Three years ago I moved to the country from London with my two young children and found my life consumed by chores. I found myself writing endless lists to manage the never ending tasks, with no time left for making art. After a particularly frustrating week I quipped, "that's where my art has gone. Into these notebooks. I should exhibit them!". They were full of to-do lists, domestic trivia. They testified to Cyril Connolly's famous quote: "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall."
Talking to other women I found a commonality. I also discovered the cult of the list. Colour coded, subdivided and categorized, and admissions of adding completed tasks to make ourselves feel better!
I started to think about the point of these lists. An attempt to keep track, to soothe a tired mind at the end of the day or nagging worries in the middle of the night. I started to see the lists as portraits of my time and my state of mind. Mine were filled with tasks for my young family. How different they were from ten years ago - each list a suspended moment. I also hesitated to share them as I started to read them with the eye of an outsider and saw how personal and revealing they were.
Focusing on how my to-do lists reflected my state of mind I created a series of prints, layering my lists until they were almost abstract. A series of seven prints, one for each day of the week, emerged. Bearing titles such as 'Background Noise', 'Lock All Doors' and 'The Yellow Wallpaper', they referenced phrases within the lists or in the case of 'Brown Envelopes' the discarded envelope I'd written my list onto.
I started to collect the lists of other women and was overwhelmed by the collective unburdening as they shared their stories of how they wrote their lists and what they put on them. Nearly all the women I knew seemed to keep some sort of list and there was a confessional aspect to the sharing.
I decided to invite women everywhere to bring their lists to an exhibition and peg them onto washing lines, as laundry was once a communal activity and seemed to reflect the domestic aspect of most of the lists.
There was so much I could tell about the writers of the lists without having ever met them. They were so incredibly human and alive, intimate and honest portraits.
The lists also highlighted the amazingly unequal distribution of domestic chores between men and women. I read that even when women work they still do something like 80% of the housework and the lists testified that women remain primarily responsible.
I decided to ask prominent women for theirs to highlight the universality of list making and offer some sort of insight into how they were juggling the different aspects of their lives. What became clear was that whether they worked in the arts, human rights, politics, fashion, film, tv, finance, sport or medicine lists were common to all.
Writer and broadcaster Emma Freud's list perfectly captures the female juggling act; 'write to Melinda Gates and Sam Smith' and 'ring Jason Donovan' interspersed with buying her husband Richard Curtis's and her son Spike's birthday presents, teacher meetings, favours for friends and most intriguingly 'ring fireball man'. Actress and designer Sadie Frost's: Get teeth cleaned, sort kids' tea and ideas for new range of Floozie bikinis. Human rights activist Shami Chakrabarti's list combined the extremes of work and home life. It had; 'buy Christmas tree, Christmas cards and cotton wool' along with 're-read the Counter Terror Bill, buy birthday present for Dad and stocking fillers' for her son. Actress Helen McCrory said her list was unprintable, designer and sculptor Nicole Farhi didn't write them at all, author Jilly Cooper writes hers in the middle of the night and Cherie Blair QC keeps them in her head. Anita Zabludowicz, Professor Parveen Kumar, Thomasina Miers, Lorraine Candy, Kathy Lette, Emilia Fox, Cath Kidston, Jo Wood, Chantal Joffe, Vanessa Branson, Alice Temperley, Bianca Jagger, Laura Bailey, Sadie Frost, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Alison Goldfrapp, Lisa Gunning, Amanda de Cadanet, Diana Henry, Victoria Miro and many more all turned out to be list makers willing to share their jottings.
Lists can be empowering and cathartic both in the writing and crossing off. If we pause and reflect on how we spend our time and what we impose on ourselves, what is worthy of our attention and what will enrich our lives and the lives of our families and those around us, so much the better.
The Pram In The Hall by artist Alice Instone is open to the public from Wednesday March 9th to Saturday March 26th
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday 12.00 - 18.00 / Admission Free / London Bridge Station and Tube
1, Cathedral Street, London Bridge, London SE1