Sheltering in Place: Refuge

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Size: 40 x 30cm
Medium: Acrylic On Canvas

Sheltering in place: In a small courtyard outside my lockdown studio, lives a spider from the golden orb family. When I arrived two months ago she and her web were quite small. Over the weeks I have watched her expand her web as well as her size, trying to remember not to stride through the anchoring stands, to be conscious of the boundaries she has earmarked for her castle.

Lockdown for many of us has been a new focus on the domestic. The weeks are a blur of repetition of the mundane; laundry, cooking, cleaning. We have all agreed on the groundhog day quality to life (this, a reference to a 90’s movie where a man has to relive a day over and over again, a public holiday called “groundhog day”, until he mends his ways). If I stand in my doorway, the spider is at eye level and I can watch her life. She has no idea that anything has changed, she is simply doing her thing. Day in and day out. Her diligence is inspiring, really. She repairs her web. She removes leaves and flowers that float down from the bougainvillaea above. She catches prey. Repairs her web again. She expands her web to the left, increases it to the right. Some thorny twigs have dropped into her web that she has decided to keep, including it into the structure of her domain. I think of them as part of her security, her fences perhaps.

While she is an assured end to any fly or bee attracted by the golden sheen of her silk, she is also extremely vulnerable to vervet monkeys and birds. These thorny twigs create an illusion of layers and fortification. Of course, this blundering human wielding a broom, also removing leaves and flowers dropped by the bougainvillaea above, poses a destructive threat as well. I think of her thorny twigs when we lock the gates at night. Our own fortification against vulnerability. I feel a sense of strange synchronicity between her little world and mine. From the bull eye of her web, she knows what’s happening in the outer reaches of her constructed universe, the information humming through the delicate strands of her personal bandwidth. My day is the same. Interwoven with the routines of domesticity, my tenuous connection with the world relies utterly on the interwebs, via which I try to stay informed and in touch. Her household and mine, work at staying safe and viable day by day.

Just recently she suddenly shrank back to her earlier size and now she has a daughter! This smaller female lives in parallel within the larger construction of the Mother web. She has stitched a smaller version of the circular centre of her Mothers, with her own bullseye perch. Like a teenager in any household, she is making her own decorating choices and pretty much staying in her bedroom. Her father floats around the edges, only approaching the Mother when she is eating, tap-tapping on the threads to gauge her reaction as he tries to approach.

At least here we differ. The male of my species, dear friends, is quite safe and welcome! But how strange for a lifelong arachnophobe like myself to find comfort and encouragement from this source. Daily I stitch hope and dreams into my day as we all wait for a better tomorrow. We wait for our children’s webs to get bigger and stronger in order to supersede and encompass our own. This at least is as it’s always been.

In this body of work, I have created many transparent layers to build up the background, working up to more solid elements in the foreground in order to create a feeling of depth and dimension.

Nicola Holgate

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