Conductive yarns hold the piece together and thus its visual information, textiles, the user’s choice and the algorithm. Information flows through the piece, which is reassembled into new information through the algorithm and the output is displayed as the magic spell back to the user.


Anna Nolda Nagele is an experience designer and PhD candidate in Media and Arts Technology at Queen Mary University London, where she is researching human-machine communication and the identities of digital subjects through storytelling. Her practice evolves around the creation of narratives in new media that imagine different realities. Most recently she has worked on an Audio Augmented Reality experience research project for BBC R&D; and on the development of wearable technology for female intimacy and sensuality. Anna exhibited projects at Ars Electronica Festival 2019 (Linz, Austria) and Cuntemporary EcoFutures Festival 2019 (London, UK). She graduated from the MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins in 2016 with a thesis on storytelling for change.

sweepRANT by Sarah Cameron

I don’t want to sweep the floor any more
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore
I must have swept it 10 times today
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore.

It’s dull, monotonous, dreary, drab
irksome, humdrum, nut-dummin’ banal.
I havna nothing ‘gainst sweeping per se
I quite like it actually;
but to do it quite as much as I do
steals my intellect, vibrancy, my derring-do –
I wager it would steal yours too.

ENNUI
the tedium of R e p e t i t i on
day in day in again,
shall I say it again?
R e p e t i t i o n
day in day in again.
R E P E T I T I O N
tition Re Tit ion ion Re Tit Tit ion
shall I say it again?

Annoying isn’t it?

That’s what I feel like about the floor.

O the dishes too AND the shopping,
the cleaning,
the tidying
the washing,
O! Everest o’ Washing
A summit o’ grime
No pristine peak
an’ pennin’ ma name in a HIStory Book
The Cleaning
The Tidying
The Washing
The Sewin’
The Sortin’
The Binnin’
the peggin’ o’ clothes to dry again
foldin’ them makkin’ them neat
pairin’ the socks
seekin’ the space inby the drawers
squeezin’ an’ stuffin’, huffin, puffin’
clenchin’ gr’und teeth
takin’ a breath
overwhelmed wi’ mess
‘shit how to detox this LOT?’
an’ when I think I’ve done it aw
boo hoo No Luck,
it’s to do aw over when I look up.

The cookin’
The cookin’
The COOKin’!
The filin’ o’ plates in the machine
that washes them clean
until they’re dirty aw over again!
The Dinner Breakfast Snacks
the Lunches packt,
shoppin’ again, the sweeping, the SWEEPING
the guilt I’m chucking stuff oot we should be EATIN’!
Evidently I’m no employing The Brain
I should be using
to be choosing
to do things
BETTER.

Regurgitate an’ spew it oot!
Clean it up, aw that muck!
For do you know it’s what I do
‘lang wi billion other wummen too?
Day in day oot, shakin’ oor brains aboot,
sloosh oot, OOT our Ears!
BRAINS spill through drains
ratatat on pot an’ pans
splatter stairs, squirt the sink
plop plop in stew, the bin too, the cat food,
spew atop the grimy floor,
doon the grubby uncleaned Loo…

Oh Sisyphus I am not
heavin’ a rock
up hill
til
it tumbles in punishin’ cycle.
Nor Prometheus.
My liver is intact,
not ramshed, re-growed an’ ramshed once mair
by Eagle beak an’ hungry claw.
Not Tantalus I
foriver tantalised;
nor Ixion spun in perpetuity
on flaming wheel …whit destiny!
Alas, Mythical status is not afforded Wummen’s Daily Chores.
No tale will be wrote o’ bakin’ a pie,
stitchin’ a rip, plumpin’ a pillow
sloppin’ wairm milk intil mashed potato –
though certes it’s mythical in its endlessness, ness, ness
indeed I empathise wi’ Sisyphus…
Forsooth,
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
For they are Men
An’ wumman are nowhere near the same
A Bloke’s sufferin’ is Monumental
Wummans’ only Temperamental
Downright screechingly Hysterical!
Forsooth
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
I do not bleed or burn
I’m just fed up o’ sweepin’ the floor
I’ve done it so many times afore
I don’t want to do it anymore.
I don’t want to do it again.


Two Heads, Two Hearts, and the Mother Goddess

I’m a Fraud. I’m a sometime-artist. A sometime-performer. A sometime-writer. A sometimer. Sometimes I’m a non-artist, a non-performer, a non-writer. A non-body. A Nobody. In spite of this lack of entity and identity, an artist is what I am. It’s my safe space. Without my art I’m adrift in dark and deep choppy seas. Defeated. Inert. A Dead Soul.

I’m also a Mother. A full-time Mother. Sometimes, a sometime Mother. A non-Mother, too. A Fraud. NB I put Artist before Mother! Gasp! The Guilt! “What does that mean?” hisses the judging She-Critic in my head, “A BAD Mother? Certainly neither properly Artist nor properly Mother” the cruel critic adds, spitefully.

The truth is I’ve always felt a Fraud. I’ve heard a lot of women feel similarly. I feel especially tricky about myself because I’m a Jack of All Trades Artist – a Sculptor by training, inclination and spirit but a performer too – also a writer, or am I more of a poet? I draw and make installations; after making a short film some years back & continuing to make filmic sketches, I intend to make at least one feature in my life. Sculpture is my language even though I no longer traditionally sculpt. Everything I put my hand to is mapped in 3d form, at least in my own bonkers head; the words I write are dynamic and invisible 3d energy-bombs that shape at your ear & explode, only alive when they quit the flat page; my performances are vigorous, animated lines and planes that move through and beyond space. (Blimey, I’m thinking to myself, no wonder I feel like a Fraud). I don’t fit into a BOX. Once, on moaning to my flatmate about my Jack of all Trades-ness, a woman who was queuing in front of me for a coffee turned to me and with striking generosity of spirit she said, “Sounds to me like you’re a Renaissance Woman.” I was gobsmacked. And chuffed! It was easier to belittle myself than to consider I might be skilled at more than one thing. I never got to thank her but I’ve never forgotten her.

After having my first child, I discovered to my horror that I wasn’t seen as a woman anymore or even an individual, certainly not an artist – only, Mother. Society defined me by Motherhood and little else, at least when my bairns were wee; it came as a huge shock even although deep down I’d known what to expect. When the blue-line had screamed ‘Pregnant’ I fixed my joyful partner’s gaze and hissed, “Don’t ever make me give up my Art.” I’d never been more serious about anything in my life. But I wasn’t really talking to him. I understood our patriarchal world too well. Motherhood should empower us; instead our sterile and soulless society degrades, diminishes and shackles us. Consequently approaching Motherhood filled me with anguish. I was in peril, in mortal danger, an existential force threatened to annihilate me. I was petrified I’d go mad. Making art keeps me Alive. Without it I couldn’t possibly survive – the life raft gone, what would I cling to? I would drown and take my innocent baby with me.

For a while I lived in the dark, choppy seas. After Babe was born, strapped about my heart or snuggled in (my nemesis) The Pram aka The Prison – I became the property of many. My mother, who’d once told me I’d never have children because I was too selfish (in reference to my being an artist I presume?) was either censorious or absent, my mother-in-law berated and undermined me, near everyone else felt they had the right to chastise and scrutinise. The interventions happened on the street, on the bus and tube, at the shops, on the beach even; places where I’d hitherto been joyously free to contemplate and cogitate became war-zones, “Your baby’s too warm!” or “Is your baby alive?’ or “Put a hat on your child! or “You’re an irresponsible and stupid Mother!” The scowls, tuts and sidelong glances were equally demoralising and draining. Not only was I in mortal combat with my own demon, I was assaulted everywhere I went by a She-Chorus of disapproving and cruel faultfinders! On one occasion an older woman attacked me with such vitriol that she stunned a whole shop into silence – to this day I’ve no idea what I’d done to offend her; as a wise hag now, I know it was always only ever her issue – point one finger at me, point three at yourself. My Inner Goddess, never fully formed alas, shrunk to a shrivelled cinder at my heart. My absent mother offered no help. My partner worked long hours and although he had the delightful and glamorous bonus of eating in Michelin starred restaurants at lunchtime, and although his career soared whilst mine evaporated (that’s hard to write) the burden of Breadwinner took its toll on him; the jealously, the fatigue, the anxiety, and the responsibility of motherhood took its toll on me. When I ventured out to parties, which I assumed would be safe, supporting spaces, I realised I was fair game there too! At my sister’s birthday do, a woman advised me that my ever-hungry son was only hungry because my breast-milk was inadequate. At two separate birthday gatherings, two different men unknown to each other and on hearing that I was writing a book asked if was I “doing a children’s one?” the implication being that from a male perspective at least (twice was surely too much of a coincidence) mothers were only capable of writing children’s books; these guys simultaneously and with ease managed to degrade both children’s literature and mothers in one fell swoop – two for one! At another party, a man who worked in publishing and who’d also assumed I was writing a children’s book, went on and on for ages about how easy it is to write children’s books and how he churned them out when required. At the same party a fellow whose wife is responsible for a huge London Art Fair, on asking me what I did (I dared to reply ‘Artist’) spat, “Was I a real artist? Did I know what it meant to be an artist? Had I suffered for my art? Really suffered? He had friends, you see, who had endured penury!” Can you imagine this man daring to say that to another man? It crushed me. WAS I AN ARTSIST? I wondered, befuddled by lack of sleep and dizzyingly out of body with my aching, leaking breasts. COULD I CLAIM TO BE AN ARTIST? The pasting got bloodier still when my old friend, a mother herself, piped in as if revelling in the attack, “You’re not an artist, Sarah! Not a visual artist! I mean what do you *do?” Suffice to say, she’s no longer my friend.

I grew isolated and resentful. Domestic chores became mind-numbingly imprisoning. Bejewelled wi’ posset and a belly that surely wasn’t mine I marvelled that the life I’d lived previous was but an imagining brim-full of theatre, cinema and art galleries; long nourishing walks about my city; wild cycles through Soho or along the canal; travel, exciting projects and exciting people; unlimited, uninterrupted stretches of meditative time. I no longer recognised myself, either in spirit or changed body. With no escape in sight, I disappeared. No one valued me as Mother. No one recognised me as Artist. I didn’t recognise myself. You’re only as visible as your last piece of work, mocked The She Critic. In spite of my deep love for my Boy, I felt few loved me back. Patronised and dismissed, I found myself drowning. I became Nothing.

As our Boy grew, I gleefully found snatched bits of time. I drew. I wrote greedily – when my son started nursery I became a writer obsessed. Sunlight shone through the dark. But when I discovered I was pregnant for a second time, and fearing I’d be unable to cope with two we’ans, I finally sought help. Near a year ago, I finished 14 years of invaluable therapy that changed my life. It was a tough ride but as I healed, my confidence grew. I performed again! Being a mother inspired my writing and my making, gifting both a profound new dimension and gravitas; without being a mother, my novel would have stuck stubbornly and 2 dimensionally to the flat page and would never have been published or made into a solo show. A host of brilliant women helped me back into work and into the world; my partner has given and gives tremendous encouragement and support too – though we still lock horns from time to time! Our kids are now 14 and 10. They’re great. It’s still a challenge; there are a few dark days here and there. I’m still frustrated by the imprisoning four walls, the cooking, the cleaning – the boredom. I ache for uninterrupted time so I can fully immerse myself in a long project. I rage at patriarchy and rail at misogyny – I discovered my inner Goddess was a fiery Feminist. My journey as a maker and a mother has been a hard one. It’s still a tough juggle. Working from home makes it tougher. Currently, I’m in a fallow field. Will I ever make again? I am A Fraud, you see – a non-artist, a some-timer, a dabbler as an ex once mocked after watching me dance at Sadler’s Wells. The truth is, being a mother taught me, inspired me, encouraged me, challenged me, allowed me to love myself and become a better human-being. Without children, I may have just destroyed myself. Motherhood gave me the kiss of life. Motherhood gave me the tools to survive. Motherhood empowered me.

words by Sarah Cameron

Sarah is an artist, performer, writer and mother. Born in Dundee, Sarah studied sculpture at Chelsea School of Art and theatre at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Sarah has worked extensively in theatre and has collaborated for many years with Clod Ensemble; with whom she created The Red Chair (published by Methuen) an award winning solo show.

You can follow her on twitter and instagram @sarahcam3ron