Friday, 16 October 2015

Action and Reaction

So many people suffer in our world, through experiencing pain in all of its forms, traumas physical and psychological, personal and political distress, fear that encompasses young and old. Something that affects me personally is neuropathic pain. It can come in the night, tends to hit my left leg particularly, and is like being stabbed repetitively by an onslaught of sharp knives. This attack keeps me pinioned on its force and jerking with spasms until it finally subsides. I can't go to sleep again until the knives at least reduce to needles and the perspiration makes these 'several night-clothes' nights. I wake up exhausted with both legs aching despite the barrage of anti-spasm and supposedly pain-killing tablets I take daily. Actually, they do work to a degree, otherwise I would be incapable of doing anything in this life and that is not my way. It is so important to occupy the brain with, for me, thoughts of creativity and it is very important not to dwell on pain.

Once I am able, I very often stitch. I found years ago that, when my muscles are acting up, hand stitch is just about the only activity my body can do for any length of time; holding my arms in a position to type doesn't last long, my hands don't want to keep writing, painting is impossible and my voice tires very quickly, so a voice-activated computer wouldn't help, so stitch it is and I have found such a wealth of possibilities with this! Another great thing about hand stitch is that it can be carried out even in bed, so my body can get some rest while I work with colours and rhythms in thread and cloth.

It can still be frustrating, despite my love of stitch, not to be able to carry out other activities when I would like to, even jobs in the house! I used to work as an Art Therapist with the elderly and think of how what I used to say to my patients some years ago now applies to me. Illness often causes, in modern parlance, a necessity to reinvent oneself. My creating artwork with the needle may have come about through illness but it is so important now in fighting against the diminishing of the self. I feel it is vital to turn the negativity of pain, when at all possible, into a positively creative act. My pain is nothing compared to what others go through in this world. To listen to the news or watch it on tv only shows how so many people, from tiny children to the elderly, suffer at the hands of others or through the frailty of the human body.

Through creating my art, I wish to give to society, not just be a drain on those around me. In restoring my own sense of self worth, I hope that my experiences can also speak to others and that is part of the reason for this work in the PhD. I experienced the Troubles with the distress they brought to so many; now there are terrible problems that we all face and the solutions are so difficult to come by. If only human beings could love much more and not hate  -  why must intolerance, suspicion and cruelty reign with such appalling force and seem to be so impossible to eradicate? To speak of universal love eventually winning over all that is evil seems, at least as far as this side of the grave is concerned, a naive dream but people do respond with love in this life, not always hate  -  the dream will just take who knows how long to become a reality but slowly, I hope, we can keep spiralling towards it.

The following are a few photos of details of the large piece I am working on at the moment, in places complete with pins! They are not perfect representations of the work but will at least give an idea of it for the moment. I find it can be quite frustrating in the effort to achieve a really good image of textile artwork with the camera  -  highlights and contrasts seem to get exaggerated beyond what they are in reality. I will stitch a little more then spend some time working with the camera to get truer images of the piece.

This image shows some wreckage from the vehicle. What are we looking at? Are these pieces of  metal tubing bits of the vehicle itself or what it held? It is now not possible to know unless perhaps examination from an expert could gradually discover what function these pieces once had. From the point of view of the artwork, it is not necessary to know this because they stand for the needless disintegration of lives that the violence has wrought.

As you see, this has been photographed in the hoop to show a little more of the work in progress.

This image zooms in on the two trees photographed. The camera has picked up on the edges of the silk-painted organza pieces and mulberry bark and has exaggerated the light falling on these.  This will be addressed in part as I complete my stitching but will probably also need to be adjusted photographically.
I have also used many more 'burnt' colours on the trunks of the nearer tree and on another tree (not photographed) in the full piece which were closest to the exploded vehicle than appear in a colour  version of the original photograph. This is because I want to contrast the fresh green of a July countryside in Co Down, where the incident took place, with the unnatural after effects of explosion.

Another of the strange shapes thrown up by the explosion. What once had a recognisable form and function now has become an alien object.

I have included a final close-up of the tree-trunk to show the form of the stitches. All of the work is being done by hand and this matters to me for several reasons, one of which is that the original incident happened through the hands of the bombers, hands used for destructive purposes. However, the hand can also heal and, medically, stitches are used to close wounds; so as a needle punctures cloth, threads then 'heal' the wounded fabric.
At the same time, as the work progresses, colours and rhythms of stitch are slowly transforming the raw material into the image of the incident. Both the event itself and a photograph of its aftermath happened in seconds but, paradoxically, this stitched image will need thousands of stitches and take months of work to complete. The artwork is also not contemporary with the original event which occurred some years ago. The hand of the stitcher, then, could be regarded as mediator and interpreter between the incident as it originally happened and as it is now re-presented in the present moment. To produce a stitch is both a physically active and intellectually meditative act and the image that results is not so much the portrait of a past moment but a scene imbued with the memories of several disparate events. The new conglomerate exists with its own life and perdurance in time.

That the artwork is beginning to have its own life and meaning was vividly made clear to me just the other day when a friend made a very interesting observation on the work. She said how my use of colour, the burnt browns and contrasting green foliage, made her think of camouflage on an army uniform. This had not been in my thoughts as I stitched but it is only too sadly appropriate to the occasion in that it was rogue elements in the armed forces who carried out both the bombing, killing themselves in the process, and the shooting that followed.

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