97. Art and Illness: The Rich Nausea of Complexity

Your weeks can be very varied. You probably dreamed once of being the kind of short-story writer, abstract painter, or 3-minute hit-single songwriter who consistently focuses on one form of art, but in recent years you have become resigned to , accepting of, affirmative about your eclectic ‘profile.’ You describe yourself as ‘artist, writer and lecturer’ but within each of those three terms lies further complexity, i.e. you are several kinds of artists, of writer and of lecturer. Furthermore, there is more to life than arting, writing, and lecturing too and so, as you say, a week can be quite varied.

This week involved attendance at APT open studios event in Deptford. Not only did about 40 artists present their works in their workspaces but a group exhibition was also curated. This featured the novel but effective device of having each artist present a work in one space and an object chosen by the curator from the artist’s studio nick-nacks and paraphernalia, in another space. Of course, in the 21st century, and largely thanks to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp the two rooms did not look incongruous, both looking and feeling like contemporary art shows.

Numerous performances and art events pervaded the weekend, including your partner, the artist Bada Song, repeatedly performing ‘Walk On By’ on an electric piano in an echoing passage-way, wearing a specially made costume.  Ex-Laban Centre contemporary dancer Svenja Buhl interpreted and negotiated an external fire escape with sometimes machinic movement, Fran Cottell waded across the adjacent Deptford Creek at low tide to install a rope showing the height the river could attain at high tide, and there were many more.

You spent a couple of days preparing materials and working hard on logistics for a couple of books you are making, and soon launching, with your eeodo colleagues. You spent one day in a recording studio turning a song sketch into a more finished interpretation of what you believe to be its magnificent possibilities. You attended an event at Morley Gallery which marks the handover of the gallery programme to interim manager Lena Augustinson, an old friend. The featured artist was painter Rebecca Mclynn, whose near-abstract renditions of remote spaces (often evoking barren beaches and horizons) were curated by Augustinson, and complemented with a choice of books, equally carefuly displayed and relating to encounters with wild places.

There were more events in your diary that you thought you might be relating today if it wasn’t for the fact that you had to cancel and spent one day bedridden as a sick artist, writer and lecturer. At first you thought the symptoms pointed to something you must heave eaten, but, as the problem didn’t resolve itself through one or other of the notorious forms of violent bodily evacuation, you think it may equally be stress-related. Either way, you spent a day in bed with a booming head pain, related to a consistent nausea , extreme exhaustion, abjection, weakness, and an occasionally palpitating heart.

There was still time for a little imaginative interpretation, philosophical reflection and even poetic insight into your miserable condition. At times, the bare plaster walls offered up figures and patterns you had never noticed before. You became interested in your sudden conversion to religion as you repeatedly groaned out the name of the Holy Father while  writhing around the room, ‘becoming animal’ and creatively blurring distinctions between bed, the carpet and the threshold between the bedroom and the hall.

The scene outside the window also offered moments of blissful change (albeit, as it were, seen ‘through a glass nauseously’). A sudden shower drenched the leaves of a cherry tree and the sheer beauty of it brought you a brief moment of relief and pleasure, helpfully reminding you of the better self you were capable of being.


Then late afternoon sun turned whispy clouds to a pale peach contrasting with the pale vivid blue of the sky.  Reading made you feel sick, but you thought about Nietzsche and Kafka and the ways they had philosophically alluded to the body, to our animal condition when bereft of our ‘higher faculties’, and of the notion that, in illness we are offered a rare opportunity to see our ‘self’ as something first lost to us, and then regained, as we return to what we consider our ‘real’ or ‘normal’ self.

You still don’t feel ‘100%’ as they say, but nevertheless heroically rose to complete your weekly Blogging duties (the above may not be one of your best efforts and this is the excuse). Perhaps you are doing too much and sometimes become overwhelmed, exhausted and even nauseated by the rich mix of interests you take in life and art. The past 20 years have felt like making up for lost time, grasping opportunities that seem available to you now but which were way beyond your grasp in your repeatedly ailing ‘n’ failing 20s and 30s.

Today, as you nurse your wounded body, soul and mind the lure of that more singular creative identity still beckons, the discarded dream of becoming more focused on one single activity returns. Perhaps this bout of illness is a signpost on the way to realising that possibility, or necessity.


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