Art of Ubuntu - Making Marian
This is a story that’s been a long time coming.
In July 2016, I set off early one morning in my car, by myself, on a 5 hour trip to Wales. I had an audio book ready, (non-fiction to maximise the productivity of those 5 hours), my iPad wired up to my cars audio system, lots of toffees to keep me awake and a puppet I had made of someone I hadn’t met.
And I was driving 5 hours to her house.
Marian Partington is a incredible lady, who has strived towards a positive meaning in her life, one that has been marked by terrible tragedy and grief. In 1973, when she was 25, her sister Lucy Partington, only 21, disappeared. Only decades after, with no idea where she could of gone, Lucy was found buried at the house of Fred and Rosemary West, one of many serial murders that still echos in public consciousness. Marian wrote a book of her experiences, of the grief of loosing her sister not just once with her itintial disappearance but a second time when she was found, of how she dealt with the trial and the representation and respect of her sister and of the violent rage she felt. It is also about her journey to bravely discover forgiveness and compassion for those who had hurt her in the most terrible way. Her book If You Sit Very Still, is beautiful, poetic, unwavering and stark. Reading her words, It is hard not to be moved, it’s hard not to feel a tiny flame begin to build up inside you for your own journey for compassion towards others and yourself. It was hard for me not to feel some deep resonance, being 26 when I first met Marian (only a year older than when she last saw Lucy), and having a sister who I love.
Charlie Ryder, who I had collaborated with Stories of Healing an art, healing and puppetry film a few years before had asked me to be part of the team of artists to bring a part of Marian’s book and her journey to life through a short puppet film that would be included in a bigger film called Art of Ubuntu.
I had missed the chance to meet Marian in person when she was visited London in January 2016, but she had been generous enough to send me her book in the post (this could have been before that January but I can’t quite recall the order of events!) with a short note that gave me a glimpse into this warm, welcoming and intelligent woman. I was asked to make a puppet of her to be the main ‘character’ in the film, while working with artist Wallis Easte to get an idea of how to translate the poetic text of her book into something visual.
Still recovering from some proper savage physical anxiety symptoms, I distracted myself by toiling away making Marian in my then fiancé now husband’s one tiny bedroom flat, trying not to make too much mess when he returned home.
All I had to go by with her appearance was ome grainy photo I had found on google of Marian. I also found a photo of Lucy, one more people would recognise, that I used as a reference for a shadow puppet. The only other thing I had of Marian was her book and her personalised note to me. In her book, Marian invites you warmly into her past and pulls no punches in detailing her past and her grief. You get to know her better and deeper than maybe some of your own friends.
Her voice came through in her words and I realised that this was how I was really meeting her for the first time. Undoubtedly, it was how most people were first introduced to Marian and her personal story. I wanted to honour that and decided that I would use pages from her book as papier-mâché for her face and for her white hair. Her head was made from a big fabric tube and layered cardboard. I enjoy using cardboard from its cheapness and malleability. I’m not one to carve well, but I love sculpting. Her jacket was a wee girls jacket fromH&M. Her body was made from foam.
I remember travelling up to Wales, to meet Marian and to spend the weekend filming, feeling a little apprehensive, worried to be far from home when I had been having panic attacks but wanting to challenge myself. Charlie Ryder had emailed me directions as Sat Nav’s would often lose signal just before arriving at Marian’s home. The rest of the small crew of creatives were travelling in the same car and I knew they were ahead of me.
I remember arriving and walking into Marian’s home, a house sitting in a valley with a rushing river one side and a field of sheep in the other. Upon seeing Marian, I knew I had got it right and felt the relief flush away the 5-hours worth of anxiety. I knew I had smashed it! Marian welcomed me into her home like she had welcomed me into her deepest conflicting feelings and darkest of moments in her book. We all ate together, meditated together, chatted and ate cake. Some people get a little freaked out by puppets but Marian was enamoured with her puppet double, sitting her in her lap and talking to her.
This is one of my favourite photos from that weekend. During a break we caught Marian posing Puppet-Marian, gleefully next to the cake. I still use it for my business cards.
It was one of the most rewarding and creative experiences of my life and a weekend I will always treasure in my heart. It’s one that has shaped the way I’ve made work and the sort I wish to continue. A pure moment of puppetry and real storytelling. Puppet-Marian is my greatest achievement, even though sometimes her head falls off (I should really fix that)
I have felt encouraged to recall and write down a few moments of this process, as recently, a couple of years after that great weekend, I have been given the task to finally finish the film. We’ve suffered a few delays, a few setbacks and so the challenge has been brought to me. What can I do with the footage we have, what new footage can I create, and how much can I do by myself (because I’m awful of asking for help!)?
And can I get it done in time for Charlie Ryder’s birthday in August? We’ll see...
My first task was to make a mini Marian to make any new footage easier to film potentially one handed, in my small office. Which is what has been occupying me for the last few weeks. So now I have all the story out the way, in my next blog I will detail (with a lot more work in progress photos if you haven’t caught them on Instagram first!) the process of making a miniature version of a puppet I made 2 years ago based on a woman I hadn’t met.