Alchemical Nanas and Women’s Work

My part in the Accumulations project revolves around the subject of women’s work.

There are several simultaneous strands to my research:

1 Contemplating the everyday working / playing lives of my own and others’ great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers

2 Contextualizing my own creative work / play in light of the work of my artistic / vocational great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers

3 Researching into the history of women’s work in general and in Manchester in particular

women’s work

The subject of women’s work arose out of my lifelong awareness of how my life (and work) contrasts and is in conversation with the lives (and work) of my deceased grandmothers: Violet ‘Sini Wuokku’ [Kahila] Prah, Kathleen Charlotte ‘Kay’ [Clodfelter] Voris, Great Aunty Maxine ‘Max’ [Clodfelter] Callender and adopted grandma Elizabeth ‘May’ [Morley] Poulton.

As well as working as mothers and housekeepers, both of my familial grandmothers worked as secretaries.  They administered the working lives of men while also taking care of children and housework.  Although I think they enjoyed some aspects of their working lives, they both harbored dreams of having an alternative life as a single, ‘career woman’ and looked on the privileges of my life (with access to education, vocational choice and travel) with encouragement and with a certain amount of envy.  They both were excellent typists and wrote letters and then emails to me late into their lives.

I am awe struck by the privileges of my life in comparison with my grandmothers’ lives – most particularly in relation to the work I am able to choose to do.  As I move toward middle age, I feel my grandmothers’ presence intensify in my life.  I have imaginary conversations with them, sometimes asking for advice, sometimes listening to their tough and awkward questions and sometimes just sharing a moment of appreciation for something beautiful or difficult.  In my body I am holding a tension between past and present. I believe that this tension is a major resource for the dances that I make.

Creative outcomes

a shrine to women’s work

As part of this research and development phase of Accumulations, I am going to have conversations with friends and collaborators about their own working lives with particular attention to the working lives of their familial and vocational mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  These people will then be invited to make a contribution to a shrine to women’s work.  The idea is that this contribution (somehow) takes its inspiration from this lineage of women’s work while also (somehow) being engaged one’s own current work or creative interests. I imagine each person’s contribution will be quite different in terms of its content and mode of presentation.  In July / August 2016, this shrine will be assembled at a studio space in Hope Mill – itself a site where women laboured in the textile industry in the 19th Century.  The shrine will be open to the public between 1 – 13 August.

There will also be an online shrine to women’s work which collects contributions from an open call.

Questions for shrine contributors

What paid and unpaid work / play did your great grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers do?

Who would you identify as your professional / vocational / artistic mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers?

How would you describe your own work / play (paid and unpaid)?

What presence does their working / playing lives have on your own vocation and creativity?
How does this lineage manifest in your own work?

How would you describe your own continuation / development / diversion / subversion of this lineage?

If you were to make a tribute / homage / dedication / shrine to this lineage of work, what would it be?



perch is an on-going movement practice / work which deals with the detailed accumulation and layering of movement images.  The practice has emerged from extended contemplation on my own artistic lineage as a dance maker and investigates the incremental ‘sculpting’ of movement material.  I consider this practice to be in dialogue with the working practices of my creative elders (Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, Anna Halprin, Lisa Nelson, Eva Karczag, Rosemary Butcher, Deborah Hay, Rosemary Lee) and of my real grandmothers (Kay Clodfelter Voris and Violet Kahila Prah) who were both secretaries. This movement practice is concerned with developing intricate movement imagery which is precisely situated. Key to the practice is the investigation of movement and compositional detail. So I turn to both my artistic and familial grandmothers for strategies to invest deeply (sensorially, kinaesthetically, emotionally, imaginatively) in the poetic potential of the moving body and for an indexical sensibility.  perch is my contribution to the shrine.  It takes place across dusk in a studio space in Hope Mill, Ancoats.  The work is being developed between January 2016 and January 2017 and in 2017 will be performed every evening for a month.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.