Islands, Treasure maps and Red Squirrels

28th July 2018

On the second of June I set off on a journey to ask where the memory of the dead live. I’ve been open about how my experiences shape The Grief Series but this is the first project where my autobiography has been front and centre. But rather than the project swimming in lake me, my hope has always been to use my autobiography to break down hierarchies. How can I ask you to share significant people and places with me if I’m not prepared to do the same? The caravan is an offering to get you thinking and talking. The pilgrimage element felt necessary for similar reasons. I have never been back to Brownsea Island since scattering my mother’s ashes there as a teenager. My last visit to Germany was for my brother’s wedding in 1996 and I didn’t go to his funeral. How can I ask where the memory of the dead live if I’ve been sitting on my sofa the whole time?

This journey has seen me reconnect with my late brother’s wife and children after a gap of around 16 years. They are kind and generous. His daughters look so like him. Thank you. I have met with people who remember my mum and introduced her to new people by sharing her words and beautiful illustrations. Thank you. I returned to Brownsea Island for the first time since scattering her ashes there 17 years ago. There were Red Squirrels and Cherry Brandy and good friends with me. Thank you. And I was given the gift to discover the island of Arran by my dad. For most of my life his history has been a blank. And then last year I discovered this map with his memories scrawled by him in pencil “Where I spent my childhood” “Where I went to school” “The most beautiful and mysterious loch in the word”. And I realised that this map had been sitting in the bookcase I inherited from my mum for my entire life…..I have moved that bloody bookcase and its contents from storage space to friends house all the way up the M1 to my home in Leeds. All the while the map has been sitting there, waiting to surprise me at just the right time. Like all good stories this treasure map led me to an island. I got to explore it, led by my dad. He took me on holiday, twelve years after his death. Thanks Dad. It was a magical landscape. There were Red Squirrels and Whiskey. We still bickered a bit. I insisted on climbing up huge hills in a petticoat and ballet flats, much to his disapproval. But I think I got to know him a bit better. I think I like him more now. I’m still processing, still reflecting and we’ll see what else rises to the service over the coming weeks. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you.

The team that have worked on this project and its many components (caravan fit out, embroidered maps, 5 different meal events) have all worked tirelessly not only to complete the enormous to do list but also to show me and the rest of the team compassion. The phrase ‘Above and beyond’ doesn’t really communicate the level of commitment people have shown. They have been on hand with hugs, seamlessly handed me glasses of wine at just the right moment, been shoulders to cry on, found ingenious solutions before mentioning the problem. The project has occupied that blurry space between art and life and as well as fantastic collaborators I am so, so lucky to have them as such amazing friends too. I can’t thank you all enough.

THANK YOU

Jessica Sweet: Producer
Anna Turzynski: Producer
Bethany Wells: Designer
Matt Sykes-Hooban: Build Manager
Hayley Mills-Styles: Thread Artist
Jaye Kearney: Marketing & Consultancy
Matt Rogers: Out-side Eye & Documentation
Laura King: Historian
Leann Young: Production Manager
Jess Hammett: Evaluator
Tom Woodland: Build Assistant
Christie Hill: Meal Consultant
The Swine that Dines: Chefs
Chris & Mel Dewey: Audio Archive Creators
Jazmine Krokback: Project Assistant