Confinement, Isolation and Self-restraint.

I have been having a conversation with Japanese Instagram artist @hdkzkony, who asked me for a picture taken during the timeframe of Japan’s declaration of a state of emergency; April 7th to May 25th. He or she is making around the globe record of ordinary moments in their Instagram friend’s lives, as the Pandemic unfolded in Japan. As I mentioned my Lockdown hair in the photo I sent, we had a conversation about the term we use, and the term used in Japan, “Self-restraint”, reflecting different cultural expectations. Have you been Locked down (Wild-haired, unwashed and resentful) or have you been Self restrained? Possibly somewhere between.

For me, like many local friends, I have been confined, yet freed-up. I have been bereft of my normal role (learning support in a Primary school), yet massively active as an artist. I have sat on the front step, drinking coffee and talking to the hens, yet have gone ballistic (not at all usual for me).

I have tried and failed to make masks. I have knitted hats, and learned to weave. I have made cyanotypes, sculptures and I have had some of the most intense experiences of nature in my life. I have talked deeply and long with my daughter, forced back early from university, and have discovered a language with her which has led to planning a creative collaboration – an artist’s book.

Frances Earnshaw, Failing to make masks, 2020

Today is June 13th, the day before what would have been the gallery opening of my show with Helen Sargeant and Sally Barker, Confinement.

We have been working on this project on and off since 2018. Now, the gallery is closed permanently, our studios will be gone soon and the pandemic has changed everything. At some point in the New normal, this exhibition will take place. At present, it exists tenuously as a Facebook page:

Strangely, as the three of us were making art and plans, the exhibition title became spookily relevant –

(Synonyms for Confinement: Awaiting birth, imprisonment, internment, incarceration, custody, captivity, detention, restraint, arrest, house arrest, confined by illness.)

The title reflected my thoughts about the three of us and our practice. I wrote this towards our proposal to the gallery:

For some months we have had a conversation exploring the points of contact between our work, noticing the dissonance and convergence of ideas, playing alongside each other without necessarily finding a central point. The common and disparate themes of our work include bodily history, biological change, visceral communication, the tensions of what is allowed to be shown, pregnancy, emptiness, and female power.

…And a description of my work at the time:

“Her confinement” used to mean a pregnancy. We all began in water, not drowning but confined in a mother’s body. What draws me to some artists and their work has often been what is induced by their relationship with illness, where illness becomes a sort of auto-antonym, meaning itself and the opposite of itself; The drive and dynamism of ideas coming out of the falling away of energy.

I knit a set of collars using linen, soaking them in slip, firing them. Risking breakages. Broken collars, metal pieces, the colour of dried blood or menses, ruined by usage, found and twisted, placed in a glass bell. My body and the limitations of my breathing are sounding in my work.

I work with cyanotype, my imagery drawing on the raw glimpses of the Madwoman in the Attic, expressions of an actress never seen, the confined character in the Novel Jane Eyre, images of body and clothing, fragile fabrics and found materials. Frances Earnshaw.

What with looking at everything differently, and I do mean every thing, I discover everything afresh. Things I made years ago, I have eyed with new respect and am honouring all my work, including the pieces I saw as simply a part of my need to make, hand-work, not Real Art. So, a basket made many years ago has been re-worked to become Cauldron of Story, to include cruel willow and copper spikes, and the process by which that happened; going into the woods to do some metal work, took me into contact with a sense of the folkloric, hedge-witch world of my daughter, and my long time interest in finding a sort of stepped back imagery to do with uncomfortable feelings about my mother and her powers over me during childhood. What a difficult sentence that was.

Life at home with my daughter, under the same roof with my ex, while overwrought is rich with learning and precious, reflective time. Strange, to be living through this. Still receiving a wage, although all I have done in the last couple of months is some online training about autism for school, which led to thoughts about managing the pressure cooker of home.

I continue with disclosure, hiding, wrapping, growing and working vegetable matter, veiling, unveiling, working and creating.

Stay safe and well, everyone.