It’s been a while since I’ve done a year-end round up, and what better year to return to this old-timey internet tradition than Blazing Bin 2020. Since I already touched on some of the hard goings-on in my previous post, I’d like to focus on more lighthearted fare this time. This list is not complete, but covers what I’m comfortable sharing, having recalibrated how I communicate here. Get cozy, pour yourself a seasonal beverage, and join this tour of my 2020 highlights, in no particular order.
To my surprise, I found delight in learning how to grow food, and how to make the most of the sun’s rhythm. We were already growing rosemary, shiso, mint, and lavender, but this spring we expanded our sky garden to five large planters and around 20 herbs and greens, in all.
We even grew several kilos of sweet potatoes, all on our roof. It’s difficult to convey the pure satisfaction of eating sorrel soup made from your own crop, or making a massive tub of pickled shiso leaves for the winter; suffice to say I’m glad to have had this experience, and hope to continue it in some manner in our new garden.
Perhaps the least expected, but most fun side effect of quarantine was getting to know the local crows a little better. Thanks to numerous trees and parks, there are tons of them in East London, and I’ve long been interested in these clever and curious birds. Making acquaintance with a crow family near our place turned out to be a lot of fun. We’ve been spoiling them with dog kibble and cashews since spring, and now that we’re moving not too far away, I hope they’ll come visit. In the meantime, I’m getting to know my new neighbourhood crow-crew, and they’re proving to be even more brave, and supremely hilarious. There is a highlight reel of the entire crow endeavour here. Click below for cute and comical moments from this summer.
Books I particularly enjoyed
- The Anatomical Venus, Joanna Ebenstein
- Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
- Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath Of Violence, Judith Hermann
- Dune Trilogy, Frank Herbert
- Baudelaire: Flowers of Evil in Pattern and Prose, B. Egan, C. Bower Alcock
- William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books
And I’ve continued to occasionally crack open Swann’s Way, which remains a treasured sensory extravaganza.
I was a guest on my first-ever podcast. It was my pleasure to speak with Mythogynist Media, in a conversation that’s a follow-up to our 2018 interview. Listen here.
G and I managed to catch the incredible, sprawling William Blake and Aubrey Beardsley exhibitions just before lockdown. Both of these shows were the kind of once-in-a-lifetime spectacles I’d thought I could only dream of, but they materialised on this very plane and made me the happiest art-fiend in existence. As if I needed more reasons to adore Tate Britain. Here’s me at the Beardsley show, as well as posing for a Beardsley tribute life drawing session.
Soon after, I created Beardsley-inspired cover art for the spectacular Prince Poppycock’s upcoming single with the inimitable Selene Luna. Beardsley, baroque debauchery, champagne, and cake – that’s many of my boxes ticked! I delighted in every stippled dot, and when we had a brief summer lockdown-lift, I went to see the Beardsley exhibition again. The song will be released soon, and I’ll update this post with the full image then. For now, a sneak peek:
Work on Alien Botany continued, despite my solo exhibition in Greece being postponed.
I released embroidered Alien Botany patches in plasma-red on white, which may be acquired here. I also designed four Alien Botany masks, which may be purchased here.
I was invited to be part of Auxiliary Magazine’s summer issue, so I decided to create a quarantine-themed editorial, working with the location, model, and style team available to me in lockdown: my flat, me. Designer Rachel Freire lent her creations to the project, which contributed to the dreamy, surreal mood I was after. It had been a while since I’d shot something just for fun, and this turned out to be a highly enjoyable endeavour. We even got the cover:
Honestly, what’s better than swanning around in dystopian couture in the perfect comfort of one’s home?
G and I armed ourselves with kazoos and recorded a Black Sabbath parody at the height of The Great TP Hysterics. Warning: flashing lights. Watch here. Perhaps more elegantly, we also collaborated on something I’d been meaning to make for years: a photo version of “The Death of Chatterton” by Henry Wallis. I often visit this painting at Tate Britain, having been infatuated with it for some time.
Much of my 2020 was spent on reflection, meditation, and other necessary, inestimable, invisible work, which will make its way into everything I do in due time.
My companion of thirteen years, Micron, has entered her golden years and undergone a major personality change. This formerly aloof and independent creature is now a wisened, affectionate cuddlemuffin, and I’m in awe of the transformation. She’s always been my fierce protector, but over the years she’s become triply so, sensitive to even minor changes in things like my pulse, rushing over and either laying a paw of assurance on me, or climbing on my chest to comfort. I’d never had the honour of sharing a home with a senior animal before, and have been relishing having this time to spend with her.
In February, I visited one of my favourite cities on earth: Prague. It was a mind blowing trip, especially because the only time I’d been there was back in 1999. Seeing a place after that long can feel like walking through a dream, and that’s exactly how this felt to me. I spent my time in the manner I love most – walking across every bit of the city I could. My curiosity for reliquaries was tickled by the silk-shrouded breasts of Saint Anne hidden at the treasury of Saint Vitus Cathedral, and my passion for ornate candy-box churches was fanned at the art-nouveau masterpiece, Saint Peter’s Basilica, where I’d been back in ‘99 and where I found myself thrice in February. The basilica is painted in floor-to-ceiling brilliant folk motifs and makes me feel like I’ve entered an Ivan Bilibin fairytale.
I spent an afternoon at the Franz Kafka Museum, walked form the castle all the way down into the belly of the city, pretended it was la belle epoque at fancy cafes, and fulfilled my life-long dream of sketching one of the mummies at Hrdlicka Museum of Anthropology. I got the place to myself, and even received permission to photograph the entire collection (private use only). The supersaturation of this trip certainly helped fuel me during lockdown.
In late summer, when the lockdown lifted in the UK, G and I rented a tiny campervan for the first time and set off for Wales. We hiked, woke up in forests, complicated camp food, inhaled wild blueberries by the handful, scrambled up mountains, drank hot thermos tea by enchanted lakes, and drove the self-contained mini spaceship across wholly phantasmagoric landscapes, with wine and the Mabinogion lulling us to sleep at night. Also: explored a slate quarry, where we met stunning wild goats, and spent a day in an uncanny redwood-and-birch forest growing on mossy sand to the sound of crashing waves; its green dunes are strewn with yellow flowers – home to wild bunnies and grazing ponies. And there were seemingly infinite waterfalls and castles, of course. Most of the latter were closed, but we did manage to climb the tower at Dolbadarn Castle, picnic at Gwrych Castle, and commune with old forces at the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, my favourite of the three by far. I have innumerable photos of both Prague and Wales to get through, and I hope to share them here at a later date.
Camping and cross-country drives have become a constant for us over the years. The simplicity imposed by constraints of necessity and available space offers respite from the tangles of modern life. I’ve been incorporating a bit of this restraint into my day-to-day, to great effect.
This house feels like something I dreamed up, and maybe it is, being less than five minutes’ walk from my favourite of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, with the windows facing in all the correct directions, and the attic studio I’ve always wanted. Our offer was accepted just in time for my birthday, and we picked up the keys and got to renovations as soon as the campervan was returned, Welsh fog still in our hair. One of my favourite childhood toys was a hammer, and, as a teen, I even made a living doing assorted construction work, so getting back into it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I’ve been grateful to have this diversion of taming a base of our own – something wholly ours, not inherited, or otherwise given. The cherry topping all this is the treasures we’ve found while working, among them a mended child’s glove, and two Victorian-era photographs hidden behind the fireplace mantle of a once-pink-wallpapered bedroom.
We’re now to the point where the basics are in place enough to begin considering unpacking and maybe even decor. I’m keeping a house scrapbook here.
I still use Instagram as a visual diary and enjoy Twitter for its bite-size delivery system, but this year, I finally stopped using Facebook (except my commercial page, for now). I’ve long felt that the soapbox communication model is poison to the already-crumbling way we connect to one another. To me, there is nothing “social” about the idea that general declarations are a substitute for direct communication; it only reinforces a hollow veneer of care and intimacy, and keeps long-dead relationships on meaningless life support. I choose to let what must fall away stay hewn. I choose meaningful, personal contact over a stream of flaccid “see me” flags flapping in the void. And I choose to keep my writing here, on my own turf, now that it’s been long enough (since I decided that monetised content ruined the internet) for me to feel at ease here.
With that, I’m opening comments again for the first time in a few years. This blog is different now, and so are the times; at least I’ll know that if we talk here, it’s because we choose to, not because it’s expected. Let’s hope 2021 sees brighter days. Let’s reach out to those we genuinely care about, as best we can. Let’s seek quality over quantity in all things.
I’ve missed you and your lovely writings, the immersive imagery. I’m so happy you’ve found a home and, it seems, a little peace. I have more to say but must get ready for today’s life happenings. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world. xo
Thanks for the warmth, dear Gretta. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, I took my time with it. There are many ways in which this year was difficult, but it also had an immense amount to offer, as drastic change often does.
And you are always welcome here, to say as much or as little as you like.
It is lovely to read your musings on this platform again. I miss the slow world of personal blogs, there is something grounding about them, a string of snippets of time and space. Thank you for sharing your year with us; reading your end of the year recaps always helps me mull over my own year, leading to some nice quiet contemplation. Watching The Crescent come together has been inspiring, congrats on your new home! Looking forward to your selects from the Welsh adventures. ^_^
You’re most welcome. That’s part of what I missed about the end-of-year posts, too – seeing the year in perspective like this helps process and plan, and just appreciate experiences more deeply with the added benefit of time passed and stillness. I’ve rather gotten out of habit of posting galleries, but Wales’ majesty absolutely deserves to be shown off here. I’ll do my best!
I agree with what others have said: thanks for blogging again! I actually cleaned up my personal blog this year, and started blogging again, too. With more and more people I know getting off social media, it seemed like the right time to do it!
And I’m totally jealous of your trip to Wales! I was supposed to go in June on a personal tour of all sites Druidical, but, of course, plans changed.
Good for you on restarting your blog! You know, after I shared a link to this on IG, I got a message from a stranger telling me that they (a person who never followed my blog to begin with, and just came across me after seeing me on TV) do not read blogs, and that any longposting has been usurped by Medium. Personally, I almost never read anything on Medium. Rather, I think that reclaiming our personal outposts online is the way to untangle ourselves from the clutches of the corporate attention economy – and to fix our instant-gratification-addled brains, too.
I hope you get your druid tour very soon, Wales is magic.
I started reading your blog in 2009, and was always disappointed blogging as a medium went out of fashion. It’s lovely to hear about what you’ve been up to this year – seeing it all laid out like this is such a different experience than social media. Blogging always felt more like you could see the narrative in other people’s lives, in a way I really enjoyed. I hope the coming year is kind to you, and congratulations on the new house :)
Thank you on all accounts, and welcome back! Sounds like you originally joined me here at perhaps the most chaotic part of my recent two decades – it’s been quite a journey since then. I do have some hope for blogging, now that more people are feeling social media fatigue and are feeling its effects on their psyche and attention span, too. As I said in Twitter earlier today, there’s much to be said for choosing to navigate someplace individual to read something, rather than having an algorithm stuff it down your throat. I’ve certainly had enough automated and monetised curation.
So happy to see you back here. I agree — the minute written internet communication stopped being primarily in diary format, we lost something great. As much as I appreciate the new types of visual communication we have right now, I was baptized by LiveJournal and some part of me can’t give up that ancestral faith! I appreciate your reflectiveness and commitment to beauty as always, especially right now, as I’m ending a long relationship and entering a period of pandemic-induced cloister that, if I’m honest, I’m kind of looking forward to. Happy to have the energy of this blog in the world again.
Always loved your art and your writing. Loved reading this, your home sounds beautiful! Wishing you a restful December and a brilliant 2021.
I think we feel the same way about this medium – and, really, it seems like every commenter on this post does, too. Blogging may have gone out of fashion, but I never cared for the mainstream, anyhow. And now that there’s much evidence of harmful potential in the current popular formats, there’s more reason to reclaim our own outposts, and rewire our daily habits.
And I’m happy to be back here, too. I wish you a smooth transition in this already-transitional time. A cloister can be a very healing place; I hope you’re able to enjoy this period, despite the circumstance.
Thank you, Shay! And wishing you the same.
Long-time lurker here. Lovely 2020 reflections, I’ve missed reading proper blogs as well, and the long-form blogging community as opposed to the fast-paced ‘noisy’ world of Twitter/FB etc. The outfits for the Aubrey Beardsley life drawing session are beautiful, and your Mythogynist interview was very enlightening!
I’m trying to read more books and spend more time on my art to sort of encourage a healthier mental and creative space for myself, which I do think spending too much time on social media takes away from.
Hi Maggie! Thanks for braving your first comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the Mythogynist interview! The Beardsley session was a lot of fun to style – I like any excuse to break out my feathers and show off that kimono.
I feel the same about social media noise and find that, for me, it really takes disciplined moderation to avoid is various side effects, like shortened attention span, general exhaustion, etc. Well done on taking initiative to nourish your mind in a variety of other ways.
I really enjoyed reading this entry and I find it comforting to have this little community again.
Me too; I hope to have more opportunities to write here this year.
So very glad to read that despite 2020 being what it is, that you still have many wonderful things to look back and reflect on. And with all the new things going on, I can’t help but share your excitement. ?