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In his essay The Storyteller (1936) Walter Benjamin describes how storytelling is always concerned with repetition, and narrative is revealed through the layers of different and continuing retellings, passed on and amended through generations. Stories are retold and remade in a new form as other stories, plays, poems, songs, films. Such repetition or retelling is an ongoing process of adaptation, involving translation or interpretation, context shifting, and remaking for changed circumstances or new audiences. The translator Susan Bernofsky has written that she regards her process essentially as one of storytelling, and that she always approaches commissions (such as her current work on a new translation of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain) with the question, “do I have new stories to tell about this novel”?


In A Theory of Adaptation (2006) Linda Hutcheon defines adaptation as “repetition without replication”, a process that “always involves both (re)interpretation and then (re)creation”; a “creative and interpretive act of appropriation and salvaging” making new meanings. She suggests that there is a subversive power in adaptation by which we can change our cultural understandings by altering what we know or expect. This is exemplified in the ‘fictional activism’ of Michelle Williams Gamaker’s filmmaking and performance work which is the subject of one of our two regular exhibition features in this issue.

Adaptation can also be a more pragmatic process in which new narratives and strategies are developed in response to unanticipated new circumstances, which is exactly the context of the other exhibition feature in this issue, Ikon’s Faster Than Ever. For the first time we have a specially commissioned cover image for this issue. In 'Walking Ahead (Moody Blue)' from Phill Hopkins’ ongoing Walking Ahead series, paint smudged fingerprints emphasise the flat surface of the photograph despite its illusionary depth. All the contributors to this issue engage in the adaptation or remaking of existing material or the retelling of someone else’s story, whether using language or visual imagery, sometimes translating from one to the other, in works that encompass sculpture, short stories, photography, collage, performance, filmmaking, typography, audio-recording and exhibition making.

Williams Gamaker and CM

Michelle Williams Gamaker and Catriona McAra - In Conversation: Curating Fictional Activism

The End of the River is a solo exhibition by the artist and filmmaker Dr Michelle Williams Gamaker, forthcoming at Leeds Arts University in 2021. In preparation for the exhibition, its curator Dr Catriona McAra engaged in a dialogue with the artist on the curatorial potential of fictional activism. 


CM: Your film and curatorial project Madame B. (2013) with Mieke Bal was my gateway into your practice. I was fascinated in your mutual reading of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary (1857), not only as a feminist text but how you were quoting from the novel in contemporary terms as a strategy of ‘anachronism’. In so doing, you claim a ‘loyalty by betrayal’ to the original text, especially where its ‘emotional capitalism’ is concerned. Is there a connection between such ‘theoretical fiction’ and your own more recent concept of ‘fictional activism’?  


MWG: Thank you for this question, I think it’s important to revisit my work with Mieke, as I can definitely see the connections in my work today. Prior to making films as ‘theoretical fiction’ Mieke and I used to make documentary films as part of a collective called Cinema Suitcase (formed in 2003 in Amsterdam, together with Zen Marie, Thomas Sykora and Gary Ward). In the edit suite we often found ourselves piecing together life histories in an attempt to make something coherent from the multiple narrative fragments we recorded – story as jigsaw. Once we began to make ‘theoretical fiction’ our focus changed to the adaptation of our source texts and how our retelling could break with ideological traditions. Using Mieke’s concept of ‘anachronism’ was very much part of this. With Madame B, we employed a number of techniques that we had begun to explore in our collaborative film A Long History of Madness (2011), such as producing a multilingual film in which our actors spoke to each other in their mother tongue, which we likened to a Babel-like space. Actors also played multiple roles as well as genders.


Stylistically, I felt this pluralism belonged to a theatrical tradition, and most of the actors we collaborated with worked primarily in theatre. I really loved their ability to morph characters and gender effortlessly. In my ‘fictional activism’ I have thought a great deal about the idea of a protagonist who is mutable. And like the herald character in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death, Conductor 71, played by Marius Goring, I also want my characters to be able to shapeshift or time-travel across styles, genres and themes. Madame B. proposes alternative endings to Flaubert’s Emma Bovary’s desperate situation. In our ending for the installation of Madame B., we explored five options: bankruptcy, divorce, suicide, psychiatric confinement and death. I love that we could explore these outcomes in all their horror and banality, and the betrayal which we speak of means not being faithful in our adaptation of the source text, liberating our making from the duty of historical accuracy you might see attempted in period dramas. In so doing, multiple endings become possible, and characters can return in multiple guises and gender, which is a social construct that can be systematically challenged.


CM: It was really special to be able to experience your immersive installation of Madame B. at Central St Martins with you and Dr Felicity Gee (March 2019). I was interested in how it was curated, the sheer number of screening devices for each episode, and the borrowed garments (including your own wedding dress!) enfolded into this fictive domain. We even spy Emma Bovary reading Mieke’s book on Louise Bourgeois Spider (2001) at one point – which felt like an appropriate ‘wink.’ Can you tell us more about how you curate your collaborative and/or solo filmic output? To what extent is the curatorial a retelling mechanism for you? 


MWG: I’m so glad we got to visit the show together, which feels like another time given our present restrictions on experiencing physical shows! With the Madame B. installation, you could say that we unpacked the film and its contents into the gallery. All the costumes Emma wore actually belonged to us, we really should have had a credit as the Costume Department! I am very much a collector of objects, and perhaps I’ve justified this collecting over the years by finding roles for them in my films. I tend to write around the object, using it as a starting point for a script. I also enjoy sourcing costumes to help realise a character, using material, its patterns, the lived quality of the fabric to reveal the theme of the work. In my production The Fruit is There to be Eaten (2018) one of the key themes was flora, with several references made to botany and its genealogy and nomenclature featuring strongly in my script. The main character Kanchi and all the school girls were dressed in floral prints. Curation is certainly a factor, but I would also say that in the film work my background in collage plays out in three-dimensional set building to create a stage or landscape for my characters to work within. I often place props within a scene that are heavily laden with associations, some of which are personal, and no doubt impossible to be read by the viewer. I do feel they have a cumulative presence and affect, which is psychic, emotional and intellectual.


CM: Moving Knowledge at Leeds Arts University, co-curated by Nick Norton for our Library Interventions programme (2018) featured you as the lead artist alongside David Steans, Joey Chin, Clare Charnley and Geoff Clout. You chose Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980) and its filmic adaptation (1986) as the departure point for this, and transformed the gallery space into a film set and quasi-museum. Would the term ‘literary curating’ be a useful way of thinking about this project?  

Williams Gamaker

Library Interventions Moving Knowledge, led by Michelle Williams Gamaker, co-curated by Nick Norton, 2018. Photo by Hamish Irvine featuring Williams Gamaker reading and Catherine Lord as The Monk

MWG: I think this term would make most sense for the Moving Knowledge project as well as the ‘theoretical fiction’ work with Mieke. Using Eco’s text was so rich and dense in its visual description that it offered a great methodology for the artists I worked with – each one had such a layered web of associations – and the emphasis on the library as a repository for those associations really came to the fore. Personally, as much as I enjoyed reading Eco, my association with The Name of the Rose was through the Jean-Jacques Annaud 1986 film of the same name. This was one of the first films my parents hired to play on our VHS machine, and the murderous whodunit in a Franciscan monastery left an impression on me, no doubt partly because I was below the age restriction! I still think fondly of that exhibition, because it gave me license to really unpack my collections and to use the gallery as a film set – this is something I have tried a number of times, and wish to continue to explore.


I remember we used a blog to share thoughts and I loved how our work fed off one another, so that in the end we all contributed to one another’s work in some way. In particular, I remember Clare Charnley made a replica of the character of O-Lan, from the 1937 film The Good Earth that I had been obsessing over. CIare’s sculpture really breathed life into the idea and made me want to make my work even more. I’m glad to say I finally shot my film The Bang Straws, which revisits the screen test of O-Lan, in which the farmer’s wife is covered in straw during a storm, becoming a straw figure of indistinguishable race, class and gender.


CM: You identify as a ‘fan’ of the silver screen, and have even been on a pilgrimage to Hollywood to find Sabu’s grave. When questioned about your presence, you told the authorities you were “a distant relative”, which became the title of your first major solo show at Tintype (2019) featuring your circus film The Eternal Return (2019). What first piqued your interest in Sabu’s story and your fandom collecting habits? 

Michelle Williams Gamaker

Michelle Williams Gamaker, Distant Relative, 2018. Single-channel video [5 minutes] and C-Type prints 59.4cm x 42.0cm

MWG: I think I was always looking for someone I could identify with in popular culture – in the 80s and 90s, the decades that really form my visual sensibility, there was such a lack of Brown representation. I had to find my allies in what I now understand to be quite random places, such as films of the 1940s, which were often televised, and that’s where I came across Sabu, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 Black Narcissus. It took a long time to become a fan of him, but after realising his history and just how phenomenally famous he was, I tried to understand this in relation to his career that was limited by a structural inequality that meant he often played characters framed by colonial hierarchies and if I look at those films, I long for agency for Sabu to break out of the imperialism that some of the characters he played maintains. Online, I discovered movie paraphernalia, including press clippings, advertisements, editorials, ceramics, film posters and figurines all dedicated to Sabu. I understood this as a man distributed into parts, and I had a desire to collect everything into an archive, with the goal of being the world’s largest collector of Sabu memorabilia. I’m fully aware of the problematic and even colonial legacy of collecting, but my aim is to reunite the objects of Sabu as a commodified and dispersed individual.

Michelle Williams Gamaker, Sabuware

Michelle Williams Gamaker, Sabuware, 2019. Installation shot, Tintype

CM: Your most recent film and exhibition project, The Silver Wave (2020) at Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, is so poignant. The choice of an Iñupiak mother Ada Blackjack and use of her diary during an expedition feels like another artefactual direction for your fictional activism.


MWG: RAMM gave me an open remit to tell an ‘untold story,’ and I was drawn to a vitrine from the ‘World Cultures’ section, which had a number of Iñupiak objects from the Arctic region, including a tiny figurine of a woman in a kayak carved from whale bone. Arguably this display was one of the most outdated at the museum, which drew me to it because of the relevant questions around the ownership of these objects and their potential repatriation. With this in mind, I researched what seemed to be a little-known story of Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiaq woman from Nome, Alaska, who became the sole survivor of a doomed trip to Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. I normally work with actors, so the project presented some challenges when thinking about how to animate this story without placing too much of my own agenda into the frame. I suppose fictional activism is as much about my seeking a restorative justice for my own encounter with culture as it is for my fictional activists, who have their own agenda to live out on screen. I also felt that I had to tread carefully, as this was my first time dealing with an indigenous history.


Extracts from Ada’s diary provided the dialogue to the film, read by the Iñupiat poet and writer Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen, from the Ugiuvamiut tribe. It was important not to alter Ada’s words. It is clear in later interviews that the events that took place on the island were very traumatic for her to remember. I attempted to animate Ada’s words by using a combination of objects, lighting and projection mapping VFX by Sophie Bramley, an atmospheric soundtrack by Aaron Cupples and sound design by Sara Pinheiro to evoke Ada’s isolation and to bring the cold climate of the Arctic into the museum. I allowed myself a few moments of artistic license, whereby other figurines from the collection come into frame to witness Ada in her loneliness. I wanted to make clear that colonial histories were never in isolation but happening in parallel, and this was something that I could see in the museum, despite the vitrines classifying and separating histories by time and geographical location. 


CM: Congratulations on The Jarman Award Film London 2020! It was encouraging to see your lived politics followed through in the shortlist’s joint statement to share the prize. You were nominated for House of Women (2017). I believe I first encountered your audition narratives at Laura White’s group show Wayfaring at &Model gallery in Leeds (2016). What are you working on now?   


MWG: Thank you, it feels so good to share the prize. That’s right, a four-channel version of House of Women (2017), called Casting Kanchi was installed at &Model for Wayfaring. I am currently working on a new 16mm film The Bang Straws, which broadly looks at the casting discrimination of Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress who wanted to play the role of the Chinese farmer’s wife O-Lan in Sidney Franklin’s 1937 film The Good Earth. Earlier in 2020, I was recipient of the Stuart Croft Moving Image Award, and during the first lockdown I put together the script and, together with my producer Qila Gill, we used the summer for pre-production. We somehow managed to film just ahead of the second lockdown. As yet, I haven’t begun to edit the film, but I am gearing myself to do this soon and I’m excited that the film has a sci-fi feel, which is a new visual direction for me, despite having a love for the genre. This work revisits the structurally violent space of the audition, which we also see in House of Women.

Extract from The Eternal Return, Michelle Williams Gamaker, 2019.



Bal, Mieke. Quoting Caravaggio: Contemporary Art, Preposterous History. London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.


__. Louise Bourgeois Spider: The Architecture of Art Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.


Bal, Mieke and Michelle Williams Gamaker, Towards a Babel Ontology, European Journal of Womens Studies, volume: 18 issue: 4 (November 2011):


__. Mrs B: The film analysis of a novel, Flaubert: Translations/Adaptations (December, 2012):


__. Madame B.: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism (2013).


Lord, Catherine and Michelle Williams Gamaker, House of Preposterous Women: Michelle Williams Gamaker Re-Auditions Kanchi, OAR, issue 3 (December 2018):

McAra, Catriona. Emmas Navel: Dorothea Tannings Narrative Sculpture, Intersections: Women/Surrealism/Modernism, ed. Patricia Allmer, 91-111. Manchester University Press, 2016.


Williams Gamaker, Michelle, [Artists Pages], Fandom as Methodology: A Source Book for Artists and Writers, ed. Catherine Grant and Kate Random Love. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2019.


__. On Fictional Activism: Exploring the Film Trilogy Dissolution (2019), Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms, ed. Katy Deepwell, 40-53. London: Plural, 2020.


Ikon Gallery - Faster Than Ever


Installation view, Faster Than Ever at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK, 2020 © Ikon Gallery. Photographer: Stuart Whipps.

Involving approximately thirty artists from around the world, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, curated Faster Than Ever (4 December 2020 — 14 February 2021) from artworks it has accumulated over time. Though not a collecting institution, Ikon houses a wide range of paintings, sculptures and photographs, as well as many films, sound pieces and wall drawings held as digital files. With the permission of the participating artists, these works were released back into the galleries in a combination and context never initially or previously envisioned. As its press release describes, responding to the challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, this exhibition is “an exercise in capitalising on chance, making the most of incongruity and happy accidents”.


Although installed throughout Ikon’s gallery spaces, forced temporary closures of the building meant that, for part of the time, Faster Than Ever could be experienced only through digital channels. A winter film programme, organised to coincide with the exhibition, successively made each of the film and video works available to watch for one week on Ikon’s website. Education and public engagement are at the heart of Ikon’s activities which, established in 1964 by a group of artists, works to stimulate public interest in contemporary art through debate and participation; its off-site programme has been building on this, enabling access and discussion from beyond the gallery’s walls. Amongst the artists included in this exhibition are Giovanni Anselmo, Thomas Bewick, Julie Brook, Pavel Büchler, Alice Cattaneo, Lee Bul, Edmund Clark, Martin Creed, Kate Groobey, Graham Gussin, Arturo Herrera, Carmen Herrera, Ann Veronica Janssens, On Kawara, Lutz and Guggisberg, Haroon Mirza, Ivan Morison, Nástio Mosquito, Grace Ndiritu, Timur Novikov, Cornelia Parker, Navin Rawanchaikul, Noguchi Rika, Savage, Shimabuku, Dayanita Singh, Bosco Sodi, Nancy Spero, Beat Streuli and David Theobald.

Grace Ndiritu, The Nightingale (2003).

Grace Ndiritu, The Nightingale, 2003. Video. Courtesy the artist.

Central to both the gallery exhibition and the film programme are propositions that inform all Ikon’s activity, not least the fundamental continuity between artistic experience and everyday life. Landmark early works of social critique by Grace Ndiritu and Nástio Mosquito appear alongside Beat Streuli’s Pallasades, a video commissioned by Ikon in 2001 to convey Birmingham’s cultural diversity. Japanese artist Shimabuku’s silent film of a sunrise in Seoul is like an epiphany, an eccentric celebration of the natural world with a poignant resonance in current times. Likewise, a sense of euphoria is elicited in Sounds and Colours in Ivan Morison’s Garden (2002), in which the artist tends to his allotment unashamedly naked in bucolic bliss.

Dayanita Singh, Jumping girl, 1999

Dayanita Singh, Jumping girl, 1999. Resin coated black and white print on aluminium, 100 x 117 cm. Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London.

Large scale photographs by Dayanita Singh and Noguchi Rika reflect a fascination with human behaviour and ordinary strangeness, also exemplified in Thomas Bewick’s woodcut engravings, or “tale-pieces”, printed two centuries previously. A number of these are shown in combination with wooden book dummies by the Swiss artists Lutz and Guggisberg, inspired by Ikon’s Bewick exhibition in 2009. Their sense of fun is shared by Kate Groobey, whose video vignettes are Dionysian in their communication of the “pure pleasure” she feels in the company of her female partner.

Nancy Spero, Parade (1998)

Nancy Spero, Parade, 1998. Silk screen print, 48 x 61 cm.

Similarly feminist and optimistic is the female duo leaping and dancing across the picture plane in Nancy Spero’s silkscreen print, commissioned by Ikon in 1998. Works by Martin Creed and On Kawara (both artists who have had important earlier solo exhibitions at Ikon) are characterised by an emphasis on repetition as an existentialist strategy – a stylistic minimalism that foils the unfathomable complexity of what it means to be human. Creed’s Turner Prize-winning installation Work No. 160 (2001), otherwise known as The lights going on and off, playfully engages our sense of space and time, whilst Kawara’s One Million Years (Reading) in its recording of men and women reading sequences of dates far into the past and into the future offers a philosophical moment of reflection.


Faster Than Ever provides an analogy for the improvisation, the ‘making do and getting by’ that is central to the way we navigate and adapt to the world, especially in current times. As Jonathan Watkins, Ikon’s Director, puts it: “During these extraordinary times – which call for extraordinary measures – we could not be more aware of the diversions and U-turns required, taking us through unfamiliar landscapes. This exhibition accentuates the positive, highlighting what is possible in the midst of uncertainty. Ikon is an art gallery that has always been fast on its feet, now moving faster than ever.”


Sean Dower - Zou Zou's Mime Reconstructed

At an Amsterdam market in 1993, Sean Dower discovered a videotape from a 1985 performance by the cabaret clown Zou Zou. This performance makes reference to particular socio-political issues of the time, including the nuclear arms race and space travel. Focusing on one section in which the clown performs a mime describing a mysterious three-dimensional space, Dower studied this mime and reconstructed its ergonomic detail as a sculpture. First exhibited in Amsterdam in 1993 and then exhibited internationally, Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed extended beyond the sculpture into a longer running performance, as Dower spent years trying to trace Zou Zou. Adverts were placed in various magazines requesting information about Zou Zou, and the film, along with an appeal, were projected onto the side of London’s Southbank Centre in 1999. Zou Zou was eventually traced and invited to see the reconstruction of his mime for himself at an exhibition of Dower’s work at Lokaal 01, Antwerp, in December 1999. Zou Zou brought along the guitarist from the original performance and loaned one of his props to the exhibition. In 2005 in Dunkirk, Dower exhibited a series of photographs (made in 1993) of himself impersonating Zou Zou and, during the exhibition, visited the town sightseeing, dressed up anonymously as the cabaret clown.


The chronology, notes and photographic documentation present the narrative of this reconstruction of a single performance scene, a mysterious mime made the more poignant by its interpretation and reinterpretation through diffuse means, locations and voices. This vocal mute voice, repeated across place and time, works to layer, fuse and confuse identity and obscure origin, while at the same time its reconstruction traces and reveals this origin, uncovering uncanny connections.

CHRONOLOGY (1985-2005):

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Video still from Zou Zou’s Circus Cabaret, performed in Germany, 1985.



Zou Zou’s ‘circus cabaret’ is performed in Germany and documented on Umatic Video. The show touches on topical issues of the time, including nuclear fission and space travel.



A videotape of Zou Zou’s performance is found at a second-hand market in Amsterdam by Dower, who buys the tape intending to record over it. Watching the tape in an edit suite before erasing, Dower becomes fascinated by the recording and particularly one section where Zou Zou performs a mime of a three-dimensional space.

Dower impersonates Zou Zou using makeup, clothing and other props.

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Polaroid photo of the artist as Zou Zou together with a prop used by Zou Zou,1993.

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Ergonomic sketch by the artist of Zou Zou’s mime,1993.

The space in Zou Zou’s mime is sketched and translated into a life-size, ergonomic space. The original video is incorporated into the sculpture in a location anticipated by the original mime.

Zou Zou's Mime Reconstructed is exhibited at Open Ateliers, Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam.



Two more videotapes from the performance are discovered at the same market.



Zou Zou's Mime Reconstructed is exhibited in ‘Lost Property’ at The Lost Goods Building, London.



Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed is exhibited at Portfolio Kunst AG, Vienna. 

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed, Portfolio Kunst AG, Vienna, Austria, 1997.

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Zou Zou’s Mime, projected on the National Theatre, London’s Southbank, 1999.



Zou Zou’s mime is projected onto the exterior wall of The National Theatre on London’s Southbank Centre. Adverts requesting information about Zou Zou are projected between screenings. Additional adverts are placed in theatre and performing arts magazines.

A reference to Zou Zou is found on the Freiburger Theaterfestival website. Dower contacts the festival organization and is given Zou Zou’s contact details. Dower writes to Zou Zou, who lives in Amsterdam. Zou Zou replies with a postcard and correspondence is established. Dower learns that in 1993, Zou Zou had been going out with a mutual friend who had a studio in the same building where Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed was first exhibited. Zou Zou had visited the building during the exhibition but had not seen the work.

Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed is exhibited in Other Spaces, a solo exhibition by Dower at Lokaal 01, Antwerp. Zou Zou attends the opening, together with his stage manager and the musician who performed in the video. Zou Zou brings along some of the props from the original show and makes an impromptu performance. Upon seeing the sculpture of his mime, Zou Zou exclaims: “You piss in the wind and 15 years later, it comes back and hits you in the face".

Zou Zou Sean Dower
Zou Zou Sean Dower

Zou Zou visits Belgium to see his mime recreated, Lokaal 01, Antwerp, 1999.

Zou Zou Sean Dower

Exhibition poster for Les Merveilles du Monde, Musée des Beaux Arts, Dunkirk, France, 2005.


Photo of Dower as Zou Zou exhibited in Les Merveilles du Monde at Museum of Fine Arts, Dunkirk, France, and the photo is also used to publicise the exhibition. During the exhibition, Dower anonymously visits Dunkirk dressed as Zou Zou.



Zou Zou’s Mime Reconstructed, 1993
Mixed media with video and sound
Approx. dimensions: 2440 x 2100 x 1220mm
Video loop: 4 minutes.



Images courtesy the artist.


Imogen Reid - Misrecollections of A Moviegoer

Unrequited Love: On Stalking and Being Stalked, a film directed by Christopher Petit, was aired on UK television in 2006. It was a part-funded commission by Channel 4 Television and was filmed in London and Leipzig [1]. It has a running time of 76 minutes and is generally categorised as a cinematic essay. The film’s footage is primarily shot on a combination of CCTV and digital 8 cameras, although the impression throughout the film is that images are almost always seen from the point of view of a surveillance camera. The film is a loose adaptation of a part autobiographical memoir on stalking and being stalked written by the academic Gregory Dart (2003). Reprising and replaying his role as the stalked professor, Dart plays himself in the film. While his position as narrator in the novel is central, however, he takes a non-speaking part in the film: his appearance on screen is both scant and peripheral, his body and face are often partially obscured, he is usually seen from a distance at a tangential angle; a fleeting glimpse of the ever-elusive object of desire, the object that fuels the stalker’s unerring obsession. The stalker, Lucy, is played by Rebecca Marshall. She is the film’s principal protagonist and one of two narrators, the other being Petit himself. Both Dart and Marshall are unprofessional actors, and both are also professional writers [2].


When I first watched Unrequited Love, I was already familiar with some of Petit’s earlier films, for example, Radio On (1979), Chinese Boxes (1984), and London Orbital (2002), I knew that he was a novelist, that he had been a film critic, and that he often worked in collaboration with the London-based writer Iain Sinclair, but my almost compulsive on-going fascination with Unrequited Love was unexpected. I had never been particularly interested in stalker movies, at least not of the conventional Hollywood kind, but what initially struck me about Petit’s film was that it approaches the themes usually associated with this ‘most dramatic’ of subjects in a strikingly different way. For example, as the title Unrequited Love: On Stalking and Being Stalked suggests, Petit’s film is written, and rewritten, through a familiar story with conventional themes. It has all the trappings of a doomed romance: boy meets girl, and, after a brief encounter, girl falls for boy, boy forgets she exists, love, desire, rejection, and obsession, etc., etc., etc., but Petit’s film evokes, reworks, and dispenses with the usual melodrama that accompanies these themes. There are no histrionics, no confrontation, little physical contact, and definitely no boiling bunnies. The pace of the film is slow, almost ponderous, it is devoid of urgency and drama. It seems almost parched and empty of human action in comparison with its Hollywood counterpart. I found myself drawn by the distance from which the ‘story’ was told and fascinated by its impersonal style. My engagement with it seemed to have nothing to do with like or dislike, boring or interesting; or at least I could not describe my encounter with it in those terms. I was hooked, but I was unable to pinpoint why.


In September 2008 I visited an exhibition at the Sketch Gallery London to see a film installation by Christopher Petit and Iain Sinclair, the installation was called Marine Court Rendezvous. Marine Court Rendezvous is a film, or parts of several films, spanning twelve independent screens, which lined the walls of the gallery. In the accompanying exhibition pamphlet Iain Sinclair describes the film(s) in the following way:

[t]he Sketch installation is a film that was never made, containing within it numerous false starts, trial shots, one-off auditions in blind corridors. [...] Everything is definitively provisional. Defiantly unresolved. It could be assembled in any order (Sinclair in Petit & Sinclair, 2008, un-paginated).


In the same pamphlet Petit describes the installation as a series of:

[t]akes amounting to fragments of a film that might one day exist or might once have existed. [...] The memory of cinema rather than cinema itself (Petit in Petit & Sinclair, 2008, un-paginated).


Marine Court Rendezvous seemed to echo and clarify many of the themes that had already come to interest me in relation to Unrequited Love. For instance, although Unrequited Love is a continuous film, and not a compartmentalised installation, it could nevertheless be described as fragmented; while watching Unrequited Love, the viewer is absorbed in the intervals between events, in the moments before and after an incident has taken place. It leaves stories unresolved and unfinished; it poses more questions than it answers. Additional comparisons between the film and the installation were compounded by the fact that in both cases the principal protagonist is played by the same woman, Rebecca Marshall. In both film and installation, she barely moves; we see her seated, standing, and lying down. In both film and installation, we watch and wait while nothing in particular happens. In my recollection of being immersed in this featureless, unresolved time and in the image of an almost immobile female figure, I realised that details from both film and installation were beginning to merge, or, perhaps better, that a new film recollection was beginning to emerge.


Unrequited Love exhibits many of the themes that reoccur again and again in Petit’s films and also in his novels: the unmade film; the unfinished story; the memory of cinema rather than cinema itself. It seemed to me as if this unresolved film, initially adapted from  Gregory Dart’s book, had set out to encourage the viewer to draw on his or her memories and experiences in order to complete it, to fill the gaps and remake the film, again and again, differently.



[1] The footage shot from a surveillance camera was filmed in Leipzig at a time when the privacy laws did not prohibit identification of the people being filmed.

[2] In 2009 Rebecca Marshall published a book of ‘Wordfilms’ called Ways to Disappear.


CDN Warren - VENT: 8 Abominations for Derek Beaulieu

CDN Warren's VENT: 8 Abominations for Derek Beaulieu is a short series of homages to Derek Beaulieu; each a digital interpretation and reconstruction of a work from Beaulieu’s Aperture (2019), a series of day-glo Letraset works published by Penteract Press (UK). 

CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren
CDN Warren

Isabella Kuijers - Body Language

These two fonts have been created as part of the continuing series of works, Body Language. 'Lips' substitutes each letter of the alphabet with Kuijers’ own lips making the letter’s sound. Because of the limitations of a single still image, these are unreadable even to those who can lip-read. The second font, 'Body Language', reflecting our tendency to conflate our physical bodies as well as what we say with who we are, is made up of various parts of the body each randomly assigned to a letter.

These two fonts have been created as part of the continuing series of works, Body Language. 'Lips' substitutes each letter of the alphabet with Kuijers’ own lips making the letter’s sound. Because of the limitations of a single still image, these are unreadable even to those who can lip-read. The second font, 'Body Language', reflecting our tendency to conflate our physical bodies as well as what we say with who we are, is made up of various parts of the body each randomly assigned to a letter.

These two fonts have been created as part of the continuing series of works, Body Language. 'Lips' substitutes each letter of the alphabet with Kuijers’ own lips making the letter’s sound. Because of the limitations of a single still image, these are unreadable even to those who can lip-read. The second font, 'Body Language', reflecting our tendency to conflate our physical bodies as well as what we say with who we are, is made up of various parts of the body each randomly assigned to a letter.



To close loneliness

Three postcard to fill

Like a drawstring

To close loneliness

Three postcard to fill

Like a drawstring


Ash lines the bathtub

And light filtered through smoke

turns sinister apricot

Ash lines the bathtub

And light filtered through smoke

turns sinister apricot

These two fonts (.otf format) are available for download here: 'Lips' and 'Body Language'.


Deborah Gardner - Conway Hives

Deborah Gardner
Deborah Gardner

Conway Hive. Conway Hall, London. 

‘Conway Hives’ were made to fit two ceiling windows in the Art Deco building Conway Hall, London. Referencing beehives housed on the roof, they pointed to the collective agency of both hive culture and the institution. Their forms altered as the daylight changed, thickening in the dark. They have been exhibited in galleries on walls and floors, with reflective backgrounds or in a video close tracking their surfaces within a science fair as part of a video installation of microscopy and sculpture exploring cell behaviour. 


Phil Sawdon - Chalk Marks

Phil Sawdon

Chalk Marks is adapted from Make Your Own Furniture, BBC One London, 30 November 1980, broadcast at 11.45. The series comprised of ten projects for making furniture at home, presented by David Day and Albert Jackson.


John Christopher - BRAWLER

In the first few minutes of Scorsese’s Raging Bull, during a boxing fight between Jack (Robert de Niro) and his opponent Sugar Ray, the crowd, incensed at the declared victor, violently erupts into a riot. The camera cuts to fists connecting with jaws, a young woman knocked down and trampled, trampled, then lifts to watch the flight of a chair as it sails through the air and falls, with a crash, into the ring. Later in the film, Jack and his brother (Joe Pesci) are in Jack’s home sitting at the kitchen table. Jack asks his brother to hit him, and after some provocation, he does; he punches him and punches him, hard, in the face. Jack hardly even flinches. He only stops when Jack’s stitches start to open and weep. “What’s it prove?” his brother demands, confused and a little disturbed at Jack’s serene, almost satisfied expression.

“What’s it prove?” Unlike Jack, who breaks faces simply because he can, Rico Nasty, the Maryland-born rapper, over the past few years, has shown not just an ability, but a willingness to distort and remodel her own features, strangle her vocals, and mutate her image. Born in 1997, it’s remarkable how many personae she has gone through in such a short time: in her early ‘Sugar Trap’ EP’s, she sent forth a shiny anime version of herself, armed with toy guns that shot pink goo; for photoshoots she’s styled her hair into lightning-struck spike-tips, then smoothed it to a lake-dark ripple, her baby curls slicked to spell “Nasty” across her forehead. It’s in her music videos, though, where her malleability is on full display; her grimaces and grins, those Looney Tune eyes that go wide and roll like lottery slots.

Her disregard for poise is thrilling, her proximity to ugliness inspired (she’s even been sampled by Machine Girl, a band that revels in sublime hideousness); her expressions max out, crash land, and are completely over the top. She twists her mouth and bats her lashes; she strikes cover-girl poses, then makes a bladed carnival of her face. She sounds sometimes like Kim Gordon, sometimes like a stomping boot; like she’s skipping gladly, cutting class, on her way to give you a wedgie. At other times she’s like a bored shop assistant, singing while she flicks through a glossy magazine, doodling dicks on clean smooth faces. “Show me something different cos’ I seen a lot,” she sings in ‘Popstar’, a challenge posed to herself as well as to her peers. “Woah!” she likes to shout in her adlibs, as if she can’t believe what she just did, but if Rico throws a chair, she’s not going to pause to watch it fly. She knows her strength. She’s already in the ring.

Her aesthetic choices change with the same speed and vehemence as her voice, which is delightful I think, indicative as it is of someone unafraid to experiment until she finds the style that fits (“See you tryin way too hard to fit in / We goin shopping loser get in,” she sings on ‘Loser’). Her attitude to genre is ecstatic and crazed, and when I saw the Nightmare on Elm St and Poltergeist references in the video for ‘iPhone’ (track of the year?), I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. Dazed called her “emo-adjacent”, a neat formulation for an artist who values the power of a subculture while staying aloof enough not to be pigeonholed within it.

In the lead-up to the release of her debut album, Nightmare Vacation, she released songs that demonstrate the evolution of her unique and indefatigable zest for malevolence and joy. The enormity of these songs, her outlandish delivery, establish a sensibility that dwells in what Bataille called ‘electric time’ which allows only the explosive and mind-altering. Anger used to take her there, but as time goes on we can hear her singing about love in higher registers; compare tracks like ‘Rage,’ in which she barks thunderclaps, with ‘iPhone’, where you can literally hear the smile on her face when she sings, like a swooning banshee, “He on my hip like a Tamogatchi.” In these songs her wrath is as fluent and pyroclastic as ever, which makes her engagement with themes of love and desire both surprising and not, sought as they are in their most euphoric registers. She can knock us out, send stars spinning through our heads with anthems of pitiless rage, and now she’s doing it by knocking, hammering pounding on our defenseless hearts. In a recent Instagram post, she shared some old EP covers, each one showing some of the artist’s previous incarnations. In the caption she wrote: “Which one made you love me?”


JocJonJosch - In Time


Roger Palmer - Etruria

Etruria #1, Stoke-on-Trent, England, 2016-2020


In 1769, Josiah Wedgwood opened a new factory in the Staffordshire Potteries. He named the factory and adjacent employees’ village Etruria, after the region in Italy where Etruscan city-states had formerly produced large quantities of ceramics. At Wedgwood’s Etruria Works, new materials and techniques were developed to imitate recently excavated Etruscan vases.


Wedgwood promoted the improvement of workers’ living conditions as well as the construction of new schools, roads and canals. With Etruria Works located beside the Trent & Mersey Canal, Wedgwood became a leader in European industrialisation and distribution of pottery.


21st Century Etruria displays little evidence of its 18th Century origins. The World of Wedgwood has relocated and the family home, Etruria Hall, is now part of a hotel.


In Etruria Park a plaque commemorates Thomas Wedgwood, the fifth of eight children. Working at Etruria Hall, he became the first photographer to capture impermanent silhouette photograms on paper coated with light-sensitive chemicals.


6 gelatin silver prints on Ilford fibre-based paper: image size, 26cm x 39cm, paper size 48.5cm x 60cm.

Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer

Etruria #2, Italy – Lazio and Tuscany, 2019-2020


The Etruscans established the first great civilization on the Italian peninsula. In pre-Roman times Etruria covered the region between the Arno and Tiber rivers in central Italy. The earliest presence of an Etruscan society dates from about 900 BC.


Displaying influences from the Phoenicians and Ancient Greeks, for some 500 years Etruscan city-states developed as centres for agriculture, technology and maritime trade. An Etruscan alphabet was established and artistic activities advanced. Purpose-built ceramic workshops fabricated large quantities of pottery.


Etruscan society was eventually crushed and assimilated into the Roman Empire. Its kings were expelled and Roman armies destroyed much of its infrastructure. As Rome’s sphere of influence grew, Etruscan culture became increasingly subsumed and overshadowed.


Underground tombs of prominent Etruscans were found to contain wall paintings, sarcophagi, pottery and sculpture. Different theories about the origins of Etruscan civilization have been proposed by analysis of these and other remains.


6 Giclée prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper: image size 26cm x 39cm, paper size 48.5cm x 60cm.

Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer
Roger Palmer

Sarah Roberts - Lockdown Papers

Sarah Roberts Lamina
Sarah Roberts
Sarah Roberts HomeFried
Sarah Roberts
Sarah Roberts firm foundation
Sarah Roberts

Katerina Mimikou - White Pillowcase

κυλά [kila']= roll

Καίτη [Ke'ti]= female name, another version of Aikaterini

Λενιώ [Lenio']= female name, another version of Helena

γάμο [ga'mo]= wedding

προικιό (single) [prikio'] and προικιά (plural) [prikia']= dowry

τραχιά [trachia']= rough

χώμα [cho'ma]= soil

αγρότισσα [agro'tisa]= female peasant

Ζαγορά [Zagora']= village in Thessaly, central Greece

χωράφια [chora'fia]= fields

λευκή μαξιλαροθήκη [lefki' maksilarothi'ki]= white pillowcase

καρεδάκια, τραπεζομάντηλα, νυχτικά, κουβέρτες, πετσέτες, ποδιές [kareda'kia, trapezoma'dila, nixtika', kouve'rtes, petse'tes, podie's]=  doilies, tablecloths, nightdresses, blankets, towels, aprons

πάνλευκο [pa'nlefko]= very white


νύφη [ni'fi]= bride

Θήβα [Thi'va]: Thebes, a city in Boeotia, central Greece

γειτόνισσες [gito'nises]= female neighbors

άντρα [a'dra]= men or/and husband






Βλέπετε [vle'pete]= As you can see

οικονομική κατάσταση [ikonomiki' kata'stasi]= financial status

υποταγμένη [ipotagme'ni]= submissive (female)

Άμα δεν πάρεις χρήματα στα χέρια σου δε σε υπολογίζει κανείς [A'ma den pa'ris chri'mata sta che'ria sou den se ipologi'zi kani's]= ‘If you don’t get money in your hands, nobody takes you into account.’


εκτόνωση [ekto'nosi]= relief

συνεισφέρει [sinisfe'ri]= contributing

οικονομία [ikonomi'a]= finances




Αράχνη [Ara'chni], see note 6

υφαίνει [ife'ni]= spin and/or weave

Αχ [Ach]= interjection, here expressing nostalgia

Χαρούλα [Charou'la]= female name, a shortcut for Charikleia

υποχρέωση [ipochre'osi]= obligation






Αθήνα [Athi'na]= Athens, capital of Greece

Αθηνά [Athina']= Ancient greek goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare. She was regarded as the patron and protectress of the city of Athens.

ανεξάρτητη [aneksa'rtiti]= independent (female)

τύψεις [ti'psis]= guilds

Δεν είναι της μόδας πιά [den i'ne tis mo'das pia]= ‘It’s not in fashion anymore.’

ράφι [ra'fi]= shelf

μαξιλαροθήκες [maksilarothi'ki]= pillowcases

τσαλακωμένο [tsalakome'no]= creased

Άντε να με βγάλεις από κει! [A'de na me vga'lis apo' ki]= Go figure how to get me out of there!









κουκούλι [koukou'li]= cocoon




Kατερίνα [Kateri'na]= female name, another version of Aikaterini

προνύμφη [proni'mfi]= larvae





αποσυρθεί [aposirthi']= withdrawned

Για να τα εκτιμήσει κανείς πρέπει να έχει μεγάλη ευαισθησία. Αυτό που μετράει είναι το χρήμα, αυτό είναι παντός εποχής [Gia na ta ektimi'si kani's pre'pi na e'chi mega'li evesthisi'a. Afto' pou metra'i i'ne to chri'ma, afto' i'ne pado's epochi's]= For them to be appreciated, one should have a lot of sensibility. Money is what counts; they are always in fashion.

οικονομική [ikonomiki']= financial

My life started to κυλά before Καίτη got married, in 1967. Her mum, Λενιώ, had bought me from the store for her daughter's γάμο. I’m a προικιό.  I remember Λενιώ’s hands very clearly; they were τραχιά and smelt of χώμα. According to Greek tradition, the προικιά were usually embroidered by the mothers to be given to their daughters on their γάμο, but this mother was an αγρότισσα  in Ζαγορά; she didn’t have the time to embroider, she had to work. She was at the χωράφια, she only dug. It was necessary for Καίτη to have προικιά in order to get married, even if they were surviving with the bare minimum. Λενιώ’s προικιά were very few to be given, so she had to buy new ones for each girl’s γάμο.


That’s how I got bought, me, the λευκή μαξιλαροθήκη with the wavy finish and holes that create flowers. Me, along with the rest of the necessary objects needed for a girl to start her house: καρεδάκια, τραπεζομάντηλα, νυχτικά, κουβέρτες, πετσέτες, ποδιές. And like that, young, soft and still πάνλευκο, I finally became a προικιό.



Those were good years for me, when I went to live with the νύφη at Θήβα. I was out of the closet often and I always had Καίτη ’s company, who didn’t leave the home unless it was for a visit to γειτόνισσες ’s house for a coffee or shopping. Καίτη has a habit of talking to herself. So, I got to hear a lot of her thoughts during those years, when her άντρα went to work and she stayed alone at home.


I enjoyed watching her embroidering. How much she did embroider! She was leaning on me and she embroidered, knitted, sewed, for hours. I was jealous to see all those white fabrics turning into flowers, leaves, geometrical shapes. The golden, blue, red thread. I was just a simple λευκή μαξιλαροθήκη. Βλέπετε, she didn’t want to give her own προικιά to her daughters because, in her opinion, they weren’t enough.


I could feel that Καίτη was happy about leaving the village and moving to a city in a home with better οικονομική κατάσταση. Her tears, though, were telling me she was in pain; she was away from her family and she had found herself trying to deal with an άντρα 15 years older than her. She was afraid; she didn’t know how to act. She had two kids. Where would she leave them? Someone should take care of them and the house. She felt υποταγμένη. ‘Άμα δεν πάρεις χρήματα στα χέρια σου δε σε υπολογίζει κανείς’ Καίτη says. 


Every time she pierced the fabric with the needle, she was like a bee stinging someone’s skin. She was hanging onto embroidery; it was an εκτόνωση. It was the only way she could feel she was somehow συνεισφέρει in the house οικονομία. And she had to do it, she had to give her daughters προικιά. Just as her mother had to.


For years I just watched and listened. I watched the Αράχνη to υφαίνει the προικιά. Until the embroidering stopped suddenly and all the προικιά got out and we were embellished and hung around the living room. Then, a lot of people came. Αχ, so many people. Just to see and admire us. Γειτόνισσες, friends, relatives. And coffee, sweets, pies. It was in 1992, several days before her daughter’s, Χαρούλα, γάμο. That meant it was my  time to go to new hands. I am probably the only προικιό of Καίτη from Λενιώ that gets to go with Χαρούλα. Along with the traditional προικιά, Χαρούλα got a house, some furniture and electrical devices. I heard Καίτη never embroidered again after both her daughters got married.


I was looking forward to my new life, in Αθήνα this time. I had never seen Χαρούλα embroidering in the past, so I was really excited to observe some new creations. New home, different Αράχνη. But I was mistaken, because I found myself living with a goddess Αθηνά. Χαρούλα wasn’t embroidering. To my eyes, she was an absolute goddess. She was working, she was going out, taking care of the children. She went shopping, had her nails done. She did it all. And without an άντρα! She was ανεξάρτητη. But I knew, because I could hear her tears from the closet, that she was tired of trying to do it all. She felt τύψεις of working rather than spending more time with her children at home. She blamed feminism for wanting women to have it all. And she blamed her generation for being ‘in the middle’. She was jealous of the women she was hiring to look after the kids and to tidy the house; they got to see her children more than she did. 


I saw some of those women, as they were the ones that would take me out of the closet, but most of the time I was staying in. I was too small to fit in those new, big pillows and I was looking old. I could hear Χαρούλα telling them not to take me out. ‘Δεν είναι της μόδας πιά’. And like that, I remained closed at the ράφι.


I became a bit yellow as the years passed. There were times they took me out and used me. Since I got into the ράφι, it took a long time to get out of it again. I was waiting for the other ones, the modern ones, to be used first and then it was me. With so many μαξιλαροθήκες, how can you put all of them on the pillows? Sometimes, I was τσαλακωμένο at the bottom of the pile. Άντε να με βγάλεις από κει! I spend most of my days trying to read the tags from the other sheets and μαξιλαροθήκες. That’s when I learned my first English: ΙΚΕΑ. Made in China. Made in Vietnam. Machine wash, hot. Do not dry clean. Keep away from fire.


I moved a lot with Χαρούλα ’s family, 6 times if I remember correctly. From closet to closet, from bedroom to bedroom. But one day something weird happened. I got pulled out of the pile and I felt a cold surface touching me. And then a needle. Is it a new Αράχνη ready to embroider me? Is it my time to get out of my κουκούλι and become a colorful butterfly? Then scissors. I got cut in three. I don’t know. I heard shouts. Goddess Αθηνά was yelling at her daughter, little Αράχνη, because she had cut me. It felt nice to know they still cared for me. I got to know I was at the ράφι all this time because I had to wait to be given to Κατερίνα, Χαρούλα ‘s daughter, as a προικιό at her γάμο. But she had cut me. And after cutting me, truth is, I did change. I stopped being a μαξιλαροθήκη, as the butterfly stops being a προνύμφη. I traveled far away, in 2018, to a different country, to London. And that’s when I got out, and I was hanging on the wall, like back at Καίτη ‘s house, before Χαρούλα’s γάμο. Everybody was looking at me and I could hear Κατερίνα telling a bit of my story.


One day I heard Καίτη on the phone, telling Κατερίνα that the προικιά don’t have any value anymore, they have been αποσυρθεί and they are out of fashion. ‘Για να τα εκτιμήσει κανείς πρέπει να έχει μεγάλη ευαισθησία. Αυτό που μετράει είναι το χρήμα, αυτό είναι παντός εποχής,’ she said. I was hurt. But now I think of myself differently. I am not a προικιό anymore. I have no οικονομική value, I know that. But I carry within me the lives of women; and their hidden thoughts, tears, fears. I carry the erased stories of their everyday life, when the doors close and the truth gets revealed.


 I can tell you everything as long as you keep me out of the closet.







1. The Greek word for embroidery, κέντημα (kedima), derives from the verb κεντώ (kedo), which originally meant ‘to prick or sting like a bee’.


2. The word Arachne in greek means spider. In ancient Greek mythology (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 6.133-145), Arachne was a young and poor girl who became famous for her great weaving skills. She was so confident that she challenged the goddess of crafts and wisdom, Athena, to a weaving contest. Athena ultimately turns her into a spider, weaving forever.


3. The Greek word for larvae is προνύμφη, which consists of two parts, the prefix πρό, meaning before and νύμφη, meaning either a bride or the final stage of an insect’s metamorphosis.


Georgina Sleap - Some stories of our swallows

November 2020.

These birds will be passed down with stories. The memories below are my own, though, and will probably be largely left out of family retellings.

Georgina Sleap

My sisters and I made this collage for our mother. We don’t know when — she is dead and our father can’t remember. My swallows are easily spotted because I was the youngest and least adept. The differences between my sisters’ are subtler but I think I know who made who. When Judith Kerr was working on The Tiger Who Came to Tea she made a tiger suit that her son or husband would put on to help her capture the poses. She said she could tell from the posture of the tiger on each page who had been inside the suit. Her son should pass that on.

Georgina Sleap

I made these as wedding presents for my sister and her husband when I was 27. Their eyes are made of watch glasses from a Hatton Garden jeweller’s workshop. The lead sheet came from a roofing merchant on top of Forest Hill. It was so heavy in my backpack I could hardly control my descent when I cycled home.

The next Christmas I made the swallows tiny foldable maps to guide them on their migrations. I was home for the holiday from Sweden where I had started a Masters and a mental breakdown. I felt my ability to make anything had evaporated. On Christmas Eve-Eve I sat in the sink on the phone to my cousin and asked what would happen if I couldn’t finish the maps. She said nothing bad, and that when you’re walking through hell it’s wise to keep walking.

Georgina Sleap

This August I began a mobile for the same sister’s new baby. Three swallows on a line, two flying below. In March I had shut up my Cairo flat, paid Mr Sayeed 6 months’ rent and travelled back to Somerset. I turned my childhood bedroom into a studio. These days the distinctive dome of a swallow’s skull arrives faster between my fingers but vital Egyptian words are taking far too long to form. Wary of the fogginess of the future, I make inchingly slow progress forward, even in that saggy-roofed old room.

It didn’t matter that the birds weren’t finished when the baby was born. He’s been lying between my sister and I while we give them a final layer of inky tissue paper. Sometimes during these post-natal days she has seemed surrounded not by fog, but smog. Cold and murky and mean. I hope I can use the past tense: ‘It was cold’.

The day we finish the first one, Iris died. Nearly 90, she hadn’t left her care home room since March. Tracy phoned to tell me the next morning. This morning. She was asleep and felt no pain. I am so relieved. After lunch I show my sister the beginnings of this text. She says she feels like she has to keep walking.

I write this bit in my head that night / right now, with the warm breathy weight of the baby on my chest. Five kilos already. I read years ago that one of Breughel’s contemporaries said his figures looked like animated bags of sand. It was intended as an insult but sounds like perfect praise to me. The table lamp is on a timer. It snapped us into darkness at midnight, making the beloved sandbag flinch. Now I am lying under him trying to think about Iris. I remember this effort of comprehension from 11 years ago, when a hospice nurse hugged me and said I’m so sorry about your mum darling and I thought, well she was almost dead yesterday and now she is, it’s not so different. Actually, I think the effort came later, and only ever in fits and starts.

Now I am tapping out these words, holding my phone above him. Nearly three hours asleep. Good baby.

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