Adherence of a Repetitive Disorder or ‘caged dress’ as it is easily known was created in 2014. It was inspired by my work ‘This Bird’s Doing Life!!!’ A large cage filled with empty boxes of my HIV Medication, also chained up with a large padlock. This represented me, a life that has now become a ‘life sentence’ chained to a strict drug regime, adherence is constantly on my mind, something I feel at times very ‘locked’ up in as is crucial to my survival!
The dress was also inspired by the huge ‘caged crinolines’ that had been worn by women of the past, these too must have been uncomfortable and awkward and very limiting to their daily lives. I wanted to create something that was part of my autobiography, and more importantly, could be worn by myself to go that little bit further by showing how relevant this disease is still today, that even with the medication, it is still limiting, and the side effects can have a lasting affect on the body and the mind!
Once again, I used the same pattern, method to make the ‘canvas’ (dress). I scanned, reversed and printed the images of my HIV medication onto the material. I did so in a haphazard way to show that how this was a ‘repeat prescription’, I didn’t want it to have a usual repetitive pattern. It had to show how chaotic this condition can be!
I researched online making a ‘caged crinoline’ and visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see one in their collection. It was awkward to construct, and much time and patience was needed, but that is one thing I am very happy to have more of ‘TIME’!!!!
Battle Dress was created in 2014. It was inspired by the piece of work ‘Regimen(t)730’ which was 730 hand-made plaster grenades to represent a years HIV medication. I was fighting a battle, and showing that sometimes the cure is as toxic as the condition itself.
It was a war I was fighting and I needed something suitable when I went into battle!!!
I used the same dress pattern as previous pieces. I opted for the camouflage material, I made a stencil of an image of a grenade and covered the dress/canvas in the alternating colours of my two daily’toxic’tablets/grenaids!
A fancy dress costume ‘bullet belt’ was also painted to represent my medication.
As a form of identification I printed my personal medical reference number onto the side of the dress,also reflecting how people were recognised from long distance in different wars of the past and present.
A petticoat has been sprayed in camouflage colours and an actual camouflage net has also been added.
It was created in 2014. It was a piece, a reflection of a time that I’d rather not think about as it was a painful experience but an experience that needed to be shared as this could be how I became HIV Positive?
The gown is covered using Image transfer paper of images of Blood clotting bags (Factor 8) this is as it says, a blood clotting agent that is fed intravenously into your veins, the process for each session lasted 8 hours, I would have to visit the hospital for this treatment 3 times a week and this went on for approximately 3 months.
It was a painful experience as the tubes would block which caused horrible pain/spasms and meant that a new needle/canula had to be inserted. My arms and hands have memories of each of those experiences by small scars dotted about them. The machine was attached in a way that I was able to walk with it to the toilet, so it was my constant companion over those days.
I was having this treatment as my blood cells were not clotting and had been on a huge course of Steroids to see if they would solve the problem, they didn’t, they just made me gain so much weight that it made life very uncomfortable for my slight frame and my active lifestyle of looking after a 2-year-old!
I was given a choice, a choice to either opt for more steroids over a longer period of time or an operation to remove my spleen (Splenectomy). I opted for what I believed was a ‘quick fix’ and less damaging! I opted for the operation!
This could be the reason for my now HIV infection as many people over those years with different blood disorders had to have Factor 8 and had also now either died from AIDS or were living with HIV!
I will never know the real truth in my case, as it would mean going back and finding out all the batch numbers on each clotting bag to see if they were part of the infected batches? And, quite frankly, it wouldn’t change anything, I’d still be HIV Positive, so I decided that it wouldn’t ruin my life, and wouldn’t become bitter by blaming others etc and decided making ‘a positive out of the positive’ and this has become the best way I have learnt to deal with this disease.
Also the dress has images of my then wrist Watch printed on it, this to represent me clock watching over the hours but also a memory of being in the hospital after being diagnosed and so frail that this watch became like a huge bangle on my thin arms. A tube is also attached connected to a fake factor 8 bag, this shows how constricting this whole experience was.
Another week has passed and means a week closer to #AddressingtheSituationLondon2017. This week is the blog for the ‘Statement Dress’ inspired after being asked to write for an Online Forum about ‘Life as a HIV Positive Female in 2013’ I was brutally honest, I know that I am one of the lucky ones and able to tell my tale, but due to the length of time that this condition went undiagnosed in my system and nearly killing me, it has left me with different complications, complications still with walking, with nerve damage and pain, with chronic fatigue and with all the age related conditions happening maybe sooner than later, and of course the toxic effects of the drugs that while they keep the HIV at bay, can and do have damaging effects on my other organs!
A statement was written in full concerning these issues and also about the Benefit/welfare system. The cruel, unjust work capability assessments in the shape of ‘One size fits all’ by A.T.O.S Health Care and as we know when we try on t-shirts for example, ‘one size definitely doesn’t fit all !!!’
I really didn’t think they would print the whole statement as it was fairly damning of different health providers that should really look after the vulnerable and how they should recognise that anybody can become affected by the HIV Virus and not stereotype people when they are showing symptoms recognizable with HIV/AIDS!
I also wrote that I stood by this statement and would be proud to wear it….
The statement was printed in full online but fearing the worst of a huge edit, I had already published it to Facebook and Twitter.
I decided that the Dress had to be made and set to work on it. Another long and patient process and hoping that I could fit the statement onto the dress in such a way that it could still be easily read?
I attached some plastic balls and chains, these had words attached to each, these were mine and many other Peoples ‘Albatrosses’, these were words that summed up this condition, they could weigh you down either by how you were judged by society, or if not careful by yourselves!
This dress has been displayed many times now and sadly it is still as current as ever, but as myself ever an optimist, I really do hope that things will change? People and Peoples attitudes will change and more people if affected will get the treatment and medication sooner than later and not be made to feel like social pariahs and be able to lead happier lives without the fear of persecution by being diagnosed HIV Positive!
Photo: Statement Dress at The Crypt Gallery of St Pancras London 2014
‘Great Expectations of my Significant Others’ was the second dress I created in this ever-growing, ever evolving collection.
Inspired by Charles Dickens and Great Expectations, a huge favourite read of mine and have a collection of the films. But will always class David Leans production made around 1947? as my all time favourite. Jean Simmons is ‘Estelle’ and this cinematic experience has always inspired me, its dark and beautiful quality, something, I always attempt to achieve or aim for in the quality of work I produce.
I had been talking about how I would like to create a dress that was covered in images of my own work, a journal of my life since my diagnosis of being HIV Positive, and how that near ‘death’ experience had dramatically altered my life. A life that I had to begin again, as had to learn how to walk again, and like a toddler, it was baby steps at the beginning, and many falls. The dress shows progress through the years by the images that adorn it.
As Miss Havisham was in the dark for such a long time and through abandonment had become very bitter, I had likened this to my own ignorance about my condition before diagnosis, I was completely in the dark but never wanted to let bitterness destroy my life, as didn’t know how long this ‘new life’ would last, so wanted to make it as productive and remarkable as was possible?
I wasn’t confident enough then to attempt a ‘real pattern’ so decided as a lot of my work were ‘readymades’ that I could pull ready-made pieces together and give them a new purpose, a purpose personal to me. I used an old corset that was bought over 20 years ago at a Charity Shop in Portsmouth for 50p, that I had worn many times to the ‘Rocky Horror Theatre Show’, luckily as a bit of a hoarder, this was something that I could never let go of, I always thought ‘it might come in handy one day?’ . This I sprayed silver. I found ‘reduced’ Halloween costume skirts in grey/silver and added a little more netted fabric. A netted underskirt was sprayed silver and this added to the volume of the skirt.
Once I had my base/canvas to work on I set about using ‘Image Maker’ to transfer all my images onto white Cotton material. This is a long process but I liked the quality of image it produced, it made them look quite old, antique even, so this really added to the overall effect I was aiming for. I stitched netting around each image to almost resemble ornate picture frames and then each one was sewn on to the dress.
The final addition was to print and laminate many images of Fob watches to hang/drape as a necklace. Each clock face dormant, also referring to Miss Havisham and how the clocks around her stopping at the time of her so-called ‘demise’ from life. These are also an indication of how life nearly stopped for me in 2002.
There is mostly always a darkness to my work as there is in life, but always important to add beauty and a glint of humour to it! Sometimes we need a way out of that darkness, a light, a purpose to show us the way and luckily through medication and determination my life restarted and continues as long as I continue creating work raising awareness and having a purpose for life itself…….
As the lead up to Exhibiting in London in 2017 with #AddressingtheSituation I am going to write-up about each of the pieces that will be displayed.
The Red Ribbon Dress
This was first created in 2005 as a sculptural piece for my end of year show on an Art Access/Foundation course. I wanted to disclose my Positive status to the people who had become friends, colleagues. I had planned that I would make a piece raising awareness about such an important issue and such an ill-informed subject. People still had no real idea of who could and was infected/affected by this disease and I was a prime example, never did I think that I would be in this position and nearly die from my own ignorance!
The piece got some great feedback and was even exhibited at The Spinnaker in Portsmouth for World AIDS Day and then went to Southampton Art Gallery for an event.
Sadly as the piece was made partly of wire (the underskirt), it got more and more damaged over time from being moved around. It seemed such a sad existence of such an important piece of work and the plan had always been to remake it into something that I could wear, and would last the ravages of time?
Via Facebook, I had been invited along to an event for The London AIDS Memorial to talk about my plan of recreating the dress and the Memorial Book that was to accompany it every time it was displayed. The book is modelled on the original Memorial Aids Panels that became quilts in the 1980’s. The measurements of each panel were 6x3ft, the size of a grave plot. I have represented this in centimetres and made each page in the orientation of portrait, as it is a Portrait of the many lives lost to this disease and the many living with it day-to-day.
I invite the public to write dedications/names to those they have lost, to support the ones living with HIV. These are all written on pieces of coloured card 3×3 inch and then backed onto fabric and then each added to the book. Each event gets as many pages as dedications collected.
The Dress was made by a friend from University, it was made to fit my dimensions, it was made from calico as it needed to be strong enough to hold thousands of red ribbons. I dyed the dress red and then started the mammoth task of applying/stitching all the ribbons. There are approximately 6000 assorted Red Ribbons on the dress.
The Dress has been exhibited many times now in London,Portsmouth,Brighton and Bristol and the plan is to get it shown as widely across the country as possible to keep raising awareness and keep getting names/dedications for the memorial book.
(photo below) from ‘Great Expectations of an Incurable Optimist’ at The Crypt Gallery of St Pancras. London 2014.
Well Sis has come up trumps again……….for #AddressingTheSituation. Back in 2013 she found the wonderful Crypt Gallery at St Pancras in London. She told me to check it out online. At first I was thinking it was another place I’d seen that didn’t look appropriate, then I looked closely at the online images, I didn’t think that it looked big enough for what I was after. I wanted a space that really fitted with my ever-growing collection of work raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
We went along to the Crypt to see another show later that year, and I was blown away by the space. It was dark, a bit damp but oh so beautiful ( in a dark, damp sort of way). I immediately knew that this was ‘the one’ my gut instinct was telling me so and it is hardly ever wrong. There were long corridors, with dark crevices of space large enough to put work in, there were Gravestones all leaning up against two walls that felt reassuring and restful. Yes it was a really inspiring space and just what I was looking for. So I exhibited there in 2014.
It is now 2016, earlier this year I exhibited in Bristol. I wanted to take some of my work ‘Home’ Even though I have lived longer away from that area than I spent there, it is always home and have always wanted to exhibit there and the venue we found was another beautiful place with so much history, the new collection of work ‘Addressing the Situation’ is a wider collection of work that covers everything that fuels my passion, some autobiographical and some that affects me as a woman, whether concerning taxation on feminine health products to the injustice of women through the centuries that didn’t get enough acclaim for their work in the art world, on researching them, many were far more advanced than their male contemporaries but as they were born female, they didn’t get the same credit and many have been omitted from history, which I am now trying to amend with herstory by creating pieces (gowns/dresses as my new canvasses) that address this and include as many names as possible?
The show at Bristol had wonderful comments by the visitors ‘Powerful’ ‘Thought provoking’ ‘Heartfelt’ ‘Intense’ ‘Evocative’ ‘Haunting’ and ‘Feisty’ and one of my favourite comments ‘At last an artist saying something on a subject I actually give a shit about’
People not only visited once, they came back again, they brought other people to see it and somebody said they wished it was on longer, it was on for a month as that was the terms and conditions and really all I could afford, it was probably at that time the same cost for month in Bristol to a small ugly basement gallery in London for a week, so sometimes you really have to shop around as they say? And Bristol was such a wonderful experience.
So now I want to carry on moving this show to other spaces, and really London is the icing on the cake as it really is the centre of excellence when it comes to culture and getting lots of visitors to your shows. I started looking months ago and emailed a few possibilities, they were really out of my budget and quite frankly, the spaces were just ‘not right’ they didn’t inspire me, there weren’t any unique features that attracted me?
Started to feel really despondent in my search, in the meantime I had been accepted for a group show in Hackney, it was an expensive venture and really felt like I had gone backwards and not forwards from my early days after leaving University. The show was really badly organised and made me more determined to just carry on doing my own shows, as run a fairly tight ship as they say when it comes to exhibiting, it has to be the best, everything has to be right as this reflects me as an artist, as a professional and want to be remembered as such.
So as I started off this blog, ‘Sis has come up trumps again’ Yes, she has found another unique and interesting venue in London and I am now in talks with them about exhibiting next year. It’s really beautiful and I hope to properly check it out next month at another show there, and so I can get a real feel for the place and draw it up in my mind ‘How it’s going to look’
Thinking March 2017, hopefully I will see you there?