What your work focuses on today?
I am about to start touring my theatre/music show Moments of Weightlessness, featured here, beginning on 28th November in Oxford.  The show takes my Inside-Out Piano as its starting point and explores the metaphorical parallels of making a unique piano and becoming a mum. I push, ratchet and swing the piano during the show, using the piano as part of the domestic furniture to travel into different moments of parenthood.

How has your pregnancy affected you as an artist? Did you feel particularly driven?  How the world around you reacted?
I don’t think pregnancy affected me particularly as an artist: frankly, I was too busy trying to get all my work finished!  I did enjoy the blossoming effect. I also discovered the ‘public property’ aspect of being pregnant (my bump seemed quite large, so everyone told me I was definitely having “boy twins TOMORROW”!).  It got slightly tiring but then I tried to keep absolutely positive about that, thinking it’s nice that everyone gets excited about a new life.  Perhaps the same way we are all trained by the news to consider deaths that are not related to us.  Maybe there should be more birth stories on the news…?!

What changed when you became a mother?
After the initial period of shock/dreaminess/night-and-day blur, I became much more efficient at doing work, using nap times to quickly get on with things.  But then, very gradually, life changes fundamentally in so many ways.

What do you feel changed in your creative process?
Though at first it was about efficiency – doing more, faster – it became more about being brave enough to simply express things.  Birth itself is a dramatic experience and there was a lot to process as a result of that.  I think motherhood has made my confidence grow, has made me more political, perhaps thinking about the bigger picture more. I find I have less patience for idiotic ways of doing things (though I was probably fairly impatient before!).
I had the new piano built right when my second child, Sylvie, was born. What was surprising was that it could swing: I wasn’t expecting that at all. I had asked for the piano (a full-sized grand piano, with the strings turned vertically up from the keyboard, so 2.5m tall) to be so that I could move it myself. This meant getting it from vertical to horizontal – and that’s 180kg of piano, on my own. So the builders made a pivot frame that I could ratchet up and down, with this point around which it could rotate. The incredible wonder of seeing an entire grand piano moving freely through the air seemed to me to fit so fully with creating new life: the motivations we have to design and build something go into a new realm once the thing takes on its own life.  We imagine what life with children will be like but really there’s no comprehension of how totally and fully it will absorb us: through mad levels of exhaustion (right now for example my eyes are actually hurting, they’re so tired!), through a deep change in lifestyle: no nipping out for a pint with your partner or trips to the cinema (always the cliched example from parents when we were first pregnant); but also the deep desire to be with your kids, the feeling that if you miss a day with them you feel quite desperate to get home again, the desire to make space for just you and you little family to be together; and the amazement of seeing how humans grow and develop: how language is acquired, seeing where humour comes from; experiencing literally the insanity of the forming brain up close.
So, I began to take on this quite different approach to my own work which was much more biographical, much more explicit, using words, action, movement to investigate both the new instrument and the new lives in my life.

Do you think you gained inspiration out of this transforming experience?
Absolutely.  It would be hard to be unaffected by it!  It’s so personal yet universal and the feeling one gets from talking to other new mums is reassuring and totally levelling: everyone experiences the same things yet it’s also so intimate, deep and personal.

Strengths and weaknesses of being at once a mother and an artist.
Being tired is hard!  Creativity doesn’t fit neatly into an hour here or there very well.  The possibly selfish – or, in any case, self-absorbed expansiveness of creative exploration is very hard to do within nursery hours.  I find I really miss the unending evening work, where you could just run with an idea until midnight or beyond and that would be fine. Someone said to me recently that actually it’s better to just honour how you work best and if that means going on a 5 day residency, then maybe that’s what you have to do.  I thought this was really interesting and empowering because some mother groups look into how mothering can happen alongside or simultaneously to creativity but for me, each is more successful when fed by the other but not trying to happen at the same time!

Expectations for the future?
We hope to move somewhere with more outside space, so I imagine the kids running around or digging or climbing whilst I’m in my studio, exploring ideas..! I hope I’ll do more theatrical work with the piano but also just lots of piano-based work too: trying to see what sounds I can extract from my Inside-Out Piano. I’ve recently stopped protesting as much when others call me a composer, though starting a new trajectory is very challenging, scary, slow and fulfilling. I imagine life like a forest: a series of trees which we climb. When we reach the top of one tree and can look out on the rest then it’s at that moment that I see another tree to jump to and go there. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?!

www.sarahnicolls.com