Elizabeth and Owen Tooth: A Room of One’s Own

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As one of Disability Arts Online’s Covid Commissions, husband and wife duo Elizabeth and Owen Tooth have created a beautiful and intimate video portrait of Elizabeth’s painting studio, recorded during Covid-19 lockdown.

“I am best-known as a portrait painter, but during the pandemic I experimented with film alongside my husband, filmmaker Owen Tooth. Unlike big oil paintings, film is an ideal medium to share digitally, and I wanted to explore the nature of being locked-down in my studio, creating work in isolation and finding strength and beauty in that.

The title “A Room of One’s Own” refers to an essay by Virginia Woolf in which she explores her conception that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, and, by extension to make any sort of cultural contribution. She identifies creative women such as herself as outsiders who exist in a potentially dangerous space. That space has never in my lifetime been so dangerous or so clearly defined as it is now during the pandemic, and I wanted to share a glimpse of the sealed and private ‘world’ within which the artist retreats physically and mentally in order to create.

The pins I wear in my hair and some of the pictures on the walls draw a line between my studio and the closed Japanese world of the geisha. Geisha means ‘arts person’ or ‘woman of the arts’ and for centuries geisha have dedicated their lives to attaining the highest levels of skill in music and dance. Their unique appearance is a symbol of their otherness and total devotion to their art. The painting I am working on in the film is a portrait of Elaine Davidson, a friend of mine who is also the Guinness World Record holder for body piercings – another woman with a unique individual appearance.”

-Elizabeth Tooth

“The film industry is one long series of meetings. In offices, cafes or cinemas I can decide what version of myself I project, but since lockdown my home has been invaded by hundreds of faces peering in. Via Zoom I have had to allow so many people into my private spaces and suddenly I am unable to hide my inner world, which is expressed across every wall. My thoughts and feelings are on daily public display and my haven has become more like an art gallery, or a film set. Part of my disability is chronic pain and I have to constantly shift about, chasing comfort as it slides from wheelchair to mattress to floor, office, bedroom, garden – and my uninvited guests follow me. I prefer to live behind the lens and curate what I display for all to see. ‘A Room of One’s Own’ was a way of reclaiming that view.”

-Owen Tooth

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