THE BIRTHDAY an exploration of birthdays curated by Rhiannon Evans Banbury May 2017
An invitation by artist Rhiannon Evans to join her and others in an open house event to explore birthdays, real and imagined, near and far, past present and future prompted me to revisit a work I had made but shown only once in a studio show not long after my mother died.
FUEL had consisted of a photograph of the black hat I had worn at my mother's funeral ringed with birthday candles I had kept from my children's birthday cakes as they grew up. An accompanying quote by poet Kenji Miyazawa read "We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey". I had made performative action and installation in front of the picture.
The work was a tribute to my mother and an expression of the profound grief I felt at her death but by introducing the birthday candles of my children I also intended that the work be one of hope, of life transcending death and of light in the darkness.
For The Birthday event I decided to recreate the hat but to light the candles on it as I wore it and to take a large photo of my mother with me as though we were going to the party together, hence the title of the work, Party Girls. This act represented my experience of grief as it evolved to a stage where despite my continued sadness at her loss, there is acceptance and a sense of pleasure when I remember and speak about my mother, something I rarely get to do now. I took the FUEL photo too and information about that work made early on in the process of grief.
I also took with me face paints and had an idea that I might paint myself or others, I knew it was an event open to the community and thought that might be a connective activity to do and one that others could participate in. Once there, and as I sat and chatted in the garden about what I intended to do with the hat and candles, I met one of the guests, a painter, Frances Eason, and we devised the idea that she would attempt to paint a portrait of my mother on my own face using the face paints. Over an hour or so that is what she did and with my face painted as my mother I then joined the large picture of her at the party tea table as the candles on my hat were lit and the guests sang Happy Birthday to my mother for all the birthdays she had and the ones that she won't have, before the candles were burnt out. The face paint was removed in front of the audience and I then sat and talked about the impetus for the work with the guests at the tea. The experience of having my mothers face painted onto my own was moving and the resultant image intriguing and I hope it will lead to other works in collaboration with Frances Eason.
With thanks to Rhiannon Evans and Frances Eason.
Photographs : Chris Turner and Clare Carswell