The weekend before my mastectomy I had a little personal event. I needed to mark and grieve and say goodbye to myself as I was - mark that I was going to lose my breast. I decided to do it as a piece of landscape-natural art. Once upon a time, when I still had great dreams and aspirations that I believed could happen, I was very interested in the work of a group of artists/performers called Welfare State International. They did a lot of work with communities, creating relevant art and events but they also did something they referred to as 'Rites of Passage' - creating personal ceremonies or events or moments to celebrate births, deaths, marriages etc. And their work could include the natural environment, it could be sculpture or poetry or anything. So I took these ideas to create my own, personally meaningful rite of passage.
I very carefully planned it out - it was to be a piece of 'sculpture' or rather, a 'piece' - using only natural materials, rearranged in their environment for my purposes but where they could be seen by other people. I thought hard about what I wanted to 'say' with my piece - it was important that it was all natural. I wanted to name or represent my sorrows; commemorate and appreciate the people supporting me and the qualities I drew from them to get through the difficult times; represent an onwards journey and commemorate or celebrate or salute the breast I was going to lose.
The design was a circle of long grass that was bent and flattened into a spiral, there was then a plaited garland of flowers intertwined with cones and berries and seed heads and pods, there were stones and rocks and at the centre a woven unturned basket made from twigs and covered with ivy with feathers interspersed.
The spiral of grass represented life - circular but also spiraling, ongoing and increasing - where I hoped to be going.
The garland was made from long stemmed flowers: rosebay willowherb and another yellow flower - one long stem for each of my grandparents, my parents and my brother. These are the influences in my life and my supporters. I felt that I had been given particular qualities from each of them that were helping me on my way.
Grandad: courage, patience, recovery
Grandma: courage, patience
Grammy: bravery, confidence, enthusiasm, the ability to gather people up
Mum: tenacity, determination,
Dad: steadfastness, determination
And of course, great love from them all. And all these qualities were represented by the cones and seeds and berries as they represented growth and living, the potential new life within them.
The stones were to represent the sorrows:
My sadness at having lost all but one of my grandparents, my sorrow at not knowing them better, missing them, the sadness I felt for the difficult things they had gone through in their lives, the sadness I felt for my brother's sadness, sorrow for the opportunities and dreams for life that I had let go, having cancer, great sadness at losing a part of myself and of being betrayed by my body and sorrow at having shut myself off from my family and friends.
Finally, at the centre - the woven basket, upturned represented my breast - the vines and leaves showed how it was a living, growing thing and the feathers, the softness of skin and flesh.
It took me two days to complete - the first I scouted round Hampstead Heath for a spot where I was going to create my piece and collected up some of the bits I needed, especially the parts for weaving the basket. The next day I made it. It rained on and off and I got quite wet - I also went bra-less with a low cut top - to flout all that was to come.