My interactive installation "No-one To Bestow" was shown at the Tokarska gallery in Walthamstow in February 2013. The title came from the theme for the 2012 E17 Art Trail, ďBestowĒ, and my friend Fabienís idea for his own Art Trail exhibition. Fabien took photographs of Walthamstow residents with a cherished object bestowed to them, and he photographed me with the dollís house my Grandfather made for me when I was a little girl.
Me with my brother Alex, Christmas morning 1978
I started thinking about the dollís house and how as I grew up I always imagined Iíd pass it on to a daughter. I realised that as I donít have children I have no-one to leave my things to. Iíve always wanted to have children, though at the age of 42 I realise this is increasingly unlikely, and itís something Iím coming to terms with.
I wanted to explore the very personal and emotive theme of being childless (or childfree), and contacted other female friends I know who donít have children, for various reasons, asking if they would like to participate in my exhibition. I emailed a number of questions to those that wanted to participate. Their replies, in all their frankness and honesty, formed the basis of the exhibition. Some women have always wanted to have children, and feel sad they never had the chance. Others have never wanted children and feel completely fulfilled.
I hand-wrote edited versions of the answers onto long lengths of paper. To accompany the stories I painted portraits of those who were happy to be identified, while others chose to remain anonymous. I suspended golden threads between the portraits, and left hand-made tags for visitors to write their own stories and attach to the threads with white ribbons. In the centre of the installation was my over-sized clock face, with the numbers fading as they approached 12, and the hands set at five-to-twelve. The clock tick-tocked loudly as visitors made their way around the exhibition reading the stories.
The installation was originally exhibited at St Barnabas church as part of the 2012 E17 Art Trail, and the response I received was overwhelming. Hundreds of visitors spoke to me, left tags on the thread or messages in my visitorís book, many saying that this exhibition had given them a chance to express their feelings about being childless for the first time. One message simply said ďI do not feel so alone now.Ē When I started out, the exhibition was for me and dealing with my own feelings about being childless, but No-one To Bestow seemed to really touch a nerve and connect with so many, and took on a life of itís own. Itís an extraordinary example of how art can touch peopleís lives, and the reason why I felt I had to show the installation again.
Following the original exhibition, I approached other women who had expressed an interest and asked them if theyíd like to take part, so there were five new stories and three new portraits for the updated version of the installation. I feel privileged to be able to tell all these womenís stories, and I thank them all for having the courage to take part. Itís been an emotional but ultimately very positive experience.
I gave a group of children a guided tour of the doll's house.
At the end of the show, I bestowed the portraits to the women who took part.
My Aunty Pat came to see the exhibition, and re-visited the doll's house her dad made for me.
Walthamstow photographer Mark Burton took some great photos at the private view, and wrote a very touching review of the show, you can see/read on his website: