This time last week I was thinking I might need to leave the course. My mind had been going round in circles for weeks trying to find a focus for my practice and critical research. I’d ideas for my practice – I wanted to make colourful installations – but that’s alone isn’t enough for an MA. I wondered if I could explore ideas of time and space, linked to my experience of spending time in Dorset. But then I realised that I was into metaphysics – and that really isn’t me.
I decided to come from the other side. What really interests and concerns me? The answer I came up with wasn’t one I wanted to hear. It links back to a career in social care services that I thought I’d left behind when I retired. I’d done lots of different things over the years – from being a social worker to trying to influence government policy – and cared passionately about my work. But it wasn’t something I talked about much outside work – it was a conversation stopper at parties – and at times it felt as if I was carrying the world on my shoulders. So after I retired I made a clean break and did other things – such as making art.
But I didn’t stop being concerned. It’s easy for me to imagine the cumulative effect of cuts to services and benefits since austerity measures began in 2010, and how much worse it will get by 2022. With political attention focused on Brexit, and the pervasiveness of neo-liberal economic thinking, the consequences for vulnerable children, children and adults with physical or learning disabilities, people with mental health issues or frail older people are easily overlooked.
I still feel ambivalent – (am I taking the world on my shoulders again?) – but it’s also really helpful to be back in familiar territory. Collecting factual information about different services and adding it together is complicated, but I know where to look and how to interpret what I find. And I’m making sense of things I experienced but never really analysed – such as why widespread support for the Welfare State evaporated in the political turmoil of the 1970s. And I’m thinking about new questions like how does empathy work – or doesn’t it work any more? And do I want to represent individual experiences or what’s happening to a system? And who are the relevant artists? There’ll be no problems in finding critical research material here!
My brain, which was going round in circles, is now working overtime. I’m on a mission – even if it’s a scary one. And that’s a much better place to be.