The end

None of this was expected. As I was charging along in my Edinburgh to Newcastle train, I was amazed at what was zipping along in my mind. The day before I had prepared myself for a difficult day. This work and I have been together for over two years and now this was it. The end. It was time to take down the sheets, take down the pillowcases, take off the clothes pegs and undo the line, take down the info boards and collect the remaining leaflets. Take all those things and tuck them away into a suitcase. Take the suitcase home and tuck it under my bed. I thought that the day would be difficult, but it was something quite different.

As the train charged along the coast, trundling along the line from Scotland to England, this little passenger was feeling elated. Free. Happy. A sense of achievement. It’s time to move on. It’s time for this to be over. All of this looking behind me at what was, all of those stories and how mine got caught up in the telling, it was time to take it, wrap it up, and put it away.

I’m happy that it’s over. I feel that I have changed in the course of this project. It isn’t that this project changed me, it’s that I was making this work whilst everything around me changed. For that reason, this work has become so much more than what I initially planned it to be. Initially, it was never going to be about me, but at this stage, at the end stage, it seems to be all about me. What an embarassing thing to admit or to realise. The plan was to tell a good story, with twists and turns and interesting facts and characters. Although all of those are there, it still somehow ended up with me. At the end. The end.

This might be my final entry. I don’t know where else to take this or what else to say about it.

Thanks to everyone that followed this story. Thanks for the encouragement and the interest. Thanks for reading through some personal details and sad truths, anecdotes and good stories. This was always going to be an honest account.

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A video of the final installation

This is a short video of the work in situ at the Bioscience Centre at the Centre for Life in Newcastle.  The final exhibition space is particular poignant for this work due to the nature of the work carried out at the centre.  Research into issues of infertility as well as treatments are carried out in this building (among lots of other things, of course).  As this project is about the family line, it seemed particularly apt to show the piece in this venue.  The little worker bees in this place are aiming to help keep family lines going, going, going.  Sometimes there is success and sometimes there isn’t.  It’s amazing to think how fragile our family lines are. How they can charge through the past, push through amazing odds and yet, for some of us, we become the end of the line.

This is where my tour ended.

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Filed under Newcastle upon Tyne, the process, videos

The Project

This is a project that began on July 16th, 2009, as I drove through Nebraska during that hot summer’s day.  This is an honest account of the life of this project, from beginning to end, not just an overview of the great and wonderful things that have happened along the way.  This is the truth, in all of it’s ugliness and beauty.  Because life is not a beautiful struggle.  It is ridiculous and complicated and wonderful and amazing and disappointing and glorious.

The official blurb goes a little something like this:

“Why did we come here?”

This question was the catalyst that began a two-year journey of discovery to uncover the story behind the 200-year journey that artist Cassandra Harrison’s family made from England to America and back again.

Following the notes and photos left behind by her late grandfather (a former FBI agent), Cassandra set out to re-tell the story of her ancestors’ migration from Ivybridge to Exeter to Dudley, then on to Nebraska, following their emigration to America in 1868.  Her strand of the story brings the connecting thread back to England, in Newcastle, 2009.

The Connecting Thread uses hand-printed textile images, bedsheets and pillowcases to create a living, tactile timeline.  The exhibition is about realizing how decisions made hundreds of years ago affect who we are and where we are today.  It’s about discovering another layer to our identity, appreciating the paths travelled by the people preceding us and giving life to the names on a family tree.

To see photographs of works in progress and completed artwork, please visit the Flickr page.

About the Artist:

Cassandra Harrison trained in Nebraska, graduating with honours in Fine Art and Art Education.  In 2002, she moved to England where she continued her work as an artist, creating works for commission for private collectors, a children’s book author and a solicitors partnership.  Harrison’s work has been exhibited throughout the country and was recently on exhibit in the Visual Arts Scotland Annual Open Exhibition at The Royal Scottish Academy Upper Galleries, Edinburgh.  This is her first solo exhibition.

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Filed under a good story, Dudley, Edinburgh, Exeter/Ivybridge, Nebraska, Newcastle upon Tyne, research, the process

Due to illness

Due to not feeling well, I will not be workshopping and speaking at the Centre for Life today. Instead of going out with a bang, I seem to have gone out with a splutter and a limp. I wish it were something as easy as cold or flu instead of an illness I’ve been carrying with me since the age of 15 making itself known.
So, here I am, curled up on the sofa and seeing that the day is bright and crisp. I want to get up and do things and make things and walk in the fresh air but right now all of those are bad ideas. Rest it is then.

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Pink cadillac

Birthdays.  I am rubbish at sending my family their gifts in time for their special days.   I work and go about my life, writing down plans on my calendar and then I see oh yes, yes, it is infact October 18th and hm what a lovely day.  On the evening of the 18th I will be meeting friends for drinks or going to a movie or making a meal for someone or deciding perhaps I should use that evening as a work evening and OH MY GOD IT’S MY BROTHER’S BIRTHDAY TODAY! Gift-buying-on-time-to-send-t0-the-states fail.  So I called him and we had a good chat.  It was a bonus phone call in that I was able to talk to my little nephew who informed me that he had been making ‘good decisions’ in school.

Me:  “What kind of good decisions have you been making, William?”

Him:  “No hitting.  No biting.  No shoving.  No kicking.  No talking.  No running inside.  No stomping….”

(all of which imply that he had been doing these things)

I was grinning quite a lot my many thousands of miles away from that small voice telling me about his bad behaviour.  What a sweetheart.

So anyway, I needed to rectify the issue of having not produced a birthday gift for my brother’s birthday.  What could I find or buy or make?  I looked through the prints left over from The Connecting Thread and found the house in North Platte, circa 1950-something.  And parked right beside the house, my grandfather’s car.

From what I can remember of stories told by my dad and my aunties, my grandfather owned a pink cadillac during his FBI workin’ days.  How rock and roll.  How Elvis.  Why a cadillac?  I can imagine him driving his growing family in that massive pink ghetto sled (what the kids used to call something that big and boxy back in the 90’s).  I should ask my dad and aunties about their experiences in that rather stunning vehicle.

During my summer holiday to visit my family in Nebraska, one of my aunts told a story about clambering around Chimney Rock.  My grandparents had driven across the dusty plain and let the kids out to run around that gigantic landmark the pioneers used for guidance.  The kids had climbed quite a distance when my grandfather received a call (how?  This was in the 40’s or 50’s or something.  I imagine it wasn’t a compact little Nokia contact) demanding that he chase something/someone/leave wherever he was as he was needed elsewhere.  Their children were called for, yelled for, waved down and quickly they came scrambling down as it was of the utmost importance they very speedily dash on to whatever emergency was causing them to exit quickly.

When I visited Chimney Rock this summer, we could only get within a mile of that thing.  The idea of a big old car bumping along some small country road is an entertaining thought.  I can see the dust whirling around the car as they stop, the door pops open, releasing a couple over-excited children.

Later in his life, my grandfather acquired another caddie.  He must have been in his 70’s.  I remember visiting home one year and there it was, parked under its own purpose built car port.  Why did he buy that caddie again?  Was he trying to claw back something of his younger years or did he think that pink cadillacs were still a status symbol?  Who knows.

So anyway, for my brother’s birthday, I made him a small artwork of the house in North Platte, making sure to put the emphasis on the car parked beside the house.  I’m sure that not everything that happened with that car were as golden and sweet as I would like to think.  Families being families, I’m sure at several points there were threats to pull over to the side of the road if someone didn’t stop picking on someone else.

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Workshop and Artist Talk schedule at Bioscience Centre

October 27-28

11-12:30 and 2-3:30

Join in the fun of helping to create a collaborative artwork made by using Gocco printing techniques. Learn about the small printing machine of amazement and wonder. You can drop in anytime during these time slots; there is no need to sign up. This workshop is available to those that have paid for a ticket to visit the amazing exhibits at The Centre for Life. Participants helping to create the large artwork will get the opportunity to win the completed artwork. Open to ages 5 to 105.

12:30 – 1 and 3:30-4

Artist Talk
Want to know more about The Connecting Thread, how it was created and its journey? Please join me for a walk through of the installation. Questions encouraged and feedback welcome. Meet at the entrance of the Bioscience Centre. If you have any questions or comments relating to this talk, please write a response here or email me at mailATcassandraharrison.co.uk

Thanks!

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How do you measure your own success?

Some quick scribblings and a few numbers listed on a scrap piece of paper have revealed to me that this project has been successful.

Just like that; I’ve deemed it so.

Seriously, I have thought a lot about what has happened in the course of the past two years and how I see my current position.  Where am I standing now and is it much different from where I started?  The view has certainly changed.  Instead of looking out on the Tyne River from my living room, I now look at a criss-cross of cobbled streets leading up to Dean Bridge in Edinburgh.  Instead of my table being covered in research into my ancestry, I’m now looking at completed commission pieces.  Instead of piles of funding paperwork decorating the outer edges of my work table, I have a tidy sum written out of money earned through funding, donations and requested works.  Somehow, I haven’t lost money on this project.  Even that fact alone is enough to make me feel incredibly proud and of the running of this project and thankful for the kind heartedness of family, friends and strangers.

What was I hoping to achieve with the Connecting Thread?  Good question.  I was hoping to engage with people on a topic that I find thrillingly interesting:  identity and finding it through the means of the people preceding you.  Good stories have been heard and shared and stored in my memory bank.  Friends have been made.  My human experience has been expanded tremendously due to the people I’ve met along this journey.  In turn, it is my hope that people have been affected in someway by the project, whether by walking through the artwork or by following the journey.  If any of this has mattered to anyone else, I would consider this work a success.

It has been important to me to do something meaningful with my life, reminding myself what it feels like to have a strong sense of purpose pulling you up out of bed every morning and making your steps through the day worth taking.  A fulfilled life is a purpose-filled life.  Don’t you think?  Although I like creating the smaller works for walls, I needed to prove to myself that I could do something with substance.  There is nothing wrong in making something for the purpose of adding colour or interest or beauty into a room, however, I needed to sink my teeth into something with depth, with soul, something with life.

So with that said, this isn’t the end.  There is still life in this project and I will continue to update this blog and write about the continuing journey of The Connecting Thread.

And also…there is always an ‘also’ because once one project starts to quiet down I feel the need to pick up something else and start running.  Once I flesh out the details I will be sure to let you know more about the Next Big Thing.  There will be another blog.  There will be another journey.  There may be a little bit of overlapping.

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