Hearing From our Fellows: Annabel Douggleby
The last time I left Scarborough was in the back of my parents’ car, after bidding a final goodbye to my grandmother. Two sleepless nights on the hospital floor. The Rolling Stones. Grey skies. Head on the window, thinking about the last 17 years. Sandy sandwiches on the beach; the tide coming in too quick; a haunted house on the front and buttery teacakes from Bonnets. All the things that had gone before.
I left Scarborough three weeks ago on the train, after the ‘Under Her Eye’ fellowship weekend with Invisible Dust. Fifteen young female Phd researchers, scientists and artists had met, shared and collaborated over the course of a long weekend high on a cliff overlooking the South Bay. Elton John. Sunny blue skies. Head on the window, thinking about the last four days. All the things that are to come.
The path that led me to the Under Her Eye Fellowship began in November 2017 when I was granted my first public art commission, with The Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The brief was to take an object in their historical collection and use this to create a fresh new work that bridges the gap between past and present, archive and gallery. I chose to look at the watercolour paintings made by Dr Edward Adrian Wilson, an early 20th century scientist, artist, Antarctic Explorer and namesake for the gallery. Thus, ‘Where Now?’ (2018) was born: an installation of nine inflatable iceberg sculptures, accompanied by a newspaper and a moveable library. The project questions how we can use historical objects that may have uneasy colonial connotations, and repurpose them to talk about important issues of our time, such as sustainability and the politics of preservation – both of objects and the environment. Alongside the installation I programmed a series of workshops and talks, ‘The Iceberg in the Room’, to provide a critical space to talk about these questions and bring members of the public together with artists, activists and researchers in the gallery. So at the end of this commission, the fellowship seemed like a natural continuation of this dialogue, and an opportunity to make multi-disciplinary links with other practitioners looking at climate change issues and narratives.
The weekend itself was an intense and joyous experience, filled with new connections, copious amounts of coffee and two motherly dinner ladies who welcomed us warmly and nurtured our new found friendships with freshly baked cookies and northern hospitality. One of the most valuable experiences of the training weekend was in fact the one I was most apprehensive about: a public speaking workshop with Sarah Cartwright. An engaging performer herself, she guided us through the planning and delivering of a presentation. She shared breathing and warm up techniques, storytelling devices and tips for conveying confidence through body language. It was a tiring session, and the knowledge that we would have to present at the end of it was niggling away in the back of my mind all day. But the things we find hardest are often the most useful. As women, we have been conditioned to second-guess ourselves, to temper our statements with ‘um’s and ‘maybe’s, to slouch so that we take up as little space as possible and to evade eye contact, lest the audience discover we are the imposters we believe ourselves to be. But Sarah’s workshop put all that to rest. We realised that we can take up space and not apologise. We realised that we are knowledgeable; we are the experts of our own research, and we have every right to own our practice and speak with authority.
Throughout the weekend, each activity was ended by the sounding of a Tibetan singing bowl. The chime rang out and filled the air, quieting the chatter. If the experience had to be distilled into one word, I would choose ‘meditative. The Invisible Dust team created an environment of care and generosity that allowed for unguarded, authentic encounters. We learned to be present, to let go of anxieties and to treat ourselves with the compassion we advocate for the environment. Women bear the brunt of climate change fallout, but we are also the key to combatting it.
Breathe in and breathe out.