Ruth and Pip: 2003 and 2014

Pip and Ruth in 2003 (left) and 2014

Ruth and Pip in 2003 (left) and 2014

“I’m thinking, ‘It’s sounds like something I’d say.’ Then I realise I did.”

Ruth tells me this as she leafs through her postcards. It’s almost 11 years since I recorded her and Pip’s stories about places they’ve lived – the stories I’ve retold in fragments on Ruth and Pip’s postcards.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Ruth doesn’t exactly remember what she said. I do, but only because I’ve listened to it again and again. I’ve transcribed her words, recalled them and reread them.

I’ve turned Ruth and Pip’s words over and over in my mind. I got stuck on them. But now I’m handing them back, on these postcards, and it feels like a kind of release. What’s more, it’s another debt settled. (I’d promised to make something in return for all the stories I collected in this project, and I’m about a third of the way through.)

About not being an artist

Pip is my niece (she’s pictured with my new great-nephew on the right) and Ruth is her step-mum. But Ruth was also my art school colleague. When we met to exchange the postcards, we talked about what we’ve done since studying – and it reminded me that I have another reason to feel released.

When I started this project in 2003, I framed it as art. I sat in a gallery and asked people to tell me about places they’d lived. Some of those people were invited and some came in off the street. After enjoying their stories for a while, I’d ask something like this: “Do you think I can use what you’ve told me to make a memento for you – of your memories?”

It was an absurd question, but I meant it seriously. I think, looking back, that it was an attempt to make sense of being an artist – a role I inhabited uncomfortably.

Three years later, I stopped describing myself as an artist. Since, my ambivalence about making things has died away. Now, in its place, there’s something new: something like lightness.

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