UNABLE TO STOP BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO CLOSE TO THE LINE

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UNABLE TO STOP BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO CLOSE TO THE LINE is a collection of drawings commissioned by LIME. It is a reflection of a 6 month period of chemotherapy where the artist and patient are one and the same. This was an unusual project in that as a patient I was experiencing the illness and treatment, and as an artist I was standing outside of myself and observing what was happening. This dual existence is expanded in this text by the interruptions of extracts from my diaries shown in italics. These texts drifting off at a tangent reflect my regular escapes into a visual world of fiction throughout the whole experience.

***

Winter 2005, the trees had shed their leaves to reveal a neighbourhood of magpie nests in their branches. I had found two lumps on my neck and months of regular visits to the doctors and hospitals began. Early spring 2006 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was 27. From then on I felt my life was catapulted into a world of blurred reality and fiction.

Nothing makes sense anymore. I'm drifting from day to day like my life is a succession of disjointed scenarios that don't really bear any influence from one to the next. Reality doesn't seem real. Each day feels like a sketch and memories fade into imaginary daydreams. Each new day is a whole contained lifetime.

The first piece of advice I received from the chemotherapy nurse was 'don't listen to the stories in the waiting room'. Illness and treatment are very personal experiences and each person responds in their own unique way. Therefore, throughout the whole time, I created my own set of rules, lifestyle and ways of dealing with all that was happening. There was a lot of confusion and anxiety that surrounded it, especially in the early stages. Before my diagnosis I had the thoughts that many cancer patients have described: a feeling of unease and an instinct that something serious was occurring in my body.

It was all very distant. A sound leaking through the fabric of the city, the concrete, the dust, my breath, my body heat, through the sound of the blood circling through my veins and filtering through to my senses.

Time and chemotherapy tore its way through everything - it ate away at the cancerous cells, it stripped my body of hair, energy and immunity, and eventually peeled away the layers of confusion as I picked up the rhythm of the treatment and its effects.

As I looked around I noticed all the plants had been pruned back to little stumps, even the tiny ones in the pots.

I spent much of my time filling diaries with a barely coherent stream of memories, thoughts, overheard conversations, dreams, images and collaged pieces of text I had cut out of their original sentences from newspaper articles, adverts, and letters. These influenced my sketches and the drawings started to evolve. The title, Unable to stop because they were too close to the line is one such piece of text that I extracted from an anonymous article. It's origin is now redundant as it has been given a new meaning in relation to my characters, and reflection of my experience.

If you burn the head of a mad dog and apply the ashes to the cancer, the illness will subside.

In the early stages, as I was getting used to the rapid changes that were occurring. My sketches were spontaneous and images would seemingly appear on the page before me. Just like the diaries I would look over them and search for any patterns or narratives that might be occurring. Over time I noticed certain themes were repeatedly making themselves apparent. I kept visualising characters living in a micro-world contained and concealed by a woodland. In tandem to my own searching and discovery of self I imagined what would reveal itself if this fictional woodland was robbed of its branches and foliage. My mind returned to the memory of the nests that revealed themselves that winter.

And so, the girls and beasts I had been drawing, preoccupied by their own activities, began to pull together to form the disjointed narrative of Unable to stop because they were too close to the line. They are like a collection of ambiguous short stories with a common thread running throughout that draws them into a whole. The tree stumps, static and rooted, bind them all together in much the same way the strict bi-weekly chemotherapy regime anchored the ephemeral nature of my days.

A hyena wandered into the garden with a pup on her back. On the pup's back there was a scraggy vulture. The hyena growled at me through the fence lest I get too close.

This collection of drawings is a frozen moment - it is maybe at that exact point when the trees were felled and the characters have all been caught in the act. It reflects that moment when things become clearer, the end of something and starting anew, and the borders of one way of life and another.
The inhabitants of this woodland are unaffected by the world beyond its borders and play by their own set of rules, if any. Girls and beasts have a curious relationship - they are simultaneously fascinated and repelled by each other and the dominant roles are always shifting. Humans masquerade as beasts possibly to mingle freely through the menagerie, to lose their inhibitions, or maybe to hide, seduce or deceive. Wild creatures stalk the girls, sometimes climbing up into their clothing with a passive aggression. These are animals that scratch and bite - for the meantime they remain calm, but their state is unsettled and unpredictable. A pair of butterflies have landed with a gentle caress onto a fawn's eyelids. This tender act renders the fawn helpless, as it can no longer see the predators that lurk close by. Circus bears roam through the scene - possibly they have escaped or been let loose, but they still wear the ruff that is a symbol of their old life in captivity. They are confused as to the state of their role and are easily seduced back by an anonymous hand offering treats. People lead animals and animals lead people with an uneasy balance of trust and suspicion. Their destination is always uncertain and there is a further undercurrent of mayhem yet to come as a lioness may be unaware she is clambering onto a make-shift catapult and a boulder waits in mid-leverage.

This is a peculiar and manic scene of blurred boundaries. It contains anarchy, playfulness, confusion, trust, lies, aggression, submissiveness, sexuality and deceit.

How confident you have to be to sing so clearly that every word can be understood.

My work has always reflected and responded to current situations and my existence within them. I look at the everyday and how external, unexpected events interject either explosively or subtly. This can be from being distracted by a coincidence and pondering for a moment over its significance to a major event that shakes your existence. Unable to stop because they were too close to the line can not only be read as a direct reflection of my own illness and treatment, but can be seen in relationship to any kind of period of unsettlement and confusion.

The light was exquisite. The glare of the afternoon sun glistening, almost blinding, off the inky waves. Wind blowing away any traces of footprints making the sand look untouched. It was like we were the first people to ever set foot there.

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All images © Rachel Goodyear