Roshana, our lovely project manager Kate and I have been on the road working with participants in Yorkshire. We started research for this project over two years ago and so I’ve been looking back at what I wrote about it at its start to see what’s emerged.
The residency started with a visit to our first participant Helen. The last time I visited Helen, I had been looking to source some ‘Queens Green’ crockery as a prop. Whilst I had hoped that she might lend me some items (she has one of the largest collections in the UK), I didn’t expect to be served the most glorious lunch on Queens Green and then leave with a collection that I could keep forever. On our first meeting I was so struck by her generosity and her sitting for What is Left? was no different. We talked about her love of textiles and how her late daughter had studied fashion and textile design. Helen’s home is full of beautiful textiles: vintage classics, pieces made by Helen and a particular piece made by her daughter Jessica. After a lunch of amazing ham and cheese (with plenty of homemade chutney), we left. We left with the gifts of original 60’s pattern books, an extra jar of chutney and one of the most honest and heartbreaking stories I’ve heard. I can’t thank Helen enough.
When we started the research and development of this project I wrote the following:
Underpinning the project is an ethos of gift. The participant gives us the gift of their time, their object is a kind of gift from the dead to the living and each participant receives a framed print of their portrait and accompanying text.
I wrote it but I don’t think I was prepared for the amount of generosity we’ve received from all our participants. People let us into their homes and their experiences of loss and suffering. Helen seemed to embody the ethos of gift and so has everyone we worked with since.
I had also read Attig’s theories on what we refer to as ‘web weaving’ at the start of research and think they are worth revisiting.
In bereavement, we also “suffer” in the sense that when we lose someone dear, we experience loss of our wholeness. It is as if each of us were a web of connections to the things, places, other people, experiences, activities, and projects we care about (Attig 1996 pp. 134-143). By extension, it is as if our families, communities, and all of human kind are joined as webs of webs. Our life stories, and those of our families and communities, are filled with weaving and reweaving of webs of connection, patterns of caring within which we find and make meaning. Bereavement strikes a blow to these webs, to our personal, family and community integrity. The weaves of our daily life patterns are in tatters. Much of the weaving that comprises our individual and collective life histories is undone.
And I think of Helen at her sewing machine, while baby Jessica played on the floor, and the web weaving that was taking place then. And I think about scouring Yorkshire, finding a chair for Helen that has the most perfect fabric on it…I don’t want to let her down. And I look back at what I wrote and am moved that the theory has turned into practice in a way that I couldn’t have understood fully then. Perhaps it is about repairing and reinforcing the webs we already have - people and organisations we already know, and working outwards to find our participants? Perhaps being involved might have the potential for participants to feel connected to the other people involved in the project; a small part of reweaving their web?
This is important to me as there has been an invaluable and moving by-product of all the work in the series so far: conversation. Of equal importance to the work is the fact that people come out of it and have conversations about bereavement that they might not have had otherwise; with me in the bar after they’ve experienced it, with each other on the train home from seeing it, on social networks with people they only know through twitter. The series aims to facilitate a space for people to talk about bereavement without shame but often with humour and often with sadness. I wish I could say that this was my intention from day one. It wasn’t. It is now. I want to make creative projects that provide a space for dialogue. The series has slowly started to accrue a group of people round it: of collaborators working on the series, of audiences, of organisations supporting it or feeding into it in some way…it is becoming, in a very quiet and lovely way, a community. Team Grief.
So we have started having conversations, asking about to see if people would like to participate or know someone who might. It is sort of an anti-structure in that we don’t know where it will lead us, or to whom. I imagine we will visit new people and revisit people we haven’t seen in far too long and see people we see all the time in a new way.
It is an intricate and rambling liberty print of a structure with light and dark shades, with moments of beautiful detail. Or perhaps it is a patchwork quilt, I’m not sure yet, but we’ll let you know what emerges as the process continues.