Notes from a Tree/06

Here’s a drawing I made in my sketchbook during the last days of the exhibition. I’m looking down at the base of the tree, where it forks just above ground level.  It was difficult to convey the perspective.

Looking down at the base of the tree

Looking down at the base of the tree

As the end of the show drew closer, I felt sad at the thought of not being able to climb the magnolia tree any more (I did so, for those two weeks, by special permission).  It had been such a rich and unusual experience.  These are some of the things I gained from my performance:-

It brought me closer to nature.  Literally.  I had to hug the tree and wrap my limbs around it in order not to fall out.  I climbed barefoot, loving the feel of tree bark on the soles of my feet and against the palms of my hands and the tips of my fingers; loving the sensation of climbing, moving all four limbs in harmony, like an animal.

It showed me another perspective: that of an animal, a hunter in repose, watching the movements of others as they passed beneath me, or sat down to rest themselves, not knowing I was there.

It slowed down the pace of my life and my thoughts.  It gave me t-i-m-e to think, have ideas, make notes, draw, write poetree, etc.

It tickled me, it genuinely did.  It made me smile: here I was, putting myself on show in a public place, in such an absurd way – and unless I called out, most people passed by without noticing.  Bizarre!

I had some wonderful conversations with some of the people who did notice me.

A lady called Marguerite in conversation with a Leopard in Didsbury

A lady called Marguerite in conversation with a leopard (in Didsbury)

I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my life, on the meaning of my performance, on the purposes of art… and on what I might have for dinner.

It brought me into the present moment, with its sunshine/cloud, birdsong, voices, next door’s lawnmower, aeroplanes overhead, summer breezes and so on.

It gave me a welcome break from phone calls, emails, text messages and facebook.  (I don’t do twitter. Whoever heard of a leopard tweeting?)

It was a bit like staging a personal, peaceful, one-woman protest against a world full of noise, technology, and bad news.

It gave me an excuse to do something socially unacceptable without being branded mentally ill.

Last in this list, but not least: it introduced me to some wonderful artists (my fellow exhibitors) and their work.

No wonder I didn’t want it to end.

The Benches/02

So there I am, up a tree – plenty of time on my paws to ponder on things, to let thoughts roll in and out of my consciousness.  There one comes; it leaves an impression, plants a seed in my awareness, and there it goes again, to be replaced by another.  They roll in; they roll out again.

Some of them stay – rest with me awhile – and stir feelings deep within me.

Words swirl in my brain,

the bench’s refrain:

“Rest awhile in memory of Bill & Ivy Cartwright”.

The names – of a certain generation – recall my maternal grandparents to me.  How long they have been gone, now.

How precious is life – as I stretch, in my tree – and how permanent, death.

I ponder the sadness of parting, of passing, of loss; and


There he is again, suddenly.

Hullo, Dadski.

Hullo and Goodbye, all in one breath.  For he too is long gone.  So… 

“Rest awhile in memory of Henry Ruskin”, intones the voice in my head.

Or, to use his Polish name, the name he grew up with:

“Rest awhile in memory of Henryk Wladyslaw Ruszkiewicz”.

And I do, for a moment.

For my father has no bench, no plaque, no moss-covered gravestone.

There is no urn of ashes on the mantelpiece, and never was.

He just went up in smoke


When I was a child

And that was that.

Sometimes I just have to keep very still, with the sadness of it.

The Benches /01

Sometimes people don’t see me because they are so busy reading the benches.

I mean, of course, the commemorative plaques and epitaphs on the backs of the benches.  There are many of them in Parsonage Gardens.  Lazing in the tree, I can see the words “Rest awhile in memory of Bill and Ivy Cartwright” engraved in the wooden backrest of one of the nearest benches facing me.  And so I do.  I rest awhile (and then a while longer) in memory of Bill and Ivy, whoever they were.

"Rest awhile in memory of Bill and Ivy Cartwright"

“Rest awhile in memory of Bill and Ivy Cartwright”

There is a man who comes to sit by the magnolia tree on a Tuesday, because his wife’s ashes were scattered on the ground beneath it (no trace of them now).  So I am mindful, as I go about my business of being a leopard in the tree, that some visitors to the gardens come here to connect with someone they loved, and have lost; and I try to tread carefully, with light paws – respectfully – around their moments of reverie.

I am reminded of this quote, introduced to me by my mother, some years ago:-

“I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.”

(‘Gestalt Prayer‘ by Frederick E. (or Fritz) Perls).

When I began this post, I looked up the word ‘epitaph’ online, to make sure it meant what I thought it did (and it does), and I came across this rather lovely blog.

Why is She Up There, Mummy? (part one)

I thought it might be useful to add this, for the record.  Here is the blurb I wrote for the exhibition:-

Artist’s Name: Lorna Ruskin
Title of work: “Self Portrait: Leopard (Dreams are Made of This)” 2013

Type of artwork: Performance

For the exhibition “If Not Here, Where?” I present a performance-based self-portrait. Dressed in a leopard onesie, I lounge in a tree, pondering my current life situation and waiting for the impulse to move. Surveying my life so far – the choices I have made – I wonder what happened to my dreams, to the life I thought I would have, and the person I thought I would be… Am I happy with who I am? Can I change..?

I am not from around here.

How is it – when I used to imagine myself living a life in Africa – that I am still here, living my life in Manchester, of all places? Do I belong here? Do I fit in? Is this my native land, my natural environment? Is this where I want to be?

And if I dream of being elsewhere, is that a dream I really want to make real, or do I just like dreaming…?

If not here, where would you be?

Notes from a Tree/04

From my notebook, dated 14th July 2013

The hot weather endures.

I endure

Saddle-sore discomfort,

grazed feet and ankles –

the results of my clumsiness when climbing.

Being overlooked (underlooked –  Look Up!  Look Up!) and then:

“Why is she up there, Mummy?”

Little girl bright in a yellow cardigan

with dark brown eyes.

“Why is she up there, Mummy?”

Mummy takes little girl by the hand, bends over her, low

Her voice is hushed –

Mummy probably doesn’t know, either.

A Weimaraner, my best visitor yet,

Jumping up to try and reach my toes and

Falling, rolling over on its back as it lands on the grass

Blue eyes turned up to me, perched on my bough

Its ears falling back


Unlike a squirrel, and unlike a cat.

I decide I really ought to have my camera at the ready, at all times.

Notes from a Tree/03

Lying, crouching, lounging in a tree

Watching what passes below

…Is this how it feels to be a predator?

A leopard in the wild?

The safety of being up high

The anonymity of being unnoticed

The advantage of seeing, without being seen.

Watching. Waiting.

Invisibility gives one a certain sort of

Power (whether one wants it or not)

Yet I’m not trying to hide

I’m here, right above you, right behind you.

From notes made on 12/07/13



Notes from a Tree/02


Later – afternoon.

“There has been quite a steady flow of human traffic.  People blooming, people fading…

Hardly anyone saw me.

So is a piece of work ‘art’ if nobody notices it?”

… A load of typing, and subsequent deleting, later, I think: Ha!  Why even ask that?!  I hate existential questions, because (a) I don’t think there are right and wrong answers and (b) who cares, anyway?

Okay, so I’m currently involved in making some art that a lot of people walk past (or under) and don’t even notice.

I googled ‘unnoticed art’ and came across Isaac Cordal, whose work I saw at Urbis in Manchester some years ago.  The work I saw was a wall of photographs, not his figures themselves.  The photographs were like the ones on his website, pictures of his little concrete men.  Whichever comprise the artwork – his worried little people, or his brilliant photographs of them -doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s a Guardian article about Cordal and another artist, Slinkachu, from 2011, if you’re interested:-

And as for me, I am, for the most part, enjoying being a leopard in a magnolia tree.