It's early afternoon, Saturday, August 16, 2014. The MFA Art Society and Publics artists have been giving a short presentation which is open to the public, and now it's Kate's turn. She was up late, talking and drinking with a group of friends who had attended the opening last night and is feeling jaded. Of course, she is! But she is going to give it a go.

I hope she's not going to rush this, because she's just cut a white ribbon - symbolically opening the mound - before I was ready to take a picture. But perhaps it's me that's being slow. After all I was part of the group partying into the small hours.


Kate settles herself down on the mound. An audience of 30-odd wait for her to begin.

"Boots," she says, looking round at us all. But by the time I take the next photo, she is looking down at her sheet of paper.


"Sometimes Gaga goes away, leaves the butcher, his meat and his money. She sits on a balcony overlooking a lake, gazing at snowy mountain tops…"

I notice that the eyes of members of the audience slide off to the giant print. So mine do too.


"The children sit on a grassy mound dreaming about what their lives may be, lives of fresh air, fresh food and loving grandparents…

"Looking at the children, who are now all grown-up and more…

"Especially the one who is slightly scowling, or is it just the sunlight blinding her... Shall I tell you a story about her?

"She had buried her past to return to later, now it is here under the grassy mound she is sitting on.

"She was seventeen years old and had chosen to go to art college in Brighton, a long way away from the house she grew up in. Without her Gaga to talk to, or confide in. She had a bank account with enough money to live on for her first term, her grant.


"It was 1967, Biba fashion and new-found freedom tempted her. Now you probably guessed what she did. Yes, she bought a pair of boots.

Boots made from the softest leather, off-white, from Dolcis. They were almost up to her thighs, but she didn’t have the confidence to wear them. She kept them in a box wrapped in tissue paper under her bed. Putting them on and admiring herself in the mirror in private."

"Why didn’t she have the confidence to wear the beautiful boots in public?…

Kate looks round us all. As if asking each one of us individually.

"Maybe because she was seventeen in a 1967 sexist world…"

A small smile plays about her lips now.


And that's it. Kate thanks us for listening and we thank her in the time-honoured way, Jonathan leading the applause.


That went all right, but I can see how tired she is. She's not seventeen any more and all the hard work and the late nights (our friends have been with us for a few nights now) are taking their toll.


I think she's right to have left it there, after the anecdote. But last Monday, when doing a presentation in front of three assessors and her peer group, she gave more context, both for the installation and the story. Luckily she had the foresight to arrange that photos be taken of the event. Hari MacMIllan, who is also doing the MFA Art, Society and Publics course over two years, kindly agreed to be the photographer.

I think Hari must have taken the following photo before the talk itself as the audience is not present. Note the tray, nestling in the folds of the mound, on which rests a glass of water. That is what's known as a prop.


And, obviously, Kate is not wearing the dress that she wore on Friday and Saturday, but an unfitted jacket and loose short trousers combo.

Now, as I understand it, Kate delivered the 'Boots' story and then said to her assessors and fellow artists:

"Now I’d like to present my work from a different angle."


That's Laura Donkers' framed print behind Kate. The Uist landscape, the circle of blue plastic, seems somehow appropriate to the emotional register of Kate's presentation. Anyway, let's hear what she said, courtesy of the copy of the script she's since given me:

"Three children sit on a grassy mound in the foreground of a mountainous landscape with all their lives in front of them. This image is of a postcard I received from my grandmother as a child. It was an inspiration at the time and it provides the dominant visual component for this installation. The sender of the card is long dead and I, the receiver, am now a grandmother in my sixties.

"In what way does the past live on and enliven the present?

"This question is central to my current work, which is generally concerned with ageing, friendship and loss. For my working process dialogue, collaboration and story telling are the main methods used in combination with various media such as painting, film, sculpture, installation, writing and performance. Not that I am a master of these media. But I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside individuals who do have expertise. For example, Paintathon was filmed and edited by Mark McGreehin. My role was to brief Mark as to what I wanted filming and to meet him regularly to discuss the editing process.

"For this exhibition I invited fellow artist-friends - most of whom I’d got to know while doing the MFA - to paint a giant version of my postcard, so opening up my values and practice to the scrutiny of my peer group. What does the image of the children on the mound mean – to me and to others, now that 20 artists have contributed to the scenario? Has the moment of happiness in my history been multiplied in myself and passed on to others? I like to think that the experience of the Paintathon was of ‘being in the moment’ – thinking, playing, laughing, group criting, recording and resolving. In other words, realising the human potential that the original image speaks of.

"So here we are (I say ‘we’ because the public will be invited to come up here) on a ‘real’ grassy mound in front of a large-scale reproduction of the postcard. We’re sitting on a sculpture that is intended to share certain formal elements with the mound as it appears in the print and the painting. It’s a small section of a hillside, the rest of which is implied. Just as the rest of the lives of the children are implied by the title of the work. Visitors, such as yourselves, are invited to sit, contemplate, and share their thoughts and stories with me about ageing, loss and friendship. The outfit I’m wearing features a print of the postcard and written words from another postcard I received from Gaga:

"‘This is just what it is like’.

"As I sit here speaking to you, I’m conscious that Marina Abramovic is in the midst of her durational performance, '512 Hours', at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In order to teach mindfulness, she advises drinking a glass of water very slowly. I won’t do that now…


What Kate does instead is to take out her teeth. First, her top plate.


It was added to as recently as the beginning of instal week. An abscess developed above Kate's front tooth, which had been loose for a while due to the pressure that the plastic of the existing plate puts on her few remaining natural teeth, especially the ones at the front.

And then her bottom plate followed the other from mouth to glass. The flesh-coloured semi-circle of plastic seems to call out to the ring of blue plastic in the natural landscape behind.


Monday, August the 4th was the last day Kate could submit a mitigating circumstances form to the art college. Kate had her tooth out on Monday morning, had impressions taken of her mouth at the same time and got the dentist to complete the mItigating circumstances form. I took this round to the relevant office in the afternoon while Kate slept. The next day, Kate's top plate came back with the extra tooth on it, and to her relief it fitted reasonably well. I mean she could stand to have it in her mouth for an hour at a time.


I'm kind of guessing at the order in which Hari took the photos during Kate's assessment. I've a feeling she moved round to the side as Kate resumed reading with her teeth out. I think there would have been time to do this as Kate composed herself.


Settled, she went on:

"Abramovic is of a generation of women artists, thinkers and writers who were active throughout the second wave of feminism. Much of their work focused on challenging the representations of the female body in art and the wider issue of the roles of women in society.

"It’s interesting that in the Paintathon painting, as it now stands, the two female figures have turned towards each other and would appear to be having a dialogue, while sadly the male seems out of touch with the group.

"Abramovic is three years older than I am, and has been doing performance work for 40 years. Saying that, gives me a sense of my own loss of potential in the art world, which the story I told about the boots alludes to. Not that I think I have wasted my life, which has been rich in experiences. And there is work still to be done on behalf of older people, especially women, regarding equality, identity and body image: work which I feel I may be in a position to contribute to, through my art and through developing the BCCA. That’s the Blairgowrie Centre of Contemporary Art, a residency facility in my own home using the cabin that sits at the bottom of the garden."

At which point, Kate replaced her teeth, putting the more comfortable, easier to fit, bottom plate in first.


I think I'll shut up for a bit. This work speaks for itself.



kate_mound_9 - Version 2

Once settled again, Kate resumed her presentation:

“Will the general public connect the three children on the original image, to the filmed bustle of adults recreating the postcard on canvas, to the 64-year-old artist, to themselves, sitting there with what remains of their lives in front of them? In the hope of kick-starting the cycle of life and art in visitors’ minds, I am making available new postcards showing the state of the painting at the end of each of the four days of the Paintathon,"

Is that it? Yes. In which case, let me offer an overview.

At sweet seventeen, Kate didn't have the courage to wear a beautiful pair of boots in public. Age 64 she has the courage to wear an outlandish costume in front of the whole world (she's wearing it on certain days of the week of the show) and take out her true teeth in front of colleagues, in front of friends, in front of her partner.

What can I say? I'm proud of her. She should be proud of herself. We should all be proud of ourselves.

We are going to live such lives.


Thanks to Hari MacMIllan for taking the photographs of Kate during her assessment presentation.

Thanks to Tracy Mackenna for allowing photography to take place during the examination process.

Thanks to Proctor's of Blairgowrie for supplying the Styrofoam used in the mound.

Thanks to Great Grass of Manchester for supplying the artificial grass used (Natural Spring).

Kate would also like to thank Laura Donkers and the rest of her colleagues on the MFA Art, Society and Publics course for making the Cooper Gallery a stimulating place to work and play.