Pinning Down the Truth – Ali Darke

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Before Lockdown I had a shape to my life ahead of me – at least in the short term – working towards my final exhibition and viva for the Professional Doctorate in June and reaching 60. I’ve postponed both for a year! I have multiple identities in terms of what done as a so called ‘grown up’ leading to this point – in a nut shell…theatre designer, (training and work) puppet maker, mother, teacher, and artist. Through drawings and sculptural installations I look for the landscapes, inhabitants and dramas of my inner world. I take the rituals and mythologies of the family and home as imagery and metaphor. Resurrecting domestic detritus and found objects alongside newly crafted material, trusting free association and serendipity to make connections, I discover new narratives and that which is uncannily familiar. This reflects the distorting filter of my memory when recalling past events, an unconscious slippage, exposing the emotional and psychological workings of the mind as it confronts the reality of the world

All Fall Down

Memories or family history may inspire, but the genesis of an idea can equally be ignited by the evocative language of psychoanalysis – a pre-occupation. I’m exploring a transitional space, mediated between internal and external perception, each playing on the other. I encounter the  nature of dream, fantasy and nightmare.

Beastly III

Recent work describes a hinterland between the mind and body where the unconscious leaves a trace. I have taken the concepts of psychic fragmentation as a starting point to explore the pathology of trauma and abjection. I experiment with materials; stitching, stuffing, shaping, pinching and bulging. And then by hanging, pinning, and collapsing the forms I test their weight and presence in space. The body is vibrantly woven through the fabric and forms of the work, while evoking that which dwells beyond the body. The residue of lived experience haunts the present and troubles the senses.

Pox II

Now time has gone baggy and shifty. I have always thought I worked best with a deadline ahead – and adrenalin to drive the energy. With the final Doctorate exam process postponed  at first, I was in denial and carried on regardless – avoiding the underground I cycled to my studio in Bow. I can be isolated there. Then I sprained my ankle, so was forced to become locked down at home. My work has had to become smaller and less messy. I can’t carry on with the experiments I was working on in the studio – stuffing fabric things with concrete and plaster and creating larger body sized forms!

Beastly IV

I’m still stitching and stuffing, pinning and pinching – using smaller found things that I had in the studio and have brought home – linen handkerchiefs, rusty nails, rough ‘embroidery’ etc but my preoccupations have shifted from the work I was doing. I have found these ideas put on hold as my concentration is distracted and keeps returning to the present situation – the virus out there, the fear within. So less about memory and the past – more present. The tools are the same – free associating and making connections and the materials smaller less messy versions of what I was playing with before. I am clutching at straws – smaller snappier ideas. I keep being reminded of nursery rhymes ‘Ring-a-ring of Roses’ set me off. ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush’ – ‘Who killed Cock Robin?’, ‘There was an Old Woman’…..maybe the rhythm is like my endless walking – and the nonsense of it all.

Pox II

Time is shaped by the hours in a single day not even a week – It’s a month of Anydays. I am also preoccupied by movement – I have to move my body – yoga in the morning and now my ankle has healed longer and longer walking and running in circles round the woods near my home. They are beautiful at this time of year. It keeps my head from spinning. I know it’s a contradiction but I have to keep moving to keep still. I miss friends, family, colleagues – being with them in the same space. I miss seeing, holding, stroking, singing with my Mum – she is lovingly cared for in a home. She has Alzheimer’s and has no idea of what is happening in the world. She probably doesn’t know she misses seeing her family, she loves and hugs everyone now. But I don’t want to miss the last precious glimpses of recognition that I catch in her eyes and smiles and laughter. I saw her just before the home closed to visitors.


My concept of time and my place in it has shifted – it has become slippery. I have had to slow down and keep stiller to find enough calm to work. My concentration is drifty, my memory foggy, I have had to be less demanding of productivity. If I need to walk then that is ok. I like having a repetitive task that I can do in my work – like stitching or pinning – so I feel a sense of moving forward – doing something that absorbs (time and mind and eyes) and keeps my hands busy. Hmmmm, makes me think of the rhythm of the ticking clock, of breathing, of walking, of nursery rhymes, of rocking. The comfort of rocking.

The Herd I

If I can become absorbed in the process, and am excited by the idea then it is therapeutic. If I lose confidence in the idea – it becomes pointless, hopeless, pathetic, then it’s the opposite. In this nothing has changed! I know too many artists who work collaboratively in theatre/film/music/fashion who worry when, how or even if their work will start up again. However, the virus and its implications for our lives is still a threat to us all in so many ways. Artists have always reacted, reflected, tried to change the world as we experience it so its role will probably continue as before. Visual artists who work in isolation can continue – hopefully galleries can open soon – with social distancing if need be. But collaborative work and live events  – music, orchestras, theatres, performance, dance …who knows. I despair for these artists. Artist can adapt – are inventive as can be seen on line – but nothing can replace the live encounter. Who knows if the contribution of art to entertain and engage may be more appreciated after….or seen as irrelevant. For sure any government support will vanish in the recession that is predicted.

Beastly I

I am amazed how fast we have created a new choreography of distance. Our sense of personal space has altered – we pass or greet each other with strange nods and polite understanding not to take offence as we avoid each-others’ bodies and breath. The fresher cleaner air and environment has fleetingly inspired – but I fear this won’t last. That this is global gives some a sense of solidarity but others seek the Other to blame and find their enemy out there. It could go either way. I will hug more trees.

Pox IV

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