here not here
A retrospective look on relationships came about on the celebration of my seventh wedding anniversary. Initially
intrigued by the idea of “the seven year itch” (1) my focus shifted to absence in a relationship and the resulting myriad
of emotions. Residing in the Middle East with its transitory lifestyle (2), I questioned the effect of this migration on
relationships. My husband travels extensively and I find myself fluctuating from a singleton to a wife with him being
here and then not here. There is a re-adjustment that takes place with every return: a change in routine and lifestyle
attitudes. By researching absence in relationships through Rachel Ward (3), I identified with the general consensus
on the apparent emotional roller coaster resulting from absence. My own experience with an absent partner was
expressed by employing different mediums. I therefore drew inspiration from a variety of artists: Ghada Amer, Tracey
Emin, Chiharu Shiota and Marina Abramović. Hand embroidered portraits serves as a process of remembrance, while
monotypes capture my emotional thoughts during those periods of absence. My autobiographical video performance
reveals the banal routine during time spent home alone.
The effect of absence on relationships
Ward examined the effects of short-term work related separation in relationships. Physical absence changes the
“interpersonal boundaries” between partners (Ward 1996:11). The “exiting and re-entry” may result in an increase of
illnesses, loneliness, distrust, sexual frustration and anger in the partner left behind. Isolation and depression can
lead to sleep disturbances and weight problems (Ward 1996:21-26). Ward also mentioned the positive effects:
increased autonomy, enjoyment of private space, self-confidence, learning skills, better sexual relationships and
fewer trivial arguments (1996:29). Living with a travelling partner, I am well acquainted with these emotions. Through
my personal experiences, I examined transient relationships with which others in my community and beyond may
Embroidered portraits inspired by Ghada Amer
Ghada Amer (4)creates explicit erotic embroideries from a feminist viewpoint commenting on cultural identity,
abstraction and religious fundamentalism . Method, (2008:14) discussed Amer’s work according to Rozsika Parker’s
The subversive stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine (1984). Method argues that Amer challenges the
view that embroidery and crafts are connected to the “second sex” (5). Since the sixteenth century embroidery was
associated with chastity, solitude, submission and femininity. It was seen as an acceptable pastime for women,
“because it kept the hands and minds active, not allowing for impropriety that could come from idleness” (Method
2008:15). This traditional technique relates to my concept as the premise remains relevant living with an absent
partner in the contemporary era. Inspired by Amer’s technique, imagery and repetition in her embroidered works, I
created a series of portraits of my husband. Through stitching by hand I am translating the obsessive, constant
thinking and missing of an absent partner: trying to stitch together a life and memories. The movement of the needle-
in and out, translates the cycles- here/ not here. The fraying of the thread relates to the loss of memory and the
negligence of the relationship. Unfinished portraits signify the interruption of routine with his return. The mixture of
abstract and semi-realistic portraits is connected to my emotional response at the time of stitching. I used a water
soluble stabiliser as ground for the embroidery, which allowed me to preserve only the stitched thread. The removal of
the ground conveys the isolation and disconnection between partners while the residual thread denotes the memories
left behind. The added text is keywords from traditional wedding vows, stitched during a period of absence. This
reminder of the vows made resonates with the traditional meaning of the embroidery technique. The portraits are
hung to be viewed from both sides, echoing the duality present in relationships: what is shown publicly is not
necessarily a true reflection of life behind closed doors.
Monotypes inspired by Tracey Emin
Emin’s monoprints are “urgent, quick in its transmission of emotion” (Townsend & Merck 2002:11). Doyle describes
Emin’s art as “confessional, that it is personal and tautological….She is her art and her art is her” (2002:112).
Inspired by Emin’s urgency and honesty in her work, my monotype series (6) is a visual expression of emotions.
Personal thoughts were drawn immediately, to translate an honest response to my relational experiences. The
technique of drawing in reverse on the back of the paper connotes to the thoughts in the back of my mind. Miss-
spelled words, crude language and unsophisticated imagery denote the careless thoughts and the urgency with which
it is constantly replaced. Comments fluctuate between positive and negative, when my husband is here and not here.
These explicit confessions emphasise the tumultuous relationship as a result of a constantly absent partner.
Installation inspired by Chiharu Shiota
Empty frames remind of absence, loss and memory. Inspired by Chiharu Shiota’s installation Room of Memory (2009),
I am placing empty white frames on the wall behind the hanging embroidered portraits. Shadows cast by the portraits
fall within the frames. Reminiscent of a domestic milieu, the framed wall serves as a gallery for potential photographic
images. The empty frames denote the passing of time, signifying the lack of memories made and the missed
opportunities for future memories to be made as a result of absence.
Video Performance inspired by Marina Abramović
My autobiographical video performance (7) work shows the banal daily activities of being home alone. In an interview
with Daneri, Abramović stated: “I would like actually to transform everyday life into a kind of meaningful everyday life,
using the simplest activities like sitting, drinking water, sleeping, cooking, eating…”(2002:71). The video performance
shows the cycle of everyday life: from morning to evening, with the last day showing my preparation in expectation of
my husband’s return. Scenes from the video connect with the artworks in the installation, for instance showing the
process of embroidery. The action of hanging family photographs on the wall connects with the wall of empty frames,
mimicking the search for memories. My everyday activities portray the emotional fluctuations over the time period.
Actions vary according to my mood, from dancing joyously to lying on the couch in a state of depression. The video is
on a repeated loop, to enhance the concept of the continuous cycle of a partner leaving and returning, emulating the
emotional push and pull.
The concept of the effect of absence on relationships is relevant to my contemporary world. By drawing from personal
experiences, I was able to explore the emotional confusion of being in a transient relationship. The continuous cycle
of coming and going is reflected through the mediums chosen. My preferred artists all show a tendency towards
autobiographical work with fearless, sometimes explicit, confessions. This inspired me to give an honest
representation of how I deal with my emotions as the partner left behind. My work may resonate with others who live
with their partner’s exiting and re-entering. Here one minute, then not here the next: it is this cyclical absence that
form the premise of my concept as depicted.
1. The ‘seven year itch’ is a term describing the “supposed tendency to infidelity after seven years of marriage”
(Oxford Dictionary of English 2006. Sv “seven”).
The 7 year itch (1955) was a movie starring icon Marilyn Monroe. The movie centered around a man who’s family
goes travelling, leaving him home alone, tempted by his beautiful neighbour (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048605/).
2. I reside in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The UAE has a historical nomadic background of roaming desert
dwellers. Expatriate residents travel extensively for work and leisure, due to the convenient location of the country in
relation to Europe and the Far East. My husband works in the Marine industry and travels worldwide.
3. Rachel Helen Ward presented her thesis The Effects of Short-Term Repeated Work-Related Separations on Pilots,
Cabin Crew, and Their Partners (1996), in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
in Psychology at Massey University, New Zealand (Ward 1996:i).
4. Ghada Amer (b. 1963) was born in Cairo, Egypt, grew up in France and now lives in New York, USA. Her work deals
with gender, sexuality and ambiguity (East vs. West; feminine vs. masculine, art vs. craft). Amer’s mediums include
painting, drawing and installations but are more known for her erotic embroidery (http://www.gagosian.
5. The “second sex” refers to the feminist book entitled The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir, where she
refers to woman as second to man (Columbia University Press: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-11664-
6. There is a difference in technique between monoprints and monotypes:
Monoprints are a combination of permanent mark making on a plate along with variations of ink manipulation to create
an image. Each print is unique due to the various ways ink was manipulated, though the permanent image created on
the plate remains a constant, rendering the resulting images as variations of the original.
Monotype gives a single original artwork every time because it uses a featureless plate that does not create any
permanent marks. All the mark making and manipulation is temporary resulting in one unique print.
7. Autobiographical performance art is created from artists own lives. Goldberg sees autobiographical performances
as “easy to follow and the fact that artists revealed intimate information about themselves set up a particular empathy
between performer and audience” (2001:174).
Daneri, A. 2002. Vital Energies, in Marina Abramović, edited by Fondazione Antonion Ratti. Edizioni Charta, Milano:
Doyle, J. 2002. The effect of intimacy, in The Art of Tracey Emin, edited by Merck, M & Townsend, C. London:
Thames & Hudson LTD: 102-118.
Goldberg, R. 2001. Performance art, from Futurism to the Present. London: Thames & Hudson LTD.
Merck, M. 2002. Bedtime, in The art of Tracey Emin, edited by Merck, M & Townsend, C. London: Thames & Hudson
LTD: 119 – 133.
Merck, M. & Townsend, C. 2002. The art of Tracey Emin. London: Thames & Hudson LTD.
Method, S. 2008. Hybridity, fragmentation, and translation in the embroidered sculptural works of Ghada Amer.
Master of Arts thesis, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.
Oxford Dictionary of English. 2006. Second edition. Sv “seven year itch (seven)”. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ward, R. 1996. The Effects of Short-Term Repeated Work-Related Separations on Pilots, Cabin Crew, and Their
Partners. PhD Thesis, Massey University, New Zealand.
(Accessed on 29 July 2012).
(Accessed on 29 July 2012).
(Accessed on 3 September 2012).
(Accessed on 2 July 2012).
(Accessed on 15 March 2012).
(Accessed on 29 July 2012).