Security Blankets by Jo Parker

Jo Parker, Process as research, Porcelain sculpture, October 2020
Jo Parker, Process as research, Porcelain sculpture, October 2020

It’s a grey, misty October morning and I’m in a zoom planning meeting with Helen for the next issue of Maternal Art Magazine. My new position of Production Assistant feels like I’m stepping into unknown territory, but there’s a strong sense of togetherness as we discuss the other unknown territory such as what we will do with the next issue, and also the worldwide unknown territory of trying to cope with all that living during a pandemic brings to us. It’s cold here in my little flat and I reach for a blanket from the sofa; Helen reaches for hers too. We laugh as we see each other huddled in our blankets. We are unified in our discomfort by reaching for the familiar to feel comforted. In these troubling times it is normal to reach for the familiar in order to feel a sense of security, yet much of what was familiar to us is now out of our reach. We struggle to maintain contact with those we care about as restrictions force us to keep apart. We attempt to adapt and overcome by arranging online meetings. We seek comfort in foods that remind us of feelings of familiarity and security via foods we ate as children. We watch old favourites to lose ourselves momentarily in a time that felt safe, or we read favourite books that we know we can escape to. All these avenues of familiarity act as moments of decompression from the lives we are now faced with living, and in the midst of these unknown times it seems completely natural to want to press the pause button, decompress and refocus from time to time.

During the first part of the pandemic, I was trying to finish my BA in Fine Art; I’d spent so long trying to find the time and opportunity to finally do my degree with family commitments etc., always being prioritised, yet when I finally achieve this goal and am nearing completing it, a pandemic knocks my dreams from me. The final weeks of my BA were conducted via zoom and having to adapt to remote learning and digital submissions. It was nothing like I had been envisioning for so many years. No physical degree show, having to deliver a viva voce via zoom whilst presenting my work via PowerPoint and all the while feeling detached from the physical work I had created as it was all still locked in the university studio. At times I wonder how I got through it but looking back I can see much of the coping was from incorporating some of the familiar into the unfamiliar. Revisiting processes I haven’t engaged with for a while and seeking the comfort in the familiar, I reached for my sketchbook and began a journal which I shared with others via my Instagram page. But I also found new ways of working now that I no longer had studio access and began sculpting with wet paper. My creativity began to burst the banks of the restrictions imposed upon it and forged a new path. Lockdown had caused a sense of inertia initially, but my tutor said to keep creating if only for my own sanity and post studio practice led me to work with what I had in front of me, and in ways that were unfamiliar yet liberating, yet balanced out by engaging with what was also familiar and comforting via the sketchbook work. Continuing to create helped alleviate stress and allowed me to feel calmer and more centred.

Now I am back at university undertaking an MA in Creative Practice (which incorporates only four hours per week studio access in which to create work in response to my research), yet I don’t feel phased by this. What lockdown taught me is that no matter what, I will create something. It might not be what I would have made during times of less limited studio access, but I feel that the unfamiliar has now become familiar and I know I will continue to create regardless of the restrictions imposed upon me, and I now trust my process even more that I did prior to lockdown as a result. Comfort zones can be limiting, especially when it comes to creativity and what had initially felt stifling and restrictive, became challenging and inspiring and forced me to work in different ways. Stepping out of our comfort zones can feel unsettling, yet by doing so we create new, more expanded comfort zones in the process, but we can still reach for the security blankets that help us to get through uncomfortable times.

To find out more about Jo Parker’s arts practice please see her instagram account: Jo Parker

By Jo Parker