Image courtesy of Helen Collard, 2020


Archive Extract Figment 3, Sandra response to Helen

Standing still, birds relax come closer, yellow butterfly on chin, how long, sun on back, tiny bells on end of leaves, close eyes, canal 76, cabbage white butterflies, home-made shorts, psychotropics, prison, fear, he, glass screen between us, court, white wigs, their voices piped through microphones, cloaks against mics, white noise, pronouncement of his fate, speakers behind me, edge of the chair, he sobbing, frosted, skin on face tight, think of us, write to judge, explain, character ref, 12-13 try and prepare him for school, name calling, spitting, head down toilet, swinging, a lot of children watching, I turned the corner, a head floating mid-air, screamed,

Melody, expelled, insult, she never came back lesbian folklore, inside of me, jackal part

Old dream, room painted blinding yellow, I closed behind me, cant be open again, bright yellow light bouncing around, ceiling full of daggers, tips pointing down, rows, I stand frozen, first step is very important, which way to go,

Collecting glasses, man in white coat, raffia basket, first taste of a cockle, strange things, men drinking, roaring,

San Francisco,

Birds in the silver birch, entranced in its sway, the leaves sip and dip and hold you in its grasp, growing towards it, finding comfort in its shape, 30 degrees away from its imposing neighbour, turning away from the shortage of water, the shortage of air, a butterfly takes cover, yellow, vibrant as a room that takes focus in mind, the door closed forever behind, in front of you a plexiglass screen, leaves rustling re-tuned through a speaker, replacing, hushing words, birds in the wind unable to land, endlessly circle, the edge of a seat, the end of a sentence, the end of a bar, the corner of a playground, a drone of butterflies, cabbage white, winged throbbing, swarming, unable to land, their wings speaking in tongues at a frequency beyond hearing, an infrequent dial of listening, a space of feeling opens up, vibrations of blinding light, the hushed pulse of a butterfly, neither of you move, if you twitch, you hear the lost words, if you stay still the world and all its knives blink, the window is open, the room is not for you, swish of the leaves sits in the blood, all the bad memories stolen by the birds, you send the butterfly onwards, wish it well, it takes the tightness from your face, one bird chooses to remember rather than leave someone behind in that room.



Archive Extract Figment 2, Helen response Denys

A song.

The woods – piling up – debts and the painting.
Images of him coming.

I’m in the bar,
the wrong day.
Didn’t matter how much

Think of the times
The dogs in the woods
I didn’t know
he was on the way out.
6 and 8
Stay, didn’t matter how much.

6 and 8
turned up as a surprise
Got wrecked
A dreamer, and the funny how
Didn’t matter how much

The House
Huge pile of bricks – yeah! yeah! yeah! yeah!
Lets do it
The dogs, walking in the woods
The same bar, as usual
but the phone rings in and this usual is gone.

6 and 35
just so happened –
he’s not going to a freezer.
She said he’ll be in a box, put him on our bed
She slept with him, next to him, in his box
Sleeps and wakes with him all those years, and a little beyond

He is a candle
and then she is a candle
And the candle lights, and ignites the room.
From the smoke, to the woods, to the funeral
he knew, he knew
He anew
Wood and box

Back to England
Times up – it’s in their portrait.
And he painted it too.
In a bar somewhere.

That’s in my mind aswell – worry
Worry- worry
Everyone would wonder
What is in his thoughts?
We know now,

Walking and the worry.
About not remembering right.
Getting it right,
and the big forget
Take this as my last performance,
calmly keep walking,
keep walking.

Walk and think,
Walking with dad,
in our own thoughts.
We don’t talk
when we walk.

I don’t know what we were waiting for.
A flashy sports car
He said “I’ve said my goodbye”
just that quick,
to take a look at him lying in the wood
They were all their waiting.
in the wood

Then Zoe left with 6 white horses
no black – everything white for her, a carriage, to the wood.
The undertaker’s divorce spilled out over the spell
And Mom, like a candle, said don’t worry about it.


Archive Extract Figment 7, Helen Collard Black Bird Family



Denys Blacker

Helen Collard

and Sandra Johnston


Audio Preview and Q&A, Thursday 27th August, 6:30-8pm

We are all figments – forms, contrivances and constructions – of our imagination.

Rhubaba is delighted to present Figments (2020), a series of memory exchanges produced between Denys Blacker, Helen Collard and Sandra Johnston. Throughout lockdown, they have been corresponding through a series of shared monologues and material figments. These have taken various forms, primarily being audio and text based. With each piece produced, responses are gathered, in turn building on the next layer of content. They listen to one another’s’ stories; memories back in time, of late, in the present. Through these journeys into one another’s’ minds and histories, subconscious connections and motifs emerged.

Inevitably shaped and influenced by the collective pandemic consciousness, various themes recurred throughout the archives’ growing body. As time slowed down and lives shifted, the collaboration allowed for a virtual intimacy to take shape. Scattered between places – Ireland, Spain and Newcastle; the artists continued to share weekly material with one another. This gradually built up to form a personal archive of memory conversations, histories and reflections.

Rhubaba is delighted to share extracts from this archive and present new audio work alongside, compiled from various excerpts of the broader archive. To acompany this live audio preview, Rhubaba will be hosting a Q&A session with the artists on Thursday 27th August 6:30-8pm via Zoom.

Free booking – but to reserve a place and access the zoom link, please email with subject line ‘Figments’ by Thursday 27th August 12pm.

Content Notice: Some of the archive extracts included on this webpage feature mentions of bereavement and loss.

For further information and artist bios, click here.






Archive Extract Figment 3, Denys response to Sandra

Mother’s pride, Mothers’ side

The precious Capodimonte ornament – a mothers’ pride – is framed in the front window for all the world to see. The precariously seated carriage men are leaning forward as if to avoid becoming trapped like the princess in the carriage behind them. One of them now holds up his broken hand, signaling his worthlessness.
The unbroken blades of grass under the horse’s hooves, once carefully cared for, are covered in dust. How many days did your mothers carefully clean it? When did she stop?
How many times have you sat at this window next to the ornament?
How many ways did you try to change the narrative of the princess story to free her forever from the claustrophobic carriage where she sat almost suffocated by her unbelievably voluminous dress which is now rotting around her.
How many ways are there out of this house? through the window?
Fragile and distorted by time your lifetime is contained in this one room, in this one view. The lane where the blind man crouched over in the hedge folded like a bat, lost in a fragment of conversation – to be continued months maybe years or generations later. Both of you are single and alone, the question why has no reply, the question why has no reply, the question why has no reply, the question why has no reply, the question why has no reply the question why has no reply, why reply why reply why no question no question no question.

Turning away from all this, take a deep breath and introduce to us this small boy you keep with you. He came in a dream but refused to leave. – this war child broken child lost child frightened child damaged child hurt child. He tugs at your sleeve, but when you turn to him he is gone – too afraid to be close, too-close, right-up-close, inside-you-close, in-your-soul-close.
Like a wild cat he needs nourishment and you carefully plan the journeys and meals you will take together.
You walk with him, sleep with him curled up behind you, feeling the scarred flesh becoming warmer, becoming tame…..hearing his step get closer, needing him to stay at his mother’s side, mother’s pride.