making art with your mum through the internet – covid-collaboration

This is my Mum. This is us playing Battleships after I had moved five minutes down the road to her house, three weeks into lockdown, and after I had tested negative for Covid-19. Yes. It was a week before Level Four was graded down to Level Three and no, I didn’t go driving to a national forest in my family van; or surfing; or sneaking in the dead of night to some illicit affair venue.

I went to my Mum’s. After testing negative. With my dog. Who nearly died. In Australia. But not from Covid. That’s another story.

So we jumped the fence figuratively speaking and landed in Mum’s lounge – me across from her playing Battleships and my dog Tai-d to a table because Mum has a cat Twinkle-Toes (see what I did there). They reached an understanding, and the table only traveled once across the living room floor. But I digress.

Mum had been in her own personal lockdown in some ways for close to a year. Having been told she had glaucoma in both eyes and awaiting surgery, she strangely had to forfeit the ability to drive her car until the surgery. This came about after a particularly misty, foggy, blurry drive to Hamilton which we shall not speak of.

As you may remember, the older folk amongst us were advised to hibernate a week before the rest of the country. This meant no more wandering down to her local church for Mum, no visitors, no home group, basically no wild parties.

Her birthday happened during this time so we snuck a Happy Birthday sign up in her windows – handmade by the nieces – and dropped roast dinner (that my sis had magically whipped up) and ice-cream off at her doorstep.

Back at my sister’s five minutes away, we had the odd discussion about how to keep Mum’s spirits up and so began daily phone calls and my attempts to teach Mum how to take digital photos on her eye-pad (see what I did there) and how to download an online Scrabble game to play. Those of you who have tried to give instructions pertaining to digital equipment by phone can identify I’m sure.

Prior to lockdown, Mum had signed up for an art class that she could no longer do, and I had spent the year writing a condensed poem in the form of 5-7-5 syllables – one for each day and one that reflected the most standout sight, sound, thought, happening of the day. I am still doing these and find them to be the most exquisite form of journalling.

If you get it right, you can combine several memories from a single day. A small group of words can evoke the emotions that went with a particular vignette. It has been a fabulous companion for the year and now, ten months in, I can see themes – birds, characters, the body, the breath – as well, it has chronicled some significant pockets of time – the passing of an estranged father, an Australia trip, the arrival in real time of the pandemic to New Zealand, the Black Lives Matter movement and its’ impact on me, and the writing and recording of a new EP in collaboration with composer John Psathas.

So here I was, having arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s doorstep in Taranaki with shortness-of-breath, fingernails that were going through some weird crinkling and crumpling, an exhaustion from being of no fixed abode for six months, and having newly returned from a never-to-be-forgotten trip to Australia where I became a sole-parent to three remarkable kids (a dog and a tortoise) for ten days while their parents hammed it up in Mexico; having also locked my clothes in a washing machine (which I needed to keep on a washing cycle every day or two to stop them disintegrating), and having also been in major comms with New Zealand and Berlin three days in because our dog nearly died. Yes, that again.

So – exhilarated, but more-so, exhausted, I flopped onto the single bed in my sister’s family home – to be my home for three weeks until I jumped ship for Mum’s.

I suggested to Mum that she could do some art, and so began a mother-daughter collaboration. Mum would randomly choose a date from the year, I would give her my little poem, and she would create a visual from the words using whatever materials came to her. She would send me a photo and I would digitally add the text.

This was her first picture and I include it here as it has the simplicity and slight wobbliness of any of our first attempts in making.

The fantastic thing about this picture is that it suits the poem – the stark decor of any RSA in any country that one could happen to walk into.

The other striking thing for me was that Mum’s stick figures brought my grandad to mind. Valentine Harrison loved to draw stick figures – often with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, sometimes walking canes, and sometimes with a smiling sun in the sky. Although Mum included one here because of the reference to the RSA, it was like a visitation from Grandad to me.

As Mum did more, she became more adventurous – the use of collage type materials, the weaving of card, more abstract, evocative images.

Here are some of them – it was a great bonding experience. A bit of my world mingled with a bit of hers. Making our way through the strange times.


Postscript:

I flatted with Mum for two months and apart from the table moving across the living room floor, it all went swimmingly.

Mum finally had surgery on one of her eyes and is driving again.

I am now back in the Waitakere Ranges making the EP with John, with my dog tied to the deck.

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