There are a number of things I miss about my previous role working in higher education – and many things I do not.
One of the things I miss most about those days was my day-to-day proximity to other creatives, to their respective projects, and to their conversations about them. An average day would see dozens of discussions about storytelling, art direction, materials, research, conceptualisation, producton design, visual representation and promotion. Manifesting ‘something from nothing’ was always the business of the day, as we all worked together to get an idea ‘from script to screen’ or from 2D into 3D, from a dream of a thing to the thing itself. I know now how luxurious my old job was. Actually, I knew it then and never once took it for granted. It was life-affirming to be in the company of people who could first see things in their mind, and then develop those images into concrete, substantive outcomes – an act of magic and an act of faith.
Hardly surprising then I might have wanted some of that back, to work again with a diverse community of artists, to give a fair whack of my time and energy to making a space in which more of those conversations could take place. So it was I had the idea for The Kick-About, a blog-based creative challenge, in which creatives of all kinds were given the chance to make some new work in response to a fortnightly prompt – myself included. One year later, and we’ve just published Edition 26 of The Kick-About, a gathering together of participants’ favourite submissions, and one thing is clear: there is power in community, not least because the expectation of an audience for new work is an effective means of seeing off procrastination and preciousness by encouraging decisiveness and utility. There is creative freedom too in ‘short sharp snaps’ of creative activity, that ability to start something up and then close it down in a succinct period of time.
Speaking personally, I’ve found The Kick-About to be a hugely satisfying experience, and after a decade-or-more of very happily giving my best ideas away to other people, it’s been reassuring and exciting to discover there are still more ideas where all those others came from. I’ve loved the problem-solving aspect of the fortnightly prompts – resolving cogent, authentic responses to the various prompts in lots of different ways. You might also call it ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – and yes, it’s been fun.
Gathered here are all my Kick-About responses, digital artworks, sculptures, photographs, shorts films and short stories, and collaborations with other artists. Agreed, it makes for an eclectic ensemble, but I’m reminded – happily – of being nineteen years old and studying my Art Foundation course, which was all about trying and doing everything and not worrying about what it was all for, or what you were going to do with it, or what you were going to do next.
So yes, I do feel younger for running around with my fellow kick-abouters, and if not quite nineteen, then not far off. I just want to say a very real and heartfelt thank you to everyone in the Kick-About community, whether you’ve played once, or always. Your company and creativity is, and has been, restorative, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again with Kick-About No.27. Onwards!
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
I just want to say a personal note of thanks to everyone who takes part. Producing new ideas and new work in under a fortnight brings with it its own challenges, insecurities and pressures, but if you’re anything like me, you will have enjoyed the otherwise simple satisfaction of making work, getting it done, expressing your creativity, and sharing it with a supportive community. Some of you have thanked me for hosting the Kick-About, and some of you have even worried about the work and time I may be giving it; rest assured, this is the work I like to do and I’m very happy to do it.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part this last year, and I’m very much hoping we can continue to combine our efforts as productively and imaginatively in the coming weeks. Now, just look at what you did…
“Thanks for the Kick-About. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting those Bird Ladies from Kick-About No.2. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.”
“I’ve not been as involved as others in the bi-weekly Kick-About posts, but I’ve seriously enjoyed the challenge of completely unexpected briefs. I’ve chosen to include my piece ‘Orpheus’ this week. This one stood out to me for several reasons, partly because it allowed me to flex my digital painting muscles again, something I’d neglected for a while. Also it was a powerful story that instantly brought up images, compositions and drama. That narrative aspect is something I often neglect in my personal work. This was the challenge, like I had to capture the story, as if on the front cover of book. Our hero enters the underworld, ‘hell’ bent on saving his wife ‘Eurydice’ from the clutches of the dark forces below. Everything a digital painter wants in an image.”
“Selecting KA9 is easy, as it reminds me of how important instinct is within process, as well the time span of sitting across 4 hours 40 minutes to complete a process. I trusted my responses to the music, invited in chance, kept the demon of doubt outside the door, and I enjoyed colour as an adventure. KA9 felt like a pure creative experience and it beckons me on to do more. The community of KA has been totally enriching and so rewarding.”
“Kick-About No.1 was a cathartic experience as I’m often caught up on details and reasoning. And those hang-ups can sometimes paralyse my creativity. I realise now, sometimes it’s just a simple premise, and it’s dumb fun and exploration that’s needed. And I definitely found joy and a small sense of achievement in that process!”
“Weirdly enough I’ve chosen this..a tough call but although I loved putting together the installations I only record them as 6” X 4” photos, which are then put into a KA book as a record. However, I do have my drawings, so could take a better photo, as they’re bigger! I chose this as it WAS tedious in its repetitive way, but after a while it became a form of meditation, and I was happy with the outcome, which is rare. Actually I could have chosen any as far as enjoying the process goes, so onwards to the next…” Graphite on Fabriano.
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
“The Kick About has brought me to places I’ve never dreamed of going. I’ve dipped my toes into mediums, styles and parts of myself that have otherwise been sealed off. I have learned to find magic in the mundane, while learning a great deal about films, authors, and artists, from the many prompts we have created together. I always feel inspired to see what you all have created every fortnight, so for that I am thankful to all you fellow kick-abouters for your words and creations.
In saying that, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as they all have been a joy to see flourish. One Kick-About does come to mind and that is No. 22, which was the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and with it the Pools film. The reason why it is my favourite is because of the way it came to be and the journey it took to get it to that state. I wasn’t seeking this film out. I wasn’t trying to capture anything like it, I didn’t even know this place existed. I was merely bouncing around the innards of the forestry one bitter cold winter morning when a dumping of snow was beginning to melt, and where I set out to capture the extrusion of thick snow rimmed treetops. I found all that, but I also found this film – in a trench of shallow, glistening water.
Making Poolswas a creative journey, and I’m thankful it happened in such an organic way: from finding the place and deciding to film it, to viewing the resulting footage as flawed, while still being preoccupied by it, to the Kick-About prompt providing the perfect opportunity to salvage the film into something I’m proud of.
It was a pure delve into the unknown to make something just for the sake of it, not knowing how the outcome would look but just enjoying the whole process of making this thing. I think, in its essence, that is what is so great about The Kick About and why I love being a part of it with you all.”
“At the time of the making of my Metropolis images for The Kick-About #2 I had been living in the same apartment for over three years, and for some reason had never really taken the time to explore the surrounding area with the eye of a photographer or an artist, mostly because it all just seemed very boxy and residential in a way that I have become totally accustomed to seeing every day.
However, with a lot of free time and a phone-camera in hand, I thought that surely the true mundaneness of a real metropolis could be made into something interesting somehow. After fiddling with some images, I ended up with some quite authentic looking silent film production set photos which of course really reminded me of that other Metropolis. I think they even capture the unusual atmosphere and uncertainty of the time they were created.”
“I choose this one because I managed to capture a very personal sense of nostalgia, which is something that I had been trying to crack for a while. Also, it was the first time I had been motivated to break out the paints for over a year, which is a long time, especially when I had been making work every day. It highlighted to me that I need to stronger with myself as a creative and have the fortitude to keep pushing through various blocks and it did herald a period of increased productivity. Also, it is one of the artier of my submissions…”
“The Kick-About #6 is still one of my favourite prompts, and one of the most meaningful series of paintings I have done in the last few years. It represents the beginning of a new creative journey for me, a new painting style, and, at the same time, it encompasses much of my life and experiences. For this “anniversary” I picked just one of the four, my favourite, and the first one I painted. It was originally inspired by a photograph of the Canadian winter landscape by Evelin Berg and, as I mentioned, were partly concept paintings for a short animation I haven’t finished yet. The journey, the film, the story….all still ongoing.” Ink on watercolour paper, 240x680cm.
“I have learnt so much over the last year from participating in The Kick-About, and enjoyed so many different aspects, that I found it really difficult to pick a ‘favourite’. Some pieces have stretched me technically, some have taken me into totally unfamiliar territory, some have felt satisfactorily “complete”. But one submission made me smile when it first occurred to me, smile as I worked on it, and smile even now when I read it back. I can’t think of a better reason for re-visiting it, so my ‘Favourite Kick-About’ is Field Guide to Getting Lost and The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda’.
“It’s the Five Canons of Rhetoric! I’ve chosen this one as it made me really think about my work and its origins and process. It led to the story of this Sea Heart pod that continues to fascinate me along with all the other seed-pods in my life! The journey of this pod crept into the following Kick-About as well, maybe because I can’t travel at the moment and I long to be doing so. It always refreshes my mind and creativity… apart from missing my friends in distant lands.”
“The prompt was Cocteau’s Orpheus, because of the element of serendipity: on a Covid walk, I dragged home two entwined ivy trees, saw the prompt, (not sure which happened first) something clicked, and I set about exploring the potential…”
“The KA’s have been a great way to divert my attention and have provided reason for exploration of deep buried thoughts. Thank you’s to all of you who have donated jumping off points – sometimes they resonate so deafeningly – not always at the point of conceptualising – the museum KA didn’t kick-in for me until I started putting paint to paper but then it dragged up some of the creative juices that I thought had been long gone. So I guess that makes it my significant KA moment. I love the tantalising breadth of work created by all of you. KA reveal days are always so exciting. It amazes me how you seem to tumble out great pieces or concepts. Also amazing how open you have been with background stories to some of the works. Thanks again and I hope KA can continue long after lockdown.”
“In response to the “Kick-about anniversary” (and my very small contribution to it) I have chosen to revisit my take on the Eugen von Ransonnet Villez submarine paintings.
Marine paintings have become a large part of my creative output over the last decade. As a graphic designer just over ten years ago my health took something of a wobble and the medical advice was to change lifestyle. This evolved over a few years and resulted in less use of the mouse and tablet and more the old fashioned paintbrush. It became as much as anything else a journey of self discovery. Several visual themes emerged but the one most urgent in my need to explore was the sea. I soon found like minded painters at the National Maritime Museum Art Club where I became chairman. The club has had a couple of identity changes since then but still exists as the Thames Maritime Artists and I am still chairman.
The limpid, accurately observed and interpreted tones and colours used by Ransonnel Villez immediately struck a chord with my own struggle to capture how we see water and objects in water. Seascape and coastal painting is quite a niche area in painting, not fashionable, and hasn’t been since the Royal Navy stopped ruling the waves, but I have never been troubled by fashion. For me the test of how well I am performing is to be judged by peers and to that end over a number of years I have submitted paintings to the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. For four years I failed to get anything into the show, I was disappointed but not discouraged and eventually in 2019 I got a piece into the show. In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic I got two pieces in – and won the Classic Boat Prize. It certainly does not beat taking your life in your hands going under the sea in a primitive diving bell but sometimes dogged persistence does pay off. I have attached a couple of RSMA exhibition to add to the original set.”
“For the Kick-About I’d like to submit my Symbols piece (#5). Of all the digital work I’ve produced over the last year, it stands out to me as being truly different and emotionally driven. Something in Alice Neel’s original painting really clicked with me.”
“I would like to choose ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ as my favourite piece. It was my very first appearance on the Kick-about and possibly one of my best works. It involved using the mixed media of silk material and painting, and I felt it was a good showcase for my manipulative skills with fabric. I definitely got a buzz from seeing my picture on the internet and I loved using the bright, cheerful colours. It made me feel excited, hopeful and creative even though it was the start of lockdown.”
“While I haven’t been able to contribute as often as I would like in recent months, The Kick-About is a welcome stretch away from my day-to-day. Working in design, I’ve felt it more and more challenging to work without a brief or steer, to make for the pleasure of making, without feeling the need to justify time spent playing as part of a longer project or showreel piece. The Kick-About has provided that stimulus, giving a direction but not a destination, and a space to remember that away from the rounds of amends, renders and timesheets, making is simply, fun. For this reason, making a witches bottle due to a misreading of a painting by Alice Neel was the most enjoyable project for me, reading and researching down whatever avenue seemed interesting, formulating an idea without thinking of demographics or target audience, and then making something however crudely with real physical materials, not worrying about brand guidelines or alignment or safe margins. Looking at the high quality of the other submissions makes it lucky I’m dressing up my motivation in the same outfit as naive or folk art. However, at a time which created a step back from our daily lives and the time to think about why we do the things we do, for me The Kick-About is the reminder I needed to not pack everything in and try to manage a hedge fund. Joy! It’s all about joy!“
“I’m choosing the Invisible Cities (Ersilla) prompt as my favorite. First, because it was something I wanted to do as soon as I read the book a few years ago, but had never gotten around to. And also because it expanded my work from my usual repertoire, which is basically 2-dimensional.
I would say that almost all the prompts have pushed me further than I would normally go outside my comfort zone which is a very good thing. And everyone else’s work is so inspiring, it keeps my mind full of different ideas and inspiration.”
“I’ve loved being part of the Kick-About over the last year. It’s got me doing things I’ve never done before, such as writing and recording my own voice, and it’s going me doing things that I’d never have done without it, so a big thank you, Phil, for putting this together every fortnight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing how people have responded to the prompts and I’m always in awe of the variety, the talent and the creativity that appears in each post.
I’ve got a few favourites from the past year, but i’m choosing this image, which I called ‘Forest Flare’ and made in response to the Orphée’prompt way back last June I think. I painted some 2D trees, an arch and a sky onto card, and then lit and photographed th em on my desk. The main reason I was pleased with how it turned out is that, in the photographic image, a small figure appeared, sitting on the floor, framed by the arch and looking like a faun that had wandered out of the paper forest. It wasn’t there when I looked at the table top set up, but some magic happened in the camera and the image turned out more interesting that I’d planned – quite spooky!”
“I’ve chosen ‘Baba’s Important Work’ because the resulting short story speaks to the power of a random prompt to produce something satisfying, unpredictable and inevitable-seeming. That a story set in a static caravan, in some dystopian society, should have issued from an old book on nautical knot-work, makes me feel excited about the creative process in all its strangeness. I find it reassuring too, a bit like going to Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, opening its doors, and finding, thank goodness, there are still ideas in there after all.“
“Albatross Box is the only sculpture I’ve done for the Kick Abouts – and it is the one that has proven the most constant source of inspiration since I made it. It is still hung up in my house, changing with the light and day and it is a source of endless fascination for my 3 year old. Once COVID restrictions ease a bit, I’d love to scout out some more bones and do a few more bone shadow boxes with poetry and make it a series (I confess to already rescuing another wooden box from the curb in anticipation!). “
“Picking a personal favourite is so tricky! My mind immediately jumps to the Alice Neel prompt from Kick-About #3. I really enjoyed the making of that piece in it’s simplicity and assemblage of iconography. I also enjoyed Kick-About #23 in which I could channel grief into some strange cardboard constructions. Both of those prompts were so calming and helpful to produce. But if I’m honest with myself, I think the very first Kick-About was my favourite subject, largely because the Max Ernst prompt is well suited to my comfort zone – bizarre landscapes and painting methods. What a boring choice I know, but I remember that painting evolving so clearly in my head, and it was a joy.”
I properly disappeared into this, our 24th Kick-About prompt, another complete world building around it and absorbing me completely. I kept discovering all these pockets of rage and sadness as I wrote this short story, not least because I’ve been reading a lot about so-called “conversion therapies” and ‘cures for homosexuality’, and not least because a fair ratio of Glorious is based on the life and times of an individual I know well, a man who guards his freedoms fiercely, with no f**ks given. The setting of the story is also a real place, with its big bridge and creeping gentrification, though liberties have been taken everywhere. I wanted to get into the different ways behaviours can be tamed, so while I’m civil-partnered myself, I know a number of older gay men – and one in particular – who would, if pushed (and not very hard) express a certain wariness for the onwards march towards ‘normalcy’, preferring instead the distinctiveness of transgression and what is ‘uncivilised’ and ‘anti-social’ about some aspects of its subculture.
Arguably, the wunderkammers gathered together by the likes of Ole Worm – our last prompt – represent pure expressions of human curiosity, untamed by such things as order, category, reason, or taxonomy, where the real and the imaginary are given equal footing. Now, with Isadora Duncan’s clarion call for free expression and non-conformity ringing in our hearts and minds, the kick-abouters this week are running wild and free…
“With this week’s prompt being “You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you” I instantly thought about being amongst the countryside of Ireland, and surrounded by flora and fauna. When I was younger, I was wild at heart; I climbed the highest trees, I made hideouts, I swam in rivers. The ground on top of hills surrounded by fairy trees was ground down by my cousins and myself, with our bikes fucked into the nearest ditch. We could be heard screaming with joy in this landscape playground that was all around us. We would cycle into town, put our money together and buy sweets and milkshakes, then cycle back – milkshake in hand and eat our feasts, supported by tree trunks and makeshift wooden slats. I feel like I grew up on the precipice of this wild and free way of life, before it started to die out with the younger generation concentrating more on the protective shield of screens. I still feel like I have that sense of adventure within me, and when it is my birthday this year I am buying myself a bike to find some places that remind me of that time, I might not make hideouts like I used too, but I will be taking photos of places that bring me back to that untamed nature.
Pictured here are photos from the forest taken this past Christmas, where we ran amok often. I wanted the photos to feel nostalgic, with a rustic warmness to them and an influx of colour, but also show that we adventured to places like this in all seasons and all weather, where we were free and wild with not a care in the world. We never let anyone tame us and that’s how it should be.”
“Cats in Australia are a problem. They’re often mistreated, often dumped, and the feral population is gigantic, doing enormous damage to our wildlife. Click here to find out more. My lovely foster cat arrived painfully thin, with 4 bouncing babies. All of them have now been successfully adopted. Hooray! Go well little ones…”
“Technically these guys once were wild, having been picked up as strays. But at the same time, they were affectionate and tame. So they are not really my response to this prompt. My response was, I think, a little influenced by a far superior cat painting, by William Kentridge that is on the wall of my studio. But really it was just a fun play about with ink. Fairly large scale on cartridge. I swished up a few garden plants for him to prowl in. Then combined the two in Photoshop. I altered his head and paws a bit to bring him into a more domestic cat proportion, and out of the original, more expressionist type. He represents the suburban animal who is both wild and tame at the same time. Every time he goes outside, he becomes his own heritage, a wild animal. Our gardens are his hunting ground. It is a fascinating thing, albeit devastating to our wildlife.”
“This was such a gift of a prompt! How all our lives have been tamed by this pandemic over the last year and how we yearn to escape it, the masks, the travel bans, the social distancing, the pub closures, etc. How do you sustain your ‘wildness’ when you have to stay indoors so much? I’ve spoken to lots of friends over the last year who used to spend their spare time climbing mountains, or skiing, or travelling to far flung places. Now they do jigsaw puzzles, or make sourdough. On paper it’s all rather tragic, but as long as we’re holding on to our wild selves inside it doesn’t matter I suppose. If we keep the wild candle burning somewhere in a little sacred space in our souls it can burn brightly once again when the restrictions are eased. And how we’ll appreciate it then!
I made a sort of ‘green man’ mask last year before the lock-down kicked in. It hangs on the wall of our living room and I think of it as a kind of talisman, reminding me of better days to come when I can travel more freely and get out into the wild places more. I hope it’s soon though!”
“I had a totally different idea of what I wanted to do with this, involving collage, but the photos of Duncan dancing made me want to try to first capture the movement in drawings. I ended up pulling out pastels I hadn’t used in probably 40 years that happened to be in my watercolor bin. There’s a reason Degas used pastels for his dancers–but having no fixative, there’s also a reason I haven’t used them in awhile. Right now they are hanging on the wall where they won’t smear until I get something to spray them with. I still have the collage idea filed away for some future project…”
“Here is Isadora in one of her famous dance poses around the year 1900. She must have been an amazing lady, with her love of free and natural movements, and seeking the divine expression of the human spirit. I suppose she was the original ‘wild child’ and was always deemed to be one of those stars to come to an inevitable tragic ending. There have been so many other women since who have passed away, never reaching their full potential – Janice Joplin, Sharon Tate, Grace Kelly, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, Princess Diana, to name but a few. We shall never know what heights they would have reached and whether they would have ever been ‘tamed’, so to speak, but I doubt it. However, I bet Isadora would have loved Rock and Roll!”
“What an extraordinary woman Isadora Duncan was at that time, and pre-dating Diaghalev! That surprised me. For me she fits in with the photographs of fairies, and the kind of dance to me that is very ethereal, rather than wild. Wild, however, for that time of restricted movements due to tight bound bodies in corsets.Wildness for me is in the actions of natural forces on our environment that leave their traces of upheaval and transformation in the landscape and seascapes that surround us. Nature cannot be tamed by man or woman.
The first image is a combination of two strips of photographs I took in France a long time ago: every September on that South West coast of France there is a strange storm that transforms the landscape over night. I did not know about it at the time. The storm was brewing and all day my partner and I had been sniping at one another. The sky changed to an inky mauve and I started running towards the beach about a mile away. The sea was jade green… still as a pond… the sky deep purple… the boats like paper cut-outs… so, so still and then the rumble, flash, and torrential rain. I screamed and screamed, and the beach was filling up with people who also screamed. It was the most remarkable storm I have ever witnessed. The sea was like a wild beast. Tsunamis must be the most terrifying though; this was just a flash in the pan in comparison. The next morning the beach was unrecognisable. All the dunes had changed shape. The pools of water held mysterious images. The fences were broken and disordered once again.
So this photo reminded me of that. I looked at it and saw a corset in place of the fencing, something that kept the wildness of the sea in check, but easily broken.”
‘Once upon a time, there was a tribe called the Rondels. The Rondels believed in discipline and harmony and their dance was ballet and, for them, Ballet was Dance. For many, many years, the Rondels lived and worked and strived to perfect the Ballet, always correcting, and polishing, and correcting some more to ensure the Ballet met the rigorous standards of their forefathers who had laid down the Rules.
Then one day, out of nowhere it seemed, there was an Other amongst them. This Other was not a Rondel, the shape was very odd. This Other did not blend in or harmonise with the tribe, but was a vivid contrast, clashing and startling in her variety. This Other did not do Ballet, but moved in strange and unexpected ways, twisting, flowing, swirling in a Dance all her own.
Many of the Rondels were shocked by this Other. “That’s all wrong” they said. “That’s not Dance. She’s not abiding by the Rules. It’s immoral!”
Other Rondels said “It’s just Showing Off. Take no notice. It will soon get bored and go away.”
But a few said ” It may not be Ballet, but those colours are beautiful. Perhaps we could try something a little different with our colours?”
And a couple of Rondels whispered “That shape is so exciting – could we not incorporate it into the Dance in some way?”
And one little Rondel, braver than the rest, went right up to the Other and said “Please, what are you? What do we call you?”
And the Other replied “I am a Dancer, and my name is Isadora.”
Then the little Rondel summoned up all her courage and said “Please, Isadora, will you teach me to dance like you?”
“But aren’t you learning to be a Ballet Dancer?”
“Why can’t I do both?”
And Isadora thought for a moment and then laughed.
“No reason,” she said. “No reason at all.”
And although Isadora was not with the Rondels for long, they learnt much from her, and even after Isadora had gone, the Rondels adopted and adapted and tried out new things. It didn’t always work and some Rondels could never bring themselves to accept these innovations as being equal to the Ballet. But many did, and years and years later, little glimpses of Isadora can be seen again and again, anywhere where there is Dance.‘
“Young Once: if only the ravages of time could be kept at bay! This is a pick of my my high school mate Mark in his daring red jumpsuit in front of his very yellow Holden Gemini at a very country pub early 80s. I came across the ultra-contrasty original pic while packing stuff away and instantly new Mark would be my wild subject!”
“My father kept budgerigars and tropical fish and, as children, we marvelled at their beauty and difference… but see these creatures in their natural habitat, and their captivity becomes a cramped, needless and extremely sad practice. In Rose Tremain’s book “ Restoration” Merivel is given an “Indian Nightingale” which has “travelled the seas”, and is thus seen as both strange and exotic. Later it is shown to be a common blackbird… He has been duped! But I wonder? Perhaps the strange and exotic is simply a state of mind transforming the everyday into something wondrous… how we “see” the world. We can create our own cages so, to me the “wild” is the imagination, and that’s the road to freedom!” Crayon on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“I properly disappeared into this prompt, another complete world building around it and absorbing me completely. I kept discovering all these pockets of rage and sadness as I wrote this, not least because I’ve been reading a lot about so-called “conversion therapies” and ‘cures for homosexuality’, and not least because a fair ratio of ‘Glorious’ is based on the life and times of an individual I know well, a man who guards his freedoms fiercely, with no f**ks given.”
Thanks to regular blogger, scribe and kick-abouter, Kerfe Roig, we have our new prompt… another great opportunity to let our ‘Hair’ down? In addition, a heads-up re. The Kick-About No.26. The 26th edition means we’ve been running around in each other’s company for 52 weeks – a year of creativity under strange constraints. I’d like to mark the occasion by making the 26th edition a celebration of all that’s gone before, so I’ll be asking kick-abouters to choose their own favourite submission so far, and offer up a few words as to why, and maybe something too about the importance of creating and making. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. Something to think about, but until then, ‘Let the sunshine in.’
Surely it was curiosity that drove Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, the subject of our last Kick-About, to construct a submersible so he could paint what he found beneath the waves. Ole Worm, Danish physician, natural historian and collector, gathered the eclectic subjects of his curiosity into a remarkable museum, a wunderkammer, which is this week’s jumping-off point…
“What a mouthwatering prompt this week, such cabinets have always fascinated me. I think many of us curate our own little wunderkammers in our homes; on windowsills, mantelpieces and coffee tables; little collections of things we found on walks that sparked our interest and wanted to keep.The prompt brought up memories of early childhood for me, growing up in a rather dull South Yorkshire town where the local museum felt like a magical portal to a different world. It was a mysterious and beautiful world, but also a bit scary at times, because it brought me into contact with things that were strange and didn’t fit. I felt quite at home!I’ve written a little story about it, with a boy who lived in a dreary town, a boy who lit up every time he went to the local museum…”
“My whole flat feels like a Wormianum. so these are little glimpses! My take on this was to echo the idea of travel/ collation/collecting, as well as including my practice in the form of notebooks, some being records and thoughts from the trip and some being journeys of the imagination via reading the accounts and experiences of others. Unlike the seventeenth century, when so much of the earth was whited out as Terra Incognita, there is little left that has not had a human footstep, so that what were once strange and extraordinary objects, being revealed to an incredulous audience, are now widely accessible and available online. (On the other hand, the deep seas are akin to outer space, still relatively unexplored/wish it could remain so/and mind bogglingly full of bizarre and beautifully alien life forms). I suppose, in the end, it comes down to objects being touchstones/gateways back to the time and place or people that passed them on, so more of a personal diary than showcase. The National Geographics are a legacy from my father, who travelled far and wide through the images and articles, in a way he was unable to do in his life.”
“I can see how Mr Worm turned his house into a museum – my house is much the same! I have many collections of items acquired over the years. Starting from when I was a library assistant, I always loved books and anything historical. When I ran a Charity Shop I collected all manner of bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, jewellery etc. One of my hobbies before lockdown was to share my 1950s memorabilia and give reminiscence talks at local care homes. This was very rewarding, and I believe Mr Worm would have felt the same pleasure in showing off his treasures. Welcome to ‘Marionium’.”
“I am by no means a photographer, but I am someone who collects dead, strange and curious objects. In my own little “museum” that I’ve formed here, I have skulls, bones, vintage photographs, fossils, and the occasional human tooth. The idea of one day having an entire room dedicated to the curiosities I spend time collecting, much like the Museum Wormianum, is a thrilling prospect. What fascinating pieces will I have acquired in that time? In this image, there is a beloved pet, an ice age bone, creatures picked up from roadsides and woodlands, photos of people long gone, and so on. This collection, to me, is a commentary on death not being an ending, but rather an opportunity for something new.“
“When I went up to my attic to retrieve a heavy wooden box – not opened in years – from beneath a collection of other heavy boxes, I rummaged inside it for a parceled-up collection of ephemera from my past I knew I’d squirreled away for one reason or another. When I found the small paper parcel, tipping out its contents for closer inspection, I quickly found I couldn’t remember the import, value or significance of many of the objects I’d otherwise deigned important enough to save for posterity. Incertae sedis is Latin for ‘of uncertain placement’, and is used taxonomically to classify things that otherwise do not fit existing schemas or cannot be categorised straightforwardly or curated into bodies of knowledge more accurately. I present the contents of my own mini-museum, with some artefacts contextualised where possible, but most speaking to the fallibility of memory and the destiny of most of our sentimental keepsakes to fall into meaninglessness, and if not for ourselves, then inevitably for others.”
“The museum topic instantly took me to repatriation of plundered pieces, but then I had to confront my love of museums and galleries where the stimulus from vast quantities of fabulous pieces nicked from all over is so heady it makes me swoon! I went through some pics of objects from the British Museum, and, I think, the Museum of Natural History in New York (and one stray marble angel from Bath) and threw them together. When I gouached them together it felt good to me – rather dark, but I haven’t had that creative groove from the act of image making for some years.”
“I was initially going to use many of the collectable bric a brac scattered around my dads house and superimpose those on makeshift shelves using roof timber slats that are littered with spiders, but I decided to go against that as I wanted to not mimic Ole Worm’s Museum Wormianum but to go on an adventure and create a story around the origins of all the collectibles and relics that Worm has in his possession. I imagined Old Ole as an adventurer, wearing tan colours and a careworn hat bleached from sweat from adventuring to mysterious places where the sun scorches and the animals and plant life are of the carnivorous sort. Old Ole has fought mutant monsters deep within the caverns of caves, sailed high seas, and fought his way through tortuous chambers. Old Ole has earned his stripes and his relics. Since Old Ole’s book of treasure dates back to 1655, I wanted to use a medium that is also ancient, but has stood the test of time, so I turned to collage. I used many of the bric-a-brac that is dust ridden around my Dad’s house to kitbash and collage them together, as well as pages from the Museum Wormianum to create the ocean – as well as some hieroglyphics scattered about. I have become a bit obsessed with house plants, so some of my plants are in there too – a fatsia, Monstera and Schefflera.”
“Grief and cardboard…Not sure if this is appropriate for this week’s Kick-About, but in my head, it fits with the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. A collection of artefacts concerned with investigation and understanding… “
“I have long been fascinated by the strange things people collect and keep. These cabinets of curiosities are often associated with the Victorians; part educational, part souvenir, and frequently macabre, they suited the Victorian Brits’ devotion to exploration, discovery, and gothic, otherworldly tales. (It also helped to have big houses in which to display them, and plenty of maid servants to keep them dusted!) However, Victorians were not the first to exhibit this fascination with all that is strange and weird; alchemists and apothecaries were renowned throughout the centuries for the collections they kept in their shops: stuffed animals, dried plants and “Things” in jars, all of which purported to possess strange properties of healing or death. From this line of thought it was no great step to find myself reading about shrunken heads. (Did you know, the skill lies in removing the skull by slitting the back of the neck and parting flesh from bone, and then wrapping the skin around a wooden ball so it maintained its shape as it shrank? No, neither did I!). So I decided to make a ‘shrunken head’, and as I was working on it, I found myself thinking about the Victorian gothic tradition, and of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations – and it suggested a poem. So there you are – from shrunken heads to shrunken hearts in a single step.”
“For various reasons, including a recent dream, the turtle shells jumped right out at me, so that’s what I focused on. Given time, there is much more to mine from even one glimpse of Ole Worm’s collection, of course!”
Another short story from the floppy disc archive, prompted by some real world moment of strangeness with an answering machine I can now only just vaguely recall. I realise this effort is something of a period piece, what with its twentieth century trappings – a landline, how quaint! In common with cameras and photographs, I’ve always found answering machines and voice mails to have an unheimlich quality to them, the way they arrest time and suspend moments, installing ghosts in the machine, and there is something of that at work in this sleight vignette.
Shirley Jackson’s 1949 short story, The Witch, is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.
A while back, I shared a short essay about our long-standing cultural antipathy for children, evidenced by the sorts of stories we tell ourselves about them.
Entitled Tomorrow Belongs To Me, I used Michael Hanaeke’s chilly, ambiguous The White Ribbon (2009) as the entry point into a broad examination of narratives in which children are deployed by storytellers for uncanny effect. If the cognitive mechanism of the uncanny requires the uneasy thing in question to first be a familiar thing, little wonder children serve this purpose so well. We were all children once, so know their universes intimately. We purport to be surprised, shocked even, when children are strange or wayward or cruel, but this can only be rank hypocrisy. We were all strange and wayward and cruel once, and I think we know this very well. Why else would these stories resonate so?
In Jackson’s The Witch, a humdrum scenario tilts suddenly towards menace, as a little boy, his baby sister, and his mother are joined in a railway carriage by a talkative stranger, an older gentlemen with white hair and a cigar. Horror follows the mother’s realisation that the avuncular stranger engaging her fearless young son is talking, no longer about lollipops, rocking horses or dolls, but about the time he murdered and mutilated his sister. Jackson’s ambitions are more complex than mining a mother’s fear of harm being done to her child by the attentions of a stranger. Certainly, the mother in Jackson’s story is afraid for her son, but as the story concludes, she is afraid of him too. She understands the boy is not afraid, enthralled instead by the stranger’s confession of spectacular violence, delighted by its savagery.
At the story’s end, with the white haired man sent packing and equilibrium seemingly restored, I think Jackson wants her readers to worry for the safety of the boy’s baby sister, the man’s story about separating out the body parts of his own sibling having produced an abstraction in the boy’s mind, turning all baby sisters into playthings, into unfeeling collections of bits. No, not produced, which suggests this abstraction wasn’t there before. I really mean ‘confirmed’ or ‘encouraged’ or ‘promoted’, for it is my experience of childhood and young children that it is the impulse against the pulling off the wings of flies that needs to be cultivated, not the instinct to dismember.
The last line of Jackson’s story has the boy wondering if the old man was ‘a witch’. This reader thinks not – not a witch, and hardly evil in some special way, but a grown-up made threatening by an act as simple as acknowledging the violent fantasies common to ordinary children. While the stranger on the train has white hair and smokes a cigar, he talks like a child. You need only look at his choice of language – ‘pinching’, not strangling – like a child who can envision the act itself, but lacks the apposite vocabulary to call it what it is. Consider the patent absurdity of the way the remembered acts of violence against the man’s kid sister escalate, suggestive at once of the way children compete with each other in the fabrication of ever more sensational details. Consider too, how the acts of violence themselves recall more convincingly the destruction, not of flesh, blood and bone, but of plasticky doll-parts and nylon plugs of hair. The horror here is not that the man on the train is a wicked old witch in a separate category of his own, malfeasant because he is different from the rest of us. The horror is that the old man’s wickedness returns us to the viciousness of children at play.
“I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops,” the man said, “and then I took her and put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead.”
The little boy gasped and the mother turned around, her smile fading. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again as the man went on,
“And then I took and I cut her head off and I took her head—“
“Did you cut her all in pieces?” the little boy asked breathlessly.
“I cut off her head and her hands and her feet and her hair and her nose,” the man said, “and I hit her with a stick and I killed her.”
“Wait a minute,” the mother said, but the baby fell over sideways just at that minute and by the time the mother had set her up again the man was going on.
“And I took her head and I pulled out her hair and—“
“Your little sister?” the little boy prompted eagerly.
“My little sister,” the man said firmly. “And I put her head in a cage with a bear and the bear ate it all up.”
Something about The Witch puts me in mind of the quick moment of spite that ruined Mary Bale’s life, when she dropped someone’s cat into a wheelie bin – for no other reason except it took her fancy. Outrage ensued and a witch hunt commenced, Bale described as wicked, as evil, and as a menace to polite society, her act of spite suggestive of some uglier psychological dysfunction. While I am in no way defending Bale’s crimes against kittydom, I’ve never been able to muster the same levels of shock. If you’ve got siblings, you’ll know very well how it’s possible to hurt another living thing just because it comes into your head to do so. Is anyone entirely ‘ancedote-free’ when it comes to admissions of random cruelties – a kicked dog, a loosed barb, a vengeful thought? What we find objectionable about Bale’s actions is seeing the lawlessness of childhood resurfacing in an adult. This is what pulling off the wings of flies looks like when you’re big and ugly enough to know better. Mary Bale repels us because it is in our interest to feel repulsion; better that than kinship, better that than the sneaking suspicion we ourselves are as capable of similar spite. In this, Mary Bale is one of Shirley Jackson’s people. She lives on one of Shirley Jackson’s neat and tidy streets behind respectably white net curtains, and, in common with Jackson’s stranger on the train, Mary Bale isn’t a wicked witch either. Probably.
CCTV pictures of the moment Mary Bale dropped a cat into a wheelie bin
When I was young, I can’t remember how young, my mother and I went to a UK theme park on a day out. I remember the weather being sunless and cold, but not much else about why we were there. My big interest was in the theme park’s elaborate ghost train, and because the weather was sunless and cold, I was able to go on the ghost train many times in quick succession without the faff of queuing. The final time I wanted to ride the ghost train, my mother very reasonably refused to put herself thought it again, so I went unaccompanied. On this last trip through the haunted mansion, I was joined in my snug, two-seater wagon by a man I didn’t know. I don’t recall finding this odd, largely, I expect, because I was looking forward to the ride ahead of me, to its impressive vignettes of dancing Georgian corpses and giant spider.
Not long after the ghost train had lurched off into the strictly stage-managed surprises of its Grand Guignol interior, the man beside me began touching me – not sexually, but violently. I cannot now separate what was overwhelming about the ride itself, with all its phantoms, clanks and hoots, and what I must have surely felt at finding myself trapped on a ghost train with an adult man who was hitting me for no reason I could discern. More clear, is my memory of the moment the ride stopped dead and all the emergency lights came on, revealing the impressive vignettes of dancing Georgian corpses and giant spiders to be mundane and unspecial. I remember someone appearing suddenly to pluck the man from the seat beside me. I recall getting off the ghost train afterwards and being happy to see my mum, who, bored, cold and smoking a cigarette, was waiting for me outside. I don’t recall being particularly upset. I don’t recall telling my mum what happened on the ghost train – not then. I kept what happened a secret, which is the way of big strong boys everywhere I suppose. I don’t recall if we went and sat somewhere to eat an over-priced donut, the wind pilfering our napkins, but if we did, I suspect I sat as close to my mum as might be considered seemly in a boy of whatever age I was back then on that grey, sunless day.
When I read Shirley Jackson’s The Witch, I think about the man on the ghost-train, and I wonder if I met a monster that day, the sort of monster who once fed his own sister’s head to a bear. Years after our day trip to the theme park, my mother would admit her biggest fear for me, as a small boy, was I would be abducted, molested and murdered by one of those men in long rain coats famed for hanging around children’s playgrounds, their pockets sugary with sweets and wriggling with puppies. This is surely the primal fear of all mothers for their roughty-toughty boys made otherwise gamine and come-hither by dint of their credulousness and youth. Even so I’ve wondered since what it might have been about the exact configuration of my own face that should have made me so worryingly a magnet for lurking paedophiles. The little boy in Jackson’s short story is actively looking for witches. I was a child like that, going round and round on ghost trains, delighted. The little boy in Jackson’s story delights in every macabre detail of the old man’s story. I was a child like that, in so much as I never hid behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who. The mother in Jackson’s story is afraid for her child, as my mother was afraid for me. The mother in Jackson’s story worries a boy who goes looking for witches might find them, and also like my mother, worries some ineffable quality in her son invites them closer.
The idea for this short story came quickly. Making it work on the page took longer. In large part, I was responding to the idea of ‘the nip’, the idea of friction, abrasion and tensions tying people together in impossible knots – and the idea too that the security of a bond in certain circumstances might require a lot of nip, and how unfair and confusing that might feel for the person on the receiving end. Quite where the image of the static caravan came from – or why – I don’t know, but as soon as it parked up in my imagination, as the setting for the story, I got thinking about the chicken-legged hut inhabited by Baba Yaga, the witch figure from Slavic folklore, and then more elements fell comfortably into place. I must say I found exploring the relationship between the boy character and the witch exhilarating and I enjoyed writing this story very much, despite its rather grim scenario. I’m finding that participating in the Kick-About has the effect of doing away with procrastination and driving me towards getting stuff done within certain constraints. I would never have written this story were it not for Jan Blake’s prompt, and I most certainly wouldn’t have finished it!
“Here I have a painting called ‘Unravel’. Not a knot supposed to hold or anchor, then it will not work, having lost the nip. But I see it as a knot of the heart, which is finally finding a way to disentangle and on its way to separate and free the separate bits and pieces.” Inks on paper 76 X 57 cm.
“I was walking through a park near where we live in Berlin recently and I noticed that all the leaves of the hops and traveller’s joy had been stripped away, leaving a seething mass of twisted and knotted stems. Aha, I thought – the kick about! The writhing stems had all grown around each other, squirming over the shrubs and fences, they were rather lovely, wet and glistening after rain, and retaining a surprising amount of colour. I’ve drawn a study of the stems, with some dried, curled up dead leaves trapped in the nets.”
“‘Tying the knot’ brings up images of 1950’s bride magazines, bended knee, white net, sparkly bits… So that’s where I went, fossicking around in my studio, finding what I could to knit an image or two together. The nip, I think, could be the commitment made? This is the traditional engagement stage – maybe pressure exerted to get there, or even to stay there? It all hangs on this in order to get to stage two. Perhaps that’s the true tie, but I like the unpredictability of the promise, sealed with a reflecting star on a finge, .a doorway to respectability. Definitely (thank goodness) part of a time warp, not entirely obsolete, but so many other ways to get that ‘nip’.”
“It’s been a long time since I did any macrame, but I love to embroider, entranced by everything about it–the floss itself, the color and texture, the rhythmic and repetitive motions that are so like meditation, the gradual revelation of something new. I’ve done a lot of embroidery on paper, but I couldn’t remember ever trying French Knots, also called Seed Stitch. My mandala papers are fairly sturdy, so I painted one, inspired by Monet, and searched through my embroidery floss boxes for similar colors. Besides their practical and decorative uses, knots can symbolize many things, from the vows of marriage, to a puzzle to be solved. They are connected to threads of all kinds, and thus the interweavings that form and support all of life. The French Knot is a simple stitch–wind the floss 3 times around the needle and reinsert it into the hole made by bringing the thread to the surface–but like many simple things, it’s easy to become tangled up if you aren’t paying attention. Something that applies to all creative endeavors involving fibers. I’ve used the Badger’s Hexastitch form for my poem.”
I thread the needle and spirit passes into matter returning to the center of the (w)hole
I twine the floss around the needle—one two three– casting strands into knots spelling rhythmic patterns
I pause to connect what lies hidden below the coiled surface—roots binding up and down to between
“I have a feeling I’ve not quite tightened the knot properly, and things have just quietly slipped away, making me no worthy seaman, but it’s a nice sunny day for having the boats off their mooring! Perhaps it suggests the up-coming summer-staycation on the North Kent coastline.” Oil on prepared paper 40cm x 50cm
“I had many options with this Kick-About, as Ireland’s heritage is teaming with Celtic knot and rope references in art jewellery and clothes. I decided to do a mash-up of different perspectives, one inspired by the picturesque Aran islands off Galway Bay, specifically the Aran sweater, knitted for the fishermen. The jumpers are made from the wool of the sheep that populate the fields in the islands, and retain their natural oils, meaning they are water repellent – ideal for Irish weather! Because the sweater is water repellent, the fishermen wouldn’t feel the chill from getting wet while out fishing.The stitches in an Aran sweater are used to signify different important factors, such as the diamond stitch representing the fields in the Aran Islands and which bestows health and success, while the cable stitch represents the fisherman’s ropes, and promise safety and good luck while out fishing. The combination of different stitches are divided into different clans for each family name of kinship in Ireland. Around the borders of my designs is the diamond stitch central to the specific Daly clan Aran sweater. The overall theme of these designs seeks to reflect Ancient Celtic artwork, including the triple spiral; the Irish believe everything happens in 3’s and can symbolise the mental, physical and spiritual self or birth, death and rebirth.”
“I found the highly descriptive quote of tying a knot a little queasy and unnerving and I could feel it somehow more than I should have. It brought me to the idea of the knots and ropes imagined as gory body-horror, but retaining the intricacy and functionality of their original purpose. Quite how I made that leap I am not so sure, but it was certainly enjoyable making these as if I were some sort of mad artisan butcher.”
“I guess, when seeing the rather charming front cover to one of the versions on the book of an old salty sea dog blissfully tying a knot, I couldn’t help but think in a nautical direction. Then, as a page of loosely tied knots started to emerge, so did pirates. Ropes and knots seemed symbolic in some way for how I draw and fill endless sketchbooks. Some loose ends, some ideas connected firmly, some pulling away into the meaningless unexplored abyss. I think to pursue the head honcho with his hands tied up would be the next step here, which I may well do.”
“I can remember my dad showing me how to tie a Sheepshank knot and a Round turn with two half hitches. I think I did manage to master them at the time but I’m knot so sure now! (Ouch). Anyway I have decided to stick to what I know best i.e: the knots used in embroidery and crochet. The rectangular brooch was made using an old buckle as a frame, the oval pendant a piece of shaped wire, while the coaster began life as a large circular earring. All of these objects have various threads, wool and fabric knotted and looped on top. The bright pink wire was made in the manner of french knitting then flattened and sewn onto the design. My other piece of work is an embroidered knot garden worked many years ago and getting a bit faded now, but I thought it was appropriate.”
“The tree won me over again this week, and this tree in particular, as it reminded me of Mexico. I saw it from a very cranky bus travelling around an enormous canyon that seemed to be creating its own knots by winding round and round and up and up. I was astonished to see trees perpendicular to the rock face. The painting is just a memory and it reminds me of Chinese paintings of those trees on top of misty mountains that the Chinese love. I wanted to express the heat and dust of the Mexican canyons, rather than the cool misty hill tops of China. I think I have a way to go the grasp that sense. The other couple of drawings are of repeating patterns that knots can make, as in this netting. So graceful when they are hung out, so lethal in their use.”
“The idea for this short story came quickly. Making it work on the page took much longer! In large part, I was responding to the idea of ‘the nip’, the idea of friction, abrasion and tensions tying people together in impossible knots – and the idea too that the security of a bond in certain circumstances might require a lot of nip.”
“Knots – the topic had me all bound up – what will the world be like in the future – knots leave traces about the nip mark and there will be plenty of those to be revealed in the coming months. I began with a sketch of a garden knot as a starting point then did a couple of James knots – I feel like I need unknotting here in Sydney – can’t begin to imagine what you must feel like in the UK!”
Many thanks to our regular Japan-based Kick-Abouter, Tom Beg, for our new prompt for the Kick-About 21, which casts us off in a completely new direction: the very mechanics of forming ideas and making them understandable by others no less! See you all on the other side.
Forgetting To Look finds its way into Red’s Kingdom from that same clutch of obsolete floppy discs on which Lilo was floating about, and likewise these illustrations from another old short story. I’ve refined it a bit before sharing on here, though not very much. Mostly, I just cut more words. My admiration for the stories of Raymond Carver is obvious here, a writer who presents us with ordinary people talking ordinarily about things, but for whom life is often changing in distressing ways.