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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

See it. Say it. Defeated.

Updated: Mar 13

Through sheer will power (I did not have the necessary upper body strength) and the help of Uber, I managed to lug the WANGLAND sculpture down to London along with my ridiculously heavy suitcase, guitar and rucksack. I took an Uber from my flat to Sheffield station, so, the most difficult part of this journey was walking from St.Pancras, 10 minutes to my hotel in Kings Cross on Sunday evening. I had to stop every 100 yards because it felt like my arms were going to fall off. By which point I was seriously questioning my life choices and wondering why I am such a ridiculous human being. Yes, I am highly organised and determined, but do I make sensible, pragmatic choices? No. Are there limits to how much I am prepared to suffer for my art? Apparently not.

 The following morning, I left my guitar and suitcase at the hotel and carried the 12-litre bucket full of solid plaster, wood and the flag to Central Saint Martins, where I assembled the sculpture ready for the MA interim show. Again, this was not an easy journey, even without the other luggage – the bucket alone is incredibly heavy. Unsurprisingly, when I went to bed that evening (I was in Brussels by this point), the pain in my shoulders when I lay down was intense. I am certainly not looking forward to lugging everything back to Sheffield after the show ends. I was also hoping to take the WANGLANG sculpture to Edinburgh for the exhibition and event at Summer Hall (I think it will go down very well in Scotland), but now I am seriously doubting whether I will be able to get it there on the trains (I don’t drive) along with the large box full of ‘Brexiles’ paintings.

When I dropped off my sculpture, I was told that I needed to label my work with my name (I’m not sure why because it didn’t appear on the exhibition map). All I had to hand was a pack of post-it notes, which I stuck to one of the newspapers in the bucket. I was told by a rather irate member of staff that “post-it notes were notorious for falling off and I should have sticky-taped the label in place “like all the other students have”. I explained that I didn’t have any sticky tape with me, to which she replied. “Well get some!” and walked off. Unfortunately, being rude and bossy doesn’t really wash with me, and I am also notorious for not doing what I am told – I also had to rush to pick up my luggage before catching the Eurostar – so the label remained un-taped. And, for the record, the post-it note was still firmly attached to the newspaper when I returned from Brussels.


I missed the installation process for the exhibition due to other work commitments in Brussels – so, I had no influence over where my sculpture would be located. When Tom WhatsApped me to tell me it had been moved into “the crossing” (a public area), I was immediately concerned the sculpture would be vulnerable because of its provocative and potentially offensive content. Tom told me he relayed my concerns to the staff curating the exhibition, but they were apparently laughed at – so, the sculpture remained in the crossing. I wasn’t entirely surprised when on Sunday – my close friend who came to see the exhibition on her way back to Sheffield – sent me a photo of the flag, which had been pulled down. So, it would seem that my concerns were legit – and not laughable after all.

I went out to investigate and it became apparent the safety pin holding the right side of the flag had gone missing (it had clearly been yanked out with some force). I don’t think this could have happened by “accident” – surely if someone accidentally pulled the flag off – they would make an effort to hang it back up? Anyway, if the sculpture pissed someone off (enough to make them pull it down) – then at least I rattled some cages. As Oscar Wilde writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ Thankfully the flag wasn’t damaged in any way or stolen, so I managed to pin it back up – albeit with an EU pin badge which was the only thing I had to hand, but not quite the right message! (Maybe I should have left it hanging? The exhibition is coming own tomorrow, so I guess it doesn’t matter).

On Thursday, I was worried I wouldn’t make it back for the open night which started at 6pm, since my Eurostar was due to arrive at 5:45pm and the last 4 times I have taken the Eurostar it has been 45 mins – 3 hours 30 mins delayed. I wasn’t getting my hopes up, but as it turned out, the train was only 20 mins delayed – so, I made it back in time to perform a 15-minute set.


I hadn’t really prepared for this performance, partly because of the stress of the 3 days in Brussels which were incredibly intense and complete pandemonium but also because I wasn’t sure of the space and nature of the audience. My course mate, Dee was performing before me and I had offered to film her performance for her – this also gave me an opportunity to scope the space. I had 30 mins to think about which songs I would perform (15 minutes is usually enough time for 4 songs). I opted for; ‘Your Regrets’, ‘Bridges Not Borders’, ‘Always On The Road’ and ‘Betrayal In Your Eyes’ – starting out with an angry song, followed by a sad one and ending with progressively happier and optimistic tunes. Not that I was trying to toy with the audience’s emotions or anything… I was worried the first two songs would be too down-beat and negative for the mood of the event, but I wanted to perform them because the themes (democracy and borders) related heavily to my WANGLAND sculpture – but, the audience listened attentively and the incredible acoustics in the space were magical for the melancholic, minor melody of ‘Bridges Not Borders’.

The students managing the stage and performances were super lovely – the timings had all gone to shit, but I had expected that would happen. I was also so exhausted and emotionally numb by this point that I wasn’t nervous, so it didn’t bother me to play it by ear. We plugged my lovely Boulder Creek guitar in with an XLR cable (generally the sound quality is better than through the DI plug) and did a quick sound check before starting. I was wearing my “EU super boots” (my Albanian friend recently asked me if I would wear such boots if they didn’t have the stars – “absolutely not” was my response – they are a tad OTT) and opened with a spiel about the performance being “partisan” because I was happy to make “unprofessional political statements” even if anyone present was from the Arts Council. When I shared a clip on my Instagram account, another close friend of mine commented ‘Best intro ever 🔥’.

 I will be the first to admit this was not my best vocal performance. There were a few squeaks and I was really struggling to reach the high notes having performed the night before and then spent 4 hours recording a podcast in the morning, whilst still struggling with Asthma. I also forgot my own lyrics at one point but given my state of sleep deprivation – I can only say that I did the best I could in the circumstances. The audience were dancing along by the end and several people, including Alex Schady said how good it was afterwards – so, I don’t think I did too badly in the end.


Unfortunately, I found out afterwards that some men in the audience didn’t respond so positively to my performance, apparently making lewd comments about me, “I’d fuck that”, whilst also objecting to my political messaging. (In the workshop the day after this performance Alex Schady asked me if I was paranoid about people saying things about me behind my back – here is a perfect example to show that my fears are legitimate). It seems that the Victorianesque mentality of “women should be seen and not heard” is still ever-present in society. Honestly, my instinct is to blame myself – maybe I shouldn’t get dressed up, wear attention-grabbing dresses and clothes, bold jewellery, colourful make-up and hair dye, etc. – maybe I’m “asking for” this response from certain types of men. But, would people really respect my right to speak out more if I was plain, ugly or took no care over my appearance? Somehow, I think not. Also, I doubt I would have had the impact that I have had if I hadn’t made such an effort to make bold and visually engaging statements. Ultimately the issue seems to be that some people don’t believe I have a right to have a voice nor take up space. So, I have to question do I actually want the respect of people who harbour these beliefs and think it’s okay to say these hideously unpleasant things?

 To be fair, I’ve been receiving creepy DMs, icky comments and rape threats on social media, for a long time…. It’s nothing new to me. I’ve also had people call me all number of misogynistic and demeaning names intended to silence me; ‘Little Madam’, ‘Prima Donna’, ‘Spoiled Brat’, ‘Self-publicist’, ‘Attention-Seeker’, etc. I should have grown a thicker skin by now, but it somehow still feels demoralising – I think I will always be an incredibly sensitive person. It makes me feel oppressed, demeaned and sexually objectified. I recall one guy, supposedly a “fan” of my work, telling me that he admired how I used “my womanly wiles” to win over men. That comment made me want to vomit. He said nothing about talent, creativity or communication skill - it was simply “sex appeal” that was my key to achieving success. My emotional reaction to this kind of shitty comment is to hate myself and want to give up altogether. My logical reaction is to attribute it to patriarchal oppression and a systemic culture of misogyny - I want to be angry about it and make creative work challenging it – but I am struggling to find the emotional resources. In 2020, I created a self-portrait in oils on canvas, titled ‘A Guiding Light’ – which was a response to the three years of daily abuse I received as an activist against Brexit. I painted the insults and accusations people had made of me into a dull grey background of pointless noise, whereas the figure, cloaked in glorious intersecting patterns of white and blue points to a light in the darkness – that light is where I find my strength – in the lightness of hope.

Hopefully, one day I will be able to look back on this experience and the responses to my work and laugh about it. Right now, I just feel tired and defeated.

EDIT: My lovely Facebook community cheered me up with their commentary on the matter...

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