The original concept had been to address a commonplace problem which often causes much upset in later life, that of having to sort and redistribute personal and household possessions due to changes in personal circumstances (whatever they might be). The plan had been to see whether art practice could turn this conflicting period around to create feelings of contentment, rather than sadness, disappointment and resentment.
In common parlance, this process is often described as downsizing, an unappealing and negative term. Reading about its usage created a vision of self-confident, able and capable people rushing around creating new and exciting modern lifestyles for themselves. On the other hand, personal experience had provided evidence that many older people going through enforced ‘downsizing’ faced far harder decisions, often dealing with possessions which had become sentimental in value, through decades of familiarity. This had nothing to do with the apparent heinous crime of owning two potato peelers, as mentioned in one article about ‘how to downsize’. Guidance, or rather instructions in such literature indicated ignorance and insensitivity of an individual’s needs or circumstances, making the term even less attractive as a descriptor.
At the time of setting out the original Proposal, home life was quite chaotic due to the presence of unorganised containers of possessions. The disorganisation was the outcome of time and energies having been spent on caring and health responsibilities. It was decided that the crates of possessions would be sorted and categorised methodically to decide which items were to be kept (for practical and or sentimental reasons) and which were to be ‘passed on’ to others. As with the term ‘downsizing’, the phrase ‘getting rid of’ or ‘throwing away’ were ones which caused much discomfort. It seemed disrespectful, not simply in terms of sentimentally to the object itself, but to the people who had created the item and to the earth, the origin of its resources.
A preferred term was sought. At one point this led to discovering that railway guards still use a Departure Baton to indicate that all aspects of departure having been considered, it is safe for the train to depart. (See link below for image.)
And so where items were to depart, practice processes were to be devised to instigate positive thoughts, rather than the release being simply associated with negativity, as in the hurried thrusting of unwanted items into bin bags and carting them off to any old charity shop. Stories (beyond the usual knowledge that others would benefit from the donated items), might also be built around the processes to create other lives for the items.
Sorting commenced with less usual means of departure being sought:
• Card and paper replicas were made of the railway baton design and attached to bags and boxes with their destination written upon them. Books had small batons slipped into their spines indicating that they were under consideration for departure. Simple though this device was, it added a little humour and indicated that some thought had gone into selecting the object’s future.
• The physical sensation of movement between the phone and writing emails to local charities became a gentle swaying which turned the task into a form of dance.
• Packages piled up awaiting distribution, backlit by sunlight presented clearly defined edges. These were traced into a collection of line drawings.
• Routes traversed during the distribution of furniture, boxes and packages were translated into continuous line drawings from memory.
• Vintage china ware (unseen for several years), provided opportunities to share eating favoured foods. The recorded sounds of pleasurable snacking created a cheerful, innocent ambiance.
• A full sized, card cut-out model of a celebrity provided a theme with a playful dynamic for a group of fellow researchers.
• Once collected shells and stones around the house and garden were returned to the beach. The visits were shared, enjoyable experience. Environmental sound was recorded. Some recordings included human presence and others were of nature without human intervention. Each short recording gave opportunities for the imagination to create its own landscape.
• Twigs and stones were returned to the woods. The soundscapes recorded on each walk provided a new awareness of the different levels of sound and texture within the woodland’s, floor, mid-level and canopy. Listening back to the recording brought recollections of previous visits as well as those more recently encountered. Sounds which were not immediately recognised quizzed the brain.
• Copies of a greeting card illustrated with a painting (Love Dreaming by the Sea, Simeon Solomon, 1840), held in the School of Art Collections kept turning up in different locations around the house. It was a favourite and had been purchased for use as birthday cards, notelets and mini posters for family and friends. I was obviously drawn to it and not keen to dispose of the cards.
The painting ignited trains of thought and exploration. I began by researching into the background of the painting which led me to Nanteos Mansion, its previous owners and occupants and George Powell in particular (as he had commissioned the painting). This eventually led to the joint PhD Forum group project of celebrating the centenary of the teaching of art at Prifysgol Aberystwyth University.
Having commenced sifting and sorting through the belongings and carried out the above processes, the physical effort and pace required became too great. Unable to work efficiently it was decided to take a period of Withdrawal for a month or two.
Four weeks into this period of Withdrawal further disruption was announced. My husband and I learned that our daughter, family and pets would be coming to stay with us once their house had been sold, whilst they sought out a new home. The sale went through far more quickly than envisaged and the brief Withdrawal period became nine months (during which there was no rest), whilst our home was altered and prepared to welcome the new arrivals. Our new home life had a very different dynamic and many new demands, but we appreciated being part of such a venture.
The experience contributed to a belief that it is highly unlikely that there will ever be prolonged periods of calm ahead especially as personal frustrations arising from chronic fatigue do not appear to be ready to depart. This being the case, seeking out means of making practice accessible (preferably arising from the ‘everyday’), maintainable and sustainable, to address the needs of creative Flow during future life stages appear to be paramount.
It is with relief that reflection reveals that none of the early meanderings were a waste of time or opportunity. They were necessary tangential exploration which helped to shape and nurture the current focus.