It was all about the jugs

link to write up of Metal residency

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Recalibrating Luck, and Hobson’s Choice: Hello Southend!

room with a view: Metal, Southend

Perfect weather to be by the seaside, and ideal conditions for getting naked…

…so doubly lucky me to be in residence at the beautiful Chalkwell Hall – home of Metal, Southend, brainchild of Jude Kelly, OBE – where I have been given two weeks Time & Space to develop my single-breasted life modelling performance, Truth is Beauty.

We recalibrate luck

The amount of times I read women in breast cancer forums, or hear them in support groups,  saying, ‘I was lucky’ – ‘it hadn’t spread to my lymphs….’ or, ‘it was the sort of tumour that responded to chemo/Herceptin/Tamoxifen….’  or, ‘I didn’t get lymphedema’ –I mean, clearly WE WERE’NT ALL THAT LUCKY, WE GOT BREAST CANCER, FFS!

I think part of it is a Pythonesque propensity to look on the bright sidemustn’t grumble –  but also it’s more profound: we DO see how much worse it might have been, and we DO feel lucky to be alive, and (especially if we don’t have religion) we see how close we came, and yes, it does make life feel good. And – even though we own it and it is ours – we ARE  lucky to have an NHS, free at point of need, which gives us choices: what I want to do is to use my experience to build our confidence around how to navigate those choices.

I’ve been learning masses from the discussions that have grown out of my performances. One thing that really floored me was when a fellow B/C survivor challenged my use of the word ‘choice’: she had not, she said, chosen not to have reconstruction; her cancer meant she required a mastectomy, and so that was what she underwent. So what word can we use that expresses the decision not to have reconstruction? To refuse? To ‘elect’ not to? It’s all about negatives and nots, isn’t it? Can we celebrate/embrace something we didn’t choose – our single breasted-ness? (I’d love to see that as an option on a medical form!) If not, then we can at the very least choose not to feel freaky for choosing not to disguise it.

tasselAt the end of my stay here, on Sat Aug 4th I’ll be performing ‘Truth is Beauty’ at a pop-up in Royals Shopping Centre (I visited today, and discovered the central dome is like an enormous single breast: this surely augers well). The event is women-only, and booking is essential (previous experience of life drawing is not required). This will be followed the next day by an exhibition of all the drawings from the event in Metal Art School here at Chalkwell Hall, where I shall give a short (clothed!) reading, open to all – so do come on down  more info and booking.

Today I gave a presentation to some of the smart and lovely TOMA students, and they made me feel like this work I am making is good and necessary – even if ACE just turned my application for funding down for the second time! I am lucky to be here, with my one breast, in a gorgeous Georgian house, in a park with a view of the estuary, with a bowl of strawberries, and the amazing folk of Metal nurturing me and taking my work seriously.

 

 

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Pecha Kucha

On reconstructed women: a very short talk.

On International Women’s Day I went to Southend to give a half pech-kucha – that’s three minutes of chat. What a warm reception. Definitely worth the trip, I’d say…

Metal Southend pecha kucha

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Intimate Tour of Breasts, Birmingham (redux)

On Saturday 7th April, a group of women who had never previously met gathered outside St Agatha’s church in Sparkhill to participate in a three hour adventure, exploring how the commodification and mythologising of breasts within our society – from shops to art galleries, from religion to bras – impacts on how we relate to our own breasts. The walk, commissioned by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, as part of their ‘Coming Out’ exhibition, was an absolute joy. I learnt loads! There have been requests to make this an annual event. Watch this space.

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Paying my dues

me and Rosy Martin

ROSY MARTIN

1992 ‘I never studied photography,’ I tell Rosy; ‘I just made it up as I went along.’ 

‘What ingenue crap,’ Rosy says. She is lying on a kitchen floor in Exeter, blowing cigarette smoke out of a cat flap. We are houseguests of the Visual Arts Officer, who doesn’t smoke. Rosy smokes a lot. Rosy is quite intimidating, but we get on, so long I don’t come out with ingenue crap. 

2017 Rosy and I arrange to meet at a Griselda Pollock lecture, possibly the most Feminist Artist date imaginable. She knows everyone. Afterwards, we eat at a Lebanese place in Camberwell where I lose a scarf the size of a bedsheet. We talk about crediting, collaborating, ground rules, hindsight. I realise I have not been great at crediting. Not much of what I have done has really been all my own work, and this seems important to realise. I want to acknowledge all the people who help. I need people. I can’t manage alone. These are not signs of weakness. Beginning on new collaborations, we discuss the detail of how we shall work; we establish ground rules, agree on how to credit and who owns what. Thanks, Rosy.

(From my catalogue notes, ‘Watch This Space’ exhibition, Goldsmith’s College, Feb/March 2018)

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Birmingham Intimate Tour of Breasts

Today at 1pm  I shall be reprising the Birmingham Intimate Tour of Breasts walk,  (I understand it’s known by staff at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as The “Infamous Tour….” ) with a few changes and additions – not least because it will include the fantastic exhibition Coming Out, who commissioned this walk. Sarah Lucas’ fried egg self portrait, Gillian Wearing’s tee shirts, and Margaret Harrison’s early painting- to mention just three. Also, an update on the availability of post mastectomy lingerie in the city. A good news story! More soon…

 

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Truth Is Beauty

On March 3rd 2018 I gave the second performance of my single-breasted monologue, Truth is Beauty, at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmith’s College.
Here are drawings made by artists and non-artists alike – women who came to hear my story, and who hopefully left understanding a little more about why unreconstructed women like me are so invisible in our society.

Credits: Kim McMahon, Ginni Collison, Mary Morris, Charlotte Morrison, Lydia Julien, Alice Williams, Melody Thomson, Margaret Jennings, Lucie Russell, Angela Hodgson-Teall, Bettina Weichert, Giulia Corpino, Phyllis Lane. (Please be in touch if I have not credited you!)

 

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