Frozen Playground and Friends
A high black perimeter fence encloses the tarmac of the playground that is reached by short steep stone steps. If you have a pram with you its almost impossible to access, you either have to leave the pram at the bottom of the steps or get someone to help you carry it up. There are a few benches under the trees, a shed, some planters, and graphical games drawn in colour on the tarmac.
Naoise jumps and hops and skips and twirls. He hides, finds stones and insects beneath. He plays out Power Ranger games. He re-enacts fantasy and dream and future. His feet run. He can run around the whole playground.
There used to be a slide but it wasn’t maintained so they took it away.
There used to be a boat but it wasn’t maintained so they took it away.
Helen twirls and hops and skips and jumps. She re-enacts scenes from Star Wars. She takes a magnifying glass and burns a hole in a leaf. She plays cats cradle, and hopscotch and marbles in the tops of drains. In summer she makes daisy chains with friends, the longer the better and little dens with cut grass in the privet hedge.
The playground is frozen. Dancing feet are preserved in the ice. The care taker smirks as he sees me taking photographs, and states “it looks the same today as it did yesterday”. The head teacher asks me “what are you doing”, I reassure her that there are no children trapped in my cameras lens just empty playgrounds, I’m doing a project. An art project. She is nice and laughs and smiles, but there is always suspicion. Always something a little dangerous. Always a little threat. The threat of the photograph, what could it capture ? The threat that I pose with a camera in my hand.
Three Friends (and a ghost friend)
The first friend
My friend cycles over to my house to record me reading a story, but his stories are better. He is a film maker. He can link two entirely disparate ideas together with intelligence and clarity. He quotes Nietzsche and scenes from films and recounts episodes from his life. He comes alive as he talks about his dad. His dad who was a political prisoner in South Africa and disappeared for over four hundred days.
Four Hundred Days.
He has written a book, book about him and his dad, he needs to edit it a little, write a bit more. He has written eighty thousand words in three months. Is that right ?
Four Hundred Days
I keep thinking of this space this amount of absence. It is frightful to begin to imagine such a disappearance.
How strange, I am now laughing to myself as the plastic Tracey Island toy that Naoise borrowed from his friend has started to speak to me, “give me your pass” it is saying, then a rocket launching sound.
The second friend
My friend meets me at the cafe. I sit at a position on a table so that I can see her arriving at the top of the stairs. I get out a book, read a little. Wait. Her face lights up into a smile, I greet her with a hug.
She is a generous friend, always kindly and thoughtful and supportive. She brings gifts of homemade apple jam from the tree in her garden. Pickle, a book of short stories by Alice Munro and a copy of her PhD proposal.
We talk about families and art and work. We talk about children growing up and leaving home. I recount the story of Syd and recalling in horror as he tells me that he will be able to learn to drive in four years time. The horror of it, Syd at the wheel of a car. He of cause is delighted by the idea of driving and independence. We sip tea. We discuss entering our work into art competitions, we commiserate each other over the ridiculous costs of doing so, we talk about how difficult it is even to just to get your work out there, to get it seen. Everything has a price, every action an emotional price. We talk about using our homes as temporary gallery spaces. I recall the work by Laura Godfrey Issacs about the projects that she set up in her home; called Home.
The idea of Home came in part from Godfrey-Isaacs’ experience of motherhood and the desire many women have after birth to retreat behind the closed front door. “I discovered, like many women, that having a child was isolating me and it made me explore the potential of the home and explode the idea of it as a reclusive space that stymies your creativity as a woman, a mother and an artist. Home is my way of reclaiming as a dynamic, creative place – a place where I live but also work.”
I should also tell her about Lena’s work, her performances, the Institute for the Art and practice and Dissent at Home. Her fortieth birthday performance still resonates in my memory. I loved it so, sitting at the top of her stairs my back to a bedroom door, listening to her talking, laughing, listening with all the other brilliant radical women she had invited.
I order cake, its my mum’s birthday, I haven’t eaten cake in a whole month. I adore cake. I choose a slice of lemon with icing dripping down its sides. It is delicious. Some kind of heaven. One slice of cake.
The third friend
I collect her from the station. Its not a long walk, but it is icy cold, there is no need to suffer it.
I am disorganised. I have wine but haven’t cooked yet. I cook a girl called jack recipe that I have been drooling about all week; chilli kidney bean soup with herby dumplings. I drink white wine as I chop and fry and stir. I am giddy after just one glass. I am a cheap date.
Friday, always a relief to make it to the weekend.
My friend sits on the sofa with Naoise, they play a game on her phone together. She is great with children. So relaxed. She visits Syd in his attic bedroom and admires his new guitar and playing.
Naoise plays with Tracey Island all evening long. He would like a Tracey Island for his birthday. Syd is tired and kicks off about some camera that he wants to buy, his tantrum is perfectly timed with Patrick leaving the house to drop my friend back at the station. Maybe its a betrayal. Its a betrayal writing this. To my children and my family their right to a private life. It is written with love and Syd honestly, I am not spying on you, I am just writing words so that I may understand so that I can negotiate this complex life of mothering. I may fail, but I may learn.
The ghost friend
You arrived. You came back to me as an email. An email from a novelist wanting to find a good reproduction of your art work for a book that she was writing about parenting and surrogacy. She needs an image from an exhibition. A good quality image, a high resolution image is required, from an exhibition that took place thirteen years ago; Five Naked Ladies at the Lewisham Art Gallery. I hated making the exhibition. Syd was only six months old. I spent the day naked and cold and not really feeling that comfortable with what I had been asked to do. Drawing each others bodies against paper that covered the walls and floor of the space. My breasts were leaking and sore and full. I was very anxious about my post pregnancy body. I felt big and lumpy and clumsy. They were all childless apart from one woman. All skinny and glamorous.
I drove across central London to the opening, with Syd strapped into his carseat. The journey was a nightmare. Only a short distance from north to south, but Syd cried most of the way. They were all drinking, thats what you do at an opening. I could not drink, I had a six month old baby strapped to my front, that I was breastfeeding through the night. Thankfully one friend of mine turned up for the event and we found a place to hangout in the corridor and talk a little. Looking back I wonder why I ever agreed to do it. I guess I wanted to make some work as an artist again after being “out of it” with having a baby, and I loved my friend and I wanted to please her by taking part. It was the first time that I had left Syd. I had a break from him. For one day, he spent a day with his dad, not me. I expressed bottles of milk for him to drink. That was good, as was spending time with women, with artists.
I thought that the idea was great, the premise, but I thought that we should have been filming the process of the work being made, the conversations that were had. I said this at the time, but it fell on death ears. It was the process, the making that was interesting, not the end product. How these five women’s lives and their bodies collided in this naked drawing space, at this time, in this place, that was the magic, that was the art in it all.
I promise the novelist that I will search my studio for a good reproduction. I feel a strange weight of responsibility. I am bought to tears thinking of my friend, we met at Glasgow School of Art, we laughed and shared a lot, drank tea out of a glass pyrex jug, there was no pot.
She died at the age of thirty something of breast cancer, leaving three small children without a mother. Life is cruel. Life is very cruel. I miss her so.