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Clare Crombie

I grew up in Oxford, have lived in London and Edinburgh, and am now back in Oxford.  I started out as a musician, then a teacher and massage therapist, as well as having various other jobs in-between.  I found my way to psychotherapy training in London in 1989 and have worked as a psychotherapist ever since.  I started going to part-time art classes with Kittie Jones at Leith School of Art in 2012 or 2013 while living in Edinburgh,

Personal statement - “Mysterious and Little Known”.  

My work is about barnacles or Cirripedia (“fluffy feet”).  But what are barnacles about?  And why did I make work about them? 


I was about 3 years old when I got an infected skin rash after getting scratched by barnacles on the rocks in Wales, where we were on a family holiday.  It was my backside that was sore, and it made going to the toilet pretty tricky.  Since then I think I must have intuitively avoided contact with them!


I never knew what they were, apart from the fact that they scratched and were stuck to rocks.  Were they even alive?  Collectively they cover a huge area but individually they are tiny, and easily go unnoticed.  We tread on them when we have shoes on and avoid them when barefoot and “they” are mostly “they” not the individual miracles of life’s intricacies. I got interested in them one day when I was struggling to draw the stanchions down at the harbour, and I suddenly thought “but what about the barnacles? These stanchions are covered in them and I haven’t been seeing them”. I looked down at the rocks I was sitting amongst and they were everywhere, in clusters and colonies. I was hooked. 


I know now that, along with many other tiny and barely noticed things we tend to take for granted (moss or lichen for example) they are the most amazing and fascinating crustaceans that kept Charles Darwin fully occupied for 8 whole years.  I realised I wanted to bring my attention to something which is so common, so tiny and so easily dismissed, overlooked or trampled on - to get really close to an individual barnacle and get to know it.  When I brought some to the studio in a bucket of sea water and saw one of them open up and start waving its furry feet (cirri) I was so excited. 


While beginning to make work I was drawn to poetry, myth, spirituality, and my exploration deepened. l read books about the seashore and began to understand more about this meeting place of earth-life and sea-life.


And so began weeks of reading, researching, thinking about, making associations to barnacles and making work about barnacles in various different media. There is something about the theme of fixity versus movement, (represented by the adult barnacle's irrevocable choice of place after the few weeks of wandering freely as a larva); restlessness versus contentment; that which is permanent and that which is ephemeral; tides; the moon, which has been interesting to me for years. I hope that making the work is helping me to integrate some of these themes. 


In a series of lovely moments of synchrony I came across Mandy Haggith’s poem “The Song of the Barnacle”.  Some of the work on show has been made in response to it. (Mandy will be here on Friday to read the poem, at 3pm).  Her poem pretty much says it all for me!

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