We visited Cuba this summer. It had been on the bucket list for a while, was booked for months and the time arrived two weeks after I broke my foot, simply walking downstairs on the Underground. It seemed a waste not to go (plus the insurance wouldn't have made up for the loss) so we got approval from the consultant, an air-cast boot and off we went, armed with crutches, an I-Walk and a wheelchair off eBay. Extra legroom was a penalty we paid and I still had to raise mine, so Mr C' had it on his lap for the duration. Arriving in Cuba we discovered that those with disabilities had priority at passport control, baggage collection and the bureau de change! Positive perks indeed.
The cab driver dropped us as near to our hotel as was possible. It was located in a pedestrianised location. Within 2 metres of loading up me and the luggage, the tyre came off my chair and the seatbelt got locked in the wheel. Welcome to the cobbled streets of Cuba, maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. Luckily Mr C' managed the repair.
Our hotel had no lift. Thankfully the I-walk enables you to climb stairs, unlike crutches, which demand the backwards bum-shuffle ascent. A disabled room was not on the horizon. Indeed, soap, shower gel and toilet rolls, as well as clean sheets, were often not on the horizon too and we quickly realised how different the lives of the Cubans are. The hotel staff quickly (that's an exaggeration, nothing happens quickly in Cuba) found me a metal chair to use in the shower and I just had to contend with getting in and out as well as up the step to the loo, using my crutches, on invariably slippy wet floor.
Issues of mobility aside, Havana was amazing. Everyone we made an effort to speak with was friendly and responsive and people were very helpful. We had little hassle in terms of people wanting money and we took gifts for those we wished to give to, which were received with intrigue. Colour and music were everywhere. Elderly folk would dance spontaneously in the street when a band piped up in a cafe or restaurant. Children demonstrated that dance was in their blood, and music came from streets, parks and beat-boxes alike (yes, huge 80's speakers on shoulders, strutting down the street). As we walked/rolled off the tourist beaten tracks, we discovered areas where housing was nothing short of dangerous, without roofs or walls, but respectable occupants emerged, clothed well, tidy and colourful.
As a tourist there was little to take away beyond photographs, and at times even they couldn't be taken. People were private and respectfully we had to ask if we wanted to snap them, sadly missing many wonderful opportunities for compositions and stories. Tourist 'tat' seemed mostly imported, with a vast mall selling booth upon booth of the same duplicated items. Cigars were plentiful and smelt wonderful and Panama hats were available at all price points.
Borrowing loos en-route always commanded a cuc (Cuban convertible peso) as a thank you, but most places were happy to accommodate, even if the wheelchair wasn't going to fit. Sinks were often present, but not plumbed in and in one case I had to ladle a bucket of water from a 4 ft barrel in order to flush.
The food choices were limited, the fayre similar to Jamaican and most meals came with rice and beans. Roadside booths were windows onto homes and served pizza, fruit juice and ice cream. These were superb, cheap, low-waste outlets, as pizza came on paper and juice in glasses, so you stood, drank and returned. Pudding was almost always baked custard! Museum staff, guides and tuc-tuc drivers alike, were all very happy to a receive a cucas a tip and we were advised that the equivalent of less than £30 or 39 Cuc a month was a reasonable salary, so anything helped. Although there are differing salary levels, which contradicts some reports, the distinction between incomes from different professions does not apparently make a considerable difference.
Due to my injury, week 2 of our itinerary was changed. We'd planned to stay with a family, but instead opted for Varadero, so Doug could get some rest after pushing me for a week. Still not weight-bearing, I was pretty mortified to find that a government run all-inclusive resort would screw shut and lock the disabled toilet doors. On the plus side, there were ramps and so I got quite adept at free-wheeling and finally manoeuvred myself with some independence. All-inclusive is not my thing. I couldn't swim (doctors orders) so was lifted in and out of the pool to sit and watch (mostly Canadians) drinking from their Bubba mugs, which saved at least some of the hundreds if not thousands of daily wasted plastic cups. The entertainment was however good and the bird-life dining in the restaurants entertaining, but I'll not be revisiting a resort again in a hurry!
Finally home, we were very fortunate and just missed the hurricanes. The rain in Havana airport was coming through the ceiling as we boarded. An eye-opener of an experience, which has bought great respect for those who manage with differing abilities. Do definitely visit Cuba, but never walk across someone freewheeling in a wheelchair, it's taken great energy to build up that momentum and it's pretty crushing to have to put the breaks on!
Much of my work involves laser-welding, I'm fortunate to have my own welder, which is a Rofin model. For those who've not seen or used a laser-welder, this short film shows me creating a piece from a re-purposed tin. This particular metal comes from a Prince Albert cigar tin, the results from which you can see in my previous blog post:
The super thing about laser-welding is the minimal spread of heat. This enables me to weld printed tin without destroying the decorative ink or the original patina, beyond the seam of weld. The localised heat also prevents the metal from annealing (softening), so elements like the pin retain their spring.
A super recent commission enabled me to work on a silver 'tin' which had a gentle oxidised patina and a break to one seam. After much thought, I decided to utilise the split and widen it to locate a sliding button, so my customer could rotate the tin to wear it with the opening to the top or the bottom.
The silver was opened to both sides, with the splits laser-welded closed, leaving the purpose-made sliding channels open, with new silver and 18ct buttons securely and permanently held in place. The leather straps which convert this tin into a pendant can be removed, or changed.
Sometimes objects command gentle and considered alterations in order to breathe new life into them.
You may have noticed more creativity happening at my bench...
I've recently taken a big leap and reduced my working contract, so I have proper time to make. This decision was a really difficult one, but I trusted my gut and I jumped. I can honestly say, I feel excitement, daily.
Thank you to all who told me I could x
This super tin was purchased last year in the US. It's taken me a year to cut! The wording associated with tobacco amused me and the double-entendre provided a challenge. It seemed fitting that this tin should return to its original country and so I decided to make a collection, destined for Velvet da Vinci gallery.
The first cuts and compositions, with a little Altoids tin added for good measure!
The final collection of nine, all brooches, with three of the tussey mussey variety...
The lovelies over on Instagram
Put their two-penn'orth in
To advise on favourites
and give critique
To take upon the chin
These motivating likers
While I procrastinate
Encourage with their warmth in hearts
My questions and debate
Developing tin houses for the Christmas exhibition at CAA Gallery...
| was recently asked a very interesting question; ‘What shapes your ‘Englishness’?’
I have tried to formulate some answers here...
Although it has not evolved through a process of conscious decision making, perhaps it is my selection process for the materials I incorporate which makes my work quintessentially English...?
I believe that my aesthetic preferences point me towards selecting objects and materials, which although not necessarily English in origin, have no identifiable heritage. I collect things from my travels like any other, but until recently, I have not travelled extensively and these finds remain as relics and are not generally incorporated in my pieces.
My passion for objects which have aged makes it very difficult for me to destroy them to incorporate them in my work, this potentially means I focus on the more readily obtainable, those items produced in quantity, or those with lesser intrinsic value.
I have at times utilised materials such as rawhide from Mexico and silk cocoons from the Far East, but I tended to combine these with text from old English books.
I was asked a similar question a number of years ago which stumped me a little: Why did I select only English text to use in my work? I decided that this was due to my love for words. I use text for its meaning, therefore I need to understand its meaning. A large influence in my life has been that of my grandmothers, Lily Pond and Annie Davidson. The former used to write poems for me and my brother, see my earlier blog post and the latter gave me an understanding of improvisation and a passion for Cockney rhyming slang. The time/era in which these ladies lived also holds an aesthetic close to my heart.
The Pond Family
Could my colour palette be somewhat English? Colour often identifies culture or has symbolic reference; I tend towards earthy tones which I believe stems from my early childhood discoveries (through metal detecting) of rusted objects and coins with a patina of age. These finds filled me with excitement and wonder.
As a child of the seventies, I also grew up in an environment of magnolia paint and wood- chip wallpaper!
Bought up around the arts, with a creative father and a mother who worked at South Hill Park Arts Centre and enrolled me on many courses, I think my passions were embedded at an early age. Possibly the need to entertain myself in a time before the huge impact of electronic gadgetry we have today, improvisation and a make-do-and-mend thrifty attitude led me to employ elements to convey my narratives. The honesty of utilising the original instead of replicating it provided exactly the quality I required within my pieces.
So, is this 'Englishness' transportable? I do feel that my work would change should I move to a different country; what was around me would have an effect, in the same way as the narratives I choose to respond to do now. I moved to the countryside two years ago and am keeping a keen eye on any developments!
If you have any thoughts or comments, I would be interested to read them…
Today I was reminded of the pompoms we used to make as children, how we used to wrap wool around two circles of card and create simple magic. This reminded me of my grandmother. Annie Davidson was the older of my two Grans, both of whom were known by the name ‘Nanny’.
At home I slept in a room above my dad’s clocking-in clock, which had a very soporific loud and dawdling tick. Whenever I slept away from home, I needed this tick for comfort, so both Nanny’s knew to provide some form of clock whenever we went to stay.
One night when I & my little brother were having a sleep-over, I had forgotten my teddy. I must have been four or five. Nanny improvised, she went to the bottom of the wardrobe in front of me and pulled out one of her patent leather court shoes, she then went to the bathroom and got a towel from the airing cupboard, which she wrapped around the shoe and presented to me as a teddy.
‘Teddy’ was tucked in alongside me, under the tight bed sheets. Equipped with an adequately sized, soft but firm form to cuddle and the lull of a ticking clock, I was secure and comforted and able to settle down to sleep.
Decades later, this simple but beautiful improvisation which was coupled with imagination, care and a lot of love is a fond and defining memory for me.
Thought I'd share this beauty:
Material Teddy by Makiko Shinoda
"By modifying and transforming everyday materials to jewellery, Jo Pond invests them with the power to enchant or fascinate us. At the same time, her works become the vehicles for narratives that reach out beyond the here and now. Her handling of transient objects imbues them with lasting value as art. And as wearers of this jewellery, she gives us a new means to express our attitudes and values." Jorunn Veiteberg.
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