My first session with the Islington Carers. Ten people turned up, all women. My hosts are generous, thoughtful and passionate. Paulo and his team have been incredibly open-minded and trusting of what I might do with their building and work space, let alone the people they support.
Today I worked with the group to introduce ourselves to each other, with Florence employed to prepare the lunch and take photos. There were images of caves and fire, tortoise shell armour, contented cats and cheeky monkeys, a spine made of a concrete tower, feet made of mud, gazelle legs and ripe aubergines, tomatoes and figs.
"I can never turn off my phone. That's impossible."
Broken hearts and losing your marbles. Laughing, Screaming, Yawning. Talk of depression, and the word PATIENT.
The black leather sofa came to represent guilt - "I don't deserve it" - and there was tension amongst the group about the idea that there was a (literal and symbolic) 'way out'. If being a carer were to be organised into a hierarchy of experience, at the top is 'satisfying', 'privileged', 'frustrating' and 'loving'. At the bottom, is 'staring into an empty cracked wall'.
"I'm always at the end of a piece of rope."
"I feel drenched in exhaustion."
Just three of us today. Our shared thoughts were with mothers - their dying and what they leave behind. The sofa became a place of memory and solace, where they/we lie.
"Her saying she wanted to die wasn't news anymore."
"Caring is a violent thing. What it does to you is violent."
"That's one of those desperate things you do when you're a carer."
Some facts from the Carer's UK pamphlet:
Currently, 1 in 6 people are forced to give up work for caring.
25% of carers take 5 years or more to denitrify themselves as carers.
"I'll survive. That's what I do."
A lively day with 1 minute performances using props and the space at ICC. We had a magician's sheet repeatedly revealing nothing ("ta da!"), a chain of safety pins quietly put together (a carer's chain mail?), a "juggling act with a broom up my arse", some plate smashing, and an incredibly touching and impromptu rendition of George Gershwin's 'Our Love is Here to Stay'. Today I feel honoured to be working with these people, who are so incredibly generous that I worry I might ask too much of them.
"We get knocked from pillar to post."
Spent some time at ICC when just the staff are there. Talked with Debbie, Jill and Hilary, all of whom are experiencing the difficulties of working in a resource that is likely to close next year. The strength of ICC seems to me to be it's informality and it's ability to accommodate a broad range of social, political and personal needs. ICC feels fluid, resilient, quirky and careful - much like the people I am meeting who have had to learn to manage the changing demands in their lives.
Hostings Artist Sharing session, led by myself and Christine. She and I met in an Archway cafe earlier that week and tried to work out what we wanted from the sharing and how to go about planning it. It was really useful to meet and talk and to have chance to step outside of the momentum.
Twelve of us went to see the artist Lyndsay Seers installation in an old corrugated tin church in Kilburn, thanks to complimentary tickets from Artangel. A dense, multi-layered autobiographical narrative, which everyone found something in, not least the sense of event and richness of context.
"Caring can be an act of translation."
A quiet, retrospective afternoon. The annual Carer's Rights Day is coming up and we talked about whether the group wanted to use this as a platform to share work, communicate with other carers, challenge the system etc. We created a top-tips list for carers and found ourselves writing on tissues. There are lots of boxes of tissues lying around at ICC.
"I have to go to the moon and back before I can leave the house."
"I care because" was the question today. It led to a discussion about Carer's ID cards - what happens to the person you care for if you are in an accident? We drew, wrote and made a "fassoulia or fuck off" video. The sponsored lunch from Budgens in Holloway Road was greatly enjoyed and appreciated.
We also stumbled across the word Senerchia, a small village in Italy where one of the group comes from that translates to mean "bosom of Hercules". Perhaps this allusion to a Greek God known for his strength who had to undertake twelve labours, may be useful?
"I can't let him drown."
Popped in to ICC today to talk to the staff about the project and ideas for a public outcome. Had a good poke around the building too; played with the blind-spots on the CCTV and even found an exit that two of the staff hadn't known existed!
No session today due to a prior engagement, (somewhat fittingly taking part in a research discussion to talk about 'socially engaged practice).
Our third Hostings artist sharing event, led by Daniella. A thoughtful evening where we were given the space to think about problems, concerns, expectations and how to navigate and/or let them go.
An impromptu dance by seven women to No More Tears (Enough is Enough) by Barbara Streisand at ICC this afternoon! Dancing now seems to be on the agenda and we have all agreed we need to do more next week...Today an aim was for us all to start thinking about how we might present the work - what might it look like and how might an audience encounter it? ICC are fine for us to use the space for a public performance and there are many ideas on the table - today felt really exciting, energised by people living with a serious lack of sleep and emotional uncertainty, but never-the-less incredibly vibrant.
"I've got used to never having more than four hours sleep."
"I care because if I didn't no-one else would and everything would be left undone."
Met with Jes Fernie today, the researcher who has been commissioned to follow the work of A Million Minutes over the next two years. Really good to talk through the project, why I am working with carers and reflect on what issues and ideas are emerging.
One of the group had her birthday today so there was lots of homemade cake, a special gateau donated locally by Stagnells Bakehouse and lunch kindly supplied by Yildiz Greengrocery. It feels like the shops of Archway are looking after us.
We've been talking about broken crockery/broken dreams, using safety pins to 'pull yourself together' and developing an Essential Playlist for Carers. Experimented with what a 'hidden carer' looks like, and everyone tried performing 'I Will Survive' on helium. Not sure if we are going to be able to use this video but it was hilarious making it!
"A carers life is never the same again."
I swung by the monthly Relaxation Day at ICC today. It was incredibly well attended with about 40 people there, doing a dance and exercise routine, getting a free massage and enjoying the lunch. Paulo invited me to the ICC AGM and christmas party where there will be about 100 local carers having a knees-up, which sounds fun!
I spent the evening making a video that seems to have been hanging about in the back of my head for a long time. It involved wearing my old care-work overalls and covering myself in talcum powder. Over and over again. It became very hard to breathe.
Carer's Rights Day at the Resource Centre on the Holloway Road. This is a Carers UK event with service provider stall holders, workshops and talks all aimed at carers in the borough. I set up the "I care because" project which we devised a few weeks ago - asking people to complete the sentence on a postcard. The activity was well received and over 40 people took part, many using the opportunity to talk about their role as a carer and how their life took that direction. An interesting day.
"I am eighty and I just want to know who will look after my son, who has schizophrenia, when I'm gone?"
I almost cried when I got to ICC today - the builders were in, AGAIN, drilling loudly, replacing the doors, a full force gale of freezing air gushing in. We decided to muddle on. There was a lot to do today as it's the last time we can meet as a group before christmas. We looked at the talcum video (you look lost), the helium video, and reviewed the postcards made last week. Then we tried out the idea of smashing crockery and piecing it back together. Three carers couldn't bear to break anything and wanted to only to do the construction bit. Others loved the smashing. We talked about production lines and the sense of being on a conveyor belt of need and demand. The noise was amazing as a soundtrack to the men's drilling all afternoon.
I am really frustrated by the xmas break and how much we will need to do in a quick turn-around after the break. Everyone is nervous about 'going public' and I am concerned that everyone needs time to feel comfortable with sharing the work.
"I care because you hurt"
The last Hostings artists meeting. Good to hear where everyone has got to, and to sense how it will look as a body of work in January 2013. There was a lot that didn't get talked about though, and I left feeling frustrated at the lack of space and time for us all to look at the research more critically, and in more depth.
The title of the work I am making with the ICC carers is now confirmed: Care Full
Today was the ICC AGM and xmas party. About 100 carers attended the free event - including a full roast meal, live music, dancing, and a magician who came round to the tables, held at the Irish Centre in Camden. This event is funded every year by a generous private donor and was a remarkable gathering of people all united in their roles looking after other people. Paulo, the ICC CEO, had invited Florence and I, which was really kind. I also got roped in to co-hosting the raffle!
It was great to see everyone today, and to focus on the next few weeks. I need to be careful (no pun intended) to not run away with myself at this stage of the process, as everyone needs to find their own rhythm within the work. A few of the group are having a tough time with the person they care for, or their own health problems. We had lunch together, and talked through the plans for Wednesday 23rd January. Some great reflections and observations, and an emotional conversation about what the broken crockery means to everyone, and how each person understands it differently, in terms of their own sense of loss, purpose or inevitability. The staff at ICC are all being brilliant, not least because of the increased insecurity they are experiencing with the very likely closure of ICC some time this year. Some of them will be present during Care Full, getting on with their work within the maelstrom of breaking plates and renditions of I Will Survive, which will make a curious tension. We have begun to make bunting from safety pins...
Care Full can be experienced on Wednesday 23rd January 2013. To book a place, please call 020 7514 2366 to be allocated a time, and find out where to meet.
The event will test out some of the ideas that have emerged from the past three months research, including both live and recorded material.
"My life is ruled by alarms now, I haven't realised this until just now. I'm on tenterhooks most of the time, especially at night."
A wonderful day, albeit very cold and snowy! Four carers managed to make their way in to ICC and we got down to the business of getting things ready for next week's performance. Most significantly, at 3pm Anna and Tilly, from AIR, came to see us as a 'test audience' which was really useful as it gave us all a chance to sense of how to occupy the work and get some feedback from 'outsiders'. I felt incredibly proud of everyone involved and excited by what we can achieve next week.
All the volunteers, production and support team gathered together today to help us put on an event that I have yet to fully digest or be able to describe. On my way in on the train I quickly texted various carers to remind them that today was the day, just in case anyone had their wires crossed, but thankfully everyone turned up, and we even had a few extras! We walked through the details of the day, ate lunch together, changed into 'carer costumes' and suddenly everything was up and running with an audience making their way in via an alleyway to the back entrance of ICC. As I stepped back and out of the picture, I was amazed to see how each carer found her place in the work and was able to stay focussed for a full three hours as each person performed different portraits of themselves.
Care Full: Four videos, nine carers, thousands of safety-pins, a cacophony of crashing crockery, secret songs, a bit of juggling and swearing, quite a few tears and a score of tissue text. Here are some photos from the live event, though none of them do the atmosphere any justice. And here's some of the feedback written by people as they left:
"What I loved was that it all felt very normal; that crazy normal when you are stretched and stretched."
"Didn't care. Was made to care."
"The glimpses of aspects of the lived lives of the carers is a privilege"
"Very funny at times, and incredibly sad too."
"This feels very lonely. Beautiful expressions of caring. I care about these carers."
Carer participant performers: Angela F, Wanda M, Nutan K, Lindy B, Teresa T, Colleen O, Sheila S, Bernadette F
Carer participants: Hayley H, Jasmine T, Sheila C, Odile O, Mary Rae R, Grace H, Tatyana
Project Assistant: Florence Dent
Video editor and camera: Karl Cresser
Care Full assistants: Liz Sargeant, Rachel Anderson, Mette Kjaergaard Praest
ICC Hosts: Paulo Mata, Jill Keegan, Hilary Ayling, Debbie Puckerin, Shingi
Thank you to Diana's Cafe, Budgens, Yildiz, Germander Speedwell, Second Chance Charity Shop, Christine Entwisle, Thomas Brothers and Gavin Williams at Carers UK