Ellen Bell MORDANT © Stephen Lynch Photography 053

In the morning……I can open my eyes to nothing but whiteness, writes Jenny Diski in Skating to Antarctica, a repetition of white when I raise my eyes. Morning moments of indescribable satisfaction. Eventually, I’ll have to let colours in to my day, but for a while I can wallow in a seemingly boundless expanse of white.

Stephen’s Lynch’s photographs of MORDANT are gorgeous. The white of the painted plaster looks like snow.

MORDANT space - Stephen Lynch (1)

Like Diski, I find complete white so restful – joyous even. There is nothing to disturb, just a blissful nothingness. An emptiness of white.

White. White and red. White, red and black. I remember writing about the symbolism of colours in my English Literature A Level exam. I think it was for Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The red of the strawberries that Alex drops into her mouth and the red of his blood as it drips through the boarding house floorboards. Red and white the colours of life and death.

It had been a good day. I’d finished painting the first two coats of white for MORDANT at Oriel Davies, Newtown. And I was just getting ready to get out the car when I felt it. A pin prick of something on my thigh. Then it began. The running of red. So fast. My trouser-leg soaked in red. It had been a scalpel blade that had come loose from its protective cover. Poking out of my cloth bag it stabbed my thigh. Red everywhere, even into my plimsolls. They turned a yellowy-pink in the washing-machine. My blood. My own personal dye. And more patches on my trousers. There are four now. I don’t want to let them go. You look good in them, he says. That’s enough. That’s enough reason.

In The Piano Harvey Keitel puts his finger into the hole in her black woollen stocking. So sexy. That detail of it. The revelation of flesh. Pink against black, soft against rough. Waiting for a massage, I watch as the receptionist bustles into the treatment room to prepare the bed. In and out she goes, carrying out hot stones and towels. Her hair is pulled hard off her face. She scowls a little. A busy little body of a woman. She wears black leggings and a black shiny tunic. Do you want to go in now and chill a little till Veronica is ready for you? she asks. Thanks, I say, I will. It’s nice to have a little time before, isn’t it, she says. Yes. Her leggings are very tight and there is a hole in the inner thigh. Does she know it’s there, I wonder.

Oh, I think I’ll just pootle a bit, she says. Pootle, I say. I like that word, I think I’ll borrow it. I love her voice. It’s soft and treacly. She says ‘don’t know nothing’ a lot. Oh, that’s my slang, she says. And I can hear her giggle. Is she happy? I hope so. I try to imagine what she looks like but in a way I don’t want to know. She is in my head. That’s enough. I look forward to our chats, she says. Me too, I reply and then ask myself if it is true. Sometimes, I don’t want to pick up the phone. Phones are an intrusion and I know she feels the same, for sometimes she doesn’t answer and I must wait another week to hear her. And yet, once I’ve done it, it is good. It is a good feeling. In the end it is about a connection. A connection with another being. There is a warmth in making one. One feels enlarged by it. I surrender to their lives, stepping out of my own, just a while. So, this is how it is to be you. Tell me, what is on your mind? Tell me, a little about your life. Will you? And I will listen. I will listen. I promise.



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I was made-up seeing you, he said. Made-up. Made full. Completed. MORDANT is made. My little white room. I will hold it in me, forever. That little white space of light. Just light and those words, indistinct, barely there. You need to look close. Some may not see them. They may walk in and then walk out again. That’s fine. That’s as it should be. Art doesn’t have to be for everyone.

Ellen painting (7)

It looks beautiful. It has a been a happy project. I love its physicality. I love that fact that you can walk inside it. Be within it. I am hooked.

Drawing at ODG (1)

He wanted to know the context. Who talked about Clacton? I can’t remember. Does it matter? Yes. He has a story. His own story. His ex-wife was from Clacton. Its all about stories – other people’s stories that I seek so as to eclipse mine. We are all the same. That is the draw. Our sameness not our difference. The listening was a joy. It always is. That stopping of one’s own story so that one can encounter and sit within another’s.

She suffers from anxiety, though she never speaks of it in those terms. I ask if she goes out each day. Not every day, no, she replies, though most mornings I say hello to the postman. Words tumble out of her. We talk of church, of her daughter and how her hands hurt now when she makes welsh cakes. Though a friend got me this cream, she tells me, its herbal, and that helps. Not for long but for a while. That’s good, I say. That’s good. I called her darling, last time. I couldn’t help myself. It is her vulnerability it brings out the tenderness in me. Sometimes she laughs and that, well that, makes me up.





Wild flowers at ODG (5)

A patch of green. A small square of wildness, of weeds outside the gallery. Flora opened last night. The place was packed. It’s a strong show, an intelligent show. A celebration of flowers. Wear something floral, she said. I’ve always found private views uncomfortable. The art seems secondary somehow. I’m too impatient for all that standing around. Like at cocktail parties, fingers fondling wine glasses and all that incessant small talk. Sometimes one hears a gem but mostly it is nothing. A noise of nothing. The place was packed. That’s good, isn’t it? The highlight? Meeting Tom the artist. He was so chuffed about the review. It was a small thing. I loved writing it. It felt right and honest. He was touched. That’s good, isn’t it? And the other? The other highlight? Seeing them. My friends just there, across the room. What a surprise. They’d come all that way, just for me. What a delight. What a joy.


She’d just been brought back from being wheeled around the park. They were helping her out of the wheelchair when we arrived. She was screeching in pain. Then she stopped and turned to you, saying in Norwegian – I know you, you’re that film star, aren’t you? You didn’t understand. I translated and then she said it in English. She was still a beauty – ravishing. You were charming, as always. And then upstairs you charmed another.

It will be alright. It is always alright. There is no bogeyman. Just life, just life. I think about my little white room. Jenny Diski has one. What is it about white? My room is like a cloud, a misty space with no dark corners. Look closely and there are words. I think about my little room in the gallery. All shut up on a Sunday. Who goes in there now?



MORDANT - publicity photograph - Ellen Bell (4)

I am in readiness. Ready. But. But life is never that simple. Or is it? I try to find my peace, inside. Let the fear go. That fear of the unknown, all those things that could, that could go wrong. Poor man, he sounded so shattered. Shattered by this not so simple life. Or perhaps it is that simple. Life and death. That’s what it is, just life and then death. First his father-in-law and now his mother-in-law. He is a gentle man, I believe, yet urgent with contained energy. I liked watching him work. A confident stroke as the plaster met the board. A sweep, sweep and it was smooth. We will take care of him if he comes. We will be kind. That, I promise. Let it be so.

Across the road is a steep bank of trees. It is left to do it own thing. A little patch of wildness. Rooks nest there, and yesterday afternoon there were two magpies collecting twigs. And there are blue tits. I hear their silvery rattling. In the morning I looked out of our kitchen window and saw something scurrying. A tiny thing. How is it that I saw it? How is it that it caught my attention? What was it? I peered closer, there wasn’t time to get my glasses. It scumbled along – a dum-de-dum sort of movement. Would it be humming? Perhaps. It must have been a hedgehog. Though there were no prickles. Could it be so? Baby hedgehogs are born bald according to Google. I watched it mesmerised. I wanted it to stay visible. A safe thing. A sweet thing. It moved slowly, lost in its business, fussing amongst the leaves. What does the earth smell of? A moment’s distraction. A moment’s intensity. I persuade myself of miracles.

All is ready. I fuss over straight lines. Let it go. All is ready. Breathe.


Munch’s Apples

marks on wall in Pain

I’m almost ready to press my words into the plaster. It feels like I am holding my breath. How will it be? All this preparation and it will be ten minutes in the making.

He used to throw us his apples over the fence, she said. Munch in his garden at Skoyen throwing apples to two young girls. She is ninety-four now. Was he nice? I asked. Oh, yes, she said, he was very kind. We were both so moved by his paintings, even more so when they were juxtaposed with van Gogh’s. And the letters. My heart caught in my chest. It stopped for a moment. There. There they were, van Gogh’s letters. I must have seen them before in Amsterdam but here they seemed more intimate, so close. His hand was small, close, intense. And Munch’s too – so expressive, so felt. Both romantics.

To write. Too right. I love this. I need this. To write. Soon. When the two shows are up and done. Then there will be space.

I am in love with a place. I am in love with being there with him. I am in love with him. I am in love.

Nasty rabbits. Nasty rabbits and a fox that walked back to the mainland across the ice. It was too much for him. He was lonely and the rabbits, she told us, were nasty.

He calls it Doris. The dolphin. Of course, there are more than one. Any sign of Doris? he asks. No, not today. Not today.

Let it be what it will be. I am satisfied.

I place the stocks in a vase. Tonight they will intoxicate with their scent.



Ellen Bell: Photography by Simon Cook 01736 360041

I’ve been preparing the text, placing each little wooden letter onto a balsa wood strip. One by one. Letter by letter. So slowly, so perfectly.

And yet, it isn’t perfect. Not ever. It can’t be. Does it matter? he asks. Does it?

I think about my text drawings. The work that I make with old texts. Letterpress printed texts. I zoom in close. The ink has bled a little and the letters are misaligned. Just slightly. Minutely. And how I love such mishaps. They speak of something human, a breath, a distraction, something untoward. It is OK. The mistakes of others. Why not mine?

Such errors, such imperfections are the traces of presence – the potter’s fingerprint’s, the gardener’s footprint, the glassblower’s bubble – they capture a moment, a something unexpected.

Turn your world upside down, he said. So be it. Enough of this seeking perfection. Not in this life. Not now. Not ever. The best is good enough. Good enough.

The blossom is blown in the wind like confetti. He carries some into the flat on his shoe sole. I find it, a fleck of white.

An actor reads from Philip Glass’s autobiography, who in turn quotes John Cage on his Silences. Cage wanted to the audience to bring their own stories, their own sonic narratives to his piece. Rather like the artist who made an empty gallery his show. See, he said, here is the space for you to project your memories of exhibitions onto. Charlatan, they mumbled, just like the Emperor’s New Clothes, they whispered. Do you think so?

How good it was to have an opportunity to write about my show prior to opening. Here it is:

It helps to clarify what I am trying to achieve, sort out the wheat from the chaff. Such experiences are generally internal ones, writing helps me to expunge, look afresh and value it all anew.

More white boxes. For that is what it shall be. A white box with the minute-est interruption of words. Peter Brook called it the empty space – minimalist theatre – beginning with nothing but a white vacancy for his ‘Dream’.


Come into my little white box and see what you can see.



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You’ve had lots of adventures, he said. I know, I said, I know.

Even so there was still a little frisson. I can’t call it envy, for I am not envious, not at all. I am pleased for her, for them. For it is a brave thing to sell up and go abroad. And he is right. I have done the same thing many times. And each time was such a thrill. All that promise of newness – sometimes in the sun, sometimes not. I am a romantic and I yearn to travel. To be off. On an adventure.

He mustn’t worry, mustn’t fret. I am not unhappy. I do know that for all the thrill of being-off there is a that big comedown when one is landed. For all that stuff one is hoping to leave behind follows, in tow, like Robert Bly’s black bag. The inside is the same, wherever we are. So it is OK to be here. Yes, I thought as I sat on the bench in the sun watching a blackbird hop about in the long, impossibly green, grass, it is OK to be here. And yet, I celebrate their braveness, as I have celebrated my own. I remember a friend’s mother going to live in Greece. She didn’t have a house to sell. She had nothing. Before she died she was living in a caravan out there. I met her once and I liked her. A gentle woman, yet so vital, free even. She’d been married to a policeman. Leaving all that behind meant she could be herself. The inside, this time, made sense – finding peace, as it did, with the outside.

Simon Mayo interviewed someone about circuses. They are not what they used to be. England was famous for its animals, the man said. I remember. The elephants, the horses dressed-like ballerinas and the little dogs with ruffs walking on their hind legs pushing prams. Were there lions? The smell is what I remember most. The smell of animal sweat. Animal anxiety. Just like zoos. I used to find circuses unsettling. They were too manic, too fast. On the verge of hysteria. Are they better now that there are no animals? Do people still want to run away and join the circus? Simon Mayo asks his guest. Oh, yes, he said, I still get letters.

Where would you run away too? Not Italy, he said. No? I said. No, we’d go to Northern France, he said. Yes, I said, that would be lovely. When shall we go?