Continuing our series of features on A Day in a Life of the Artist, Lauren Saunders offers an insight into her life and working practice as an artist.
Usually I work for the NHS three days a week, and the rest of the time I’m working on commissions, proposals, making work, writing, having endless meetings about some awesome project… I’m forever on the go! However, it’s a bit of an unusual time for me. I’m taking time off work and my practice to continue recovering from a broken back (I got hit by a car last November) and I just literally moved house, so everything is packed away and I’m surrounded by chaos! Oh, and there’s a pandemic on … did you know?
Alarm goes off. I didn’t doze off until about 4am and I feel groggy from the Zopiclone so I turned it off immediately. No real reason to be up, so back to sleep I went.
I heard my other half hoovering downstairs. I took that as a cue that I should probably get up. The cat was SO warm and curled up by the side of me… but I managed to resist the urge to go back to sleep.
Threw on some clothes, went downstairs, drank a glass of squash and had some yoghurt coated muesli and raspberries. Whilst I ate, I scrolled through Twitter – wish I didn’t. There’s positivity shining through, but my feed is full of corona-news, obnoxious ableism, eco-facism, institutional abuse and discriminatory language.
I’m overwhelmed by the amount of socio-political failings and inherent cruelty that this pandemic is exposing and, being an already-anxious person who feels every injustice, I felt despair and fatigue quickly. Today I’m going to retreat into my new-house bubble, unpack some boxes and pretend everything is fine with the world.
But first, I rang my mum – she’s in an at-risk group and I think she’s got coronavirus so I needed to check how she’s doing today. She’s still feverish and ‘feels like crap’, but thankfully she’s feeling a bit better than yesterday. Once she hung up, I spent a few moments ranting to my partner about the lack of community testing and lamenting at the current state of affairs.
Began my day of productivity by picking up the frames on the floor and put them on the mantelpiece. I collect interesting, unusual and beautiful objects that inspire me creatively and last year I put some of them in these deep frames. Some of the things have moved and messed up in transit, but I’ll tidy them up some other day. It’s important for me to surround myself with things that excite me as an artist and so the mantelpiece is a great spot to put these.
I then unpacked my books onto the makeshift ‘bookshelf’. I love my books and took great care in stacking them neatly and in size order. Most of them are to do with the arts and philosophy, which is unsurprising since my practice is very research-orientated and explores big philosophical ideas. I started with exploring epistemology, but in the last few years I’ve been looking at environmental ethics. Which as it turns out, is actually pretty timely.
I really enjoy heavy reading and encountering ideas that change my perspective on things – even my fiction books (not the Stephen Kings pictured, they belong to my partner) tend to also be pretty heavy and radical for the time. To satiate my revolutionary streak, I’m currently reading ‘CHAVS; The Demonisation of the Working Class’ by Owen Jones. It’s a little dated now but it’s pretty good, I recommend.
Amongst the books I found my copies of the first two issues of The Critical Fish, Anchovy and Brill. Fish is a critical arts writing project that I started up with my former uni tutor, Jill Howitt. In 2017, I represented the uni at the BCUR Posters in Parliament competition where I presented my dissertation research on the relationships between art and mental health (I came in 2nd by the way). On the way home I asked Jill why there wasn’t an academic visual arts journal about that presents current research in the same vein as medical and scientific journals, and thought it would be a great idea to make one that was accessible and not stuffy. When I finished my top-up BA in 2018 we developed the idea further and sought funding for it – and the reception has been great! We want to take it further and have great ideas for the future, assuming we can get some funding…
I got distracted by pretty things again. These are some of the natural items I’ve collected (mostly from coastal areas) that I like to draw from. I use these drawings as a basis for other work, layering them up or otherwise being inspired by the textures. I use natural objects as a prompt because of the obvious links with environmental thinking.
I found the process of handling these objects and laying them out for this photo quite relaxing and cathartic. I appreciate the relationships between them all. And I’m aware of my relationship to these objects and how they make me feel. Which is a lot of what my work is about.
I noticed myself feeling pretty stiff from sitting around on the floor, so decide to take my state-approved ‘daily exercise’. Before this corona-situation, I was beginning to walk around outside again and 90% of my physio/progress was walking. Since we’re having to stay indoors a lot now and can’t walk around as much, I’m feeling the difference. I felt anxious leaving the house, but focused on the treetops and plant-life whilst I was out instead of the Edward Hopper-esque streets before me. Nature continues to relax and inspire.
Stuck the telly on and had some scran when we got back to the house.
Noticed the time. Where did the last few hours go? I don’t even know what I did?
Decided to get cracking on sorting out my studio space. It’s not all upstairs yet, but since I’m unable to lift anything heavier than a cushion, I’ll just do what I can. Feels amazing to have a studio space. For years I’ve had cramped, badly lit corners to work in at home, but look at this! I’m so grateful that I’ve now got the space to work on bigger more ambitious things. What a luxury it is to have my own home studio! The dream is real.
As I was putting sketchbooks and paper into my art cupboard, I found this. When I finished my Foundation Degree in 2012, my classmate, talented artist and best friend Reka Punkosti gave me this sketchpad as a little present. I remember being moved by her inscription (we called each other Gary, long story) and even reading it now makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I might frame it and put it up.
It also makes me remember how far I’ve come since then – I’ve moved cities, my mental health is much more stable and my practice has totally changed. Back then I worked towards being a Scenographer – making sets and costumes for stage and screen. I still love the theatre but my direction has most certainly changed.
Always guaranteed to distract me, I opened my box of interesting objects and just went rooting through looking at and appreciating them. These are things, like those in the frames on the mantelpiece, that I’ve collected over the years from all over the world that I find inspiring. They’re also good to use as exercise prompts in the workshops and courses I deliver.
Whilst digging through a box I found this sign I made on the laser cutter for my degree show at the Hull School of Art and Design. We called the show ‘Ten Degrees’ because there was 10 of us getting degrees haha! I made some really good friends and connections at HSAD and it’s the place that allowed me to realise that being an artist was a viable option. It was the first time that I feel like I got seen. I kept the sign because it reminds me of this really positive time of personal self achievement; because of my ill mental health and whatnot it took me ten years to finally get my BA degree.
On the launch night, I also got awarded the Roland Box Prize by the teaching faculty for my dedication to my practice and community, and then during the graduation ceremony I was awarded a First but also the David White Memorial Prize for my ‘excellent studentship’. This sign represents all of that, and I’ve decided to have it up in the studio because of what a positive reminder it is.
In this box, I also found a load of posters I had left over from my ‘Drawing Breath’ exhibition. With my Emergence Bursary I attended the Royal Drawing School for a two-week drawing marathon. I was really excited about going and ended up producing about 200 drawings – most of which were from life. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m interested in environmental philosophy, which includes exploring the relationships between earth and humanity. These drawings embody the ‘humanity’ part of this investigation and serve as the source material to then develop further work from.
Using the rest of my Emergence Bursary, and with additional support from Yorkshire and Humber Visual Arts Network (YVAN), I exhibited a selection of the drawings in a self-produced three-week solo show down Humber Street in Hull. I worked really hard on the show and had a whole programme of community-orientated events planned… but a week into it I was cycling to go and open the space and I got hit by a careless driver. It broke my back and I was hospitalised, and even though I had some friends open up for a few hours here and there, I had to essentially cancel the whole show and all the events. It was heartbreaking.
But even though I feel a bit bitter about it all still, I’ve kept the posters because I want to use the imagery to collage with at some point. Dunno, I’ll find something to recycle them into!
As well as collecting inspiring objects, I collect inspiring postcards! When I go to exhibitions, I tend to purchase a few of them to add to my visual library. There’s usually something about each artwork that I really like and over time I’ve been able to recognise what types of art I like, and why. Having this collection also encourages me to learn from other artist’s approaches and techniques so I can have a bosh myself. If anyone wants to send me some artsy postcards to add to my collection, they would be very much appreciated! I may blu-tak them all up somewhere in my space – why not?
Rediscovered this hat I made to take to Extinction Rebellion’s London Rebellion in October. If I remember correctly, the theme for the Northern Camp was going to be woodland themed. I didn’t take it in the end, which is just as well because the regional camps didn’t end up holding and it was raining constantly. I’ve been involved in environmental activism in some form for years as it’s something I care a lot about but XR was my first experience of mass organised activism. Despite it’s flaws, it’s been a great experience and I’ve met some wonderful people though it.
Activism and my arts practice feed into and support one another – my work essentially advocates on behalf of the Earth and I use exclusively biodegradable/repurposed/recycled/preowned plastic free materials. I feel a responsibility as an artist to practice sustainably and to use my creativity to demonstrate that there are better, cleaner ways of doing things.
As a disabled, female, working class artist and empathetic ally to traditionally disadvantaged groups, I also champion accessibility, inclusivity and social equity through participatory project work (e.g. The Critical Fish, in the NHS) and how I display/share my work. It’s really important to me to address and challenge the status quo, especially in relation to disability and class, in order to do my bit in helping to counter exploitative imbalances, under-representation and the rampant discrimination many of us experience.
I’m trying to limit my exposure to coronavirus news and commentary because of what it’s doing to my mental health (the blatant ableism from society combined with the governments eugenical undertone is a bit too much whilst there’s a pandemic happening), but I allow myself to listen to the daily government briefings. It heightens my stress levels and exacerbates my anxiety (like I’m sure it does to many others), but I have to watch it so I know what’s going on and hear what flavour of lies are being spun today. The telly weren’t having it though, so I ended up reading what the live updates were online.
Felt scared, despondent, depressed, angry, worried, hopeless, hopeful and overwhelmed about the situation, all at the same time. It’s how I feel after every daily corona briefing. I didn’t really do a lot from this point on. Not entirely sure what I did?
My other half cooked us dinner. He cooked a pea pasta thing in white sauce. It was his first time making it from scratch… and he did a good job with it to be fair!
I still felt pretty flat and unmotivated from the earlier briefing, so just sat on the sofa watching the Netflix for the rest of the evening. I did a bit of physio and cuddled the cat for a while too though, before retiring to bed in the wee hours.