Borders, separation, repair, talks by Karen Alderson

I’ve been asked to give an artist talk, so far I’ve created three power point presentations and I’m still not clear. Do I talk about my life?  This project? How much do I tell? What do I leave out?  I recently asked  a group of artists “What do you want to know when you  listen to an artist talk about their work?” “Their starting point” one said, “What sets them off.” I begin thinking about another way to tell my story .

Identity. How have we created and continue to create our present idea of ourselves? What are the twists, the turns, the important people, the early influences, the unconscious motives, the economic context?

Time to reflect.

Last week I found myself bidding on Ebay for a vintage old Silver Cross Pram . I had plans to take it apart and rebuild it with car parts taken from vehicles that had been written off. I have shelved this idea for a future exhibition, I’ve given myself permission to not immediately follow every idea that comes into my mind as I write my morning pages. A part of me is rushing, panicking, wanting to make a big statement, not believing in the work that is already steadily emerging at its own pace. I return to it, like returning to the breath when ones mind has wandered during meditation.

The “Pram”idea came about with a vague memory that my mother had had a car accident when she was 6 months pregnant, she had never told me & when I asked she confirmed that this had actually happened. I found myself drawing newborn skulls and becoming interested in the fontanelle.

I obtained a piece of sheet metal, the sort used to repair cars and wanted to make it into the shape of a skull with a space at the top for the fontanelle. First I had to cut a depression into a log and then beat the piece of metal into shape.


This took ages and it did not turn out as I expected, I found it hard to make the fontanelle space at the top smaller than I wanted.  Panel beating was physically hard work.

However, I do like the shape and now intend to make some lace to attach to the edges of the opening. I have been learning how to tat, something my aunts did when I was a child. I find it immensely soothing and like the idea of  juxtaposing the hard metal shape with soft, intricate lace. I guess I will have to drill holes into the metal to attach it.


Sorting through my new found source of scrap metal pieces I find one and put holes in it with an awl and a hammer. Again I intend to “repair” it with lacemaking.

Returning to the earlier  wire and latex piece, I make a frame out of wood, drill holes in the sides then sew each piece of latex  to the uprights. As I sew I  listen to the abridged version of the book. “The Rule of the Land” by Garrett Carr on Radio 4.  The book is an account of the author, a mapmaker, walking the border between Northern and Southern Ireland. It is a meditation on borders and how those that live near them negotiate the imposed separation & how it moulds their identity. He describes how Barry McGuigan, who lived in Clones, a town in Southern Ireland located on the border, was able to slip into Northern Ireland thus being able to have access to greater resources. Later he took on a British identity to enable his path to becoming Boxing World Feather Weight Champion.

Carr also talks about the Peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement & how Senator George Mitchell utilised vocabulary that encapsulated inclusive decision making in order to involve paramilitary organisations in decommissioning their weapons. It was the use of words as an initial bridge so that groups on opposing sides could choose to walk towards one another without a loss of face.  I thought a lot about how skilled Mitchell was in his sensitive consideration of honour, autonomy and choice in order to build trust & how this was essential to enable agreement and consequent peace. The ultimate goal was to use participants’ words to create the agreement, differences may still have existed but a symbolic unification had taken place.

I re read this article about reducing the sense of separation that some aspects of modern life create.

As I stitch the latex to the wooden support I think about the edges of each material & how different they are, as I handle the latex it it feels like I’m sewing skin.


My other plans are to make some small  simple weaves that will be inserted into a piece of broken fencing. These will replicate darning & will represent the act of reparation.


2 thoughts on “Borders, separation, repair, talks by Karen Alderson

  1. As always Karen, lots of stimulating ideas and developments in your blog. During other activities, and at various times I’ve been jotting down quite a few thoughts in response to it. Interestingly when I came to reread your blog there’s already quite an overlap with my own thoughts and it strikes me you’ve already got a lot of your talk covered in a healthy way. Incidentally, who are you giving the talk to? I guess other artists and/or art interested people.

    I’d suggest sticking to the old KISS adage, keep it simple and don’t try to embrace everything that informs and drives your work and life as an artist. There’s too much for one talk, everything that happens is ultimately relevant, but to keep it interesting and enjoyable for your audience, be selective about what you share. So what are the key elements that make you tick, generally and specifically?

    Obviously that’s only for you to say and importantly for you to choose to share. I kept writing the word enjoyment in my jottings. I think it’s important. Within life’s often difficult circumstances it’s important to pursue your pleasures and happiness. And it’s equally important to give yourself permission to do this to the point that this issue is resolved so you no longer need to give yourself permission. Seeking happiness for yourself and, importantly, others is a great goal. So a driver can simply be because it’s enjoyable, no matter if difficult too.

    I suspect that I’m straying from my own KISS guide here! Quite a while ago I remember suggesting that you could share your work as an illustrated talk. Maybe this is the serendipitous opportunity. Perhaps it could be a dry run, a sort of public rehearsal, valuable for both you and the audience.

    My jottings of what makes us artists and make art included the following. I’ve left them as random jottings so hope you can make some sense of them.

    What we liked doing as children; the enjoyment of particular media; personal experiences, concerns, passions; wanting/needing to share ideas and creative experiences; wanting to try and resolve political and personal issues; wanting to tell a story becoming the need to tell a story; wanting to explore new experiences;

    Then there was a stream of consciousness about how we respond to different environments and how that informs our work. We are moved by nature, perhaps particularly by vast skies or mountains or the sea, or moorland. I often think we’re affected in this way by our roots, whether it’s urban or rural.

    You love walking, and looking, taking in both the big picture and then being curious about the detail, the exciting juxtaposition of the texture of a broken fence and the grass on either side. You are always looking, listening and thinking. And that opens a whole other set of the other important stimuli that informs your work. The conversations, the books you read, films you see, radio programmes you listen to, music you hear, birdsong, traffic, arguments and so and so. They are all heightening your senses. So do they all matter?

    Perhaps it’s like pulling in a huge fishing net, you select what to keep and what to out back, for whatever reasons and criteria you use. So everything is in a context. Our life experiences inform and shape our creativity, and these experiences are always a mix of the planned and chance. Which is why, I guess, life can be so exciting and so scary.

    We choose to go to a particular film, exhibition, festival, but how we are affected by them is in some ways a matter of chance. There’s also the chance of who we might meet along the way, delightfulor otherwise, or of course the chance of whether we meet anyone at all. We may well choose not to.

    Of course as artists, we seek to get the balance between chance and planned working in our favour. But the very nature of creativity involves exploring the unknown, but again within a context. I think you are on a journey, both literally and metaphorically. I’d suggest using that as the basis of your talk. Trust your instincts. Your work is very important and you can rightfully be serious about it, but don’t take yourself too seriously, think about the pleasure of your audience and I suspect that way will give yourself more pleasure too..

    One of the core elements of your work could be presented quite traumatically. The crash and historical crashes. The work with wreckage. It’s fascinating hard edge stuff but I’d suggest needs to be addressed very sensitively to keep the audience with you. Be selective with what and how you share it, but certainly it needs to be in . Be careful for yourself too with what you share. There’s no need to expose too much. Perhaps for the talk, take the starting point of your present work, the early walk and exploration of materials and ideas. Maybe don’t go down too many other paths, interesting as that are. Remember, KISS

    When i worked as a theatre designer I heard a director referring to Joan Littlewood’s advise for an acto who asked ‘how shall I do this bit?’ She’d replied, ask youreself “why am I doing it. If you know ‘why’, you’ll know ‘how'”. I think thattransposes for so much of creative work.

    I’m again intrigued by your journey with bringing together the very different elements of latex, fabric and wood and the Radio 4 programme The Rule of Land. I heard the one about Garrett Carr going with his dad to buy a new second hand across the border, fascinating.

    There are strong elements of this juxtaposition in upholstery. I recently met one of these very clever craft workers in his amazing workshop. They shape both the hard elements, usually wood, and the soft fabrics to make a strong composite and sometimes very beautiful piece of work. Intriguing stuff.

    Finally, i too reread the Facebook article. How prescient in 2015 to foresee the impact of social media on our everyday lives and its impact on mass behaviour in elections and the working ways of presidents. How terrible that that guy creeps in to this writing!! It also alerted me to the ironic invitation at he end of your blog to be then first to ‘like this’. In the context it felt a bit pressured, am I a critic, is everything a critique or a hopefullybhelpful conversation. I prefer the latter so perhaps a tad guiltily I didn’t click ‘like’ when I dolike it! But i am influence by the article.

    Go for it Karen, I’m sure it will be great


    1. Thank you for your comments Graham, I like the idea of keeping it simple with the enjoyment of the audience at the upper most of the experience, I will certainly be checking my ideas and not disclosing personal details that I may latter regret, fortunately I have someone with whom I can run the structure of there talk through prior to the event.


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