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Empty Clocks

I have been looking back on old blog posts today and realise I haven’t written anything on this blog for a while. Much of my focus over the past 18 months has been with my residency at Canterbury Cathedral and all my writing has been over on my a-n blog which is purely about the residency.

Now that project has come to an end I am at last beginning a new body of work for an exhibition entitled Neither use Nor Ornament which will take place at Ovada, Oxford and opens at the end of March. This exhibition has been developed by artist Sonia Boué and it has given me the opportunity to actually make some work in response to one of my empty clocks. I have to write a piece about my work for the exhibition publication and this is always the difficult part – trying to figure out exactly what it is you want to say about your work. So bear with me – this blog post and probably a couple of others to come are very much about me trying to decide what to write.

I have been buying old clock cases for many years. Each one bought because it reminded me of something else or someone. These empty clocks, hollow and missing what most would see as the vital component that makes them clocks and yet to me they are still keepers of time. Their design, construction, workmanship and materials all recall the fashion and craft of another time, the wear and tear evidence their time worn use and the fact that they have now been discarded and disposed of, seperated from their original owners most significantly perhaps suggests the ultimate moment in time – death.

One of the first empty clocks I bought was this black slate mantel clock. I bought it because it reminded me of the one that my Nanna had on her mantlepiece when I was a child. Nanna lived in a granny flat built onto the side of our house. Her door, opposite our kitchen door, across a hallway, was always open day and night. She was a constant in my early years.

Her mantel clock stood on her sideboard and as children we would be allowed to wind it up. Placing the key carefully in the keyhole and taking care not to overwind it.

My Nanna came from a working class family.  She was born in Margate in 1896 and went on to become a maid in a doctor’s household . She came from a large family and sadly lost her brother William when he was killed in action 1916 during the First World War . She married Joseph Jackson and had a son William (Bill) named after the brother she lost, and a daughter; my Mum. At the outbreak of the Second World War Bill enlisted against his mother’s best efforts to persuade him to be a conscientious objector. Bill became a bombardier in the Royal Artillery.

Sadly, I never knew my grandfather Joseph. He developed lung cancer in 1943 and was nursed at home by my Nanna and my Mum until he died in 1944. My Mum, then just a teenager, recalls this time, remembering her dad trying to slit his wrists as he was in so much pain and how he would cry and beg to be put out of his misery. What a thing to witness let alone at a time of war with the fear of being killed by bombs and the worry of having a son and brother fighting. Joseph died in October 1944 and Bill was given compassionate leave. This was to be the last time my Nan and Mum saw him as he was killed in action on November 27, 1944.

So many wounds. Many, for my Mum, remain barely healed, ripping open at the slightest thing, tearing her apart. Wounds she has lived with all her adult life. Wounds that have caused anxiety and depression and phobias but also a strength and determination to speak about her past to ensure it never remains buried. So much sadness through three generations of women; my great-grandmother losing her son and my Nanna her brother; William,  my Nanna; her husband and her son and my Mum her father and brother; Bill.

This story is obviously a very personal one. The decision to share it and make a body of work in response to it has not been taken lightly. For the last few years my Mum has been incapacitated by the dark place that envelopes her when the anxiety takes hold and during that time I could not make this work; I wouldn’t make this work without her consent. And so, at last, the my Mum is much better and happy for me to do this; to tell the story of the trauma that war and conflict has caused and it’s affect on generations of my family.

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