Monday, September 28, 2020

‘Invisible Octopus’ - the demands of a creative mind

Dear friends and family

I truly hope this finds you well in this peculiar year. Who could have predicted the challenges we all had to face? For me not a lot changed due to Covid-19, and yet many changes are happening, including the direction of my creative work.

‘Time’ by Corina Duyn

The demands of my creative mind

The restrictions on movements enforced on many were for me not a result of the pandemic but due to an increased level of illness. However, as has been apparent throughout this now 22 year ‘adventure’ of life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) my creative mind demands its wishes to be fulfilled. No matter what state my body is in. Most of the time this is a blessing. At times it is a challenge. Even peacefully looking at the birds outside my window manages to infiltrate my creative mind. All experiences culminating in the ‘Invisible Octopus’ project and ‘Ribbon of Light’ exhibition.

All things puppet 

After facilitating the ‘Life Outside the Box’ puppet project (2014/5) I was invited by Dr. Emma Fisher to share my experiences at the first ‘Broken Puppet Symposium on Puppetry, Disability & Health (UCC, 2017). There I entered the astonishing world of all things puppet. Since that time I delved further into using puppetry as a personal exploration of illness and disability through research as well as making new work. I have been given amazing opportunities to lecture in Ireland, UK and via Skype (now Zoom) in Brazil and Chile. What an honour.

Last year during a spell in hospital I communicated with Emma, who has a PhD in Puppetry and Disability if she would guide me exploring more accessible directions in my work.

Invisible Octopus 

We were successful in our application for the Arts & Disability Connect mentoring Award 2019. For me it was the start of an incredible journey. Although the aim was to write a script for a puppet film using my existing puppets, I learned an awful lot more. It turned into the most profound exploration of life with M.E. I have ever experienced. There was no hiding. It was raw. It was beautiful. And continues to be. (See: Invisible Octopus links to articles )

The word ‘shadow’ uttered during the first mentoring meeting triggered a the memory of a story I had written a few years ago: ‘living in the shadows of an Invisible Octopus’. In a vert short time Octopus became the metaphor for M.E. ... M.E. as Invisible Octopus/acting as puppeteer/ keeping me upright/ or making me stumble at will/ inflicting pain/challenging my brain/ its crushing weight taking my breath away ...

A year ago I had no idea how much this one word ‘shadow’ would be profoundly influential on my creative direction. 

Shadow puppetry

Yes Emma suggested using shadow puppetry as an element in my proposed film. She introduced me to its various possibilities. Yes I did very much enjoy playing with images on an overhead projector. Loved it so much that I sourced a projector for myself. But puppetry for me was still my puppets and the fabric octopus I had created (with help). The projector remained an obstructing in my study. I hadn’t realised the full force of this incredible and accessible art form until very recently.

A few months ago I finally started cutting paper images I wanted to play around with on the projector. Lying in my recliner I cut various tiny paper-me’s, as well as my wheelchair, the tree in my garden, and a huge variety of birds. Hands, houses, anything of interest was made into a potential shadow puppetry image. The fun! I was having so much fun with this work. And I could do this without having to ask and accept help.

I shared the early explorations on my Facebook Art Page  and they were received with so many astonishing positive and encouraging comments. From friends and stranger, from people with no prior experience of shadow puppetry to professional practitioners. Wow! 

I hit a nerve with these images. Both for myself and for thousands of others. Wow.

‘Invisible Octopus’ Poem

Over the months I created images depicting my life: the good, the bad, the challenging, and the beautiful. I also edited the poem under the guidance of poet Dolores Ronayne. This poem was initially written to function as narration for the film script. The film was not going to be made as intended. I simply couldn’t do it. Even with help it was an impossible task beyond my body and mental capabilities.  But the poem could work as a stand alone piece....

Working on it and sharing abstracts I realised the poem had power. In combination with a selection of shadow images it became a force beyond any of my previous work. In an unintended twist I created a short  Invisible Octopus Video-poem I had a voice recording of my poem - I had 12 images chosen for the exhibition - and suddenly, in ten minutes I had a video poem...

It took persuasion from friends to release it into the world. As I really had wanted to make this a perfect animated poem one day. But had struggled to do so. This could take a year, or more. The poem - the Octopus - wasn’t going to wait for that.

And I came to accept that the way this 2.12 minute film came about is a much more realistic representation of my reality. My life isn’t polished and perfect. It is raw and challenging. I am immensely grateful for the worldwide responses it received and continues to receive. 


Last year I was offered an exhibition at the Blackwater Valley Arts Centre to highlight the power of art during illness. I accepted. But since have tried various times to cancel this opportunity. (Deep sigh while I write this). I had suggested a few months ago to offer it to fellow artist Anna Moore who also creates from the experience of illness. Done! But she suggested to do a shared show. ‘Ok.’

I thought it to be a great idea and felt there was little for me to do. I was wrong. An exhibition still requires me to write, and think, and sort, and plan, and do more than I really am capable of doing. For all the help I ask, buy and receive, nobody can be my brain... 

What a learning curve. 

Thinking about the exhibition brought a huge sense of unease. After a lot of scribbling about it in my private dairy, I realised that most of this unease was because I had to create an exhibition in a world I was no longer part of...


Alien world 

The world beyond my home and garden is a place I now so rarely inhibit. I am pretty much housebound. The world I am comfortable in and can navigate is that inside my home with the support of my carers/PA, and in cyberspace which I can visit in my own time. Having to think about the practicalities of an exhibition in a town half an hour away from here, in a space I have never seen, became something my brain could not comprehend. No matter how much my co-exhibitor does, there are still decisions I had to make. The logistic eluded me.

I had anticipated to just show older work based on Into the Light. Easy.  But people were commenting on how they would one day like to see an exhibition of my shadow images...  So I followed through on that. But, to be able to make my simple imagery taken on my phone suitable for printing required work I could no longer do. I decided to employ the skills of graphic designer Red Heaven Design. But even with that I still needed to make decisions on what, how, where, text, scale, quantity, etc etc etc. 

Together we created a limited edition of 100 accordion/concertina style poem booklets, a limited edition of 12,  A4 prints - to be shown framed at the exhibition, and available as unframed prints from my website. As well as a series of A5 postcards also from the same 12 images, with poem abstracts at the back. There will also be a large A1 print of the poem at the show. The poem publication was supported by an Artlinks Bursary.

The final visual edits were shared with me while I was very ill in bed. All a very surreal experience. 

Last exhibition of my work 

So, I have decided and gratefully accepted that this is my last involvement (at this scale) in an exhibition in a public space. I can not do this. Although you might say: ‘You did it’. Indeed. But it is all more that I can chew at present. I accept that my world is changing. I am ok with that. It is a simpler world in which I am comfortable. Because I feel this my last exhibition, I wanted my work to be shown in the best possible way.

I joked to a friend the other day ‘if people want to own a piece of my work they better buy something soon as this is the last exhibition’. He thought it to be a good tagline.

So, if you like to own my work please visit our exhibition in Fermoy, Co. Cork which is on from the 4th October till the 29th November, or visit the webpage for further details:  Ribbon of Light Exhibition

I do hope to see the work on display for myself before the first hour of opening. This is made possible by the kindness of my amazing carer/PA and a dear friend. If I get there we will make a little film. 

Full circle

A few days ago these words escaped my mind and mouth: “with Invisible Octopus my work is now complete.”

I can with all certainty say that this does not mean I will stop creating - I can’t - but all my 22 years of creative work to explore and explain my life with M.E. culminated to this very moment. I will continue to share my creative explorations via social media platforms, for sure.

Many, many thanks to all of you for continuing to join me on this incredible unplanned journey.