The Maidens  2012

The Maidens
The Maidens
The Maidens

This is an excerpt from ‘Why am I looking into this glass’ 2019 text for the first Yellowfields publication 2020:

“My favourite book of landscape photographs is titled ‘England Today’. It was printed in 1946. Within its pages Morris dancers weave their patterns on rural roads, shepherds herd flocks along farm tracks, the hunt is shown meeting and in progress, fishermen and miners are seen at work, along with multitudes of agricultural workers; hop pickers, ploughmen, daffodils being harvested in the biting January wind. The black and white world of 1940’s rural work led me to seek more recent apparitions of crowds on the land. I gravitated to images of the Glastonbury festival in the 1970’s and 1980’s road protests. I began to work with them, as a means to think about the common idealism that these images of communal living seemed to share.

Just then, I made a work that has never stopped being important to me. It’s called ‘The Maidens’. ‘The Maidens’ is a visual essay. It’s made from books propped up to display the black and white photographs within them. One book plate shows ‘The Merry Maidens’; an iron-age stone circle in Penwith. The other two photographs are aligned so as to connect a group of Morris dancers with a different group of merry maidens; the women from Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp performing a mass group action called ‘Embrace the Base’ from December 1982. Thirty thousand women came together to make a circle of joined hands around the US base at Greenham. The Christian explanation of the stone circle was that dancing women were punished for their transgression by being turned to stone. For me, this connected with the circle of women at Greenham who were transgressing social mores about a woman’s proper place being in the home. Looking at the images my mind ran back and forth through ideas about the land, ownership, politics, power and photography. 

With my children I have a rule about being lost. If lost they should return to the place they last remember being together with me. When I am lost in the studio, meaning that I am unsure of direction in my work, I do the same thing. I return to a place when I was sure, when I felt a one-ness with my work. I return to ‘The Maidens’ like this; it is as though I stand on higher ground. From its vantage point I can see my way. 

There were many exciting possibilities for me in ‘The Maidens’; directions of thought to be tracked later, but it let material innovations into my work. These were to use books directly as a sculptural form, and to use them with glass. At the point where the image of Greenham women meets the Morris I propped a sheet of yellow glass, like a lens. The glass focuses and highlights the threshold, where two groups of people who inhabit the rural with a passion, an idea, a claim are joined. This was the first time I had used glass in my work, except to glaze a framed work.”

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Glass, books, book pages, punched card, 400 (h) x  660 (w) x 490 (d) mm

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