Visit 23: 19 - 21 September 2008
On Friday morning we prepare to return to Dorset. I have been incredibly busy since our last visit, and am really looking forward to being in the very special atmosphere of Holton Lee again. Since we were last down, my Abnormal exhibition has been at the A Foundation in Liverpool for three weeks as part of Dadafest International 08, and that has been a great experience. In and out of that I have also been working for Graeae Theatre Company as a comic wheelchair line dancer, performing at the Liberty festival in Trafalgar Square and the Hackney Paralympic handover. And I have installed England, the film that I made at Holton Lee last summer and which will eventually form part of my residency show, in a group exhibition called Life and Liberty at Westbourne Grove Church artspace, so it has been a very packed five weeks. Genie has proved to be a real trouper throughout, but I know that she will be as delighted to be back in the countryside as I will.
In the back of my van I have some archive materials from London Disability Arts Forum (LDAF) to place into NDACA, and that is very sad. Due to the Arts Council's removal of their grant, LDAF have been forced to close, along with the London International Disability Film Festival and Arts, Disability, Culture magazine as these were both LDAF productions. Thank goodness for NDACA's existence, as otherwise more than 20 years of Disability Art history would disappear into the bin. However, it has been extremely upsetting for London-based disabled artists, particularly given the inevitable impact the closure will have on our ability to work. The final letter cutting LDAF's grant said simply that the mainstream had not changed enough to justify LDAF's continuing existence; it is hard to see why disabled people are being given the responsibility for challenging institutional disabilism. Certainly no one would dispute that it is white people's responsibility to challenge institutional racism. Rather, LDAF worked to promote Disability Art and disabled artists, a job that it deservedly gained an international reputation for doing extremely well.
The traffic is very heavy, so it is 4.30pm when we arrive, Genie hanging excitedly out of the van as we drive up the lane to the centre of the site where the Farmhouse is based. Trish and Debbie meet us, and we decide to unload the archive material straight into the Stables Studios. Once we have done this we unload our luggage etc into the caravan, and make the unpleasant discovery that the roof has been leaking. Perhaps this is not surprising after what has been one of the wettest summers on record, but I am irritated that my memory has not prompted me to check the seams since I bought the caravan, given that I was aware the sealant is very elderly. This is one of the occasions when I feel upset about the illness I experienced in 2000 which has removed some of my cognitive abilities. Fortunately the water has been trapped in the ceiling, limiting the damage. I am going to have to wait until next year to find out what state the ceiling will be in once it has dried out, though, and whether it can be repaired.
It is good to get down to the stables, where we receive our usual warm welcome and place a group order for fish and chips again, Genie rightly assuming that her tea will consist of the left-overs - in the meantime, she hunts for mice in the feedroom at Denise's suggestion (of course, she doesn't actually catch any!). John and Johnny are not here today, but Ali and Trish join us and we catch up on the Holton Lee news. Ali agrees to help me to try to repair the caravan at least temporarily tomorrow, which makes me feel better. We also talk a bit about the work that I intend to produce as part of my residency, and the way in which I am aiming to combine the four aspects of Holton Lee - disability/carers, art, environment and spirituality/personal growth - by referencing prehistoric forms of art. In particular, I talk about my desire to find an antler so that I can decorate it - antler art was one of the first portable forms of art. Denise offers to bring in an antler that she found, and I accept gratefully. As my walking ability is limited, and the deer are unlikely to shed their antlers on the paths that I can ride the scooter on, it seems sensible to focus on the art and not to worry too much about who found the antler!
It is nearly dark when we finish our meal and return to the caravan, where we are glad to settle down in front of the television. It is the Equinox on Monday, and it is a bitterly cold night - in fact, it feels more like November. We are able to have the heater on while we are still up, but during the night I have to switch it off for safety reasons and end up sleeping completely covered by every bit of bedding that I possess. Genie ends up on top of me, covered in a blanket and my big cardigan.
The next day, though, is beautiful and sunny, and I open all of the windows so that the caravan ceiling can begin to dry out. Denise, bless her, has left the papers outside the caravan door, along with the promised antler which I am delighted to see. It is not from a very old deer, and one branch is broken off where its previous owner appears to have been in a fight. I know it will work very well for my purpose. Prehistoric antler art consisted of markings or engraved lines on the antler, with the lines possibly being used to mark time off as a form of calendar or diary. I am therefore going to use dot painting techniques to produce a visual representation of my Blog - as with Australian dot painting, the meaning will only be obvious to those who understand the code, but then you could say the same about this website.
Once I am up, I set off for the common room to retrieve the scooter that Julie has borrowed from the stables, having left it in the common room over night. On my way I take some photographs of my shadow against the grass in front of the caravan; another set of self-portraits for my collection. I am using the shadow self-portraits as a starting point for the work that will form part of the NDACA building, although this will not be a self-portrait. I am intending to create an outline of a dancer on crutches which will be mounted on top of the building; this will move with/dance in the wind and - when it's sunny - will cast shadows on the ground which will change depending on where the sun is and what position the dancer is in at the time.
Around 10am we go down to the stables for coffee and to thank Denise for her kindness. After seeing Wally's photographs of his recent trip to Wyoming with one of the carriage drivers where they did a week's wagon driving course, we drag ourselves away to head into Wareham. There I intend to buy whatever seems likely to help in repairing the caravan roof, as well as stocking up on food. The woman at the ironmonger's now remembers me - particularly after Julie commissioning the caravan teacosy from her mother! - and I am soon loaded up with various types of repair tape and a silicon gun. After that I console myself with a tofu icecream from the wholefood shop - it is still rather cold for icecream, but as this is officially the end of the summer, and as the wholefood shop is one of the very few that stocks non-dairy icecreams (I am allergic to cows' milk), it seems like a good idea. Then I slip into the Koochi bazaar, the scene of last visit's shopping extravaganza, where I pick up a few bits.
When we get back to the caravan, Genie and I take the opportunity to practice some training exercises, which she always finds fun. She fetches my phone, keys, stick and wallet to me when I drop them on the grass, and is rewarded with treats. I have tried buying some silvery toy snake keyrings at the Koochi bazaar as an alternative to the soft toy keyrings that Genie uses to grab on to, but these unfortunately prove to be too small for the purpose. Even though it is also easier for me to pick things up with the keyrings attached, I do feel slightly foolish with variously a toy monkey, dogs and fox hanging off my possessions, and thought the snakes might have been more discreet. Genie, however, thinks the old toys are awfully dear as well as easy to pick up, and that's all that really matters. Her Dog Aid trainer is very pleased with her at the moment, and her behaviour during our recent travels was indistinguishable from a qualified working dog.
Afterwards Ali joins us for coffee and cookies before we take a look at the caravan roof. We decide that the sensible thing to do for now is to gaffer-tape the seams, and then to close the caravan for the winter. Ali offers to clean the outside and put the cover on over the next couple of weeks, which is a huge relief. Using the gaffer tape means that the roof will not need a more permanent form of repair immediately the cover comes off next spring, but can instead wait until it is suitably warm and I have someone to help me with it again. With Julie's assistance we manage to gaffer the roof without any of us having an accident; quite a feat in itself - we all agree that you can now tell the caravan belongs to an artist! Then Ali heads off for her studio and we take the scooters, cameras and an enthusiastic Genie for a walk in the fields.
At the end of our walk, I leave Julie to watch 'Strictly' with Genie while I take my camera off to the far bird hide in the hope of photographing the deer. Regular readers of this Blog will know that this is not something I am markedly successful at doing, but I am determined that eventually I will manage to get a photograph of a white doe or stag as a companion piece to the photograph of the white New Forest pony that I took last year. White deer and horses both have a long symbolic tradition within art, dating back to pre-history. What I ideally want to do is to return during the rut when the deer are much bolder, but next month I am due to go to Spain for a week's holiday and then to Austria to make a new piece as part of an arts festival, so this is unlikely to happen until 2009.
I end up kneeling at the side of the hide, using the verandah to balance my camera, when a stag approaches. Unfortunately, so does a small child on a pink bicycle, accompanied by her mother, so the stag makes a rapid about-turn and disappears, followed swiftly by said mother and child. Undaunted by this surreal and disappointing experience, I spend the next hour sitting on the ground with my back to a tree trunk, facing the pond where the deer often come to drink at night. I can see some of the herd in the reed beds, including a white doe, but they know I am there, and when it gets dark I have to give up and return to the caravan. As I ride through the woods with my lights on, I can't help contrasting this with my life in London, where I have not been out on my own after dark since becoming ill in 2000. Having the scooter in London has definitely provided me with more independence, but currently I am still much more free at Holton Lee than I am at home. I spend the rest of the evening eating tinned spaghetti and watching X Factor, before walking over to the artists' common room. The sky is incredibly starry, probably the best I have seen here, and although I do not encounter any more deer, it is quite magical.
The following morning Julie has set the alarm for 7am, so that we can take photographs as the sun comes up. However, it is extremely cold, and it soon becomes clear that both she and Genie would rather stay in the caravan! Having learned my lesson last time, I make sure that I prepare a flask of hot chocolate and pocket some wholefood shop cookies before leaving, having dressed in as many layers as possible to protect against the freezing cold. As I head for the woods, I see John coming to feed the horses; I have so much admiration for the stables volunteers who get up early every morning of the year to come here. It may be officially the last day of summer, but the frost is on the ground still and again it feels more like November.
As I approach the hide I startle some deer in the bracken, so I leave my scooter on the path and finish the journey on foot. It is such a delight to walk here; the ground is so much easier to walk on than concrete and of course the air is incredibly fresh compared to the city. I have my hot chocolate and cookies in the hide, but no more deer appear so I decide to look elsewhere. I also decide to take as many nature photographs as possible, so that I have at least something to show for my early morning.
When I come out of the woods and look over the heathland, I see what looks appears to be most of one of the herds spread out in front of me, including two white does. I know that I will not be able to get close enough to them to take the photograph that I want, but determine to get as close as possible anyway. I leave the scooter on the path again and set out over the heath, aiming to walk away from the herd but at the same time to end up in front of them. Before I get too far my right foot ends up down a rabbit hole, jarring it badly. This is the third fall that I have had this week, so I hope it is third time lucky, and in the meantime am pleased that my pain medication should stop it from affecting me too badly. I set off again using a deer path, something I should have been sensible enough to do to start with, and am rewarded by finding some rabbit? hare? bones spread out on the path in front of me. I pocket these, as I am still considering using bones and other found objects within my art work.
Eventually I end up sitting on a fallen tree trunk, between two halves of the herd. I realise that I would need a far more expensive lens than I own before I could take any appropriate shots from here, but spend a magical hour just watching them. Again, they know I am there and watch me too, so occasionally I make calling noises so that they do not think that I am a predator waiting to pounce. I cannot think of anywhere that I would rather be than here. After a long time, the deer melt away, and I follow more deer paths in the hope of returning to the scooter, which by some miracle appears on the path in front of me before too long. Soon afterwards I come across some New Forest ponies - new ones are grazed here each year - and they are more than happy to pose for photographs (which is of course why I currently have a white pony in my portfolio but no corresponding deer).
On the way back I see Janet, who is the daughter of Margaret Newell, founder of the stables. Janet was the only person to guess Genie's weight last year, in the now famous 'Guess the weight of the Westie' competition, everyone else being bamboozled by Genie into believing that she is much smaller and cuter than she actually is. I enjoy a chat before returning to the caravan, where I am more than ready for breakfast. Then I spend a slow day packing up the caravan for the winter, broken up with a walk on the scooter with Genie to the Mead, where the stables horses are grazing. Genie and I both feel quite brave, since we have never ventured this close to them before; the Mead is one of the few places that we have not explored previously. However, one of the ways in which the stables crew train the horses for disabled people is to avoid giving them treats by hand, so that the horses are not tempted to come over and harass people for food. Despite this, Genie hops on to the footplate of the scooter as we pass close to them on our return.
I look for a potential opportunity to create a handprint for my series, but none appears to be obvious. I have also promised my osteopath that I will be careful to avoid getting mud in any cuts on my hands, since she had to treat the resulting joint problem last time this happened, when I made a print in the pond mud earlier in the summer! I do though intend to carry on with the series, and have discussed with Julie and Ali whether to make a cast of one set of prints (animal and human) in the future. When NDACA is built, the architects have suggested reflecting the handprints by inviting everyone who helps to build the cob wall that will form the back of the building to make their own handprints in the cob.
As we get ready to go, we see Johnny, who has given up his Sunday afternoon to feed the horses. John and Janet arrive back too, and help us to load the scooter on to the trailer before we leave. It has been a great end to the summer, although I will not be sorry to sleep under a non-leaking roof the next time that I come down!
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|Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just £3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for £20 inc UK postage and packing.|