Cambridge Open Studios 2021 – Emma Louise Pratt

Cambridge Open Studios 2021

Installation of ink drawings based around a webcomic

Between November 2020 and June 2021, I wrote/drew a sort of online journal/webcomic. I did it for myself but shared it with some friends as I made it. It was, simply, a thing to do and focus on during the dark days of the UK winter lockdown and it is by no means a polished piece.

The storyline was a rewriting of some letters I had written that contained a thought: our connection to others, the obvious ties, and then the invisible ties that we don’t know that we have, and the connections we feel for people we have never met, or who even exist in another time frame and space.

They were written to someone I have come to think of as “Little Bird”. She is real, and not. She is my neighbour, my own young self, my own daughters…. or a young migrant child of 100 years ago… 150 years ago…or a child in a war….a displaced child…or a child curled up in a ball, crying to me that she will have to deal with the pandemic forever.

I want to thank my long-suffering neighbours who kindly put up with my unusualness. I know, 나는 이상한 아줌마! ;-). Being slightly “unusual” is a fact of life when you live far from your home and do not have anyone from your community or culture around you. The world where you live defines you according to their norms and you have little control over that. However, I know of many loved ones at home, living and not living, who would not see me as unusual at all. They would say, pai ana, you just be you, eh? Stay true to the kaupapa. Kei te pai. We walk with each other in spirit and I hope I honour them.

The installation of drawings and my unfinished/rough draft webcomic is a meander through historical events that have touched me personally, and the experience of someone connected to me, who lived over 100 years ago. The letters were like the first draft of an idea. Then the web-based “comic” became a second rough draft. This installation of small drawings is yet another iteration.

What I learned from a month of talking and drawing with people

The conversations that I had with visitors to the studio during the weekends of July 2021 gave me an opportunity to hear and see other responses to my images and the story. This process of putting a “thought” up on the wall and talking it through with people was one of my main aims of the Open Studio project.

One of the key “takeaways” for me is that everyone will project a story onto the images. The characters, real and imagined stimulate discussion and memory in people, each different, so I need to leave room for that to happen.

Another strong theme that has arisen from conversations is the issue of collective guilt, displacement, disconnection, remorse, grief, trauma, rancor, regret, sorrow, and sadness that exist in collective identities as a result of migration, war and colonisation. The notion of “han ” in South Korea is an example of this and it is an area I would like to explore further.