“Do you have a magic spell to return someone to life?” she said. “No,” the witch said, “I’m sorry.” “Oh.””Why don’t you tell me about them?””Will that bring them back?” “For us. For a little while. Stories are a different kind of magic.” 
This experiment is ongoing and is about exploring my sense of self, coping with grief and my identity in relation to place. The magical theme was inspired by the Keeping up Momentum workshop that I organised in the summer with OCA tutor Hayley Lock.
It probably goes without saying that being in quarantine has been an extraordinary experience. Although in the family, we casually refer to it as ‘lockdown’, this is not accurate. My “extremely vulnerable” husband and I chose to self-isolate well before Boris imposed any restrictions and we are continuing to shield, irrespective of any official advice or the exhortations of our friends. 187 days within our property. I haven’t been anywhere else and have only crossed the threshold to take out the trash and recycling.
These “unprecedented times” have resulted in much reflection on where I am right now. I think a lot about our place. Our space. I think about how weird it is that five fish live in a small, rectangular body of water right next to a busy road in Whitechapel – the only world they’ve ever really known (assuming they don’t have flashbacks to the big birthing pond in Essex where they lived for a few weeks). We own our flat and garden. We expect privacy. We arrange it to suit us but there are elements that are still wild and out of our control. The weather. The creatures. The irrepressible growth of ivy and weeds. The rubbish that blows in or is occasionally thrown down from above.
And there is visible history everywhere. Self-revealing archeology. The worms turn up ephemera all the time. Glass and pottery, rusty nails, bottle caps, bones. Reminders that part of our garden was once a communal area and public land. Low walls used to separate one front yard from another back in the 60s and 70s. When people left their doors unlocked. Then the fences and the gates went up. Our space was walled off, the dimensions and boundaries codified in the deeds. Now we have an alarm and two deadlocks. Security clips on all the windows. Whitechapel is not for everyone. I moved here from Cheltenham to immerse in the grittiness of London and certainly found it. Sex workers, drug addicts, gangs, car bars, and petty criminals are all fairly commonplace. And it doesn’t take much looking to find evidence of racial tension and xenophobia, although not to the degree than I’ve witnessed in less multi-cultural areas. This area suits us. It is full of artists and immigrants, great restaurants and galleries. And our tiny flat and garden are a sanctuary. Space has become place with many nostalgic and melancholic memories. We are attached. We feel safe. We find comfort.
And yet, we don’t own the walls or the fences. None of the edges. According to the leasehold, we are expected to decorate the internal walls every six years. We really just own the empty space inside the flat. And people live above us so there’s effectively a lid on our bit of the world. Noise doesn’t recognise any kind of borders. Nor do projectiles. Or smoke. Or leaks. We are inside, looking out but we cannot see very far at all. We are in a strange dimension. And it is constantly altered by time. Lots of things happening at the same time. Everything feeling slow but moving very quickly. My Covid anxieties were paralysing at first but the hyper-vigilance that seems to be a symptom also helped me to stay sensitised to the tiny changes in our little plot of land every day.
Foucault tells us that space is fundamental in any exercise of power. So I paced around our space and butted up to the perimeter and let the solidity and relentlessness of nature give me some power to keep on keeping on. And photography helps to ground me. It provides tent pegs. It stabilises memories. Pins down the moment. Creates a trace of my trace on the world. Tiny pointers to the accumulation of time.
My exploration with the Edge Witch has not been to do with actual magic as such – I have no experience or knowledge of how to do spells – but more about self-empowerment in face of this terrible pandemic. The skills written in to Terry Pratchett’s witches  are within the capabilities of most women: rituals and potions, necromancy, incantations, invocations, healing and helping, even ‘borrowing‘ – photography allows for a bird’s eye and worm’s eye view, if nothing else. I found great inspiration in the character development of Circe by Madeline Miller. And I think I am already pretty good with spill words and third thoughts.
The original idea came from the ‘A Little Magic’ workshop in which Hayley encouraged us to use found materials to create some out of the box ideas within a box (a literal box), using the vagaries of chance and considerations of confinement to enrich the work. The output was to be an artist’s publication. This felt like a big departure from my usual practice (whatever the usual actually is?) and was very exhilarating. Create a zine (my first time with Flipsnack) helped tie it all together and pushed me to complete this mini-project in a way that made sense to me (if not to anyone else).
This was the final output:
I think it was fairly successful on certain levels although I have not had chance to get much feedback or peer reviews. The old circuit boards don’t quite fit with the rest of the imagery so I find that jarring now. And my husband thinks the spiky flowers look like SARS-CoV-2, which maybe was my subconscious selection. His comment was from several weeks ago when the Covid imagery was everywhere and we were all dwelling on it constantly. The blurs and the colours work well and overall it has the potential to be contemplative. I feel it expresses (adequately, at least) my state of mind as it was in June: trying to cope, using everything around me, in troubled and isolated times.
My becoming an edge witch will not be the main theme of my BoW. The idea of witches is so loaded (warty, crazy old ladies with loads of cats or beautiful, sexual and deadly) and the fantasy genre (where Pratchett’s work is usually located in people’s minds) is misunderstood and therefore often dismissed. I have however enjoyed the image-making. Using the torchlight behind the polymeric foam has achieved visually a sensation I have when I am anxious or melancholic of being trapped under ice or stuck in a tunnel. this is something I will continue to explore. I also want to continue to experiment with the wires and the knots as these represent well – for me, anyway – the way I see my connections with, and participation in, the universe. I will be continuing to research magic and see where that takes me. The links with hauntology and exile are fairly obvious but I think this can also feed into my quest to be more accepting of impermanence, and my ongoing attempts to create visualisations of this.
The whole investigation is a good reminder that storytelling is critical and this will have to underpin my BoW to ensure it is visually, intellectually and emotionally engaging.