Today we have a weather warning for heavy rain, flooding and thunder. The day is cold at 24 degrees and I haul out warmer clothes.
An attempt to roll outdoors is abandoned when the slick surface and rivers of water make rolling hazardous. The umbrella seeps rain, my raincoat seeps rain, I arrive back in need of comfort food and drink. I get both in a bowl. A strangely nutty brown thick Chinese treat, thicker than drink, thinner than cake, hot and eaten with a spoon.
Outside it rains, inside I ponder the green and colourful backstreets of Tokyo. The variegated liriope are blossoming purple and all sorts of small plants are joining in the colour chorus. Greenery that was looking tired and brown is perking up or flattening to the ground. The excavations for new buildings are a quagmire of brown squelch.
The little tin shacks that are part of the demolition, gape empty of contents, flapping tarpaulins into the rain.
Dotted between new high rises there are these occasional wood and tin constructions. They look dark and abandoned except for the riot of well tended greenery in a variety of decaying plastic containers outside. I have wondered if they were lock-ups or even tiny businesses, but little ancient men and women have been observed entering and exiting. The conclusion is that they own these places, live in them and don't want to move. The developers can wait. There is always something, somewhere, to develop.
The day is not a complete washout. Today is the day I got my camera back. It was handed in to a neighbourhood policeman. There are many small police offices along the streets; our local one has, among others, a charming fellow who gets regular visitors who stroll by for a chat.
Although I reported the camera missing at the main police station, procedure required that I visit the local office to fill out forms and the delay was because I felt I needed a translator.
Once the forms were completed, a phone call ascertained that a camera sounding like mine had indeed been handed in. To collect it I should go to the main local office; again I was happiest with an interpreter - not wanting to fall foul of a technicality.
Today it rains, there is no wind, just
pearls of white water cascading from
the sky, rushing to Sumida's side
where she lays tossing and turning
under a pointillist blanket of
black pock-marks. Rushing and skipping
steps and slopes, water gathers and pools,
rivers it's own way to Sumida's side;
Sumida, who heaves and swells with
the burden of water. Wild water
cascading rain-chains, spouting from pipes,
easing, seeping, trickling, torrenting
waterfalls, ruffling Sumida's
heaving blanket; children rushing
home to their heavy, pregnant mother.
Tokyo Hands is today's main attraction. The best one I know is in Shinjuku, home of Tokyo's metropolitan government and boasting the busiest station in the world. We need to change train lines to get there and decide to do that at Tokyo station.
Last time I was there, access from one line to another at Tokyo station was through a non-public series of underground warrens. Things have improved, but it's quite some distance and there was still a short non-public area to be escorted through; on the way I noticed some leaking roof - earthquake damage.
The Shinjuku Tokyo Hands - the famous lifestyle store, shares a building with a department store which has a massive floor full of fabrics, yarns, buttons and other fascinating haberdashery. We estimate my hours spent in this store combo has revealed only about one tenth of its delights so far.
The building sits in Times Square - across the road from the station. There are many people milling about as we cross the large open spaces and bridge into the building which we enter on the second floor.
And I loose count of the number of wheelborne people I meet during this day.
One thing I did notice, getting off the train, my ramp man was my ramp man and nothing would distract him. A woman was waiting to get on and her ramp man was not in position, but she was not allowed to use my ramp which was whisked away and locked in its cupboard (the ramps are neat, lightweight and foldable). Rules are rules and station staff, mindful of safety, usually stick rigidly to them; this includes set procedures with accompanying hand gestures.
Impatient, she did a wheelie onto the train.
This particular Tokyo Hands is 8 floors of everything. I guess it's possible to acquire most of the stuff online, but I get great delight in seeing, touching and weighing my choices. And also inspiration for projects from fabulous stumble-upon items; today's quest is for hardware and haberdashery.
Lunch, on the 12th floor of the building, offers a choice between Japanese or foreign. Our first choice has a long and patient queue sitting outside. We opt for second choice Tai. The large restaurant has indoor seating, part-covered balcony seating and a wide open viewing balcony for a stroll and view over this part of Tokyo with it's many skyscrapers. On a good day you can see Fuji-San from Tokyo, but the weather has been overcast, hot and humid since I arrived. We eat outside, I choose mixed seafood (which includes crab and cuttlefish) with rice and Tai curry sauce, prawn fritters with salad and mango lassi. Japanese Tai food is differently aromatic, fruity and delicious.
When I am finally dragged out of the store with a bagful of treasures we take the train back to Tokyo station, but decide to walk home from there instead of taking the metro, because the wheelchair route in and through the station complex takes almost as long as walking home; add in the extra time it takes ramp man to get me onto the train plus the actual journey time and we gain ten whole minutes, plus greenery and fresh air.
What, I wonder does this tell me about
a Tokyo view of life? Where I have
difficulty finding fabric, here there
are miles of it. When I need hardware with
character I struggle to find recycled
access, here there is Tokyo Hands. Back
home there is online or the nightmare of
London travel. For all it's size and the
density of people, Tokyo seems
a more relaxed, people place; where life is
nudging office spaces in creative
intrusion. People see just what they are
ready to see. I am ready to see
somewhere accessible and creative;
find life here a paradox of patterns
and rules alongside freedoms and choices,
crowded and empty, noisy and peaceful,
and always somewhere to sit, the welcome
of somewhere to eat, food of inspiration.
Prompted by Doraemon, the cartoon figure, and memories of a previous exhibition, I revisit Marunouchi and discover in Marunouchi Building a one day event which confuses me somewhat. It's a fashion show (the only event information in English, but this description might mean anything) sponsored by Eye Coffret Cafe, which seems to be a contact lens retailer. The lenses are described as 'base make', possibly a link to make-up and foundation, because they have a natural brown iris edge around the rim of the lens. Make-up for eyeballs.
The fashion show is unremarkable.
Marunouchi Building is close to Brick Square, a courtyard garden area with seating and changing pieces of sculpture. It's one of my favourite spots in Tokyo. There are high rise buildings on two sides, low old fashioned ones on the other two. The high rise has garden-greened walls and the place is wonderfully peaceful, with little paths through the garden, a bubble fountain and lots of seating. This time there is a gold coloured Bernard Meadows modernist sculpture looking vaguely anatomical, called Lovers and a Tomihisa Handa piece in pink granite that looks just a little like an oversize chair seat planted on edge in the greenery.
Brick Square also hosts my favourite shop, called Pass the Baton, it sells recycled goods - from ancient toys to vintage clothes and household items, plus exquisite plants; tiny bonsai, baby plants in creative small containers, and small trees.
Marunouchi's wide tree lined avenues host outdoor sculpture too, but this year's offering looks to me rather like badly drawn fantasy images of people cut out of corrugated cardboard, with maybe a nod to Picasso. Tokyo has something for everyone.
I cannot tell where Marunouchi becomes Ginza, but late lunch was sushi in Ginza; a beautiful leaf shaped plate in autumn colours with a selection of fresh raw fish - the usual suspects plus sea urchin, crab and cooked eel. The wasabi was fresh and hot and the picked ginger quite fiery; good sushi.
Complimentary dessert was a green tea blancmange with a red bean topping and a tiny star of fresh whipped cream.
At the weekends the main through-roads in Ginza become pedestrian and the atmosphere changes completely. There is a noticeable increase in the number of small dogs being perambulated - I use the word deliberately because many of them do have their own prams.
Often coordinated with the owner's accessories, but sometimes just over-the-top outrageous, these prams do also get used as shopping trollies and are a lot easier to cope with on a busy street than the sort dragging behind their English owners.
This weekend I saw a 'bridal' dog pram; white with white lace and copious frills and finished off with bouquets of white silk flowers, the pram was accompanied by a similarly accessorised Pomeranian dog and a nondescript owner.
Eye Coffret Cafe, not somewhere
for refreshment, just a place to
enhance your irises. Fascination
with foreign words stops at the sound,
but much as I roll the words round
in my mouth, the attraction eludes
me who likes to have fun with words.
Deuxieme classe, rope picnic,
names that do not conjure images
of quality clothes, if you know
what I mean. And chilli salad
beauty salon, much as I try
does not speak to me of fiery
beauty; proving that I cannot
think a Japanese thought and am
loaded with my own word burdens
links and trains of associations,
but just when I think this is all
a joke, I stumble upon some
truly witty wordplay that leaves
a smile on my face, a sense of
connection like a shared secret.
Every year the Aoyama Gakuin University (AGU) holds an open 2 day event for young people - starting from three to seven year olds and introducing them to creative fun, games and technology. It's maybe the second best such event in Japan so I'm off to check it out.
At the station it's easy to figure out which way to go, there is a steady stream of children and young people heading down the road; I follow.
AGU was founded by American Methodists in 1949 and there is a statue of John Wesley at the main entrance opposite the United Nations University in Shibuya.
It's not immediately clear where the level access is, but a steward leads me to a way in without steps. There is an elevator and loads of small children with parents or carers and quite a few young teens too. There are lots of young people stewarding the event.
In the first room there is a colourful, giant model rocket created by a 3D doodle pen; there are tiny shapes too, in display cases and a quiet table where slightly older children are making their own 3D models; it might be the only quiet area in the place.
There are so many things to explore: robots to programme, computers to build, iPads to get creative with, quirky little games to build and play.
I was offered lots of literature, all in Japanese and on explaining that I don't read the language was smiled at sweetly and told,'but you can like us on Facebook'
There are hundreds of happy, well behaved children. The university canteen is open for lunches and I share a table with a bright and confident, wheelborne little girl.
AGU is very close to Omotesando and after lunch I roll around and explore. There are some very creative pieces of architecture in Omotesando: 'there is hardly a world famous architect who hasn't built something here' to quote pingmag.jp. The Japanese Nursing Association (Kisho Kurokawa Architects) and Hugo Boss (Japanese architect Norihiko Dan) buildings pause me in my tracks. Omotesando Hills, designed by Tadeo Ando is creative blend of new recycled, rebuilt and impressive structures.
And at tea time there is a new cupcake shop to check out. On the way I pass two of the famous, very slow moving, Japanese queues; the first, snaking down the street, is for access to a tiny shop (up two short flights of steps), selling popcorn; the second is for the current it-food, Hawaiian-style hamburgers.
There are a lot of posters for the Tokyo Vogue Big Night Out - here on September 6th, as if anyone needed more encouragement for shopping.
I keep an eye open for the little modern atmospheric cafe where I previously enjoyed twig tea, but it has gone. In its place a pub-style bar selling Guinness has expanded into the space next door.
Is it just my state of mind, or is
architecture being influenced
by a cartoonish style of thinking?
Becoming a parody of its
former self, when not stamped out by rote.
In the race to be noticed, famous
for fifteen, is it really fit for
purpose? Or just too far from truth?
Doodle pen designs for big boys toys;
a threeD version of virtual
becomes a collection of wardrobes;
virtual doors to a parallel
treadmill where shopping becomes as much
of an obligation as work for
the conscientious citizen.
Or am I merely projecting my
own escape from the reality
into the accessible and non
judgemental haven that is my own
personal view of Tokyo
Today's outing to Roppongi is to see a display of 60 variations on what looks to me like a cartoon cat; a blue blob with whiskers who can go anywhere through a magic door. I'm optimistically reminded of the 100 or so artist decorated figures I discovered in the skyscraper Marunouchi Building on a previous visit.
When we get there, the Roppongi Hills figures have gone, but there is a lot of promotional material for a Gaudi exhibition at the Mori Gallery - an outing for next week.
A snap decision sees us returning to the metro to go back one stop. The man-with-the-ramp has fun here (only once have I been assisted by a woman-with-a-ramp, it is usually a man), because we are only travelling one stop he gets to come with me. At Kamiyacho station there is also a man-with-a-ramp waiting for me; after some initial animosity, my ramp man breaks the ice, gives way and the two of them exchange bows.
There is a brand new shopping centre here, another Mori building; more glass, marble and steel and some artwork. Universe 29 is a black and silver piece in stainless steel by Zhan Wang; Untying Space, flowing rivers of black on white glass walls by Sun K Kwak, interprets the flow of people coming in and out of this building with its 30 floors of offices, apartments and a hotel.
At the six entrances to the office floors another set of site specific works by Toru Kamiya consist of acrylic sheets each painted in a graduating colour relating to gemstones that reflect the jewel colours found locally.
As yet the space is strangely devoid of shops, but awash with places to eat. There is a flower shop (I have a weakness for Japanese flower shops), and a bookshop. Many Japanese people read books on the metro - books in anonymous covers; the fashion for phone games seems to be waining.
The 52 story complex building is more like a complex of buildings. There is a beautiful open air garden on the second level, some orange coloured 'mountains' for small children to play on, and a half-level higher there is a romantic moon balcony garden.
Moon and space themes seem to be fashionable right now.
And to celebrate the opening, this new building boasts two of the cartoon blobs: Doraemon and his new business-cat relative, Toranomon (a similar shape, but white with ears; the new building's mascot uses a time machine rather than a magic door). Toranomon, also the name of the building, means Tiger's Gate and was the name of the southernmost gate of Edo Castle.
I'm less than impressed with Doraemon, having seen him in the plastic, but he's very popular in Japan.
I'm even less impressed by the brand new platform lift that requires the user to call for assistance and then takes forever to travel down a very short flight of steps. But it does look good.
Independent access requires going outside, but only a very short distance.
The 'go anywhere door' is where to hide
from life. The 'go anywhere door' is for
a peter-pan style cartoon escape, for
manga and anime, for ninja and
cosplay and even for cute little maids
without cafés; the 'go anywhere door'
is the door to the centre of your own
personal universe; somewhere safe from
the undesirable past, but also
a pause from the unappealing future.
'Go anywhere door' is the illusion
of going nowhere, but leaving its mark
on gene-culture-coevolution. One
person can alone, inhabit the world.
Making the best sense I can of the little bits of Tokyo I am becoming familiar with is a gradual thing. Nothing is static, nothing is set in stone. And the Japanese strangers who converse with me may have their own agenda. More Japanese than ever are making the attempt. Notices and instructions in English are increasing, I put this all down to preparations for the Olympics - it's a prestige thing.
A conversation about culture leads into talking fairy tales. How do children get introduced to the culture that will shape their lives? The Japanese birth rate is falling, the government are doing their best to reverse the trend, but it seems to me that the commercial world is working harder. Babies are being promoted as utterly adorable and their electronic, brightly coloured plastic toys are awash with sugary-sweet jingles.
Japanese children's stories, so I'm told, are cute and uplifting, these days there is nothing like little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. Japanese childhood is cute, creative and full of positive reinforcement - right up to the moment when an institution steps in and regimentation takes over.
There is tremendous institutional pressure not be be different. Historically not standing out, not being or doing different, meant being invisible and being invisible was safe - possibly. Belief in the power of normal invisible has cultural and superstitious weight behind it.
Once they are finished with school, a very high percentage of young people are rebelling; refusing to step on the treadmill of tradition, choosing not to marry or have children and refusing to be invisible.
Visible appears to replace equal - it being so much more desirable than equality. The fight is for the right to diversity.
I'm reminded of Vincent Van Gogh: 'Normality is a paved road, easy to walk, but no flowers grow on it.'
Today flowers on the path will not be beheaded by samurai swords, but by diminishing public disapproval.
There appear to be more exotic young people than ever, peopling even the most reserved and conservative areas - exotic in new and exciting, but still very identifiably Japanese ways.
I've been here only a short while,
yet already I hear people
bemoan the harshness of the work
ethic; the undesirable
fifty and sixty hour weeks;
the faceless monotony of
existence. Accepting this as
a personal burden, the choice
to be responsible, but not
expecting the new generation
to make the same sacrifices;
lacking the energy to mould,
or to batter the youth into
submission. Who would want the right
to that kind of equality? Who
would not choose a different path?
The fight, the silent opting out
protest of youth, is for the right
to be different, to be
individual. There is no
great appetite for community
or family when the cost is
identity. Equality just
confuses the issue.
Waiting for the guys to come and service my wheelchair, I watched the tail-end of a TV programme that had a sweet sounding Japanese female cooing about the laying and hatching of insect eggs and the emergence of new life. It was followed by a male voice talking the science of stars in the night sky.
A young female appeared on screen with a sketch pad, followed by a mature male who explained the sky to her and allowed her to look through his giant telescope while she marvelled and cooed in surprise and delight.
This short segment was followed by an adorable young female in an apron and spectacles being educated, by a grandfatherly figure, about pollination and the growing, ripening and harvesting of food.
The important thing here I was told, was that the voice of the older generation should be heard.
The TV screen rocks ominously while I wait.
My wheelchair has been making a clicking noise when the wheel turns. The engineer assures me this is caused by the age of the seat (I've had this chair for two years) and I find myself nodding gratefully in spite of logic, thanking him in a softer, higher pitch of voice to the one I would normally use, and generally acting like 'normal' person.
Who am I?
I give the chair a trial run; I click slowly until I build up speed and click faster. No one seems to notice, even the birds don't seem to care. There are a lot of birds in Tokyo. Busy flocks of sparrows, corvids, gulls and pigeons abound on the streets while in the green spaces more exotic birds thrive. It took my local birds a while to realise how unthreatening wheelborne people can be; these birds already seem to know.
I roll back wondering just how long I can cope with the clicking. I consider bringing back the engineer, but decide to wait. He is moving to a different area and I have already been introduced to the man who will service my chair next year. He speaks a little English. It seems as if everyone close enough to Ginza (where the Olympic village will be situated), is happy to be practicing their English already.
Who do I think I am
if my ancestors are
so quietly, culturally
invisible - as normal
as possible? Who do I
think I am if being
unnoticed is who I was?
Is being normal more
important than being
me? Who do I think I am
when there is only
Very Important Person
and nobody. Who do
I think I am when times change
and half the world is busy
working on their fifteen
minutes of fame? And it's
entirely possible that
in fifteen minutes
everybody will be
famous. Who do I think
I am when men and women
are happy to co-exist
on different planets?
It's the biting season, hot and humid with the electric fizz of cicadas interfering with my tinnitus. I make a second foray to the river - passing a gigantic hole in the ground where a new building will shortly enhance the space. The earth is a rich dark brown, almost black in places; the river itself is less red-brown, more grey today.
I decide to roll on into Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market, and maybe further to reacquaint myself with the new Kabuki theatre and Wako - surely the most boring department store in the land, yet boasting some of the most creative shop windows.
I pass another wheelborne person on the way. I also get addressed by several Japanese men who separately enquire how I am and if I need assistance. Maybe I look lost; actually I'm feeling right at home on this familiar route.
Subtle changes in the area around the Tsukiji fish market remind me that the inner market is set to move; the Olympics being the catalyst that will set this much debated happening in motion. I notice that the area is going slowly up-market - in keeping with its surroundings: designer shops and the theatre.
The new Kabuki-za has settled in well; it is very similar to the old one, a designated Tangible Cultural Property, which it replaced last year. Replaced because the old theatre was worn out (possibly unsafe in an earthquake) and did not offer barrier-free access. I can find no translated information about the performance, but judging from the posters this is a much darker piece than the one I saw last year.
I roll on into Ginza and the Wako window. It is 'peopled' by very large black and gold giraffes; their hoofed legs are black at the bottom and stand out in the gold space. Their bodies are out of sight, but their gold decorated necks dip down into the window space so that their heads are also visible.
It's hard to tell, but they may be made of card or paper...
It starts to rain and I begin my return journey. At the next road crossing a Japanese man holds his umbrella over me and attempts a conversation. I insist I am ok in the rain, but he persists. Happily he is ready to say goodbye just before we get to the river and it is then I discover my camera is missing. I had it in my lap after photographing the giraffes, it will have slid off and I was a little too stressed to notice.
The quirky little inaccessible mysteries
are disappearing. Steps up, steps down, levelled out
in favour of smooth, modern marble; and beaded curtains
gone for sliding doors. Tiny spaces suddenly wider.
Tsukiji begins to mirror Ginza, and the prices
surely follow. The accessible environment has
glass and marble homogeneity, succumbs to
market values, commercial viability. The
magic of early morning sushi will be just beyond
reach when Tsukiji market moves to clean marble halls
out on an island with no history. The atmosphere
of life changes to make way for new people, for new
ways to be Japanese. For new ways to be tourist.
Approaching the Tokyo apartment, I'd made a joke about the familiar British look of the very patched up road outside. Next morning it was gone - the road that is. There was merely a river of rubble.
The workmen looked very concerned when they saw me looking to exit the main entrance of the building for a day out, but we assured them I could leave the other way - through the bicycle storage area. It has one steep step which, with help, is just possible to negotiate.
In the early evening when we returned, one side of the road was re-surfaced, the other was almost finished; there was just one last metre to finish off. I was suitably impressed.
The day out was to Lalaport to check out some new eateries for a small celebration meal.
Judging by the promotional posters, Japanese Metro is already gearing up for the 2020 Olympics. Our local station has a poster of a red-robed Santa wearing Japanese Geta (a sort of blend of flip-flop and clog), carrying a fan and asking: 'Where are the fireworks?' under the slogan 'Here to serve everybody.'
In Lalaport we ended up in the Italian restaurant with a very Japanese version of Italian food. These eateries are part of a small development of 24 new shops; every year there are new buildings with new versions of the shopping experience. I noticed a large sign, in English, proudly proclaiming that the Indian restaurant uses Japanese curry rice.
Some of the restaurants had queues outside. The Italian one had a long queue of mostly young Japanese people of clearly diverse ethnic origins.
There were a lot of wheelchairs there. Some of them occupied by elderly or disabled people. Some were neatly folded and parked. The parked chairs, unlike the many bicycles, were not padlocked, but I noticed that some had bright attractive colours and I had a flash of chair envy.
Suddenly Japan is peopled by many races;
my inner eye opens to details I never
observed before; the small, swathed ladies who scurry
under summer parasols are culturally,
racially different to the frilly manga doll
whose mobile phone is almost not - the bulk of charms
the size of a small cat swinging. And the guys in
shorts and foot-form sandals; I notice the textures
of hair, shades of skin, shapes of faces and angles
of eyes. I realise I have seen them all before
in ukiyo-e, the woodblock prints, without quite
appreciating the subtleties of this form
of communication; seduced by the myth of
us and gaijin. But in truth, the Japanese are
A smooth landing and fast, easy entry into the land of the rising sun, sees me speeding in a Skyliner train into Tokyo from Narita airport. The journey is familiar.
Japan's created geography can change as speedily as that traumatised by the natural phenomena that occur in this part of the world, yet certain things remain. The perfect rectangles of cultivated land, and the jungle effects of foresting trees dwarfed by bamboo - all tangled together with rampant vines, these things repeat between pockets of densely built-up areas that grow ever larger and closer together as we near the giant sprawl of Tokyo.
Scattered like dice across a gaming table, the equality of chance appears to dictate the position of these dwellings clinging to the surface of frequently inhospitable landscapes.
And I return to thinking about equality, something that might seem so clearly definable to Western thinking; I return to thoughts about its quality, it's values and it's visible, knowable face.
I'm wondering how loud a NIMBY could afford to shout, here where this equality seems so much less of an issue; where other values dominate and confuse western sensibilities.
I arrive with all the bias of a pro-Japanese visitor, the one with the little body of experience and the growing gaijin knowledge. I arrive with a mixture of trepidation and comfortable relief.
Brown girl in the wind; I run
on fast wheels to see Sumida
and never has she looked so
brown, a rich russet, rusty
river, chop-dancing in a
cooling breeze, glinting in the
eyes of gulls. Glass castles of
the eager children of men
reflect on her brownness
as their shadows bounce in her
lap. Sumida hurries land
to the sea. Torrential rain,
sliding everyday lives from
their roots, gathering smallest
details, histories and hopes
with a wild energy that
does not last, leaves only the
brown earth to river's embrace
and Sumida flees, eager
to be free of the burden.
Brown river washing the land;
brown girl in the wind.
You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but times change and flying gets more stressful as the world grows steadily more bizarre. Checking in with my wheelchair became a strange Groundhog-type scenario. Three times at different points I was required to give the same information about my chair, far more detailed info than in previous years, and even then I was stopped before actually boarding, and required to give wheelchair details that had somehow been missed.
Checking in I was given a 'better' seat, but special assistance then appeared to forget about me in the designated waiting area. Consequently I was the last passenger to board; usually wheelborne people get loaded-up first. I was getting seriously anxious. The flight was being delayed.
The better seat had an airbag in the seat-belt which would consequently not fit around me plus my support cushions. I was quite stressed by then. Mike, the inboard manager, took an instant decision to move me to first class. I travelled in my own little cubicle.
I take warm clothes and a hot water bottle when I fly, usually I'm freezing. On this plane I was comfortably warm - good preparation for Tokyo where the forecast was for thirty degrees of warmth the morning I arrived.
Cabin crew are always very helpful, but first class crew really do go the extra mile. Mike came and apologised for the seating 'malfunction' and assured me that no-one had taken the real thickness of my cushions into account, it was certainly not because I was too large. Sitting very comfortably in first class with real, edible food, I didn't really think the apology was necessary.
We are two hundred and eighty odd souls on board,
just living our lives in the sky for twelve hours.
Not thinking about disappearing or being
blown apart we are taking a northerly route
to Japan. I'm warm and comfortable and I
have slept. I have an aisle-seatbed with view, I've
eaten barbecued tiger prawns and blueberry
hotcakes. I have reason to ponder privilege.
And more reasons to think about equality.
Oh no! I won't be there. I'm so sorry; truly sad, mostly for myself, but also because I feel like I'm letting everyone down. I can't make it and it's definitely not because I feel like the second is an anti-climax; after the first one I'm even keener on a second.
I was like that with my own children. Sort of timid about the first: over-the-moon, but scared of the unknown. And then, well words fail me. It was amazing, he was amazing and I couldn't wait for baby number two.
As it happened, baby number two was a miscarriage. Now I have this legacy of uncertainty that lingers disconcertingly around every pregnancy I care about.
This one is no different.
Most times I worry without cause...
Like a pregnancy, Unlimited grows
with a sense of anticipation. This
second child will emerge without fanfares
of Olympic proportions; without the
international attention bestowed
by visitors to games of another
culture. The head is crowning when public
empathy, when solidarity with
diversity and disability
is in free-fall. It may be up to us,
the family, to give this birth all the
attention and celebration that proud
people can rejoice to offer new life;
hope around which family, friends, lovers
and neighbours might meet to build a future.
I am longing to respond to Dolly Sen's blog of 20th July 2014, with encouraging reports of bedlam spreading through the country...
Similarly, the proliferation of arty ovine quotes, making more and less sense of the wolf since maybe its the black dog...
Winston Churchill said that 'Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd.' Not sure I can make any sense of it, but would add: 'there is something about making things beautiful (me - bedlambs), and we sometimes call that art, that has something to do with creating a commonality between human beings so that they don't kill each other' - and Milton Glaser said that.
Accompanying 'self-made person' my soft-sculpture, empty vessel in Salisbury Arts Centre's Homegrown: Artificial Things exhibition, is a smaller vessel made of Fatsia Japonica leaves. It has its parallel classification card:
Mirroring the seven soft-sculpture hands that are in the process of creation, the palmate leaves of the Fatsia are like hands with fingers cupped open to form the shape of a bowl. With their stems removed, the hand-like leaves have remained green for longer than the control leaves which are now butter yellow and chocolate brown.
There are actually two bowls, the one with the fingers opening upwards collapses softly around the second bowl which sits inside it.
Equally without moisture, the second bowl with its finger-leaves pointing downward, the fingers fletted to form its base, nevertheless retains its shape so that visually it gradually emerges from the structure as the first bowl recedes into the base.
They are each held together with strands of phormium, the New Zealand flax, which becomes hard and almost brittle with age, without first softening, like the Fatsia. Both Fatsia bowls will become dry and crisp as the exhibition progresses.
They sit living and dying even as the soft-sculpture appears immutable.
I would content that AMHS* has made
no significant evolution in the past
hundred-odd years, concentrating its focus
instead on progressing the technology
that allows it to run obediently
behind. I speculate that equality
will only evolve because technology
knows no difference, sees us all as willing
servants to its indifferent acquisition
of power. Clown-prince or princess has no
gender, race, disability or story.
The future tyrant will have no use for land
or gold, evolve itself free of fossil-fuel
and run a clean ship to our glory and shame.
*AMHS: these four letters, an acronym or initialism, give free reign to my imagination. Standing for Anatomically Modern Homo Sapiens, they expose both comic and tragic implications.
'I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.'
This quote from Malcolm Gladwell highlights a persistent contradiction in me that isn't at all helpful for my artist when it comes to exhibiting, publishing or otherwise putting my stuff into the public domain. I write, I make the stuff that gets under my skin. I grab words that nudge at my consciousness and peer minutely at them. They may not be the whole story, but hand-lettered or laid out in a carefully chosen font, hung on a wall or placed on display, they become fixed tethers that immediately seek to limit the fluidity of my evolution.
The Soft Sculpture project weaving through aspects of my life, and the longings of my heart, over these last almost six years, attempts to keep itself up to date with my contradictions. For 'People Like You', Jessie (a prone soft sculpture figure) was gathered in from the earlier 'Bare Boards and Blue Stilettos' installation, when I belatedly realised she was actually part of the Soft Sculpture project.
The fact that it spans an evolution in my being and thinking, does mean it gets easier to exhibit. I have seen the work make its own connections, take flight in other directions allowing me greater scope to evolve. I don't feel so boxed in.
The latest edition to the collection of life-size figures is in fact no longer recognisable as a figure. Kouros began the cycle, a complete male figure, missing only his arms and hands; Kosta evolved into a similar figure, but his legs had morphed into roots and roots also sprouted from his body.
Fons retained only the head on a torso of tangled roots. The latest figure is an empty vessel formed of the coiled roots and in the process of being shaped by seven diminishing hands, it comes with a neat white card containing details of its family classification.
From an idea I was barely conscious of, to something that dominated my attention, this structure was as demanding as any of the previous figures.
It has now left home. Wednesday 2nd July it makes it's debut at Salisbury Arts Centre at the annual Homegrown exhibition preview.
Today has that shocking
kick in the gut pain of missing
you. A bewilderment
that no amount of logic
can drive away from the
evolution of me; the new
person who grows into
the spaces you left behind;
spaces that reveal themselves
with a brutality that is both
heartbreaking and familiar;
emotional turmoil that is
integral to the new life in ways
the person I used to be.
Salisbury Arts Centre: Homegrown: Artificial Things from 3rd July - 17th August 2014
Salisbury Arts Centre is open Tuesday - Sunday 10am - 3pm (subject to closure during performances).
For more information please click on this link
Looking back at May weekends' sky colours, I'm a little dismayed by how grey the 24hr Salisbury weekend sky has turned out. Fascinating cloud formations, but still grey.
Inspired by Dai Fujiwara, I was drawn to doing my own colour hunting of Salisbury sky. I haven't figured out if it's a distraction or seeds for a new direction.
My little camera tends to interpret the onset of evening with quite a decent illusion of blue, so it looks like things are improving around eight in the evening. Again before dawn there is a bright spot, but then most days do start out reasonably well and I'm getting quite fond of early morning.
Looking back through this small archive of sky images, I can't help thinking about the photography being exhibited at Salisbury Arts Centre as part of SIAF (Salisbury International Arts Festival). These stunning photographs of Icelandic sky, complete with volcanic ash clouds, are probably taken with a state of the art camera. Certainly they have been captured by a proper photographer. Yet here I am with some amazing images - all thanks to technology.
My camera is nothing special, but even so it is packed with enough techy stuff to produce images that to my amateur-photographer mind, are surprisingly, fascinatingly full of detail.
I like the in-focus flying bird and a wonderful sparkly night sky, thanks to the flash illuminating raindrops in a sleepy midnight experiment (actual stars are beyond my camera's scope).
And it's the surprise element that draws my attention; I've heard myself complain that art these days has evolved to be not much more than surprise. It's all about doing something new, unexpected and shocking and I have railed that this is often apparently at the expense of any sort of quality or craftsmanship. I struggle (sometimes in these blogs) with any definition of what art is.
When I came to England I was shocked by the apparent chasm between notions of what was art and what was 'merely' craft; and the shockingly narrow concept of 'fine art'.
Things have changed, but with galloping technology, where is the place of craftsmanship in England, now or in the future?
At the Hay Festival someone made a remark about handwriting - the need to brush-up on this rare craft activity - and thinking about my own deteriorating scrawl, I finally had that eureka moment. Craftsmanship is actually too important to be tucked away inside any of my struggling definitions of art.
It needs it's own Very Important Status. I shouldn't be seeking to experience it propping up rubbish and mediocre arts; craftsmanship, the real thing, is way too magnificent.
And suddenly I felt a whole load happier about Duchamp's Fountain, Tracy Emin's Bed, Sarah Lucas' Self Portraits - maybe.
I still can't embrace Damian Hurst's Dots, but they are a whole other story...
And I haven't figured, to my own satisfaction, where disability arts sits in all this, except I refer myself back to Tolstoy who wrote words about art that I think I can identify with (stuff can get mangled in translation). He did say art was about surprise, but I don't imagine he was talking about the kind of surprise that triggers self-protective denial, thus rendering itself inaccessible. He said that 'a real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between (the receiver) and the artist'.
So... I don't withdraw my mutterings about art that is nothing more than contrived shock. Work that is purely for its shocking effect needs some other definition, some other category within the art umbrella, to shelter under.
I don't intend to advocate censorship, but feel the art world needs some more joined-up self-regulatory awareness. Rather like the tabloid journals, galleries and promoters, curators, collectors and dealers could take a more holistic perspective on their activities. Maybe that way some of the good stuff might not get buried under the momentarily sensational.
And work that is surprising, breaking down separations only by virtue of technology? Now that's another story too...
Twenty four, a day and
a night's worth of hours
something so ordinary
the taken for granted
repetition of waking
eating, working, sleeping.
Yet each hour unique and
open to be filled with
passion, conviction, quest;
with the words, the deeds, the touch
that will stop your heart from
breaking: your senses from
shattering in the dismay
of realisation, the
aching regret of time
When you look back, twenty four
hours, days, years from now
will you feel regret, feel
hunger for time ignored?
How long since you updated your profile?
For someone enchanted by Anais Nin and the concept of fluid personality I've been ridiculously negligent about my profile.
On Dao I'm still the wooden-puppet wordsmith, a profile arrived at by the same kind of looking back that a resume, a CV, requires; and I'm notoriously bad at delivering one of those. I am my work, not my CV.
I do still enjoy the sound of wordsmith, it conjures memories of sounds comprehensible only to me and people who are now themselves only memories.
But the conscious process of smithing has diminshed, the act of collating the finished words has become too immediate, too urgent. Digging around in the how and why, I might discover some other descriptor.
So how do I write poetry? Do I have a technique?
I write like I draw.
I collect images, put them somewhere inside my head and let them go.
I write and I draw the process of making sense
I've always done both like breathing. I just don't remember when I started drawing or writing.
I wrote in English, Danish and my own private made-up language. I kept a poetry diary, but always assumed that my lack of technical language skills rendered these scribbles worthless..
I had more confidence in my drawing. I've always felt confident about creating visual images and eventually the words, demanding words, just started to creep in around the edges. The gestation period for images tends to be longer and more precarious, so I needed to be watchful that the words didn't take over.
When I was homeless and there was no possibility of an actual creative practice, I learned to be so much more attentive to the present moment, to hide stuff away in my head, not attempting any specific memory and with no overall plan. I practiced letting go to be in the present and open out my attention. Structure was problematic so occasionally I would buy a little something exquisite and live with it until the end of the day when I would leave it somewhere - in the hopes that somebody or something would find it beautiful or useful.
When I acquired my home, I wrote and drew everything. I kept a paper record of the present moment. Words and doodles packed into colourful folders I've never revisited, were just a different way of letting go. And I had all this stuff in my head, in my gut, burning, making links, jumping boundaries, refining and redefining itself to rocket its own way out, setting fire to the daily scribble.
When it finally did I was no longer just keeping diaries. People started calling me a poet.
I make daily space for visual images that are no less demanding, no less urgent and somehow integral to the realisation of who I am becoming.
I'm flowing with words, words that murmur and swirl; words that demand I be attentive and follow where they lead. Words that require me to focus and not get distracted by the superfluous.
Words that insist and persist and won't let me go.
Ego presumes to inform me
that I am. That being me is something
consistent, someone whole, someone
who faces the world as an entity;
someone keen to be seen with one face.
One stable personality, without flaws
of multiplicity, consistent of emotion,
recognisable through the fast moving
structures of modernity; and yet
I am only today. Tomorrow I will need
to adjust to circumstances, to failure
and success. To re-evaluation and possibility.
To be, I need to be open to embrace
you and the persons you become.
I need to remain unfinished. Un-entrenched
in the person being formed.
The person who may only become
one complete being
through a process of
years after the existence
Sometimes a word will haunt me - together with it's its partnerships, marriages and associations:
Something that impairs or detracts
from physical perfection; defect
a planar fracture or discontinuity
in a volume of rock. A minor
character weakness; significant
displacement resulting from
earth movement. A break in the
earth's crust that can, nevertheless
result in stunning geography.
Invisible or quirky, minuscule
or mammoth; breathtaking
I grew up with the flag flying.
The halyard whipping against the flagpole in our garden was a constant reminder of celebration. Birthdays and special occasions were always accompanied by the full size rectangle of cloth, sometimes cracking loudly in high winds; I remember once the flagpole actually broke. Other times the heavy oblong hung languidly, still in sultry weather.
On completely other occasions we used the long narrow vimpel, with it's elegant pointed end the finger of fairy tales, of fiery dragons, fierce goblins and beckoning adventures.
And that sound of the rope flacking against the pole? It was comforting to me on dark strange nights when the world was beyond my comprehension and nothing else seemed right.
Our flags came in varying sizes. There were floor standing indoor/outdoor versions, tabletop flags that could be raised or lowered on miniature flagpoles and garden flags to dot along the driveway, alerting guests, rather like people use balloons these days.
And every year, like bunting, strings of little red and white flags dipped from the fairy on top of our Christmas tree and out to the farthest reaches of its branches.
I began my growing up knowing diversity was good. I lived with the concept of nationality as something that just was and the world was where I lived. I viewed Europe as my playground and never associated the fluttering, flapping red and white with anything other than celebration. The flag celebrated joy, fun and happiness, but also embraced haunting occasions when it flew at half mast: Long Friday, the rare deep sadness of death and remembered loss.
I was probably seven or eight before I was allowed to hoist the thing myself. It was always folded and I carried it out onto the lawn with a real sense of anticipation. I laid it on the grass to unwind the halyard from the cleat at the bottom of the flagpole, I remember a toggle on the top edge to attach the flag and once both ends were secured began pulling on the rope.
Usually all went smoothly; with a tug on the lower rope the flag unfurled as it rose into the sky. On rare occasions a snaggle would result in rather exposed failure as the lumpy mess had to be lowered and sorted out.
I didn't stand on ceremony with the lowering. The flag went down on the lawn and I did my best to get it refolded and arranged so that it would hoist without further embarrassment.
Our relaxed attitude to this symbolic piece of cloth did nothing to prepare me for the fanatics I was later to encounter and the resulting deep sense of insecurity that frightened its way through my teens and still never quite disappears from my perspective.
The reasonably easily dismissed hints of xenophobia that are part of most 'bi' children's lives, took powerful shape in my teens. The goblins and dragons of childhood became the wars of race, religion and nationality that lurk beneath the human veneer of civilisation and erupt with terrifyingly predictable uncertainty.
Inside Britain, there have been times when looking and sounding British offered enough space to hide in; having an acceptable difference (my particular foreign genes could be seen as less of a threat) rated me as ok too. And surely now I've lived here so long it makes no difference...
But in my wheelchair I have nowhere to hide...
Peace and pink Floyd:
stairway, gateway, to something
that passes for heaven or
some other kind of non-war process.
In my own bubble of incredulous peace
within the deep roar of protest
and this sense of shock
as the very latest technology
in the shape of modern war planes
dropped the symbolic bombs
of the world's religions:
the sacred symbols
of closed minds; to eliminate
dissension, to build and break
walls, to decimate life on
this Pale Blue Dot. How can we
hold such disparate attitudes
to tolerance, this mess of genetic
mish-mash that calls itself humanity?
Who is for peace? Who is for life?
Why do so many of us imagine that
supernatural power is any kind
of answer? Why
are we so fearful of our diversity?
So dismissive of our humanity?
Where does the urge to damage, belittle
and kill live in this chemical concoction
that gets mistaken for some kind of soul?
How come some of us see things so clearly
yet are so desperately utterly wrong?
Arrogance that eternally tarnishes peace.
The myth of civilisation.
Pink Floyd at the O2
enlightened my senses
with The Wall; the eternal
longing for kindness, hope, reason
in the traumatic midst of
perpetual warmongering chaos.
Quoting E Graham Howe:
Normality, is the paradise of escapologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple.
It is better, if we can, to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself.’
I rolled through some really powerful rain. There were rumbles of thunder and Salisbury Cathedral Close was deserted. Visibility was poor, water was splashing onto the stones of the sculpture 'Sanctuary' and steaming off rather like a vintage Hitchcock movie.
I've done my best with the stones, on March 15th I blogged my initial reaction. Last week on a sunny day I took my lunch and joined the hordes of tourists sunbathing on their stored heat. I watched small children play with one of the smaller pieces that they had managed to dislodge and roll around the green. I searched their eyes, their body language for reactions to the stones as something other than the happy convenience of somewhere free to sit and eat lunch. I laid fingers on the polished surfaces of a jagged, faceted sphere; imagined myself sucked into the vortex of a sliced doughnut of shimmering stone; I have repeatedly failed to find the 'contained sanctuary within the larger contemplative sanctuary of the Close'.
Hovering in the swirls of steam and battered by the rain, My unconscious made sudden connection to the work of Icelandic photographer Anna Maria Sigurjonsdottir. (Both Sanctuary (John Maine) and Eyjafjallajokull (Anna Maria Sigurjonsdottir) are exhibits in the current Salisbury International Arts Festival).
Anna Maria's photographs are stunning. Eyjafjallajokull includes images of spectacular ash clouds from the erupting volcano. Each one is immaculate, the unframed images might be almost ready to step in to. Except that all that pixel perfection somehow slithers away from me. On my way from Salisbury Arts Centre where the photographs are being exhibited, the irony of rolling from the crisp and calm illusion of Eyjafjallajokull into the wet and blurry turmoil of Sanctuary, is not lost on me.
I wanted to be overwhelmed by the vaste emptiness of Iceland, to know the power of nature taking my breath away, the threat of ash tormenting my lungs, the chaos and majesty of the uncontainable. To my dismay, instead of being able to immerse myself in nature's powerful indifference to me, I was confronted by my own indifference: indifference to the caged and polished perfection of this curiosity with the similar incongruence of lions in a zoo.
Drenched in the midst of Sanctuary stonework being rain-battered into the earth, my thoughts are being slammed home by the rumbling majesty of Salisbury thunder. Here are two exhibitions offering me quite the opposite of what I seek, titles that lead me astray with contradictions to my lived experiences. Titles that offer me no way in; break down no barriers; leave me feeling embarrassed, like when you open your arms to someone who looks you in the eye before slowly, wilfully, turning their back.
So what am I avoiding? What is it I don't want to see?
I'm having to work so hard to glimpse anything, but maybe both exhibitions are offering me the opportunity to explore the nature and illusion of 'safe' and the human need to find or create recognisably non-threatening realities? Is this the opportunity to explore someone else's sanctuary? Someone else's idea of living inside the monster?
Here was bread, food for poet,
printed out in haunting glimpses
that chased me back to words,
possibly strained in translation, where
acknowledging the sins of God
Omar Khayyam politely asks
a darkened deity to accept
the forgiveness of man; takes it
upon his shoulders to forgive
the devising of the snake. And
are there women who, similarly,
offer this olive branch? Or are they
too busy with the peace of poetry
up to their elbows - bread dough being
just perfect for the removal
of printing ink from the hard to reach
crannies of printmakers fingernails.
And the starving people mocked by
the non-food of Communion bread,
do they too yearn for flesh-pink ham;
fantasise a sexist Tavern Green?
What kind of love means more
to hungry folk than bread?
And the poet - is she too hungry
Reading Sophie Partridge's blog: Public bodies, disability on display.../ 10 October 2011, I felt an immediate eureka-style 'yes' bursting out of me. I work hard at my public image for two reasons: first, I was brought up that way, and second, to control the damage to my perceived intelligence caused by my wheelchair.
Does my bum look big in this is not my reality, but as a wheelborne woman I'm never free from the constant pressure to assess and reassess the visual impact I make on other people.
The superficiality of this warps my ideas about who I might me.
There are times when I loose sight of the whole-ness of everything.
The wheelchair is always visible and always assumed to carry a body with little or no brain. It has zero attraction potential; I am expected to dislike my chair, to long to be free of it, to constantly apologise for its inconvenience and if I'm not eager to disown my wheels then expected to question my motives and morality.
I am who I am. This is it, the one and only. There is no other and like everything unique, there is some kind of perfection to all the quirks and flaws.
The perfect me has wheels. An exoskeleton of metal and memory foam; a core of unpredictable performance and pain.
And a blind belief in hiking the Pennine Way, of putting feet relentlessly one in front of the other for days and miles and lifetimes.
And this totally in tandem with rolling, with my need for augmentation. With the recognition that the perfect me has wheels.
And with greeting the embrace of my chair like a lover who wraps his arms around me and declares that I am not heavy. I am no burden.
I am the me who can swish a skirt, feel ridges of hard sand under bare feet and move with the music on a dusky shoreline. I am the me who scrambles in forests of tangled roots and haunting birdsong.
I am the me who has been charged by a massive bull rhino and who shared a thunderstorm in a tiny boat on the Zambezi with hippo and crocs. I am the me who has rolled Skytree, 634 metres up in the sky: 35* 42'N, 139* 48'E. I am the me who squeals ecstatic as I roll arms-free in a downhill adrenalin rush.
I'm the me who exists like an impossible Russian doll. Inside me, is the outside me. The alien outside perception eating hollow into the core. And the outside me reveals and conceals an infinity of inside/outside possibilities awaiting interpretation. All of them, none of them, disabled. All of them, none of them magic.
Like a disabled bird,
with meandering lop-sided flutter
it rose and fell, jewel bright
in the sparkle of early spring.
A gust of wind carried it playfully
over leggy fritillaries not yet
hinting at snakes' heads, where
it met the mirror twin, flickering
fragile counterpoint; disability
concept the bright and beautiful norm.
The flight, both eager yet hesitant,
carried both suddenly, sharply
out of sight, leaving only
a haunting beauty,
a perception of disability
and the essence of freedom.
And there should be words - words that let me say the sounds that churn me inside out. The stuff that eats away at my reality.
I'm sorry. I can't accept
the chair. I know you can walk
and I believe you should
try harder to stay
on your feet and not
to give in to
is. Put aside your pain
I know you can walk and
I don't care what it costs you.
In those patches where I seem to be unrecognisable to myself I get to wonder about life, the universe, cake and everything else.
I attempt a little distance from my practice - in order to 'make' the questions I need to ponder people. I need to think about who we are and who I am.
I am, but not in a sense of separateness that singles me out and then leaves me vulnerable: vulnerable to the judgement of others who see themselves as qualities or quantities separate from the whole ness of life; vulnerable to hate crime and to micro-aggressions designed to keep me in the place assigned to 'my kind; vulnerable to the erosion that will reduce my perception of myself and my life to less than reality.
I am part of the whole. And the whole stretches from the moment we were all incomprehensible oneness, through being scattered through time and space as particles with no individual senses.
I was you, you were me. We became dinosaurs and the Grand Canyon. We became the Pacific Ocean and the night sky. We became dandelions and millipedes. We became, and we are.
'I am' exists only as part of that. Today's perception of me sees whatever I am as integral to one humongous whole. But also to one continuous process attempting to hold back chaos by reinventing itself, currently so far down the road of denial that it believes diversity is something external to whole ness; unaware that diversity is, like the diversity of heart from lungs, of eyes from ears, internal and essential.
I am right here, right now, apart and a part of something that is both contradictory, confusing and utterly amazing!
Once upon a fluid time,
here at the beginning, or once before.
Rosy-cheeked and tinkerbell she danced,
and watched with wizard eyes, the future form
that curled upon itself, herself, in alien pain.
Saw vampire teeth draw throbbing blood
from hollow skin that knew her only
as a memory. Watched herself through someone else
who surely wasn't her and yet,
and yet, the unexpected thorn
blossomed - life rewaking.
Another form of she began to rise
and like the summer rose
unfold a fragrant stranger.
touching eternity - rosy-cheeked and
dancing through palaces
some tenuous link along the line
of personal identity. The path to who
you think you are, and back again,
or maybe not.
I am diversity,
your only guarantee
of independant thinking.
your collective wisdom
to the tyranny
you would turn
on each other;
or fade together away.
you would need
to invent me.
I am diversity
the way of the tiger.
Rolling through the empty Cathedral Close on a chilly grey morning, I was intrigued to see a delivery of large, assorted carved and uncarved stones. They were being steadfastly ignored by Frink's Walking Madonna, but I was curious and open to anticipation. Previous sculptures have, on the whole, worked well with the almost 800 year old building and the atmosphere of its surrounding Close.
I wondered how long it would take to assemble the jumble strewn out over the grass. It was like being in the midst of a devastated Stonehenge and filled me with a sense of unease. There were also giant sharp-edged spheres, lying like so many discharged missiles of war.
Each stone appeared to be a work of art in itself, and there were groups of them spread over a large area. Some put me in mind of unclaimed mill stones or disassembled cogs from some abandoned megalithic machinery. There seemed a violence in their placement that drew my thoughts to war and its aftermath.
At odds with the ancient forgetfulness, newfound tranquillity and sense of settled purpose, these new stones were as unsettling to me as most mythical images of marauding Vikings. Even their placement in the grass seemed designed to freak me out.
I checked on the Cathedral website and discovered that was the exhibition. Not only was it complete, but it was also called 'Sanctuary'.
This discovery felt like a kick in my emotional guts. I was aware of being shockingly close to tears. If this was sanctuary then what else was misunderstood, misinterpreted, wrong?
In my distress I wanted to look closer at the stones, to maybe see what others saw. But my unease was growing, it was hard to find a group I could access without feeling the turmoil and rejection.
I chose a group where the stones looked a little like oversize bales of straw and played with the idea they were the leftovers from a Constable painting of a hay-making celebration. I needed a way to disassociate from my instinctive and overwhelming reactions, to approach with that 'temperament of receptivity' - open to the artists intention; but it was as if the stones had voices of their own. And easier to believe that they were remnant of the parley, the negotiation after the violence of battle; or broken barricades.
I can see that some of the individual stones might possess an inevitable stillness, that their circular form with access to the solid square cut from their centre, might lead thoughts to an interpretation of sanctuary, but lying exposed with their hearts cut out, extracted with mechanical precision, sanctuary was not what they conveyed to me. Strewn, abandoned over the ground, disassociated from each other, they cried of devastation on an inhuman scale.
And in their midst the Cathedral stood oblivious.
The rolling turmoil, with silent echoes
of Lindisfarne, Colluden, Balaklava
in its chaos, leads into the darker
reaches of the human psyche, places
the mind is adept at justifying,
denying, hiding from the conscious state;
hindsight prescribing past incarnation
projecting future into history.
Only in its worn-out delapidation
does Stonehenge appear to embody
tranquility; a long forgotten past
lost in the solidity of singing stones.
Still as they move into the future chaos
offering no glimpse of sanctuary
only the continuation of decay
of loneliness and wild desolation.
And time, the sheer volume of time, explains
nothing other than the disarray and
confusion. Unlike the newly sculpted
scatterings, spoor emanating from mind;
the human mind, capable of seeing
and unseeing. Able to design the
architecture long after the structure is built.
Rolling through on a warm sunny afternoon and watching groups of people sprawled over the stones brings home to me the untypicality of my reaction.
These sunbathers, picnickers and nappers on the stones must feel some sense of attraction and safety that allows them to seem so relaxed and at ease.
Could this be sanctuary? Is it enough?
'Sanctuary' by John Maine RA at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire.
8th March - 23rd July 2014
A Salisbury International Arts Festival event.
I recently rolled around an exhibition I would be tempted to describe as invisible.
I find this frustrating. To be surrounded by a body of work that says nothing to me (to the point of invisibility), is somehow creepy; a disturbing and unsettling experience.
I need art to make sense of the world; to expand and finesse the identity I call self and my relationship to those I call others. Through art I may grow into rich diversities of unknown.
The artworks I am drawn to are works that reach inside me to reveal something I have forgotten, failed to recognise, neglected to respond to, or never had the chance to experience. 'If the remission of pain is happiness, then the emergence from distraction is aesthetic bliss. I use these terms loosely, for I am not making an argument but rather attempting to describe the pleasure that comes from recognition or rediscovery of certain essences permanently associated with human life. These essences are restored to our consciousness by persons who are described as artists.' (Saul Bellow's 'It All Adds Up')
The works that seem invisible are works that elicit that frustrated 'so what'; works that barely provoke any kind of reaction beyond the frustration; the practice that consistently shuts me out. They are works that fail to respond to the pseudo-visibility their creators attempt to bestow on them with complex explanations that disappear even as you read or hear them.
My responses do evolve, so I always attempt to hold back on premature negativity; I have learned to be patient, to be disciplined about allowing the work time to penetrate any barrier of initial indifference, to cultivate a 'temperament of receptivity' (Oskar Wilde), but is it not also part of an artist's creative process to facilitate that receptivity?
In ConText conversations I have been surprised to discover creators who are happy to declare that they only make work for like-minded people, certainly not for disabled people, and that the onus is completely on the audience or gallery visitor to put in any necessary effort: 'if they are capable of it'.
Devoting time and energy to work that persists in its invisibility is not merely disappointing, it can leave me feeling cheated, exploited and, on one rare occasion, brimming with art-rage.
When art makes me angry, I want it to be the artwork itself, not the suspicion that I am confronting someone abusing the notion, the essence, of artistic practice.
I can be talking about work that may be technically accomplished and often confidently exhibited yet apparently without the generosity, the courtesy, of any perceived attempt at accessible communication.
I'm comfortable with work that sits silently asking questions; as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century ago, “We should try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue'.
I'm comfortable with mystery. I like to think there will always be unknowns. But the kind of works that elicit that 'so what' of a non-reaction, don't qualify as mysterious. They appear to have been created for self-gratification. They may have technical points that preclude labelling them as bad, but for me, that gut and lingering indifference is worse than bad.
Invisible is as bad as it gets.
to my presence, the work
sits smug in a slapdash
or intricate iteration: either.
Potent and powerful
as the Emperor's new clothes,
each action a possible,
impossible marvel of
craftsmanship. Talent beyond
question by anyone with
status to preserve or with
ignorance to conceal. Work
just hitching a ride on the
naked Emperor's back.
And yes, the title of this blog is also a quote from the magificent Saul Bellow!
Straddling the pavement were three enormous Highway Maintenance vehicles. I could see them in the distance, and the crew of the first one watched me approach.
'Sneaking up on me like that, you almost killed me' one of them offered as I rolled passed them on my way into town. I also passed half a dozen disabled acquaintances, with their family or friends, heading in other directions. The sun shone and it was business as usual in town.
Arriving at the gathering point, I was a little more than dismayed to see (bright yellow and black), big and bold placards saying 'VOTE LABOUR'. I believe that politics in general, and party politics in particular, are how we ended up in this mess and the reason we will find it very nearly impossible to get out of.
There were also furled flags in black and yellow, carried as inconspicuously as possible by three smartly dressed young men. A similar, smaller version, flapping red and black, proclaimed 'Unite Community'.
There was a gentle air of fancy dress conferred on the gathering by a woman in a long, green cloak and a man who might have been, possibly, a Druid. He carried a staff to which was pinned an A4 poster: 'Atos Kills'
Yes this was the Salisbury protest. 30 quiet people brave enough, caring enough (or just cunning enough to seek to make political capital on the back of other people's suffering?).
The press turned up, there were photographs and interviews. And we were entertained by a talented, generous young vocalist/guitarist.
I wasn't in the mood to be entertained. I was breaking apart. The population of Salisbury was 470,981 at last count and this protest was quite widely publicised.
I understand that people may be too unwell or too afraid to turn up, but is there really no support from those outside the fear zone?
I find the sheer volume of indifference devastating.
Being proud of a country
doesn't mean sods of earth,
mountains, trees or coastline.
A country is people, and having
reason for pride is people willing
to invest in each other, respect
each other, go the extra
mile; this is
greatness. This is
where I dream
of living and
it isn't here
it isn't now.
Rolling slowly across the road, my powerchair's on the blink - again (I've had persistent recurring battery problems). I am in a lot of pain and cannot use my right arm, so when the bag and glove on my lap start sliding to the ground I am unable to take action.
A passing car stops behind me, an unseen voice asks if I need help and an approaching pedestrian comes close enough to retrieve my belongings; kneels and kindly enquires if I need any further assistance. I don't, I'm coping, even heartened by these offers of help; pain and the fragility of my emotions, threaten to overwhelm me.
I start up again just as a casual, passing couple admonish 'no speeding now' with cheerful indifference.
And suddenly I'm not coping.
My quiet : 'that is so not funny' is as dignified as it gets. But the couple are deeply offended and stalk off (faster than I can roll) condemning my rudeness. I have challenged their perception of 'my place' and consequently their own sense of superiority.
And I have no doubt just reinforced the negative image of disability promoted by this government and its media.
It's not much of a tale. And there are no great vilains, certainly no heroes, just me, two kindly strangers and one act of thoughtlessness. But it is the thoughtless people who stack up. Days, weeks, months and years of them, with not just no improvement, but actually with deterioration. The thoughtlessness degenerating into animosity more readily now than I can remember.
I wouldn't normally bother to repeat this trivial tale, but I've had enough. I am tired of the fight, exhausted by the daily battle for equalities. Tired of waking up each morning back at square one. Sick and tired of the presumptions people feel they have a right to - because I sit in a wheelchair. Sick and tired of a nation that stands and watches while the government and media crucify and crush the country's poorest, most disadvantaged people. Totally disillusioned with a nation walking by on the other side - tossing handfuls of throwaway ignorance that persistently force disabled people to confront the negative image of disability.
Even when we are not forced to face major threats to our existence, we are still not allowed to just be getting on with life.
It is still within living memory that a nation stood by whilst a handful of malignant bastards committed atrocities that required external interventions to bring to a halt. I'm thinking that the guys who put their lives on the line then would be ashamed of this nation now.
I've been utterly defeated, humiliated and emotionally destroyed by battles with DWP and NHS, I identify with people driven beyond reason. And my heart bleeds for those who cannot see a living way through the blackness of despair.
But here's the thing, in spite of experience, I think I believe in the living community. I really want to.
I want to believe in the power of existence as a force for growing humanity into the very best it can aspire to be. There are even one or two non-disabled people out there who give me reason for hope. And of course, the Purple Underground.
I would believe "we are indebted to one another and the debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being." (Jennifer Hecht)
Olympians in the day to day where nothing is given,
there are those of us who glitter energy and ideas
for the fight. Giants in the rage for sober equality.
Participants on the world stage who individually
transcend the image of disability in the eye of
the beholder. And there are people like me, people whose hope
is to add to humanity's goodness by our presence, by
the richness of our being, drawing breath, believing ourselves
into our future. Not giving up until it really is
time. "They also fight who only breath and wait" Milton might have
said about this war, our war, the war that has become a
way of life where every breath, every inch of not giving in,
not giving up, is a weapon. One more brick in the wall
of solidarity that is our hope on the front line, voice
of silent protest. On days where breath is all I have, I draw
breath so you might and hoping you draw breath for all the people
being human invites you to cherish; now people, future
people, remembered people, the host of people your heart can
encompass. And if today you believe me into being,
I thank you.