This project is an ongoing investigation into the ephemeralities and permanences of suburbia, exploring how spaces are performed and produced through acts of care.
Frenchay Hospital closed in May 2014.
The NHS trust sold the land to a housing developer.
470 houses are currently being built.
I have been photographing the hospital site since it closed, on regular walks with my daughter. Both have changed quickly yet imperceptibly. When the new houses are finished it will be hard to remember this in-between time, where diggers and rubble have formed the background to our daily lives.
Using images and material from the site, I created an installation and exhibition of my own responses to this fleeting era at Frenchay museum. Local residents and visitors to the museum were invited to contribute their own memories of this transitional phase to the collection.
Global Positioning Systems were invented in the service of imperialism.
So was the confinement of the mother to the home.
Residues of 18th-century colonialism still cling to our ideas of mother, of landscape, and of nation. They are emotive and highly political (mother country, home office, domestic policy). Romantic literature frequently frames the landscape as mother, but doesn’t leave much room for her as individual within it.
This project has had several iterations. In 2016, in response to Brexit, I decided to hijack these tools, to talk back to big power. I ‘embroidered’ quotations about nationhood by forgotten Romantic artist-mothers in picture postcard places, finding new meanings in the relationship between their words and my location.
In 2017, I invited other people who mother to enjoy the conviviality of embroidery, to broaden ideas about who-gets-to-write-what-where in and about the British landscape and to draw attention to silences it still contains. We also hijacked another tool of war – the drone- to record the act of writing.
Recently, I was commissioned by the AHRC-funded research project Outside the Box: Outdoor Performance as Pandemic Response (https://openairperformance.com/) to create “Acts of (In)visible Repair” in Exeter. We used GPS Embroidery to address climate change and protection of biodiversity through visible mending stitches.
Philps, E (2022) GPS Embroidery: walking as re-articulation of the written maternalised landscape, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, DOI: 10.1080/13569783.2022.2116975
I know the stories about straying too far from the path, about deportment lessons, and good or naughty toes. I know about road safety and stranger danger, about how few children learn plant names these days, and to get her feet measured properly. I just think there might be something more to talk about.
This project is inspired by the conduct books of the Romantic era*, through which mothers were supposed to cultivate their daughters; often by taking them on walks. Laughably prim as they are, somehow we still teach girls to walk appropriately. In the 21st century, could we teach them something new?
I’m in the process of “embroidering” some Romantic thoughts, but these are not done quietly by the fireside. Instead they are stitched on the landscape, using GPS tracking as my needle. Soon I will be collecting contemporary thoughts to embroider, too. Eventually I’ll share them here, and in a new performance.
You can send any thoughts you have to:email@example.com. Let me know if you want to remain anonymous.
*Here’s an example:
To repress discontent, to inculcate the necessity of submitting cheerfully to such situations as Fortune may throw them into; to check that flippancy of remark, so frequently disgusting in girls of 12 or 13; as well as to give them a taste for (…) the sublime beauties of Nature; has been my intention.
When my daughter was a baby, I carried her 50 miles to my mother’s house. Partly as pilgrimage in atonement for my teenage sins, partly as protest march against the sanctity of motherhood, mostly because I couldn’t bear to go to Tumbletots.
This live documenting of that journey explores one person’s attempt to navigate a path trodden at least 6 billion times before. With the help of an audience, the performance embraces the inevitable failure of explaining. Whether we photograph every moment, or just pick flowers along the way, how can the ways we record our routes ever communicate what it’s like to walk them?
“I could sit and listen to this wandering tale all day long”
Emma Bettridge, Bristol Old Vic.
You can read more about this project here:
Philps, E (2019) The mother artist in the age of performance reproduction, in: Marchevska, E (ed): Maternal subjectivities, London, Routledge Gender Studies.
Witnessed by unwitting suburbanites, and documented on a phone camera, Maternity Leaves documents a series of short performative walks within a mile radius of my home, exploring the time and space of motherhood. Drifting around my own locality, my newly myopic attention to the patterns, demographics, and waymarkers I discovered paralleled that which is given to newborns.
These (not quite) solitary walks offered me precious time for reverie, but also to reflect on my choice to become a mother. In addition to the themes of ambivalence and abandonment, these images document a performer interrogating her own performance in this new role, as I dared myself to take a few more steps away from my subject/audience/co-performer than was emotionally comfortable. This exploration of distance was subtly affected by the real and imagined reactions of passers by, and so the titles, detailing the number of steps taken, are a plaintiff acknowledgement of this responsibility. The difference between ‘ahh, look – a mother taking a photo of her baby’ and ‘what the hell is she doing?’ is only a few paces.
“full of music, movement, film, dextrous puppetry and gentle laughs.” – The Guardian
My Baby Just Cares For Me is a tragi-comic tale of a father and daughter relationship with real emotional resonance. It’s about the way we laugh and play and fight together, and dance in the kitchen, and just waste time, and how we lean on each other without asking. It’s also about the weight of responsibility, and about the truths that we choose to ignore. We use puppets and aerial movement for the strong metaphors they provide, and super-8 film and a fantastic soundtrack because memories are what bind families together. An audience member compared the show to “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it makes you want to run home through the snow and hug your loved ones…even though their daily habits drive you nuts. In summary, it is poignant yet uplifting, and has had a fantastic response from audiences and reviewers . This show toured nationally in autumn 2008 following its sell out performance at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry, and toured again in Spring 2013. One day, it may tour again…
“Comical, elegant and thought-provoking”
“A treasure-trove of a show…taut and arresting, a winning combination of humour, poignancy and pure joy”
5 stars – Exuent Magazine
” Brilliantly handled puppetry…a very special show indeed…stays in the memory for a long time after”
5 stars – Whats On Stage
“Beautiful, funny and whimsical…a theatrical treat and highly recommended”
An immersive journey through memory and imagination, in search of a flicker of perfection. With a dreamscape of sound that echoes Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, this is a sensory and moving experience for one audience member at a time.
This work was developed with the support of a SITE residency at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in conjunction with Theatre Bristol, and was performed as a work-in-progress showing.
“magical, sensory, a definite other world…I came out a bit floaty. Beautiful”
“A pleasantly disorientating and beguiling journey of the senses”
“Gently compelling. I felt looked after, and a childlike sense of wonder”