Kate is very excited. Not only is this her first ever opening but she’s doing a performance at 7pm. Of course, ‘12.12.12’ is not just her opening, Suzanne, Kathryn, Bon, Yummi, Anna, Dave, Sam and Nicole from the MFA all have work in the Hub this week, all have friends and colleagues here tonight. I hope someone is taking photos on their behalf. But I’m keeping my powder dry for Kate herself.

Kate has asked Morgan Cahn, who I introduced in the (((echo))) page of this site, to video her performance. Which Morgan has said she’ll happily do. The tripod is in place and Morgan has let me know that she is surreptitiously filming the man who is surreptitiously video recording Kate’s work. The scanning motion of his camera suggests he’s filming the text that Kate will soon be reading from. It’s always interesting to see what other people are interested in!

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To my surprise, Kate is nervous. I’ve seen her speak in public before, helping me deliver talks on Evelyn Waugh and Enid Blyton, which she did without any trouble and with no little aplomb. And there is also the performance that appears on the DRIVE-IN THEATRE page of this site, where again she showed no nerves. But this evening she’ll be up there on her own, representing her own work, which must be what’s making the difference. Funny, the only thing that I can talk in public about with any ease is my own work. I’m sure Kate will very soon become comfortable in this kind of scenario. But right now, she’s tense.

She’s even concerned about how to call attention to the fact that she’s about to start. No need to worry about that. Morgan lets everyone know to move towards our end of the space because a performance is about to begin. She must be used to doing this for her own performances, nevertheless it requires benign authority and delicate social touch, both of which Morgan has.

I wander off a few yards from the tripod. No point in me recording the event from the same point of view. I’ll be taking photos now and I’ll be able to use stills from the video later. And so, as ever, the writing will be done in retrospect. It will be done with me sitting comfortably at my computer with time at my disposal, a week or two after the event itself.

Kate tells us she is going to be enacting a set of instructions.

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“Keep your chin up,” I feel like saying, both to the ten-year-old learning to swim in front of her father’s cine-camera and the mature MFA student about to perform in front of fellow students, a general audience of about 50, and a couple of tutors from the course. But, to be fair, it seems that neither Kate needs to be told to keep her chin up. Perhaps the elder has learned from the younger. Or perhaps the younger is still inside the shell of the older...

“Gloves,” says Kate, interrupting my reverie. “Are they just pulled on or dragged off, somehow, anyhow?... “

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She continues: “The drawing on and the taking off of gloves can be among your most feminine and delightful moments, but
you must put the charm and elegance into it.”

Good, she’s taking her time, knowing there is much for the audience to look at and think about as well as listen to.

“Draw on each glove, by first easing the hand in as far as possible with the palm held upwards.”

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Kate’s narration dovetails neatly with the action going on in the background, where each stroke of her ten-year-old self is being taken by first easing the hands through the water as far as possible with the palms held downwards.

“Bring the palm towards the chest as the final easing and smoothing is completed, first at the back of the wrist, and...”

Kate has to refer to the text quite often. She deliberately hasn’t learnt the lines so as to keep her delivery fresh. To keep things

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But my delivery needs to be kept fresh too, so why don’t I switch from Morgan’s video to my own camera’s point of view? That will give a view of the plaster cast hand. Which will give viewers of this blog three versions of Kate’s hands. One pair making its way into gloves, one pair cutting through water and a right hand held in a fist that symbolises - for me, at least - the determination of both the ten-year-old and the sixty-two-year-old.


“Smooth down the fingers into position. Ruck elbow-length gloves down a little.”

That’s strange, Kate now has both gloves on. How did she do that? Is it a trick? Nope, just me switching off for a few seconds to attend to my camera.

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Both gloves on, then.

Kate is quite rightly pausing and posing at this point.

Otherwise her performance would be over too soon. First, she poses with the gloves held down by her sides. This incites a titter from here and there in the audience.

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And now she uses one gloved hand to support an elbow so that the fingers of the second hand can lie against the side of her face. The picture I have in my mind is all elbow, glove, wrist, chin and cheek. But will my photo correspond? The trouble is, I’m not using flash, so the camera will be gulping up light for about a second and the resultant image is likely to be blurred. Unless I click the shutter just as Kate is holding her pose...


Blast, missed it.

No matter. I’ll be able to plunder a stream of images that the video camera will make available. From that source I’ll surely get the juxtaposition of facetious charm and ironic elegance that is on offer at this point in the enactment.

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“Taking off gloves,” says Kate, once she releases the pose and returns her eyes to the book.

“Release each finger a little at the fingertip of the glove, quickly and neatly; one, two, three...”

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“...four, five.”

Things are happening almost too quickly for my powers of observation. Luckily I have retrospect at my disposal!

“Take a firm but feminine grip with one hand of the five fingertips of the other glove. Draw off the glove smoothly...”

Hang on she’s only got hold of four fingertips there. It may not be obvious to those directly in front of Kate, but I catch that detail from where I’m standing:


In any case, the movement is smooth. Kate seems to be flexing her knuckles back and forth as first one then the other glove slithers off her arm like a snake.

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The glove removal in front of a public reminds me that earlier tonight a student on the BA course - after looking round Kate’s work - approached, complemented Kate on the layout of her show, and asked if she was “the one who told the story about the boots”. What the student was alluding to was something he’d been told by a fellow student. During a tour of their studio space, Kate had told a couple of third years about her time at Brighton Art School in the 60s. In particular, that while she was there she’d bought an expensive pair of thigh-length leather boots from the high street store, Dolcis, but that she’d never had the confidence to wear the pearlised white boots outside her own room. She should have been a cool art student enjoying being in the right place at the right time. Instead, the 18-year-old girl lacked the confidence to strut her stuff. Except in private.

Oh blast, I’ve zoned out again. I’ve missed the demonstration of how to hold gloves and how not to hold them. I’m just able to catch how gloves should be held while also holding a handbag.

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While holding the pose, Kate turns around so that it can be seen from different angles.

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“Try it all out in front of your long glass before leaving home,” says Kate.

This gets a titter from the audience. However, it’s an appropriate line to deliver given the Brighton anecdote. Though I’m sure Kate didn’t take that into account when planning her reading. Which concludes:

“After a little practice you will find that the feminine daintiness you are able to put into these little routines can be quite unconscious.”

Kate signals that the mood of her performance has changed by casting aside the gloves and handbag, leaning forward and clapping her hands. “Right. That’s the book:
In Search of Charm.” She picks it up from the makeshift rostrum. Its cover shows a woman dancing around a man, her movements designed to please him.

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“It was published in 1963 and given to me when I was thirteen or fourteen by my grandmother, who I call Gaga. And it’s full of all sorts of useful tips. ‘
My figure, my three-fold attack... Waist and diaphragm secrets... Do I look big or square? Do I look plastered?’” Kate looks up, making sure the audience registers the double-meaning.

Then its back to flicking through the book, picking up phrases from it: “‘
Do I look pear-shaped?’ Do I look unneccessarily short?’” Again, Kate’s expression elicits laughter.

Are my gloves the right length? My neck looks frightfully long!’”

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More sounds of mirth. Yes, this is definitely working. Though I don’t join in the laughter. I’m too busy comparing the necks of the swimming Kate and the performing seal.

Personality...poise...How to come into a room. How to go out of a room.”

More sniggers. Kate closes the book as she goes on talking, making confident eye-contact with us: “It was obviously considered appropriate reading for a young woman in the early sixties coming into adolescence. And I do remember avidly reading this book.”

Now she places it back on the plinth. I sense her sense of power.

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“But what’s interesting is that by 1966 I’d taken my O Levels and failed the majority of them. I was in the ‘removed fifth’ at school spending most of my time in the art room wearing army surplus gear and an Afghan coat.”

Removed fifth? What a horrible concept.

“So I think I might have been in search of a different kind of charm.”

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Great ending. No mention of the Brighton set-back on the search for charm, but she’s given us an episode that’s complete in itself.

She’s had us listening to every word, following each inflection of meaning. And our warm applause reflects the fact that she hasn’t embarrassed or bored us.

Kate comes over to talk to her main support group. That’s me, Jenifer Lamb and Angela Jeffs. We tell Kate how much we enjoyed her performance. We do not have to feign enthusiasm. The moment is captured by Morgan who has the nous to pivot the video camera by ninety degrees at this juncture.

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Kate catches sight of Morgan and goes to the tripod to thank her just as Tracy McKenna is moving towards our group. Ah well, Tracy will get her chance to speak to her student soon enough. As will Edwin Janssen, who has been delivering the ‘Art and Public’ module this term and who is also in the audience.

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It’s left to me to tell Tracy that the performance put me in mind of Joseph Beuys.

(Oh God, am I pissed? What’s with the referencing of the heroic male artist? How do I make that sound reasonable?)

“By which I mean, as with the work on a single postcard from Gaga which has dominated Kate’s semester, she’s delved back into her past in order to find a young vulnerable self who was both hurt and helped by other people. The great thing being, not simply that she’s found that younger self - nor that she’s necessarily found her equivalent of beeswax and animal fat - but that she’s been able to present preliminary findings
in the present with such chutzpah.”

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“Is that the right word?” asks Tracy.

“Brio, then. What we saw tonight was brimful of brio.”

And with that I take from my pocket a hardback copy of
First Term at Malory Towers. I can’t remember off-hand how the Blyton book ends. No problem, I flick to the back of the volume and read aloud to Jenifer, Angela and Tracy. There are no quotation marks, so I judge Enid to be speaking directly - eagerly, even - to her own characters, on behalf of herself and her readers:

Good-bye! Good-bye till next time. Good-bye Darrell and Sally and the rest. We’ll meet you again soon. Good luck till then!

It is so brilliant to be back at school! (That is not Enid Blyton writing, it’s me again.) And with Christmas holidays thrown in as a bonus. Hoorah!

Seasons greetings from Duncan, Kate and Gaga.

If anyone would rather not be appearing in a picture on this site, then please let me know and I’ll adjust things accordingly.