Saturday, 28 February 2009

Friday 13th February PM.

Discussion about Birth, Spring and new beginnings with the aim of creating a print to go on a letter with a message for the future generations.

Talking to Betty about this subject was fascinating. I’ve spent the last two weeks playing around with what she said and still don’t feel like have managed to find a form that truly expresses what she was saying.

Although the beginnings were very light hearted, it instantly came onto persecution and her life during the war. As a Jewish child in Manchester she never had to be ashamed of her identity (something that she describes as being fortunate, not a given). Talking about taking the sunshine for granted in the spring, the same phase came up when talking about how she never came across hatred; ‘didn’t realise it, took it for granted’. As she spoke about going to school the same, there were statements that broke us away from her day to day routine and into the horrors of war – ‘until the sirens went off at night’. With these sudden cuts, it reminded us of what was going on beyond the surface - ‘open the curtains’.

Coming back to the topic of spring, her final line was ‘no big deal, the flowers came up’ giving this sense that a cycle continues. While she goes to school the same, things around her are changing suddenly. But the flowers carry on coming up.

While we never managed to come up with a message for an envelope, I feel that this form would be an interesting way to display this poem. Playing with placing an envelope over my computer screen, the plastic window allowed some words to be clearly seen; whilst the light of the screen meant that others were still visible, but harder to see.

Whilst talking to Betty I could feel that there was a visual form that would pull her experiences as a child and her thoughts on spring together. But at the time I was, and still am, unable to find that connection. I could feel myself pushing to find it, but I was very close to becoming so focused that could have lost Betty. There is a balance between responding creatively to the conversation without it taking us somewhere where the person doesn’t want to go, so it’s no longer collaboration between us both. A balance I need to work on.

There are still parts of this poem that I’m unsure of, but maybe that is the point.

Anneke Kuipers.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Friday 13th February AM

Talking about how it feels to be examined and in a hospital, with chosen words then placed on lollipop sticks resembling tongue depressors.

A hospital is full of materials and objects waiting to written on, waiting for a personal mark. From the tea cups to the bedside table it is a home away from home. But everything is the same with plastic medical containers, charts and hand cleaning dispensers dotted between them. It’s a world of its own that so many people have stepped into and out again leaving nothing behind. The week before, one man was sat in the blue gown with the white hospital blanket wrapped around him, there to keep him warm but its clinical feel holding little comfort. He spoke about how much he missed wearing his own clothes, having his own things around him. As the nurses check another man’s wrist band to see who he, hospitals are places where you can so easily loose your identity, making it even more important to seek them out and mark them down. This week, their personal experiences were marked onto a mundane tongue depressor. As an object which is normally thrown away after one use, it created an interesting comparison and contrast; their stories aren’t something to be discarded so easily. This is just one small object from the hospital, but the list could go on. Each item will bring a different metaphor. Find the right topic and the object and word play together, giving both more depth. This will give a viewer a stronger connection with the stories and help keep them present.

Anneke Kuipers.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How to recycle junk mail?

Friday afternoon was spent discussing the season Spring and its associated subjects- hope, birth, re-awaking… after creating a short group poem, we created some ‘artist books’ using recycled junk mail envelopes. These where illustrated with bluebells, using a simple printing technique. The resulting images are sometimes cheeky, sometimes touching mix of hand written and typed text, bluebell printing and envelope…

On a HM Revenue & Customs envelope, you can just make out the handwritten text ‘There is good and bad, there is good and bad…’ A letter from the Houses of Common, has been printed with bluebells… Self Assessment envelope with the hand written text ‘Do the best that you….”

Two of the group where German born Jewish women, they reminisced throughout the session, mixing memories of spring time bluebells (their German name ‘Glockenblume’) cut with moving stories of anti-Semitism. For so many people we work with here, even the most innocent conversations are interwoven with dark memories- they never can forget.

We where joined by Jean Lally, who was on her first session volunteering for us. She was a wonderful asset to the group, and said of the session “I liked the way that the lady next to me changed in mood over the session, from sadness to a delight in what was going on, and I found your feedback arresting, incorporating both moods in such a striking way.” I look forward to working with her again. Our volunteers, training schemes and student placements are invaluable, allowing us to go deeper into subject matters and artistic techniques by working one-to-one with participants who may otherwise miss out due to lack of hearing, shyness or other physical or mental obstacles.

Photo © Lois Blackburn, for more please visit our on-line portfolio at

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

tongue depressor

Well Phil’s away on an artist/writer residency in The Hague and I’m missing him! However I am looking forward to having a new international element to our projects Kindness..

Last Friday morning, I had the pleasure of working with Anneke Kuipers again. I’m pleased to say she’s working with us for 10 weeks. We combined working on the two projects Paracetamol Soup and Patience, by creating short text pieces with older people, in delicate gold lettering on tongue depressors, put together they form a book. More photos at our one line portfolio

Saturday, 14 February 2009

coming to life again

‘Trees, flowers, anything like that,
Mere sight excites you…

…it pours through your body

God am coming to life again.’

One woman at the Jewish care home spoke so fluently about feeling better. Her words created such a clear picture that it left me wondering what she was coming back from. This subtly hints at horrors that could have been, but still leaves huge clouds of uncertainty. There is a belief that silences speak so much about the Holocaust as words can’t ever fully describe the horror. But can our imaginations really fill in the gaps, and are silences there just so that we don’t have to hear it?

On a personal note, I noticed my own hesitation when talking to the people from the Jewish care home. When asking questions about spring and feeling better, I felt myself pulling back. I automatically assumed that their past contained something horrific and created this huge hurdle that stood between me and who ever I spoke to as I hide in the silences. Before I even knew anything about them, my own uncertainty around how I would respond to what I might hear, created a barrier and distance between us that just compounded the difficulty.

Writing this I don’t seem to have a beginning or an end around what I’ve written, just a lot of questions.

Anneke Kuipers.

Spring time / Feeling better

session at Cherry Tree hospital.

‘I dream and can’t distinguish between.
Remember the trains, but in a dream.
Dreamt about the trains coming home with the wounded.

But wasn’t born then’

One lady seemed comfortably involved in the discussion, however was hesitant when asked if she wanted to write and draw what she had said. Whilst writing, with her beautifully neat handwriting, she asked ‘is this right?’ Is there something about writing, about making a mark that is more permanent, that caused her to need approval from others? I was interested in this tentative nature especially when compared to another lady who was so keen to speak and write but was physically unable. It is this combination of delicate and determined that I like about arthur+martha’s work. Bold statements and images are created that challenge our typical assumptions of the elderly being too fragile. Yet, the disjointed words have a poignant element that captures the sense of confusion, uncertainty and frustration; not know if it was a dream or real, even right or wrong.

Anneke Kuipers.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Exhibition at Manchester Central Library

'Paracetamol Soup' Is an arthur+martha exhibition at Manchester Central Library (24th March to 6th May) of artists' books exploring ideas of ageing, self-image and identity – handmade, hand-printed or handwritten, illustrated - an exhibition of self-reflections made by older people from Manchester and Stockport. Many of these artists were in poor health and the fragile, wavering lines and whispered words often mark a struggle with pain and illness as well as the ageing process.

Complementing these pieces is a Ltd edition book made with older Jewish people, including holocaust survivors, living at a residential home in Manchester, which explore ideas of Jewish identity, home-life, the holocaust, displacement and what it means to have a refugee background.

For more photos please visit

E and F is for…

I’m taking a break from sorting the ton of paper work out… to continue our collection of reminiscences about ‘vintage’ over the counter and traditional remedies from the project ‘Patience’

"E and F is for..

Epsom salts
"A dose of that in the morning and you where off- for constipation it was horrible."

Fennings Fever Cure
"They set your teeth on edge, in little tiny tablet form, tiny tablet or powder form which had a nice taste. Another one we used to use."

Fennings little Lung Healers
"In little yellow and white pots, tiny tablets, mother used to take them when feeling a bit off, help your chest and lungs, mother a big believer in them. As long as a pinhead."

Fiery Jack
"Was a special ointment, used to rub it in for arthritis."

A finger stall
"You put it over the bandage, to keep it clean."

illustration ‘first aid case’ © Lois Blackburn 2009

Monday, 9 February 2009

D is for..

Continuing our collection of reminiscences about ‘vintage’ over the counter and traditional remedies from the project ‘Patience

D is for..

devils claw
brew it overnight, it’s a herbal remedy, used to relieve ‘arthritis, lower back, knee and hip pain. It is also used to treat a number of ailments including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, tendonitis, loss of appetite and digestive disorders.’

Dr Somebodies kidney pills

Made your urine bright green….


illustration © Lois Blackburn 2009

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Jaffa Photography Project

Phil and I have been thinking about Kindness and how to develop the project in the next couple of years. Ideas are slowly forming and inspiration sometimes lands on your lap; recently my wonderful sister sent me a link to this exciting project in the Israeli city Jaffa. ‘The Jaffa Photography Project teaches photography to Arab and Jewish teenagers, allowing them to document their homes, lives and communities for themselves, and aiming to lay a foundation for future peace.”
Leila Segal is a writer and photographer, working on community art projects in London and the Middle East.

There’s an interview in the guardian online at

Thursday, 5 February 2009

A chat with the rabbi 9.1.09

I stayed away from books and films about the Holocaust because the vortex seemed so great. The first image I saw of a nazi mass-grave was when I was at Primary School in Ireland. The spaghetti knotted, skinny limbs are there to be recalled 40 odd years later. It is the most shocking image I have ever seen.

More recently I researched for the Kindness project, and experienced the usual nausea at individuated horrors, numbness when confronted with statistics. I still have a copy of Night and Fog, unwatched. Still have not seen Shoah. Talking to Rabbi F was another turn in this story. This funny, amiable, quick man has provided pastoral care for many holocaust survivors. He talked about the unreachable experiences of these people - that their trauma cannot be stopped but it must be shared in some way. Isnt that what we do with suffering? He told us about one survivor who was one of the most popular people in his community, but who still had a line of locks running the length of the door in his house, to keep out the unspoken menaces of the past. I thought about the ultra-right graffiti that is to be seen demarcating parts of Berlin today.

What is to be done with these experiences and this history - should it be remembered or put to rest? Remembered says the Rabbi: 'Every Jew is a holocaust survivor'.
Later we discussed Palestine and the fear that behind the attacks and the defences on both sides lurks another Holocaust. Is this part of the legacy of the nazis, this fear-filled struggle? Perhaps the next stage of our documenting of Holocaust remembrance should take place on the borders of this conflict - maybe that is the most fitting place for such an 'intervention' - a truly Situationist strategy, where the art still hurts.

Bring light towards you: Holocaust Memorial Day (Piccadilly Station, Manchester 27.1.09)

How do you talk to an SS soldier who is trying to stave your head in with a shovel? You don't, you run. And how to communicate that experience of tumbling out of the cattle truck 70 years later? The terror is absolute, the lack of restraint is absolute. There are no comparisons. If you were there, you understand, if you weren't you don't. And yet we try.
Seeing the textworks from the Kindness project up on the giant electronic screen in Piccadilly Railway Station was both a proud moment and a chilly one. Lois had used graphics that were based on Nazi iconography - so the pieces made for an eerie reading experience, of some disastrous other now in which the Reich had won the war and Piccadilly Station promoted nazi slogans. A second look told different - what at first glance was the notorious red and black swastika flag had been altered so that the white circle contained the word Jewish rather than the crooked cross. The slogans were in fact little fragments of the recollected train journeys made by holocaust survivors. The barbed wire tangling through the designs was a close-up of handwriting from a survivor - an ambiguous part-word - believe perhaps, or deceive?

Some of the project participants came to see the works on this winterish Tuesday morning in Manchester. For one woman in particular it was an important act of commemoration, because she had fled Germany on a train and her parents had not managed to get out - they took another train journey, to Auschwitz. I have talked to her about these experiences several times. There is no big lesson to learn, nothing to allieviate the bitterness. She will simply relive the shock everyday of her remaining life. But she is adamant about one thing - the remembrance must be continued by the world. Even if it was only for her part in this project, and the fact that it served a little of her need, I feel that this was a worthy endeavour.

All acts of marking the Holocaust seem slight - the brute realness is too big. The thing seems completely beyond whatever horizon an artwork can reach. The moment of being snuffed in a field in Eastern Europe, the murder wagons, the death marches, the swilling insanity of life amongst amongst mass-extermination of humans, how do you say this? Language itself is broken by these acts, so Celan, so Adorno.

And then there is the discomfort of commemorating the victimsation of Jewish people while war rips into Palestine. And what about the many other non-Jewish people who died in the Holocaust? And and and. Discomfort is such an English-sounding word, such an English-feeling idea, bringing with it associations of minor ailments and social gaffes. But it is the word I keep reaching for.

What do I think about when I look back on Kindness? I recall conversations with the survivor Thea in her lounge, the clock ticking through all the horrors. I think of Dr Goldberg jolting me awake at the end of a long, tedious organisational meeting to set up the project - "The symbol of the holocaust is the cattle truck. Remember." I think of Ad showing me the shovel scar on his head, from the SS guard of honour at Buchenwald. I think about Meyer's tattooed wrist and his telling of the death march, voice hypnotising. But most of all, strangely, I think about human kind-naturedness and connection. I have the image of Agneta, who had survived Auschwitz, working alongside a young woman, a student called Ashley, passing it seemed from one to the other some kind of almost untouchable knowledge.

Age, Joy and Discovery

I’m always on the look out for really exciting arts projects with older people, my sister just sent me a link to a wonderful dance project, Gila. (Age, Joy and Discovery) I would love to see it live…

Choreographer Galit Liss, “at the start of the project I wanted to look for the beauty in old age, as soon as I start working, I feel this piece is speaking about life and not about old age, as its all about how you choose to live your life

And also the wonderful Miri: a short piece about Miri, one of the Gila dancers.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day 2009

Last week, on the 27th of January, we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, with animated text/art on the electronic billboards at Piccadilly Train Station Manchester.

After 2 sleepless nights and many many days of work and anxiety we at last showed our highest profile artworks to date. This project has been fraught with difficulties, responsibilities but above all its been an honour to work on. There was a constant battle between creating a living memorial to the memories and words of the wonderful people we have met, with the pulls and pushes of the demanding politics of placing a Holocaust Memorial in such a high profile space.

With the news from Israel and Gaza, everyday brings great hurt, anger, confusion and resentment. Sadly this seems to impact for some people on their responses to the very notion of a Holocaust Memorial Day.

For me the day was about separating the current events, and honouring the lives and memories of the people we have worked with and become friends with. A group of the authors, the older Jewish people who had provided the words and inspiration for the text/art came to the station to view the artwork. This was the highlight of the day for me. Never sitting still, I took photos, Phil gathered responses. I am very proud of what we have achieved, the text/art stood out amongst the hustle and bustle of the busy station.

55,000 passengers per day use the station! We where written about by the BBC in the Metro and Evening News. The Jewish Telegraph and The Jewish Cronicle, and We have had many individuals give us wonderful feedback, and the Holocaust Memorial Trust said ‘this is fantastic.’ and that ‘we’re so impressed with the work you have done for HMD09’.

There is so much to reflect on I will be thinking about the day and the lead up for a long while yet. For photos of the event please visit

This project would not have been possible without our Funding for Kindness which was provided by the Clore Duffield Foundation, through Sparks: The Clore Jewish Development Fund.