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Make your mark

If you had to leave a physical imprint, what would you leave? I am talking about the concrete equivalent of a graffiti tag; an item, a token to let others know you had been there before. It’s not the easiest of questions to answer, is it? We all know how we want others to perceive us, but it’s actually surprisingly tricky to think of what lasting mark we wish to make.

I was faced with this challenge on a recent visit to the Hepworth Gallery. LovelyMan and I had opted for a day of creative indulgence, and had gone to check out the sculpture prize winners. The first room we entered was not quite what we had expected it to be. The room was accessed by an open archway, with all three remaining walls adorned with hanging silks that were either painted or embroidered. In the body of the room, there were five silk hammocks strung from the ceiling, each a different colour, and all loaded with the most peculiar assortment of….junk. Feeling slightly cheated into thinking we were witnessing award-worthy sculpture, we turned to leave. Just then, a gallery assistant stepped into our path and asked if we knew what this artist’s aim had been. No, we said – how could we?

She went on to explain that this was designed to be an immersive installation, in which everybody who saw it, was invited to make their mark on one of the hammocks. The artist in question was fascinated by people and the way they interact with, and perceive, themselves in relation to the world around them. Upon further inspection, we spotted the range of coloured cotton reels at the end of each hammock, along with the pin cushion of needles by the guest book.

Never one to miss an opportunity to play, I sprung to action and set about deciding which silk I wanted to tag. Settling upon the one I found most interesting, I took a needle and threaded it carefully, chuckling to myself as I struggled to find the eye, and remembering laughing at my mum in years gone by, for the very same thing.

Taking my seat on the wooden bench at the side of the hammock I had selected, I stopped. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t know what to stitch on. People had sewn any number of items to the silks – tablet packets, receipts, business cards, leaves. Some had simply stitched a pattern in thread. However, any creative decision I make, has to be made with purpose; I couldn’t simply do something for the sake of it.

What to leave? What point to make? What to say about myself today? Glancing down at my wrist, I spotted the charity band I have worn for almost a decade. It is a red band with the word NACCered from when Crohn’s and Colitis UK was called NACC. It has been my tiny token of acknowledgement of my illness for all those years, with the logic that if I wear this, I am not hiding the fact that I am ill. Strictly speaking that is not quite accurate, as I still did my best to hide the severity of my condition up until around a year ago, but we will leave that to discuss another time.

What if I leave my wrist band? If I sew my Crohn’s charity bracelet into this artwork today, I am leaving a stamp of recognition. I am announcing to the world that right now, this is a large part of me and my identity. I am taking one step further in my bid to raise awareness. I am acknowledging the part that my Crohn’s Disease plays in the creative person I am; the way it has shaped and inspired and motivated me. 

So that’s exactly what I did. I stitched it in as neatly as I could manage (which wasn’t very neat at all, if I’m honest) and I left my mark.

Of course, to everyone else, the story of why I chose to leave that band is missing. Anyone else looking simply sees a piece of red silicone with some letters on it. But does that actually matter? For me, the narrative played out in my head as clear as day. For me, I made the statement I wanted to make.

So I would like to thank that artist, not because I thought their work was ground-breaking (I actually think it’s a bit of a cop-out to get the public to fill your exhibit) but because the experience gave me chance to lay some old ghosts to rest. As I enter into a new age of openness where my Crohn’s is concerned, an age of acceptance and recognition, it feels incredibly cathartic to have left my mark in such a way.

So think about it – if asked, how would you make your mark?

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