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The Thread Of A Story

I've been in Oxford a long time even before the Old Fire Station was an arts centre. I used to do a lot with Pegasus Theatre. I was a volunteer. I was in a few shows. Then all the cuts came, the economic crisis. Pegasus was losing funding and I couldn’t even do volunteering there. That being axed was quite a big gap. I loved Pegasus. And then of course Covid came. It's had a real effect, Covid. It was actually quite hard making myself do the Hidden Spire Collective Ritual project. It was the first in-person thing I’ve done after the pandemic. I'm still wearing a mask. I'm a bit further behind on that transition. But I felt like maybe the Old Fire Station was going to be how I felt about Pegasus in a way. So I came to the first Hidden Spire talk at the beginning of the year. There were different tables with different project ideas. People had come forward to suggest something about Shakespeare and one on performance poetry; I think there were about eight. They were just ideas, possibilities and then you'd go around and write your thoughts on the flipchart paper and which one you preferred. In the end they chose Rituals. That was the one I was really interested in. The anthropology of it – what are rituals anyway? 

We met pretty much weekly. It was a big commitment. About three months and then the exhibition. I didn't know it was going to involve writing, 3D modelling, costume making and photography. I’m not artistic or anything so I was quite nervous the first meeting. I nearly didn't go. With Covid and losing confidence, not being around people, I really had to make myself. The first sessions were two writing classes, three hours each. And I loved the writing. We talked a lot about rituals and then we had to go and choose an object to inspire our own ritual. I was drawn to this really huge ball of string. I wrote all these expressions we use around knots. Knotted up, wound up, knitted brow, strung up, unwind, wind down, tied up, loose end, tying the knot, stitch me up, tied down, loosening up. They all mean different things. I got into that really quickly thinking about knots and tying. There’s so many metaphors around string and knots and tying. I wrote loads. 

For some reason I had the ideas quite quickly which is not normally me. I had this idea for ravelling which is like tying and untying knots. I had a big scarf that my sister had given me that was really good to thread ribbon or wool or anything through. It had holes in so you could weave through it. The idea was that they did ravelling in mediaeval times as a way of like working through emotions, tying things, knotting things, tangling things. So it could be something you do as a community, around war or pandemic or conflict, tying knots to represent that. Or it could be something personal that you're working on. I made it up but as though it was a mediaeval tradition banned by Christianity. And actually people believed me in the exhibition! They were saying, ‘Why was it banned?’ It was very funny. I thought about these Oxford academics and mediaevalists asking me about my sources. I should’ve kept it up but I couldn't lie. 

Normally I'm not a very visual person. But I had really strong images of a skirt with lots of pockets. The idea was you’d go into nature wearing this skirt with lots of pockets, spilling out with ribbons and wool and yarn, all in lots of colours. You go and do the ravelling and you would do it together in groups. But you'd also whisper, when you were doing it, words like ‘tangled, tie, thread.’ It's very intuitive, and you can also disentangle it so you go back to a blank slate. A lot of ritual is about renewal or starting again. So it’d be a mindful practice and everyone would be sharing in it. My friend’s a psychotherapist and he said I should make ravelling a mental health practice. I should do some myself now because I ruminate a lot. You can't always articulate your emotions and sometimes just doing something intuitive… There's also something about hands and making; hands are quite linked to thought and emotion. It doesn't always work to talk, you can say it, you can think about it but it's still there. So this is a way of ‘materialising’ your feelings. I should have a ravelling group at the Old Fire Station. And actually in the exhibition, I had a table of women doing it and when you look at that photo, they all look really happy. 

There was an idea that we’d all do each of our rituals as a group. And somehow we didn't. It wasn't possible, with people’s schedules. But I think that would have been really nice if we'd had one last session. People were coming in and out again. Not everyone who is a member of the Hidden Spire Collective does every project. There was a core group of about five people that came to everything. I was one of them. But then in the exhibition, there were a few people who’d done quite elaborate pieces of work who we’d never seen which was quite weird. It would be nice if everyone had come to the first session just to have a sense of the group. Sometimes you have to be strict on group stuff. It could have been a little bit tighter with the boundaries of who's involved. It would have been nice to understand that a bit more. Because those first few sessions, people were quite candid. And it was a really small group, six or seven people. But then there were new people that came for the arts bit that I'd not met before. I found that hard, disrupting the continuity of the group, a bit of a jolt. 

The exhibition, the photography, the magazine – there were a few finishes. I'm not good at sewing and I had a panic thinking, ‘Oh my god, I've got so much to do, I've got six pockets to make, then I’ve got to sew them on, then I’ve got to do the ravelling before we take photos!’ I didn't want my face in it, you could just have the skirt showing me doing the ravelling. And then you know those Michelangelo sketches where he's got the main picture and then he's got sketches of hands all around it? I wanted an image of doing the ritual but then having hands all around, ravelling in different positions. That was my idea.  

So we had the photo shoot but then we didn't have a chance to look at the images. My skirt and my scarf weren’t in it and I was upset because that was a lot of work. And the photo was quite pretty, so many colours and ribbons and textures. Velvet, all purples and reds. And I’d done the writing but then they said to fit into the publication, I had to cut it from 1500 to 250. That's quite a strong edit. I feel a bit of regret about that because I took out all the knotted expressions. And those expressions are really important in terms of my thinking.  

The images are beautiful but I feel sad about how it turned out because the ravelling doesn't make sense without the expressions. There’s so many, you know, like ‘the thread of a story.’ Every time I read something, there's more knotting and tying expressions around. I would have liked them in my writing. 

But it's been a brilliant project, I loved it. I’m sad it’s gone. Things end and there’s a slump, isn’t there? I'm not doing anything creative at the moment. It's nice when you actually feel you've got ideas, when you feel stimulated and engaged. At the moment I don't have any ideas. And when you do workshops it kind of it brings it out in you. So I will do more at the Old Fire Station. In the future I’ll put myself forward again. 


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