Jen Cantwell is a multidisciplinary artist working with Moray Women’s Aid as part of a long term residency, delivered in partnership with Combine to Create. In The Colours, the Craft and the Craic, Jen explores the power of being in the moment.
The walk from the train station to my community partners at Moray Women’s Aid takes about 30 minutes, it warms up my body and my brain and it’s a good time for thinking. Theres a relationship that develops between the walker and the walk and the more familiar I get with the route the more I notice.
There’s a tiny blue paper heart on the pavement today, chewing gum that looks like birds flying and the roof of that house over there still hasn’t been fixed. There’s NO BALL GAMES ALLOWED on Lesmurdie road just incase you were thinking about it and at the top of the hill there’s a strange long undulating crack in the pavement. The crack hints at a ‘freak-accident-disaster’ type headline so I don’t walk too close in case that half the pavement is about to fall off. I know it’s not actually going to, but the embankment is steep so the thought of it gives me the shivers. I think about what the crack would look like if I filled it with silver metallic paint.
What if I put my ear to it and voices came out, would it sing me a song or tell me a secret? Imagine it sucked me in and spat me out somewhere really random?
One minute I’m on Lesmurdie road and the next minute BOOF! I’m in the middle isle of an Aldi in Cardiff. I’ve not actually stepped on it yet because if you stand on a crack then bad stuff happens, everyone knows that eh… so why would you?
At the side of the road the gorse is all shouty and yellow, it’s big bold splashes of colour making the air smell soapy and coconut clean. I love that smell, its more than a smell, it holds the summers of my life, the walks, the sea, the cycles, it holds my people and my dogs of the past, present and the future, it tells me that time is not linear, maybe its circular, maybe its a big amorphous blob or shaped like an octopus but its definitely not linear. If people look at me as I pass them then I say hi, I live in a wee town and that’s what we do there, it’s a small-town protocol that doesn’t really translate to a bigger place, a tiny bit of human contact that blurs the line between having nice manners and just being a bit of a weirdo.
I have no preconceived expectations for this residency, I’m allowing things to surface and grow naturally because I know I can’t rush this one. It’s the polar opposite of all my previous work which has been deadline driven and product focused, last minute, adrenalin fuelled delivery. This one is about the process not the product, I’m loving it, I’m finding it expansive, it’s got endless possibilities and the fact that it’s about the adventure not the ‘outcome’ is liberating.
I’m meeting the women where they are, at a time of uncertainty, upheaval and huge stress in their lives, in-between their old and new homes, displaced, recovering from trauma and looking towards a new future. They’re resilient and focused on change.
We concentrate on the here and now, sharing space and time at craft-focused wellbeing sessions as we make things and work with our hands. We slowly relax into being together, swapping stories and learning each other like you’d learn a language, our families, our jobs, our loves give us structure and meaning. We find our vocabulary in the things that make us laugh, that make us mad, that make us think, that just make…us.
The staff at MWA are bright, vital, straight talking women. They build relationships, they organise, fundraise, find ways of doing things, they build confidence and foster independence, keeping people safe and nurturing a sense of community. They work as separate projects in the same building but they’re very much a team. They know what they’re doing, they’re open-hearted and clear-headed and I’m a bit in awe so I watch and listen and learn from them. They are as important a part of my residency here as the service users are.
Theres an outdoor space thats not used enough so I’ve set myself to creating a space we can use for making and meeting during the summer, I’ve changed the summerhouse from doldrum to dapper with the help of a few buckets of Cuprinol and some damaged saris I found on eBay. Vivid colours are bringing life and attention to that end of the garden. I’ve heard most of the women say they wish they knew how to make and fix things, they want to do jobs themselves and not have to ask, they want autonomy. I get that. These are women about to take on new homes by themselves, they want control over their lives and their environment and they want to express themselves creatively within that. One of the women has great woodwork skills, she makes a mad line of birdhouses that look like little bungalows. We’re going to run some summer workshops together – ‘Demystifying powertools through the medium of birdhouses’, she’ll lead, I’ll help, we’ll all learn.
At the family drop-in sessions I get to know the younger members of the community, they bring fun and energy and the drama of the school day with them, they’re generous with their attention and input. I pass them in the building, laughing and showing off the silver foil they’re using as lipstick today – super glam robot lips. They play games and hide from each other, gesturing to me to pretend I can’t see them behind the couch. They’re supported and safe here, they feel loved and they are. By the end of the summer there’ll be two brand new babies so there’s plenty of creative potential around that. We’ll see where it leads us, maybe there’s sewing machine shenanigans to be had, babygrows to be printed on or knitting mistakes to be made. We might do all of that or none, maybe we’ll make a film instead or record some stories, who knows. We’ll just take an idea and run with it. It’s an exploration.
Right now my eyes keep being pulled to the summerhouse, there’s something about the line where the colours meet. The colours are thrumming and its so gorgeous it’s giving me a fizzy nose. The sun’s come out, the seasons have shifted again for the 5th time today and I’m ready to finish the topcoat.
This blog post was originally published on The Findhorn Bay Arts website on 14 June 2022 and we share it here with permission from the author.