Work (65)

Sometimes this activity is the only thing that makes any sense to me. I don’t always look forward to doing it. It is a kind of purging, uncomfortable at times. And yet, I am always better for doing it. Expunged, is that the word? I thought about work as I walked this morning. What it means, what it means to me and to most people. I’d like to really engage with it as a notion, using my sewing as my way in. Sewing = work. Plain work they used to call it, shortened to work. It isn’t any more. Relegated to hobby status, unimportant domestic stuff. It isn’t large, grand or expansive. It takes so much time. I’d like to ask other artists what the word work means to them. One artist, I once read, said that he did art so that he didn’t have to get a job. I am paraphrasing him. He’s the one who did the shiny paintings using enamel paint. I cannot remember names these days. He and I spent a whole day last week trying to remember Banksie’s name. I ask you. Is art work? Is artwork work? What constitutes work? If I spend all day preparing the ‘Sunflowers’ tapestry for my performance in the National Gallery next week, is that work? Even if it looks, to all intents and purposes, like a bit of amateurish cross stitch, is it still work? Is it work if it brings in no money? I write for New Welsh Review, often. It is unpaid. Is that work? My family’s paradigm was always that work meant career, earning a living, being out there, making a name for oneself, chasing a profession. You worked to get on. To amass stuff. What I do doesn’t bring that. I thought it might, once. Was led to believe that it would. It felt wrong, so much grief. Can I have a red one? Yes, just like that but in red. A conveyor belt. Churning them out. Objects, things. I don’t make things anymore, I told my accountant, trying to explain. I don’t want to. Not anymore. He didn’t understand. He calls it stock. Stock. Stock pictures. Do you paint? What do you paint? No. Nothing. I chased it away, that way of working and now I am left with a space, which at times, quite frankly scares me to death.

Ideas. You’re an ideas person, he said. What does that mean exactly? They do come, thick and fast, but are they mine? Or just something I’ve filched? At the moment it is about placing myself in the frame. He is my photographer, my recorder. The quality of the images is unimportant. It is the capturing, so that I can see. See myself, working. I intend to buy a camcorder. I’d like to be self-sufficient in the recording process. Sometimes, I think I ask to much of him. He is out of his comfort zone. But you see I have no money, no funding. This is all off my own bat. And why not? This is my need, this discovering. No one else’s. So yes, I want to place myself in the frame against others who are working, going to work, coming from work. How does it look? Is it work? How does it compare? Where it will go I do not know. I’ve never worked this way before. I’ve always had a plan, followed a pre-prepared path. This is adventure. And it’s frightening.

I am floored by this cold, though I have managed to mop all the floors. And now it is admin time. Finish those accounts, pay the bill. Done, I hope.

Still lots of kids around in town, smooching along the Prom. Two girls walking ahead of me on my way home. One very tall, an Amazon, the other diminutive and contained. The small one was talking. I want someone, she said, to hand over my life to. I wish I did, said her companion.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.