Palimpsest-building at Skeet

Month one as artist in resident at Sadeh-slash-Skeet and I’m still figuring out when I want to use ‘Sadeh’ versus when I want to use ‘Skeet’ in a sentence to describe where/why/how I do…whatever it is I do at Sadeh-slash-Skeet. This has manifested as a neurotic tic whereby I transform my ambivalence into a joke about the irony of being a semantically-challenged writer (slash artist). I know very well that ‘Sadeh’ is a super accommodating set of principles that can be hosted any time, any place whereas ‘Skeet’, as in Skeet Hill Farm, is a physical space’n’place that accommodates in rather practical ways. I’m grateful to both for hosting me and never wish to appear to split loyalties, which is a real exercise in diplomacy.

In my early involvement with Sadeh-at-Skeet, when we were still trying to figure out how to make the room I now, uh, resident(?!) in function as a creative space, I rocked up to assist with the first step of this process: painting it white. Layers of children have, over several years, been let loose in the art room, which was originally used for storing hay – so I hear. And let loose they did, marking every accessible surface (walls, ceiling, radiators, plug sockets) with proof of each individual existence time and again. So many kids wuz ere that entering the space in the aftermath of crayon-gate felt not unlike the time I walked into a gay bar in Berlin, walls lined with red fluff and sequins, and heard my friend shout above the music, “You ever watch Sesame Street as a kid? I feel like I’m inside Elmo’s stomach!”

Art room pre whitewash

Opinion on the whitewashing was, as with the Red Sea before Moses, divided: Some at Skeet deemed the erasure of the self expression of beautiful kiddiwinks sacrilegious. Others blasphemed royally about the original red-brick of the hay barn’s heyday having been defaced by beautiful kiddiwinks. Others still, for whom the words ‘beautiful kiddiwinks’ became synonymous with ‘shrieking graffitists’, were relieved to witness the re-purposing of the room as a kiddiwink-free zone. All opinions of course, as is the way when one is converted by artless fanaticism, were delivered with little tolerance for Holy Trinity-esque ways of co-existing: that one person’s historical massacre is another’s labour shortage nightmare is yet another’s page-turning bedtime story is typically unacceptable to self-styled referees who guard against match-fixing only to become rather unaccommodating to the conflicting rules of different games played by necessity on the same pitch.

In a world where a couple coats of white paint risk persecution by preservationists, I’ve stared guiltily at said white paint far beyond its drying time and contemplated my fate. I say a couple coats, but the reality of eradicating the past scrawlings of hideous-slash-beautiful kiddiwinks-slash-graffitists amounted to a team of volunteers working across several weeks and at least three coats stabbed nebulously by hand onto and in the spaces between each and every brick, before rollering paint repeatedly across the textured surface inflicted on the ceiling by The Eighties.

Art room post whitewash

A ‘surprise’ was cheerfully revealed to me as the genius strokes of the last and most committed whitewasher, who compromised a way to preserve the artworks of the h/s/b/k/s/g posse. This accommodating volunteer had fashioned three gaps in the white paint, each three foot high by one or two feet across in the form of letters spelling ART so that the crazed scribblings of hormonally-motivated sacks might be forever on view. The flourish with which this new art piece was unveiled meant I discreetly swallowed speculation about whether any farmer anywhere in the entire universe has the word FARM, or indeed any accountant the word, SPREADSHEETS stencilled in giant letters above a photo of their smiling loved ones.

The offending artwork

I’ve been trying to shepherd into poetic prose humanity’s penchant for all things pastoral and the effect this has on human behaviour. The last stages of this process finally bore fruit in the completion of a short story I’ve been abandoning, rediscovering, erasing, and re-writing for over two years. Three elements – deadline, space and space – coalesced to gift me access to a territory all artists sacrifice health, wealth, personal hygiene and actual relationships with real people for: a notoriously elusive, gold-standard, shooting star, inspiration-rammed SPACE that I occupied for the entire week aligning stars left, right and centre. Social interaction was out the window in favour of attending to the demands of fictional characters.

During this intense deadline week Skeet and Sadeh came to represent the physical space and mental space necessary for creative cosmic leaping. Four walls and a ceiling painted white for living at Skeet; four figurative walls and a figurative ceiling painted white figuratively and housing Sadeh’s belief that artists are a vital asset to communities. By the end I unveiled my own surprise to one of my farm companions, to whom I’d stopped speaking during this beautiful-slash-hideous week: artists and writers are great at community-building (we’ll contemplate the heck out of our surroundings and everybody in it) so long as you leave us well alone (to focus on all the contemplating).

Archie enjoying peaceful lack of kiddiwinks

A room of one’s own, as I’m sure Virginia Woolf and most prisoners would agree, is not just four walls and a ceiling with the word GULLIBLE slowly seeping through three layers of emulsion. Month one as artist-slash-writer in resident at Sadeh-slash-Skeet brought me as far as the Easter holidays, which can be a time of reflection for any wandering cloud sublimely-inclined enough to smile reverently at a daffodil. And as I stared at the semi-white wall trying to ignore the looming presence of the word ART in favour of getting on and creating the bloody thing, I reflected on the rich pedagogical tapestry woven in just four weeks on this farm. Props-giving to the spirits of game-players past and present who wrestle on the same bit of turf across time – sometimes for the simple sake of enjoying play – is all in the name of good sportsmanship. ART is not the most heinous of reminders of history one could wish to bear, in the grand scheme. It is rather an excellent channel through which to mediate life’s experiences, from past to present to future, even if serving its creation does rather limit ones ability to communicate.

Artwork for Nausea and Nostalgia created using of one of many creepy relics of times past lurking around on the farm

Jessica’s short story, Nausea & Nostalgia, was published in an online journal for diaspora Caribbean writers called Pree in April 2019. You can read it in full here.