Guns & Potatoes
A blog about freedom, connection and living with the great mystery of life
At the beginning of this year I started working on a project entitled 'Give My Head Peace'; exploring conflict and how this manifests in our everyday lives. I find the omnipresence of conflict fascinating, once you start looking for it you realise that it's everywhere, from war torn countries to the complicated landscapes inside our heads. The juxtaposition of human inflicted problems against the often nurturing properties of nature absorbs me further still.
Growing up in Northern Ireland has clearly had an enormous effect on how I view this subject matter, and I'm looking forward to a research trip there in August. Meantime I've set my sights on a patch of land a bit closer to my current home in East Sussex; part nature reserve, part nuclear power station. I find Dungeness to be a strange, ineffable sort of place that I can hardly believe exists.
I spent a gloriously sunny and wind swept day there, expecting to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the protected wetlands with their prolific birds. Instead I could not take my eyes off the plethora of electricity pylons that emerge majestically from the power station and dot themselves with great stature across the landscape. I was moved by the way they rose from great fields of yellow and green, a mark of how man embeds himself in and lives, sometimes precariously, alongside the natural world.
I took my trusty tiny battery operated sewing machine with me and commenced studies that have started to morph into a body of work influenced by this powerful, haunting place.
My Nana died this year at the age of 93. She had been a seamstress all her life; making alterations to clothing for the people living in her neighbourhood for a bit of grocery money. She made all her children's clothes as they grew up, with a family of seven this was no mean feat. I remember being wildly impressed when she made some garish floral bridesmaids' dresses for my cousins.
I drove the whole way from Hastings to the north coast of Ireland to collect her sewing machine during a beautiful red and orange autumn and here it is, nestling in my studio next to my own machine. It feels really important that I use it for a project of some significance; perhaps something steeped in reminiscence and history.
I was delighted to discover a few days ago that Finn can operate a sewing machine remarkably well for an eight year old; his pedal control is remarkable. I couldn't help but hope that the seamstress's genes had passed down into his little feet.
I've just returned from a trip to these former Yugoslav states, nestled breathtakingly in the Dinaric Alps adjacent to the Adriatic Sea. The scars of the wars of independence are still surprisingly visible despite having occurred more than two decades ago. This was particularly poignant to me as I am exhibiting my first major piece of work in a few weeks time as part of Coastal Currents arts festival, the subject of which is my experience of The Troubles growing up in Northern Ireland.
Our driver Matteo tells us that the war was caused by the Serbs - they wanted to make a Serbian state. He is still visibly upset; he had to live in a basement for ten months whilst a child during the fighting. His girlfriend's father was killed. He drives us to Mostar past old cars, graffiti, bullet riddled bus stations and stark but beautiful mountains dotted with grey-white limestone. Cemeteries holding war victims abound. Peace is fragile Matteo tells us. We can see ourselves from the fact that villages are marked out by either Serbian or Croatian flags - a bid for territory reminding me uncomfortably of the red, white and blue kerbs I grew up with.
Mostar has a surprisingly Arabic feel; the area around the Old Bridge has the atmosphere of a Middle Eastern souk with throngs of people drinking Bosnian coffee from traditional vessels outside bustling street cafes on vividly patterned cushions. The Muslim call to prayer sings out, bouncing off the shrapnel pocked buildings and the virtually decimated ones that have yet to be rebuilt.
It's a strangely beautiful place and I am left wanting more.
My sculptural textile work 'Troubles and Strife' can be seen at 6 The Green, St Leonards from 1st September and throughout the period of Coastal Currents.
I've just returned from eight glorious days in Ireland - one of which I boarded the little ferry at Ballycastle harbour and sailed choppily to Rathlin Island with Finn and Paddy in tow. It's a wild, stark landscape that sings to my soul; the light has a strange luminous quality that makes the colours of the island cloak the terrain in an incredible harmony. After spending much of my life traversing the globe in an exploration of what it means to be a tiny human on this beautiful planet, I'm increasingly drawn to the place of my roots - seeing and sensing all the answers I need right there in the place of my birth.
I spent two hours travelling the length and breadth of the island and photographing the wealth of textures and colours - visiting the 'upside down' lighthouse and seabird centre where the first birds are beginning to build their nests for spring. After a quick lunch, I was fortunate enough to be able to set up my sewing machine in the cute Breakwater Studio, run by artist Yvonne Braithwaite and her husband. Surrounded by Yvonne's paintings, I happily stitched into paper that I had dyed using natural colourants including blackberries, leaves and rust. Images from around the island were my inspiration.
Maybe I needed to travel great distances in order to really appreciate what I grew up with right on my doorstep. Falling in love with Ireland has made me ponder on the famous book by Paulo Coelho 'The Alchemist' in which he writes 'Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.'
This summer we managed to drive from Hastings to Barcelona with two kids and Grandma in the back seat. I was desperate to take Finn and Paddy to see the awe inspiring work of Gaudi, help them to have a go at some mosaic making themselves, and take in the bustling streets bursting with street art and unusual architecture.
Not content with being passive tourists, we staged our own Art Action in the beautiful Parc Guell, complete with its Trencadis coated sculptures and chocolate box cottages. Finn and Paddy gave away homemade pom pom Love Bugs, resplendent with pipe cleaner antennae and googly eyes. Each came with a luggage label with the words 'a gift for a stranger' in Spanish. The response was wonderful with one woman proclaiming 'this is the nicest thing I've ever seen'.
One week after we got back from our trip their was a terrorist attack on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It was a sorrowful reminder that dark energy still looms large in the world and that this threatens all our freedoms, rips apart our connections with each other, and deepens our fears around why we are here and where we are going.
Janey grew up in Northern Ireland surrounded by guns and potatoes. Out of this conflicted experience she came to believe that there are three main important life lessons: freedom to express what lies within you is the ultimate gift; everything in this universe is connected; you must learn to accept that life is a great mystery. She has two sons called Finn and Paddy, and she enjoys taking them on adventures.