Apothéké (n.) - the place where things are laid down

I believe cure at its root means care - D.W. Winnicott

The first of my New Year's Resolutions is to produce one self care potion a week for the entire year. What do I mean by self care? Simply, the ways we take good care of ourselves - mind, body, and soul. By potion, I mean a bottle filled with hand embroidered "ingredients", such as those that have been stitched at a number of workshops I've led.

This time, as I will be stitching one potion a week, I've decided to include the essence of the week as well as elements of self care, so that the potion is both a place where the week is "laid down" or stored, and a bank of self care tips - a bank of cure/care. Indeed, the final syllable of "Apotheké" is pronounced just like "care".

 Apotheké will be an old medicine cabinet with a potent potion for each week of the year, exploring the essence of that week and elements of self care; a recipe for keeping well. It will be a diary, a testament, a confession, and a wellness tool. The potions are hand stitched, a meditative action which has its own therapeutic qualities. The Apotheké will hopefully be a travelling medicine cabinet which facilitates conversations about positive mental and holistic health, and gets people stitching. Hopefully it will engage a wide range of people, including people struggling with mental health problems, perhaps in embroidery workshops which meld craft and conversations about wellbeing.

You can get involved right now, and you needn't even pick up a needle and thread if you don't want to. You can tweet, tumble or Instagram using the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, and write about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take good care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper, I'm not fussy!) potion; I'd love to see some pictures of your potions popping up in the #secretsofselfpreservation tag.

Here is mine for the first week of 2015. This week, I've been battling chicken pox, at times impatiently; I seem to forget that illnesses of all kinds take it out of you, and that it's important to recuperate. I just want to stitch around the clock and see friends, just as I would if I were well.

So my stitch-written record of this week reads "Physical illnesses take time, too; don't fight sleep". I'm not too troubled by how perfect (or indeed not) the stitching is, as this is a personal project and is as much for my own wellbeing as artistic endeavour, if not more so. So if you want to join me, don't worry about making your stitches perfect! The message is the important thing, and it's difficult enough to embroider on ribbon or a scrap of fabric which is small enough to fit in a tiny bottle without worrying too much about how it looks. I have a stock of spice jars, lab bottles, and cocktail beakers to use in this project over the duration of the year - any small bottle with a lid of some sort will do.

For the diaristic element, I have holepunched some silvery card I used to back Pip's hand embroidered birthday present, and cut up a dotty piece of wrapping paper from another of his presents; when I uncork the bottle, I will be reminded that this week I watched Pip open his presents from the safety of Skype due to the aforementioned chicken pox, and the dozens of spots will remind me of just how itchy that chicken pox was!

Each potion needs a name; in a tribute to the protagonist of the film Waitress, who creates otherworldly pies with inventive titles inspired by her life, I have named this one Week 1: Pox Potion, scribbled on a gingham medical cross. Now I have a whole week to dream up another potion...



The Return of the Repressed

Last Thursday evening I went to the talk How Does Textile Work? at the Freud Museum. The talk centred on the current Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the museum, The Return of the Repressed.

In my previous post on Bourgeois, I mentioned that "The return of the repressed" is one of only two segments of text printed on to pages of Bourgeois' fabric book, Ode à l’Oubli.

The talk was by art historian Claire Pajaczkowska, whose essay Tension, Time and Tenderness: Indexical Traces of Touch in Textiles I am currently reading for research.

Pajaczkowska began her talk by saying that Bourgeois came to textiles at the beginning and end of her life; she grew up in a family tapestry-restoring business, and created works from a lifetime's archive (or hoard) of clothes and domestic textiles in her final years. Bourgeois was interested in different types of threads; fibre threads, threads of drawing, threads of writing. Threads were woven into the search for her own identity. She was fascinated by the alchemy of tapestry and the repairing process; she once said that she "always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage."

The name "Louis" (or Louise) was a narrative thread running through the Bourgeois family; her grandfather and father were both named Louis, and her son Jean-Louis. Pajaczkowska remarked that the "e" which turns "Louis" into "Louise" is like a thread going back on itself, going back on a memory.

Pajaczkowska spoke of how the textile is an agent of boundaries which delineates; for example the boundary between clothes and naked skin, between the public and the private. She sees thread as a metaphor for filial relations, as in the threads of a family tree. She spoke of webs and networks as being the privilege of textiles.

Kristeva's theory of the abject, which I have recently been struggling with, came up in the conversation. Bourgeois would go to the meat market and buy huge haunches of meat which she would cast in plaster and then in latex. Rotting flesh is considered abject - it was once alive and now isn't, reminding us of our own mortality. Pajackowska argued that an untitled piece in the exhibition, a hanging slab of meat with genitalia and breast-like protusions, was more challenging than Bourgeois' latex pieces, due to the familiarity and domesticity of the pink towelling it is made from. In fact, the domestic materials Bourgeois used, constructed using child-like techniques, could be considered the opposite of the "serious" art world. Bourgeois operated beyond "taste", and there is a horror (or abjection) of this for the art world. The domestic materials, combined with the crude finish/stitching may horrify "fine" artists. Pajackowska spoke about the "seemingness" of the seams of Bourgeois' work.

The other major theme of Pajaczkowska's talk was that of "holding", both with the hands, and that of immaterial, conceptual containers. All textiles have a tactile quality, but many of the pieces in the exhibition had a particularly touchable quality; I wanted to hold them but couldn't due to the ettiquette of the gallery visit.

 Untitled, 2001, fabric and aluminium. Similar to the fabric heads in the exhibition at The Freud Museum.
Stitches hold everything together (back to the reparative power of the needle again).

The child psychoanalyst DW Winnicott came up with a concept of holding, which he saw as an important component of a mother caring for her child. This "holding" is explored in Bourgeois' piece The Dangerous Obsession, which depicts a cloth woman holding an orb which could represent a new-born child. The pair are enclosed within a glass dome, perhaps demonstrating their all-absorbing relationship. The title of the piece could refer both to motherhood which overtakes a woman's life, and to the creative process.

The Dangerous Obsession, 2003
Interestingly, Winnicott wrote that the child moves on from being held by its mother to holding a "transitional object" made of textiles, such as a comfort blanket or soft toy.

Pajaczkowska explained that the making of objects "held" Bourgeois; she was wrapped up in it, as soon as she had finished making one she would move on to another.

Visitors to the exhibition are then "held" in investigating the work.

There is holding in my book; the book will hold the pages together, and the pockets handkerchiefs and the history and stories which go with them, as well as soft sculpture pieces.

I was pleased to learn at the talk that there is a playful aspect to Bourgeois' work. She enjoyed punning and language play, for example in her series of Femmes-Maisons; "femme-maison" means "housewife" in French. In this series, Bourgeois translated this into literal "house-woman" - women with houses for head.

Femme-Maison, 1945 - 1947

This appeals to me as a writer whose work often employs punning.