Is a passport an object?

Jenni Dutton Passport

For the past few years I have been systematically culling a lot of my possessions.

I am making a virtue of it to my friends, who often lament their accumulated stuff. There is a defiance about the way I relish the process.
They are impressed and I am now known for my fierceness in facing up to the task. I feel smug that I won’t have to do it when I am older.

Now I am wondering, how much older? I am already 66.

My mother died a couple of years ago, but I had cleared her house way before that, to make way for tenants who helped to fund her stay in the care home.

I have a very few of her possessions, only the small stuff, some valuable but mostly not. I come from an army family, we were never encouraged to hoard possessions. My home is small, it has my accumulated stuff and some of my daughters and most importantly contains my studio space.

Recently I needed a passport, I hadn’t renewed this important document, for 15 years. I kept putting it off. For those 15 years I was looking out for my mum and my daughter, my focus was on them. I didn’t feel the need to travel.

Getting back to the Museum for Object Research, is a passport an object?
I have kept all the old ones.

As a way of exploring self and identity I am making paintings of the 6 passport photos.

The portraits then have selected objects painted in the foreground. The objects are related to the time span of the passports. They are items of significance, but just ordinary things.

However I am aware that the objects I have kept and what I choose to add to my work represents my life. I become self conscious, imagining observers will judge me and it makes me feel vulnerable. The objects accompanying the image cause me to reflect and remember, which makes me nostalgic, regretful and sometimes sad.

I wonder how I can manipulate the choices I have made to enhance my offered persona, to present an alternative narrative, to appear a little more edgy……. I could cheat, just a little.

So far I have made 5 paintings and half way through the 6th. I refine the objects, adding something that I notice fits the narrative and seems to be jostling for attention. The reason some of these objects have survived is quite random. I mourn some objects that I no longer have. I toy with the idea of replacing them, but I know that would not work. Authenticity is key.

By the time I had made these five paintings ….. I had two rings, two hand written objects.
Two objects associated with travel.
Two associated with my daughter.

Two items for my father. Two with ex husband. Two with ex partner.
Three angels! (I had tried to ignore the wooden angel, but was proud when I bought it 55 yrs

Nothing yet linked to my mother.
So then, should decisions about what to include became about fairness, breadth and balance. I must include her, I have a choice of objects.
Do they fit the time span? Does that matter?

As I write this, the objects I have chosen so far for the five paintings have begun to assert themselves, to have a relationship and speak to each other. I think I need to give them some attention and allow them to become more dominant.

AND maybe the most important is the painting that I have not made yet. It covers the 15 years when I had no passport. I plan to represent this just through objects..

These small paintings are a prelude for what I hope will either be larger pieces, or a series of another 6 paintings offering an alternative image of me, or an assemblage, or…..

Jenni Dutton MfOR September 2017

Objects of Desire

Kate Murdoch – August 2017


Kate Murdoch – Keeping It Going

Kate Murdoch - Nana's Colours

‘The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me -the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular …’

A Facebook memory popped up on my timeline over the weekend and made me want to touch base with my ‘Keeping It Going’ blog again. The memory showed a photo of a piece of work that was inspired by objects which belonged to my late Nana. The memory also included a blog post from the same period and it was fascinating to recap and go back two years in time, particularly in terms of world news – politics, specifically. So much has happened!

‘Nana’s Colours’ Part of an ongoing series of assemblage work in tribute to a dear grandmother.


But, as well as what’s been going on globally, the blog post also reminded me about how much of my creative work continues to focus around the life of my late grandmother (Nana) and the many objects associated with the home in which she lived for some 70 years.

It also made me think about my recent involvement in an Arts Council funded project, The Museum for Object Research, created and led by artist Sonia Boue. The proposal I submitted for the Museum sums up the way in which the ‘Nana’s Colours’ body of work began and continues to evolve; how the mass of objects that make up my own personal collection provides the vast majority of raw material for creating work. The proposal I submitted to The Museum for Object Research is very relevant to the overall theme of my work with objects and for this reason, I have included it here:

I propose to build on an existing body of work, ‘Nana’s Colours’ which was inspired by the small collection of things that I gathered from my Nana’s home when she was finally forced to leave it. In the five years since my Nana’s death, I have combined the various items I rescued from her home with others from my extensive lifetime collection to create small assemblage works.

The source material is diverse – china, glassware, fabrics, soaps, powders, paper, plastics and so on – but the objects selected are all steeped in social history and speak volumes about my Nana’s identity, age and social standing and of course, my relationship with her.

The small celebratory assemblages are an ongoing testimony to the relatively simple existence my Nana lived in a small Cambridgeshire village. She lived until the grand age of 102 and the work demonstrates how much life has changed over the past century, particularly in relation to the things we own nowadays – the things we have in our homes and make use of.

Examining my late Nana’s objects in this respect is extremely poignant, homing in on deep-rooted childhood memories around family and relationships – love and loss. The objects still exist – my Nana sadly, no longer does. The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me – the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular. The objects live on, our emotional attachments projected onto them, and become enriched with the assorted narratives and stories surrounding them.

The Museum for Object Research touches on a recurring theme in my work around the question of value and worth. What is an object ‘worth?’ How do we put a price on certain items? As it stands alone, a used powder puff has no monetary value. If however, it’s one that my Nana used, then it becomes imbued with a highly personal history and narrative. Its emotional value is enormous – it’s worth an awful lot to me. People pay thousands of pounds for John Lennon’s glasses, or even Elvis’s hairdryer. Shouldn’t objects that belonged to ‘ordinary’ people be celebrated too?


The end of summer 2017 is set to be an eventful and symbolic time; my twin sons leaving for respective universities will undoubtedly have a big impact on the amount of spare time I’m going to have. It will be a time of massive change and readjustment for all of us as a family and only time will tell how much of my sons’ leaving will affect my creative output. I’ll be back at some point in the future to report back, I’m sure …

In the meantime, you can read more about The Museum for Object Research – the premise behind the project, the participating artists and so on – by following this link:

This post was originally published on Kate’s a-n blog Keeping It Going

What would Meri do? Reflections on the history of a family photograph in an art practice. #ObjectResearch

Sonia Boué

Originally published on The Other Side, this post relates to my research and the family history which fuels my art practice. My mission is to create a body of work around the themes emerging from a second generation experience of Spanish Republican exile to England.

My great grandmother sits beneath a bakelite radio, surrounded by family photographs in Madrid, 1935.

A portrait of a small child hangs to her right, it’s an image of my father which now rests in a plastic wallet in my mother’s house in Birmingham, England. This wallet contains all the photographs which graced the walls of my grandmother’s flat in Barcelona.

When my grandparents made their final journey from Spain to England in the mid 1970s the photographs travelled with them in a suitcase. That suitcase sits in my art studio in Oxford.

Packing and unpacking history is a cross-generational game. We shuffle the decks perhaps, but the intense joy of seeing and holding these images can’t be equalled. They centre me and show me the way forward. They tell me who I am.

This woman called Meri, who bore my dearest abuela (grandmother) sits waiting. Within months (a year at most) Spain would be at war, and after the siege of Madrid she would leave her home, travelling to Valencia and then Barcelona. In 1939, she would flee for her life and face the brutal camps of France where Spanish exiles from Fascist Spain were held behind barbed wire and under armed guard.

She was one of the fortunate exiles, allowed to leave the camps and live a civilian life in Angoulême along with my abuelos (her daughter and son-in-law). Work was tough. I recently learned that my abuelos worked 12 hour shifts in a munitions factory, but they were happy to be allowed to rent a small flat and make a home again.

By 1941 they were able to return to Spain, and grated permission to live in Barcelona. Despite being Republicans they were pardoned – they got lucky somehow.

As fascism rears violently in Charlottesville and I try to process this new horror, I look back at Meri. And I ask myself what would Meri do?

Meri was witness and survivor. Meri I feel, (like abuela also) would untie her apron and go to the market for flowers to make a tribute. We are called on to witness, again and again.

Since I began my art practice and tuned in to this history my work has expanded and diverted at times but I have always retuned to the ritual of the tribute. With the Nazi uprisings in the US my senses are sharpened once more, as with the refugee crisis, there are moments in contemporary life when my heritage kicks in and I can’t look away.

The news overwhelms and threatens to engulf us with all our senseless inhumanities. But now I know what to do. I must head to my studio to gather my ancestors and make some work. However small, however fleeting my witness may be I need to stay human. I need to engage and resist.

Sonia Boué – August 2017

Family Snaps – Linda Hubbard Interview

Artist Interviews - Family Snaps! - Linda Hubbard

The Museum would like to thank Linda Hubbard for giving us this interview about her  Family Snaps project. Questions compiled by Sonia Boué.

Linda Hubbard - Family Snaps!

Linda Hubbard - Family Snaps

Linda Hubbard - Family Snaps!

I don’t like talking about my work.
I don’t think art should be explained
The joy is finding out things for yourself.

I have left out answers on some questions, I want to leave them open,
I don’t want to spoil it for others

1. You’ve created a whole narrative world in Family Snaps. What got you started on it?

1.A  I was reading about storytelling and was just thinking as you do, this sentence was the trigger ‘There are only seven stories in fiction and that all others are based on them.’

2. Did you have the whole narrative planned or did that evolve as you worked on the pieces?

2.A  Both, the idea, the suitcase, were clear in my head, plus the below statement, lots of thinking about building, contents, over long periods, and the contents then just evolve.

There is only ever one story to tell.

This is the story of the house and the people who live there.

Whether the house be a home, church or state.
Yours, Mine,Theirs. The plots are always
The same.

Winners and losers.
Loved and unloved. Have’s and have-nots.
The powerful the weak.

3. There’s also a playfulness with objects which I love – there are paintings of objects, objects, and the paintings are also presented as objects themselves (each one beautifully framed/wrapped and unwrapped).

This back and forth between objects and their representations fascinated me and is a subject in itself. Can you say some more about this process?

3. A I don’t want to answer this, don’t want to spoil it for others.

4. You’ve created an intriguing and unsettling series with Family Snaps. I like the way you’ve built it and created links between sections. Each object could stand alone, and the sections can be read separately or joined together. I spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to work it out. My first attraction to the piece was based purely on the objects and the way they’re laid out. I loved it as a visual piece. Are you happy for Family Snaps to be viewed as a collection of objects or is it important to you that the viewer digs deep?

Also your project is pretty dark but it is also humorous.  How would you sum up the general Intention behind this work, and do you think objects are helpful in mediating difficult subjects?

4.A What you see is who you are!

Family Snaps is ‘White Propaganda’ its purpose, persuasion, that attempts to
Influence the emotions, attitude, opinions and actions for the good of humanity.
I’m free, privileged, educated, I have a voice and able to speak up loud and clear with impunity. I have things I want to say and believe need saying, and I should say.

Hopefully the narrative is clear, powerful enough, has the smell of truth
for people to see it as a piece of propaganda and that it agitates them enough to think!

It does not bother me if people want to see Family Snaps as a collection of objects.

Yes, I do think objects are helpful in mediating difficult subjects.

5. I’m probably drawn to the Family Snaps because it’s about patterns which can be read on many levels. You’re opening text suggests the patterns of human life are predictable and repeated – did this influence how you structured the project? I’m especially interested in the grid presentation on the website in relation to this.

5.A  My first attempt at Family Snaps [some years ago] was much smaller, 9 works altogether.
I created a stop, motion, animation. The case opening, someone unwrapping the objects displaying the contents, shutting the lid. There was also background music. When I changed my website platform I could not carry the animation over from a technical perspective. The grid presentation is a choice from the constraints of website templates it’s like a film storyboard also I am very conscious that most websites are viewed on mobile devices. So when I was building the project, clarity, flow of the narrative was important being able to view it on a mobile device and has had an influence on structure and presentation.

6. The presentation also made me think of Christian Boltanski’s piece, Inventory of Objects Belonging to a Young Man of Oxford, which was also shown in grid form. It probably also came to mind because it’s a mysterious narrative told through objects photographed in a particular way which is immensely pleasing. What do you consider to be of influence to your work and can you trace those influences to Family Snaps?

6. A What influences me, everything and everybody. Big things, tiny things, people, who they are, how they have lived their lives, what they have contributed.
Who I am, what I see, my life experiences influences everything do.

7. Do you think of yourself as an object artist?

7.A  Never really thought about it, suppose I am. The cause or message are everything in propaganda, I think objects can give clarity and I think it’s easier for some to people understand through objects. When I was at primary school if the teacher would ask what 2 + 2 is, I  wouldn’t have a clue, but I would  always understand and solve the maths if presented with bricks to solve the problem.

8. I love how you’ve wrapped and packed these paintings and objects – so visually pleasing and also suggestive of so many other layers to the narrative. What gave you the idea for this as a thematic device?

8.A Ritual, truth. Don’t want to say anymore, I like to keep it open not wanting to spoil it for others

9. Politics, war and religion obviously feature in this work. In the Keepsakes section reliquaries come to mind. Is this something you thought about?

9.A  Yes that and other things.

10. Finally, how long did it take you to complete Family Snaps, and do you have plans to exhibit this work IRL?

10.A  Difficult to say how long it took me as I have had two stabs at family snaps with gap of a few years. I decided last year after E U Referendum,Trump’s election to have another crack at Family Snaps, so have  been working on it since then. It’s not actually finished, all my projects are open and I add to them, make changes, when the ideas flow. At some point I will probably film the process/experience of opening the suitcase, taking out the objects, presenting the images. There  will be a sound track,  Mantovani And His Orchestra – Charmaine here is the link

I have written to the Mantovani Estate to see if they will let me use it for free  with acknowledgement.

I am hoping to exhibit Family Snaps next year. Presenting Family Snaps is difficult, ideally I would like an individual experience for everyone, opening the suitcase unwrapping the objects, experiencing the narrative, then packing everything back up for the next person, is not feasible to do that.

Presenting the film and displaying the contents will hopefully be as near as I can get to a personal experience.

Linda Hubbard – 2017

Open Carry: An Exploration into our Attachment to the handbag and Related Behaviour. Part 1.

(A powerful and intriguing blog post by Ruth Geldard, featuring some of her work for #MfOR, originally posted on her own blog.) 

“The handbag is one of our most debated, most gendered cultural artefacts. It can be a powerful status symbol, and is a universally recognised indicator of femininity.” Sandra Mardin

My own preoccupation with them began in childhood, standing at a stall at a Bring and Buy sale, and the dawning realisation that I could buy nine used handbags with my pocket money, equivalent to the price of a Mars bar today. They were all shapes and sizes in different materials; leather, moc croc, plastic and textile. The thing that stuck though and remained with me throughout my life, was the used-ness of them, what today would be described as being, pre-loved. The surface of the bags bore graphic traces that evidenced the previous owners/wearers, their scent and their very battered-ness, resonated and hinted at, other lives. And I loved them all.

In retrospect, I think this early, multiple-bag exposure, set in train, a heightened perception of and material sensitivity to old bags. I would give anything to see them again. And this has made me think of the long succession of bags that followed, I remember them all in graphic detail, I could even draw them for you…

“…handbags are in some way linked to the feminine and one would have to see a direct link with the womb…”                                                                                            Rosalind Mayo

The idea of the handbag performing as a cipher for the womb in dream analysis, was started by Freud and continues to seep into the culture today. It seems I have chosen an object which carries multifarious, perceptual and literal baggage and so this stage of the project: to identify and define possible areas of work, has not been easy. During this research phase, I began to notice certain commonalities to do with, bag behaviour. At a party, the hostess noticed that I was carrying a small shoulder bag. She joked with me about this being a safe place to put it down and seeing my reluctance, ushered me to a point under the stairs where there was what seemed to be a whole flock of women’s bags all clustered together forming a circle. There was something so tender about this and memories of being in busy clubs and saying to strangers, “could I leave my bag with yours?” came to mind. Safety in numbers perhaps, but I find it hard to imagine a parallel situation with men and their briefcases or man bags, of which more later.

I couldn’t bear to end up as an Elvis Presley and sing in Las Vegas with all those housewives and old ladies come in with their handbags. It’s really sick.             Mick Jagger

Interested in the physical evidence of wear, I began a series of bag portraits starting with my own, I treated it exactly as if it was a human sitter. I side-lit the model and placed it on a white background. Then asked friends to come with their bags and sit with me as I drew, while we discussed their bag behaviour. At this point, the project took on an identity of its own, complete with illuminating anomalies, tangents and emotional projections. One friend was “traumatised” when she put her favourite bag in the post, another was so conflicted, she became unable to choose between two of her favourites. The husband of another woman insisted on her giving me a particular bag that he “loved”, but she herself did not and had barely used. There were times when I found myself cheating and breaking self-imposed rules. Each bag seemed to demand it’s own medium, also, I wanted the bags to face me, all in the same position, to do that, I had to pack them out, to make them stand up properly and found myself filling them with whatever came to hand, glasses cases, candles, baked bean tins…Putting my hand inside another woman’s handbag felt decidedly weird.

“Bags also serve as the portable manifestation of a woman’s sense of self, a detailed and remarkably revealing map of her interior, an omnium-gatherum of myriad aspects of her life…”                                                                                                                      Daphne Merkin

And then, talking and simultaneously drawing the model, something I have always managed before, now became difficult, as I was forced to turn my head away from the subject. When I did have a bag to myself, (contrary to expectation) I was able to engage more deeply and with no constraints, would work for hours. But insights from the feedback given by the bag-owners, kept coming and helped me focus. One participant recounted fetching her mother’s handbag and having to hold it at arm’s length, not wanting it to touch her body as it would have made her uncomfortable. This brought up something I have often encountered, bag awe, most noticeable around your mother’s handbag, but in a lesser way, an indefinable aurapertaining to all women’s handbags.

“Of course, I am obstinate in defending our liberties and our law. That is why I carry a big handbag.” Margaret thatcher

With all this talk of handbags, a memory surfaced, of being at a late-night party and a slightly squiffy friend, unable or unwilling to find an ashtray, found an unattended handbag, opened it, flicked her ash into it and casually carried on smoking, occasionally tipping her ash on the rim. Finally, she ground out the butt with the heel of her shoe, flipped it into the bag and snapped it shut. I have never got over the shock and sense of transgression, how could she…? When I recently recounted this story to a friend she looked suitably shocked and said,

“Yes, that’s like spitting in someone’s face.”


Part II follows.

Ruth Geldard – August 2017

Perfect storm.


This photograph was taken outside the Magdalen Road Studios project space Filament 14, during MfOR’s mid term gathering of artist proposals.

NB. The poem in this blog post first appeared on my (Sonia Boué’s) The Other Side blog site, which is where much of the material about my research on the autistic professional template for MfOR can be found. 

So we’ve reach a mid term point in our Arts Council funded research and development for MfOR. Where have we got to? 

My professional template research was planned to take place alongside practical development of the MfOR project, but in practice has been so radical in it’s findings that a reshaping of the project has been needed, which continues to evolve.

The key questions to emerge – what is an autistic-led project, and have we designed one – were not even framed at the outset, let alone tested.

The answer to the latter is that we haven’t, because (Catch 22 alert) we didn’t know what one looked like before my research began.

Due to prevailing norms we’ve designed a predominant neurotype (PNT) project, based on PNT principles – which (by definition) are largely disabling to an autistic person/professional.

Redesigning the project is therefore a process – ongoing.

In a nutshell, MfOR began as an optimistic experiment with my autism, yet I was from first principles unwittingly disabled by my own PNT influenced project design.

Autism is a non-trivial human difference, and yet PNT systems are so embedded in the everyday that one is easily wrong-footed and (in very real terms) dis-abled despite being a perfectly competent autistic human.  But however competent I may be, I can’t project lead while disabled.

Fortunately, part of my particular humanness is a heightened ability to focus, analyse, unpick and reconstruct. My ‘condition’ (if it is such) makes me a creative troubleshooter par excellence  – I have to be to survive.

The job right now is to allow space for this thinking to unfold. I’m discovering so much about being disabled, about the absolute wisdom of the social model of disability and – more importantly still – how non-autistic humans become disabled in autistic spaces. This really does work both ways.

I hope the Arts Council – if they’re watching at this stage – approve that much of my working through of this thinking comes via the poetic form. My last ACE funded project Through An Artist’s Eye had poetry as a core professional development goal for improvement in technique and confidence. Hey, Arts Council – that was money well spent, and this is too. I can’t think of many more important cultural causes than a true investment in diversity. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to carry out this difficult, challenging and significant work – which I hope will be of benefit to others.  The personal and professional development for me is proving immense.

Here is the preamble to the poem from The Other Side.

“The context for my poem Perfect storm is the research for my Arts Council Funded project – The Museum for Object Research. It isn’t about any one person or conversation, but more about my growing understanding of the ways in which I am disabled – despite being a competent human – by ingrained assumption and the double empathy bind.”


Sonia Boué


Perfect Storm

Dawn brings the perfect storm.

And skylights catch droplets in rapid succession.

Yet I am deaf to their timpani.


Undoing the stitches of my carefully fashioned…


I have spoken for the first time of my disability.


A  pointed conversation.


But what of…

…my ‘intelligence.’

Yes! I say (quite shamelessly).


I do have one.

And degrees and so forth.

(Despite scoring zero for I.Q.*)

And, what is more,

I  often soar above you.


(The aerial view is our prerogative.

Including the ‘voiceless’ and the more visibly NEEDY.

Sharing a something you can’t reach.

Ah yes – a club of sorts.

Seemingly without a fee.)


And perhaps this difference.

Well. It’s irrefutably so.

Is. Also. Your. Disability.


The places you can’t go.


I am disabled.


But by what?

And by whom?



What (I ask myself).










And. Most certainly.

I can read it.

In the symbiosis of our smiles.


And we can act like kittens.

Playing with string.

Until it’s time.

To bring the dead bird in.


A trophy to trying.

A cup to greet the day.


* My cognitive profile is not measurable as an IQ score.



Project development.


IMG_2803Project updates:

The project is slowly building behind the scenes and  I’ve been blogging a great deal on my own site about my autistic life. Professional development issues have dominated the last three posts, in which I dissect some of the more problematic areas of working life as a freelance autistic artist in a neurotypical world. It’s a good place to catch up on some of the issues which will inform the MfOR project design.

Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying following the MfOR artists online. Elena Thomas is combining work on the project with her songwriting and band work, which has recently taken off. Jenni Dutton is currently enjoying huge success with her Dementia Darnings (they are presently on show at The Hague), and Dawn Cole is working on the fascinating Arts Council England funded, Wasteland to Wasteland project. I often encounter Kate Murdoch’s online work, especially her Nana’s Colours series, and timely interventions on political matters. Ruth Geldard’s drawings (especially one recent stunning portrait of her mother) have often brought us together for a brief exchange.

Patrick Goodall‘s recent residency at New Art Gallery Walsall has provided some memorable video footage and images from his incredible Tool Workshops. And finally, Neil Armstrong has given us a tantalising glimpse of his proposal for MfOR. This will be a collaboration with his longtime friend, art psychotherapist, Dave Edwards. You can read all about it here.

So watch out for more news in this space and follow us as the project grows.

Thanks for reading!







The Museum goes into research and development!

PrintWe’ve been a little quiet lately. Much work behind the scenes preparing an Arts Council bid is the reason why.  But the the news is good! We’ve been given a Grants for the Arts award to develop our Museum for further consideration in an even more ambitious bid in six months’ time.

So this is stage 1 – research and development – in which we have six months to gather everything we need to take MfOR into production in real time.

So now we get to put our Arts Council banner on the blog, and transfer our archive of blog posts from a-n to this site. We’ll still keep posting on a-n, but we want to reach new audiences here too, where comment is open and we can join a larger conversation.

We’ll be loading up our press release shortly and sending out blog posts from the archives.

Exciting times lie ahead for the Museum – we have a great team and a brilliant group of artist exhibitors. We can’t wait to bring it all to life!

Meanwhile stay tuned for the many treasures that will become available online in the coming weeks. Our artist contributors did us proud back on a-n, and we’re so grateful to them all, including  those who are sadly not able to join us for this part of the MfOR story. The archived blogs provide a rich resource and capture the early enthusiasm of all our past contributors.

Like many projects we’ve evolved in fits and starts at times. We can’t quite believe our luck that a core group of artists has formed around MfOR and will now go on to make this a reality.

All systems are go!




Memories are made of this.


The air is crisp and I have a book to read. A book about material memory – the backbone of my artistic practice.

I reflect that this book is itself an object. A treasure sifted from the internet. I often go prospecting online. It suits my brain. Sifting is soothing and over time has proved richly rewarding.

Persistence pays.

For example, a tweet lasts for 18 minutes (I’m told) before it sinks under the volume of subsequent contenders. So you have to sift carefully, scroll and click, scroll and click.

Repeat and repeat this action often enough and either you’ll find something useful in the archive, or suddenly you’re there in the moment when a fleck of gold sparkles live.

Such was the case with, Material Memories, Design and Evocation, (Ed Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward & Jeremy Aynsley) Berg, 1999. It appeared in a tweet by the Art Historian Marius Kwint, who I’ve been following for some time.

My copy is ex library, it has a yellow 7 day sticker on the spine, and a white label which reads Gen. Lit. B—0.5 KWI. A Leeds University Library sticker (green print) on the inside cover has been stamped WITHDRAWN in black. A further loan record slip on the opposite (and otherwise) blank page confirms (in blue print) that it was a 7 day loan book. It bears one stamp – 15 JUN 2009 and a further black WITHDRAWN stamp. The slip also says in bold, Edward Boyle Library. For a second I play detective – withdrawn in 2009 this book has lived another life and known other hands.

Edward Boyle Library

Another layer of consciousness? A separate gear?  I am suddenly transported to all the libraries I have ever known (as in falling down a rabbit hole) – but to one library specifically. The library of my undergraduate university days on the Sussex University campus, as a student of art history. A sensation no doubt egged on by two familiar names. Contributors to this book include tutors from my degree course – Marcia Pointon and Nigel Llewellyn.

Sussex University Library


Further good augeries are contained in this book’s colour. Ah, it is orange (the colour of my wedding dress). The right orange (positive vibes ++/ like a duracell battery lasting longer, longer, longer). Warmth and vitality are promised – a dose of intellectual vitamin C.


The pages are smooth and weighty.

Each section or chapter bears a rectangular back and white photograph of a dissected nautilus shell top right. Further visual interruptions (a fine right-angled line at the top corner of each page) signal, I feel, that our subject is visual culture. I like it all.


Willem van Aelst Still Life with Fish, Bread and Nautilus Cup 17th century (detail)


The nautilus for the art historian (one who wrote her dissertation on Dutch still life certainly) subliminally signals vanitas genre at each turn of the chapter heading; the allusion to natural history museums is not missed either (I even make a stab at fibonacci in the far reaches of consciousness).


Natural History Museum Oxford

Now I am in all the galleries and museums I have bodily experience of. But quickly (as before) specifics take over and I find myself in the Oxford Natural History Museum which, like a museums Russian doll, houses the Pitt Rivers (a museum displaying the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford ). I hover between them.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

As sometimes in a dream, I break the 4th wall to ask myself a question. When images or objects transport us, when memory is embodied thus, are we floating I wonder? And does this have a steering wheel? But I’ve broken the spell, and I don’t have an answer.

Marius observes (p4) this kind of involuntary memory is,

“…not the symbolic realm of the Freudian unconscious, but something wholly sensual and hence physiological. Here memory connects with the entire body and the full complexity of the world around.”

It’s this power of the object to bodily transport us (or bring back to us visceral memory), which has stuck me most in my work. It was my beginnings with my grandmother’s handbag in 2013, by which I mean to say my formation as the object art practitioner I am today.

Barcelona in a Bag installation  © Sonia Boue 2013

It was also the genesis of first incarnation of The Museum for Object Research blog. The extraordinary evocation of a childhood, tinged with the grief of war through this household object, led to my subsequent work on the Spanish Civil War as a postmemory experience – but it also begged some more general questions.

How can an object contain ‘lost’ or hidden worlds (of memory) and restore them bodily to us? By what mechanism; and how as artists can we convey such experiences to our audiences?

In my practice I moved sharply from making objects or distorting them, to conserving them and keeping them whole. I no longer wanted to create objects from found materials or paint over them – a different form of assemblage emerged where bringing objects together or framing them made it possible to be as specific as I needed to be in my allusions to an actual history. I did not want to mark them in any way. And in doing so I opened the door to the viewer’s imagination to sense the atmosphere and fill the gaps (although all the contextual material is available in my blogs).

You could say that I found my subject. But I found my objects too. Yet I was hungry for knowledge, for a framework to understand this work by. I sought to share these thoughts and findings with other object artists and widen the investigation.

The joy of the blog was in finding colleagues and revelling in the richness of their object art practices. In pooling resources we created community, which now seeks expression in offline spaces and is currently in development.

Marius’ book (it turned out) is actually a talking book – as Twitter proves again to be a catalyst for connection and also conversation. By the magic of this digital age I could read and tweet my observations directly to him. Further sorcery – Marius could respond!

How gratifying and instructive to be able to talk about some of the  concepts behind this rich collection of writings on material memory, and also be joined by Elena Thomas my MfOR collaborator in chief.

This is honestly the best of Twitter for artists. Making accessible the thinkers who can bring your practice on through their insights, and who you instinctively feel from their writing  will get what you’re about. This can only happen when people are open and generous with their time. Thank you Marius!

What a perfect antidote to the current negative trends this lucky find has proved to be.

Beginnings: object love #MfOR

img_8455This is how I began the MoFR with a call out to object artists back in September 2014.

“Don’t all museums have a building, curators, attendants and plenty of visitors for company? Well no. Some museums live in our cupboards and imaginations, awaiting their moment of arrival. So it was with my idea for a Museum for Object Research.”

MfOR quickly ignited the imaginations of a core group of object artists who became active readers and contributors to the blog in those early days. Their enthusiasm and wide-ranging interests made my job of curating and administering the space a total joy, until other projects took over and we experienced a lull in energy and admissions. The beauty of the project was that all the content remained online and still reflects the calibre of guest  artist, some of whom are keen to explore further iterations of our format.

Forming a partnership with Elena Thomas  (our very first guest contributor) has led to formalising the idea of returning to the core of the project and developing a fully fledged expression of its purpose in the physical world. From digital to actual.

We’re looking forward to putting our heads together to develop this space and take it on to the next level. As we all know there is a huge amount of work to be done in realising a dream or in this case a vision. No small part is designing a format which will work in the real world and also contribute to our knowledge and thinking about the ways we work with objects in our various practices.

Since discovering the power of the object within my own multiform creative practice I have become interested in understanding more, but my ambition goes further. I want to see the Museum succeed in its role as tool for research, and bring forth outcomes of real worth to object artists in arriving at a more formal understanding of why and how objects come to be at the core of what we do.

We will be seeking Arts Council England funding for our work.

Watch as we transfer materials from our original site and build new content in this exciting new space.

Lost and Found

Originally posted here

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A painting by my father, painted in 1950. A decade of exile had passed.

This is a painting by my father, José García Lora, painted eleven years into his life-long exile from Spain, due to the Spanish Civil War. My father died in 1989, and it is one of the most precious objects I own. My mother gave it to me for the Barcelona in a Bag project back in 2013. It formed part of my residency – from which the entire project evolved – in our studios project space, Filament 14.

And then it vanished.

Distraught that I had somehow thrown it out in one of my studio clear-outs, I failed to find it. No matter how many boxes I looked in or how deeply I poked about in the corners of the studio rafters, I just couldn’t locate it.

Cursing my absent-mindedness, I believed the worst of myself. I had thrown dad’s (only?) painting away. But I said nothing. Too ashamed in part, yet ever hopeful that I surely could not have been so very, very foolish, and that some day it would return.

Dreadful pangs of grief and anxiety pierced me each time I saw this photograph in my iPhoto library. But at least I have the photograph I would sigh, trying to console myself.

It must have gone missing in about 2014, and slowly it faded from my daily conscience and remained in the margins of consciousness to rebuke me only on occasion. In those horrible moments I was a careless child again, and should never have been trusted with something so precious.

Periodically I searched for it, but over the two years of it’s absence I imagined that ghastly bin bag it must have slipped into by mistake. You know the scene. The pile for throw away and the pile for keeping must have got muddled in my brain. I played it over and over in my mind.

But today, of all days it came back to me. Today of the flat tyre and the hopeless delays to getting to the studios, became THE day. It became the day the painting came home. And it did so in the most unexpected way.

My studio mate has decided to vacate her space for a few months and I’m taking it on. The timing has been perfect for both of us – she needs to take some time out, and I need to stretch out. The deal was done quite quickly, and during this morning of my endless delay in getting there she had moved out, leaving a table, a chair and two boxes.

The table we had discussed. The chair was a nice bonus – I’ve doubled my studio size and I like the idea of two chairs rather than having to move one chair about all the time.

The boxes, I told myself were hers. Though funny that they looked quite like some I have. Funny to leave just two…

My mind took in the scene and I very quickly decided to put aside my painting session and begin sorting. This I happily did for a while – it’s beautiful space – and there is almost nothing I enjoy more.

But the boxes caught my eye again. I’ll send an email I thought. Perhaps she has forgotten them!

I carried on. For several hours. I can sort for England if the motivation is right.

My sorting brought me closer to the boxes. Hmm…what if I move them out from under the table, I thought? That will make it easier for her to find them when she comes to collect them, and I can start stowing my stuff in their place.

On pulling them towards me, a thought suddenly struck. I better open the lid to check what’s inside. Perhaps she doesn’t have space at home and I can stow them somewhere in the rafters for her, but I didn’t want to go lifting them up a ladder if there were breakables inside!

And that was it. THAT was the moment I saw my father’s painting again, and in a blinding flash discovered that the boxes were mine. Old works from 2012, some collage materials, and dad’s painting safely stowed on the top!

I had not after all been careless with his memory. I hadn’t tossed away a most precious object in a family legacy I’ve pledged myself to these past three years. There was no black bin bag. There was no mistake. I DIDN’T TAKE DAD’S PAINTING TO THE TIP!

Instead it had lain in a cosy cardboard box in my studio mate’s corner space. And now I remember. I was short of storage space and she so very kindly offered to stow these two boxes away for me. Its the kind of gesture we’ve made for each other over the two years we’ve shared this space, and I so appreciate her for it.

But the thought remains. Because my memory is poor, and my boxes are never labelled I DID mislay the painting. I really should have kept tabs…

But honestly, words really can’t describe my joy.

I love this painting so much, and can now again study each brushstroke, marvelling that my dad took so much care. To me it reads as well as any letter. I feel I can read his thought processes, and trace his decisions. I think I understand the tone. It brings him closer to me in the way handwriting also does.

It was made so long before I was born, coming from a part of his life I can only get glimpses of through family photos of the period.

Mum thinks the scene is invented but she doesn’t remember too well.

I like to feel it relates to the joy of holiday reunions with his parents – who had different luck and returned to Spain. The family was forever split in two, but reunited countless times after the long separation of 1939-1947 (which marked them all for life). They used to meet in France, just over the border from Spain, in the years before my father was able to visit Spain.

But this object also brings me sharply into the present. I think about the objects today’s refugees hold dear, and the stories of survival and loss, of their most precious possessions.

I feel more and more the living truth that the intimate objects in our lives come to take on signifanct aspects of human identity, and have the capacity to contain a world of condensed meaning.

I know objects are not life and death, but for me this observation makes the refugee crisis all the sharper.

Sonia Boué

Tread Carefully

a photograph of the corner of a patterned floor rug. a woman's blurred hand is at the top of the image

Originally posted here

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Tread Carefully

We bought a rug in Tunisia
but they kidded us.
“I am your waiter – don’t you remember me?”
Cajoled onto his catacomb tour;
one thousand year eyes stared up at us.

“My friend’s shop is better value –
it is government controlled” 
he said.

So we descended cold stone
to the showroom below.

“This one is perfect
– and this one too…
This is the tree of life.”
“Should I take off my shoes?”

A top quality five knot twist
with no grounds to resist purchase.

So the suitcase got rammed with our rug;
heavy as their complicated history.

“Thank you for coming at this time”
the coach driver tannoyed,
“we appreciate your support.”

One year later that beach went global,
for all the wrong reasons.

I imagine their sea still laps;
their camels’ feign indifference
and insurgents still insurge
through Sousse to Syria.

And our real waiter,
who no doubt was a good man,
probably has no job.
But that wasn’t him.

Most days I tread the rug,
and the soles of my feet
wear delicate paths
those cunning unknown souls
unwittingly began.

Neil Armstrong 2016

63 Objects From My Son’s Mouth

Originally posted here

63 Objects From My Son’s Mouth, is a project by artist Lenka Clayton, documenting the objects she found in and removed from her baby son’s mouth. The Museum is extremely grateful to object artist Kate Murdoch for the link to this beautiful presented yet challenging piece.

Artist Elena Thomas reacts:

My initial response to this list of objects was one of horror… How could a mother put her child somewhere where it was possible for him to play with these items so that she had to retrieve them from his mouth? How many had been ingested rather than retrieved?

I then remembered that I had once discovered my own child painting with the pigeon poo that had landed on the waterproof cover of his pushchair… Pushing it around in glorious circles…

Parenthood is chaotic. Childhood is exploratory. Any semblance of control is an illusion.

I then began to think about the relationship between artist and child. I recall a female artist telling me that I could not be an artist and a mother… Was this more evidence that gave weight to her argument? To be an artist puts your child at risk? To be a mother puts your art at risk?

I start to think about the collection of high risk items retrieved… Why would you save them? To quantify risk and measure subsequent guilt?
And to place them in the grid… Ordered, listed, catalogued…. controlled?

Looking at other work by this artist, there is control, measurement and order everywhere…
Life isn’t like that is it?

Life is always a fag butt heading for the baby’s mouth…

Artist Sonia Boué reacts:

The work is beautiful, and conceptually interesting. The photography is sumptuous. Yet as you start clicking on successive images surely doubt begins to creep in? In my case followed by waves of incredulity and concern. I’m not sure how to feel. If I believe that all these objects really were removed from a baby’s mouth I begin to picture a radical and potentially dangerous experiment in childcare.

I picture a baby put out to forage, or one encouraged to mouth all those objects, in a way contrary to the usual parental norms of censure and protection.

I also imagine a sensory seeking baby – one whose compulsion it is to mouth all manner of objects. This being a specific question during my recent diagnostic assessment for autism. I was able to tell the eminent Dr Gould that I had famously swallowed two coins and a burst ballon at 18 months (this becoming family legend). This was what my mother remembered/ knew about and anxiously awaited evidence of evacuation, but most probably there were many more. Dr Gould nodded and ticked, as this fitted all the other information she had gathered about me.

Tiny babies do put things indiscriminately into their mouths, and teething babies will chew whatever it takes, but parents watch them (as much as they can). This parent was, it seems, on it when it came to object retrieval, but what was happening on the gate-keeping front?

There is something about the forensic way this work is laid out, a detachment in the listing of objects such as “sharp metal pieces” which make me snap. I think of a tiny infant’s soft skin and vulnerability to harm. Toddlers are more robust and can seem bullet proof. All manner of things can occur in the blink of an eye.

As artists we push boundaries, but many questions here arise. Perhaps the unspoken and darker undercurrent on presenting this work is the question of privileging and protecting material through the medium of art. You have to ask how, for example, a client of Social Services would be perceived and treated if such evidence were viewed by a caseworker. What in this case would the outcome be?

In this digital era – this presentation is also the child’s legacy. I find it intriguing to think about how this will pan out as the child grows.

I’m keen to hear other reactions to the work and can insert further contributions at any time via email.

The Apron

Originally posted here

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This blog post appears as the Museum begins to pick up the threads and we welcome visitors once more after a quiet period. It is written in gratitude for two great gifts – those of friendship and insight. Yet again, here at the Museum we find it is the objects which connect us and draw us closer into narrative. Today Sonia Boué writes an personal post about growing up with food, kindness and love at the end of two sets of apron strings.

I’m on the 17.33 Birmingham to Reading train – just pulling out of the station and I feel a strong wave of emotion pass over me as I reflect on my day spent in the company of strong women.

Sunshine and a smooth arrival by train. Birmingham is my hometown and despite the endless rejuvenation of this incredible city I still know my way. The route to today’s meeting is all about the changes – about noticing what is new and what remains of the Brum I knew decades before. I feel easy and light.

I’m meeting with artist and fellow a-n blogger Elena Thomas, who’s become both friend and now also now collaborator. Today Dr Jacqueline Taylor (artist/researcher) will join us to discuss a project we’re developing together. Jacqueline can provide the kind of theoretical unpinning to our project I’ve dreamed of ever since my earliest adventures with my grandmother’s handbag led to my use of objects in my work. This is exciting.

We sit around the table and talk a while about the genesis of the project, filling Jacqueline in. It’s going well. Elena has a gift for me – but I decide to wait to open it. I want to savour the moment and do it justice. But as the conversation flows Elena needs me to unwrap it – we need it to illustrate a point she’s trying to make about the draw of objects in our lives.

It’s beautifully wrapped with a kind of braid that looks Tyrolean to me. I’m making it up but I like the sound of the word as it trips from my mouth. The real point is that it looks to have unwound itself from Heidi’s waistband. Heidi as we know had no suitcase and wore her entire wardrobe up the mountain. This feels relevant somehow. We will be discussing suitcases too.

I pull it open, unfold the silver tissue, and gasp. It is the most charmingly beautiful homemade apron I have ever seen, I say. Jaunty, with tulips in the design! I thought it looked Spanish? Elena said. I thought of you! Yes – it could be. It could also be Tyrolean. As we take turns at feeling it and enthusing I declare it an apron of perfection.

Performance rose up in my mind and I wanted that apron about my waist, only the cafe inhibited me!

Part of my fascination with Birmingham lies in my schooling, surrounded by warm and powerful women of working class background. Mine was a rough school, in a predominantly working class area, a culture quite apart from my intellectual refugee/immigrant roots across the city in leafy Edgebaston. But a complex learning disability – unrecognised at the time – rendered me alien in my own home in one important way. I was rebellious and not intellectual. At school I was an oddity – hispanic and middle class with outrageously frizzy hair (this naturally was the era before proper “hair products” though we did have tongs and blow drying).

And so I shuttled between cultures on the journey to and from school – a long, winding, and cigarette infused bus ride. I could have, and did at times feel estranged from both my destinations, yet there was enough warmth to draw me into both. Looking back, the “Tyrolean” apron safely stowed in my backpack, I suddenly see that it was the aprons at both ends that kept me going.

My mother on one hand, statuesque at the helm of our galley kitchen (apron at her waist) and the dinner ladies on the other, their deep humanity unconstrained by the white starchy uniform apron. My dinner ladies, wore their white hats askew and twinkled. The food in those days was freshly made in the school kitchen and mainly good. We chatted and queued nudging one another glad to be out of class, we sniffed the air in anticipation, and the chain of whispers would begin. Crumble and custard! Or, oh no! Pilchards!

In my memory of those days I was unfailingly greeted with a wink and an extra scoop of whatever was going. Food, served with kindness, and love.

And so it was at home, equal doses from my mother’s kitchen of food, served with kindness, and love.

At both ends, it seems to me, this was never wavering. The apron – jaunty and joyful with it’s home machine stitched seams nicely fraying in parts – is soft because it has been washed often. It has been washed because it has been used often too, probably in the service of food, kindness and even love.

At the end of the meeting Elena drove me home. I wanted to have a cup of tea with my mum before leaving the city. Aged 89, mum still takes infinite pleasure in doing the honours. Tea and a Mr Kipling apple pie. Not homemade, she remarked, but not bad!

I have a large and capacious apron too. I’ve used it for performance but it also stands by in the kitchen. It strikes me that the apron is one of the great unsung garments of past and present, containing powerful associations. We often talk about apron strings as constraining, but the connotations for me are warm and wonderful.

Please watch this blog for further news on our collaborative project, which is in development.

Objects of Use

Originally posted here

The Museum is delighted to host a blog post by artist Elena Thomas – our first ever contributor – on the theme of “usefulness”. There are exciting developments for the Museum behind the scenes, so watch this space. For now enjoy! Our thanks to Elena for this most thought provoking piece of great relevance to the current global crisis of displacement.

What does art do?

What is art for?

Those who know, know.

Those who don’t can sometimes find it hard to understand the usefulness of something seemingly useless.

As I contemplate new work, I am thinking of objects and garments… again… of course.

Kate Morgan-Clare in her blog ARTWORKER asked the question “What would you take?” when talking about people being displaced from home for whatever reason.

Of course, as you look around your home, EVERYTHING is useful in some way. Cups bowls chairs blankets phone tools computer… blah blah blah… but you cannot take it. There isn’t room, or time to decide. You don’t know what you will need because you have no idea where you are going TO, just where FROM.

In two weeks time you might discover that you really need that weird little knife from the kitchen drawer, it is just the thing needed. But it is too late. So you manage with something else. So did you really need it? No, but you were reminded of it. The reason we need the thing we took to the tip a week ago is only because we have been reminded of it. Suddenly, too late, we see the value. But we hadn’t used it for ten years. So it wasn’t useful was it?

We cannot anticipate which of the objects of specific use will be useful. So the discussion is moot.

So what do we take with us?

The only thing we know for sure we will absolutely need, come what may, is comfort.

So we take the weird stuff. A smelly old bit of blanket, an old jumper, a toy, a book of poetry, something that smells of grandma, a photo, a letter.

Only the useless can be guaranteed useful.

When I am making, or writing a song, I am taking a thing, an idea, a feeling, a thought, and washing them through my filter. What comes out is hopefully something new. Something seen through my eyes, with my brain, my experiences, my knowledge, my feelings.

The love song has been written a million times. But not by me, in this way, from this angle, about you…

The love song, and the embroidery and the drawing… useless things… you can’t build a house with a song… you can’t bang nails in with an embroidered hankie. You can’t feed a child with a drawing.

But you can comfort… inspire… welcome… encourage… show love… share hope…

Someone else will bring the hammer.

Small objects. The pain of Miscarriage.

Originally posted here

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photo by Dianne Yudelson

The Museum for Object Research is grateful once more to object artist Kate Murdoch for the heads up on a heartbreaking photo project by Dianne Yudelson that deals with miscarriage. It is called Lost and takes on the 11 miscarriages she’s had over the course of several years in the form of a photographic record of related objects for each baby lost. It’s been ten years since her last miscarriage and previously Dianne has kept the objects and mementos she conserved private, but,

“She decided to take photographs of the objects linked to her miscarriages, as a way to not only offer a show of support and understanding for other women, but to document her personal experience, work through her own journey, and honour ‘these precious lives’.”

I found the work difficult to access to begin wth but was quickly charmed and somewhat overwhelmed. I noted to my shame a momentary flinching from the subject. We fear emotional pain, and the loss of a baby is particularly poignant, but there’s something more I can’t quite grasp. An extra layer of difficulty in processing and comprehending this kind of grief.

The photographs are in black and white, which I think serves to create a balance between archival documentation and emotionality. The use of black and white keeps these objects at a distance, signalling that they belong in the past, and yet each one has a name tag and an ultrasound scan image to personalise and memorialise.

The women I’ve known who’ve gone through miscarriage count each pregnancy as though having carried a live child. What seems to exacerbate the loss is often a sense of awkwardness and a lack of acknowledgement of the subject too. I hope this is changing and more recognition of the true nature of grief on miscarriage is dawning.

It feels incredible that women can suffer so many miscarriages – nature is at time unbearably cruel. What I really love about this work is the heartbeat that pulses through it. In particular the image for Georgia, which conjures the body of the child through the clothing, strikes me in this way. It’s almost playful, and would definitely seem so if the viewer was not aware of the context.

I love too the courage and the coming to terms with loss this body of work implies. It commands many emotions in the viewer and is well worth spending time over.

The Visitors

Originally posted here

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Come brave souls!

The museum has been quiet since a flurry of excitement about the epic Joseph Cornell exhibition at the Royal Academy this Summer. I must confess that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to focus on this space with so much diversification within my own practice.

It’s a shame because the museum holds a wonderful collection of blog posts and has been exciting and rewarding to work on. I’m so grateful to all the artists who’ve participated and written posts. The answer in part is to re-tweet the posts from time to time. This is what I plan to do over the holidays. All that lovely material is stored here thanks to a-n so it takes only a few clicks to re-release the goodies to new readers.

On the eve of the biggest of Christian holidays when toys are stowed under fur trees (real or fake – another potential object for the museum!) it feels appropriate to donate these two dolls from my project. They are the postmemory dolls who’ve featured in several experimental videos. They were bought at my local art shop and then painted and dressed by me. They are German in origin but are no longer available through the art shop and I’ve been trying to source them online. I’ve been told that probably they’ve been taken out of production. How sad!

This kind of doll could become rare. I’ve seen others on the market but they don’t share quite the same aesthetic.

The joy of making them and learning to use iMovie to bring them to life has been immense. They fascinate me as vehicles of narrative but also pull at something ancient within me – the years spent in front of children’s television in the 1960s and 70s. My love for the aesthetic and story telling of The Magic Roundabout.

So I’m calling this post The Visitors because I imagine these dolls turning up wide eyed at the museum. They’ll love all the objects and spend a great deal of time trying to make sense of it all. I love the kind of logic children engage in when adults are not around to edit or correct them. I can just imagine the conversations they’ll have!

So it’s happy holidays from the museum and great excitement about unwrapping some of those old blog post! Ho! Ho! Ho!

Joseph Cornell – a meeting of minds

Originally posted here

The Museum hosts an unusual blog post about an unusual and supreme object artist. Less about the objects than the neurology, Sonia Boué attempts to explore a like mind.

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Joseph Cornell: Untitled (Multiple Cubes), constructed in 1946-48

Before taking a break away from work and blogging I took in five major London exhibitions over two days and I am still digesting it all three weeks later, on my return from the Americas.

What astonished me was the incidence of neurodivergence I found in my art going foray. For example, I’m certain that two of the three major exhibitions featured artists who demonstrated both in their output and biographies evidence of neurodivergent minds. Perhaps all I am really noticing is the high degree of intersection between artists and neurodivergence. Just to clarify, in using this term I refer to biological differences which alter perception and have been generally considered deficits but which we are merely variations in the human genome bestowing many advantageous qualities, particularly in the arts and sciences where original thought is at a premium.

For a good definition of these terms check this link.

So this blog post will focus on Joseph Cornell, but I have written about Agnes Martin and the autistic spectrum on my blog, The Other Side, which deals with matters neurodiverse.

My inability to keep art out of my neurodivergent blog and vice versa seem to say much about me but also to make my point for me. The intersection is there – I would say it is unavoidable. I would go further – it should rather be approached head on, as we know that neurodivergence has not been recognised, and our contributions to general society and culture remain unacknowledged.

It’s incredibly important to begin to unpick the net worth of this hidden talent in our world. Neurodivergent people have lacked role models and been undervalued for ever. This has to change and the change most logically is being driven from within our community. It is easy for neurodivergent minds to recognise one another at work and this makes it vital for us to write about what we see and know.

In the case of Joseph Cornell I found it astonishing that a quick Google search revealed no hits for autism or Asperger’s – his biography alone allows those familiar with the spectrum of human variation we know as autistic, to recognise many such signs. But then Cornell’s life span did not coincide with advances in the true dissemination of knowledge about autism, it’s range and incidence, which are counter to older and quite inaccurate definitions and stereotypes.

There is also a view that it is wrong to offer retrospective “diagnosis”, which could account for the omissions and lack of investigation that I could find. Honestly – I don’t buy this reticence. As we move further away from medical model views of neurodivergence and understand this as more common biologically driven variations in human experience and perception, the more imperative it becomes to recognise it. Further this ceases to be a case of “diagnosis” and more one of cultural recovery in my view. It seems to me that neurodivergent communities should be welcome to explore this territory. Recognition (as I shall call it rather than diagnosis) only becomes taboo if neurodivergence is viewed as negatively as it has been, but as both our knowledge base and the civil rights movement grows this becomes unviable.

It is also true that neurodivergent perspectives on the life of an artist can bring fresh interpretations to the work. Neurotypical assumptions could be holding back knowledge and understanding in the case of neurodivergent artists.

So my contribution will focus on what I saw and recognised from the perspective of a neurodivergent artist who also works with objects. Aside from the “it takes one to know one” – that is to say the felt response to a strikingly familiar vision – what can I offer in terms of “evidence” for neurodivergence on viewing Joseph Cornell at the Royal Academy?

Well, the heat of recognition felt in the region of the heart can’t be discounted. It’s power and the soaring joy accompanying it were immediate. This is how it often is, and forms the beginning of what then becomes more analytical. You have to describe, even to yourself, why you feel you know you have encountered a like mind. A recent comment by a family member, who is also an art historian by training, comes to mind. She described neurodivergent individuals as “mind dancers”. I’ll hold that thought in my pocket as I try to unpick what I’m getting at.

Much of what I could say about Cornell is not exclusive to the neurodivergent creative so this is not just about the consistently meticulous attention to detail or the extraordinary focus and variation within the forms he employs, nor the rich and quirky language this builds and builds on throughout his career. But the embers of recognition are there in the subjects of journey and relationship – more specifically their sideways approach and otherness when compared to mainstream narratives of travel and romance. They are also present in the creation of a most particular world through his oeuvre, so complete and comprehensive as to be entirely convincing and immersive. I hesitate to say it is hermetic but it does stand alone and apart. Bewitching or enchanting are words I would be happy to use, and I sensed the gently tapping rhythms of a mind dancer at work in casting the spell.

But these are general observations. How about a particular example? When I write about the shows I see I generally do so straight off the bat when my memory for detail is good. Here I’m working with a gap – wider than the three weeks due to all the input from the Americas – so I’m going to go with what now stands out and remains. We know that for neurodivergent people relationship can be different and we are coming to know that this is not lesser, just other. Relationship is often not direct, it may also be not primarily human in focus. Both objects and animals can provide rich sources of contact and emotional mediation and modulation. Human relationship may be to a small group (immediate family and a handful of close friends) and can often be transacted sideways rather than head on, or what we call through side by side approaches or activities.

Of all the myriad exhibits on view, my mind flies to the latter stages of the show where touchingly Cornell pays tribute to Mondrian. Cornell still uses the box form but strips it down to a minimalistic grid – the example shown above is not precisely the one I had in mind but demonstrates adaption and adoption – the moulding and mimicry that can form the basis for neurodivergent interaction. But more significantly Cornell I feel attains an intimacy with Mondrian through these pieces. Rather than reflecting a mere admiration for Mondrian’s Theosophy and a penchant for collecting crates at the time (as Dore Ashton in, A Joseph Cornell Album, Da Capo Press, 2009, suggests) these Mondrian homages speak of a deeper empathic and intuitive experience it seems to me.

It would be easy to dismiss the playfulness of Cornell’s pieces and miss the invitation to the viewer I discerned in so many of his works. These works it seems to me form a basis for interaction, the very font of relationship. We are invited to explore and engage through the exquisite objects Cornell has created. I feel he always has the viewer in mind as his playmate albeit perhaps an imaginary one, the relationship invited feels vibrant and direct. This has to do with the many game and toy references in the works as much as with their placing – just so the viewer’s hand is welcomed in. Again the mind dancer finds joy in infinite variation and association and I sense his rhythm. It cannot be beyond the realms of possibility that the works and objects he employs are about this primary relationship (through which other relationships could be mediated), rather than the other way about.

The Royal Academy arrived at a great hook line in dubbing Cornell an armchair traveller and it is true that this extensive body of works was created in his New York basement. Reference is also often made to his limited or thwarted relationship to women. I don’t really want to comment too much on this apart from to say that these observations too come from a neurotypical perspective.

As a neurodivergent artist it feels important to begin a conversation in which alternative perspectives can be recognised and the interpretation of such an artist as Joseph Cornell can be deepened and amplified.

Reflections on Fisun Güner’s Joseph Cornell Review: Wanderlust, Royal Academy

Originally posted here

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Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Tilly Losch), c. 1935-38 [Box Construction, 25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm]
Joseph Cornell was the subject of the last blog post, and it’s very fitting indeed for The Museum of Object Research to run another post dedicated to this remarkable object artist. It’s a particular pleasure to provide a link to Fisun Güner’s thoughtful review – I always enjoy Fisun’s perspective as she seems to me to be a critic and writer of great perception and sensitivity. Fisun is also bold and therefore thought provoking in her responses to artists, while providing an immediacy in her writing, which can make you  feel you’ve shared the viewing experience.

I was drawn to her interest in Cornell’s emotional isolation, and a certain adolescent sensibility in his work, which can also read as innocence or guileless authenticity. I would bet good money from reading about Cornell’s life that he was not neurotypical and fell somewhere on the autistic spectrum. This could also reflect in his high level affinity with objects as containers of experience and memory, as vehicles for expression and thus as language. This is a particular interest of mine.

Fisun also prompts me to think about the pitfalls of sentimentality when working with objects. Not that she concludes Cornell falls foul of such a fault, and nor do I, although others such as Robert Hughes have explored this idea. But  I do often question my own practice with regard to the dangers of over sentimentality and wonder if other object artists do this too?  Recently I had a Tracey Emin beano and watched a heap of her YouTube appearances. I actually think there is a huge difference between emotional authenticity, connecting with the self quite directly through one’s practice, and the opposite – sentimentality. I love the way Tracey talks about this engagement with the self  – especially in a recent programme What Do Artists Do All Day. I found this affirming and recognisable.

Though of course it is perhaps for the viewer and critic to truly judge this, and I am aware that my own work through it’s engagement with highly emotive and personal material might at times be seen to cross the line. I hope not and tell myself it is honest engagement with the subject that most comes to our aid in this struggle. I wonder what others think.

I recommend this review highly and please do leave some comments as I would love to hear your views!

Joseph Cornell at the Royal Academy reviewed by Laura Cumming

Originally posted here

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Cornell’s Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery (1943)

I am in awe at the beauty of these works, their breathtaking poetry. If I’m not lucky enough to view this show would any object artists who do like to write their own response for this blog? Send me a message!

The Slazenger Jupiter – an object in transition

Originally posted here

The Slazenger Jupiter – an object in transition, is a glorious new guest blog post by Neil Armstrong. The Museum is very proud to host this post along with all the  fabulous images provided by Neil. In answer to your question Neil – there aren’t too many photos AND I would have happily uploaded more! Thank you so much for this hugely satisfying read around the life of an object within the life of a man – so much to mull over and enjoy. I’m off for a re-read!



The Slazenger Jupiter was my first ‘proper’ tennis racket. Nylon fibre strung, it would take me another two barter- exchanges before I got my hands on a more expensive, catgut powered, upgrade. In these early years the Jupiter was to loom large in my world; a Thunderbirds generation space child. Tennis racket as monolith in orbit around the ringed planet. I acquired mine in the same year Kubrick’s 2001 was released. Smash, dash, forehand volley; the future was now –  and all this well before Star Wars hit the screen.

This one is mostly painted wood, giving it a functional, minimalist appeal. Ultimately I had my sights set on the visually richer, woody looking Dunlop Maxply – the choice of champions – a real piece of furniture. But this lesser model was my starting point, encompassing all the aspirations that subsequent purchases promised to deliver on.

There is something special about the first of anything you own or do, but it’s often the case that these things get lost, destroyed or discarded long before their status becomes apparent. After all, you aren’t necessarily aware of the significance of functional objects in the present. It takes time and the attachment of a personal history to establish that.

So it’s not just a tennis racket. It represents much more, and when I put it into timeline context it’s a signifier of how my overall attitude to life has evolved. It is also an object itself in transition. It sheds its skin a little later.

Why the Slazenger Jupiter? Obviously it had a cool name, but it was in fact second hand. It certainly wouldn’t have been worth my parents paying full price for a new one if it turned out that I didn’t take to the game. I had friends who had already moved on to classier models so this re-cycling was a low risk bargain purchase at the time.

The boy who first introduced me to his private tennis club had one of these rackets but managed to snap it at the neck. His resourceful dad made two metal plates to bolt the thing together again and he proudly brandished the resultant lethal weapon with scant concern for the fact that the racket was now totally unbalanced and potentially quite dangerous. My friend wasn’t talented or tenacious enough to develop a compensatory technique and I don’t remember him ever progressing to another model.

If you want to check out the inner landscape of a person’s character you should put them on the other side of a tennis court. Any competitive game will do, but tennis is particularly adept at testing someone’s resolve. It’s something to do with the points system. You are never far away from disaster. There is always a chance that the player ahead on points will lose their nerve at the crucial moment and reveal a psychological flaw that lets their opponent in. Then there is the question of honesty, nay, integrity – “did you really call that out… I mean REALLY??” People reveal their interior selves on a tennis court.

As I got good at the game I found I was the only one at my school who could beat the teachers at anything (tennis wasn’t taught so not many pupils knew how to play… and for that matter not many teachers did either). I worked out that I don’t like to lose. How one deals with that is fundamental to most things. However You will lose, so you need to deal with that too. I worked out there are countless strategies to be employed once you understand the game is more than the sum of its parts. Know your own strengths. Assess your opponent, then adapt your strategy to exploit their flaws. All very erm… aggressive. Like something out of a hard sell handbook.

And then there is the pursuit of status. Status in a world where to win at something so visible to the rest of the school took you well beyond the constraints of academic success. Opportunities present themselves in the social pecking order.  I suspect this played a considerable part in forming the full grown man.

I, like many others no doubt , saw the racket itself as an object of desire. It is something akin to a sword. Both beautiful as a ‘thing’ in your hand to be swept through the air and brandished, and supremely satisfying when, on hitting the sweet spot, you become a master of destiny and leave your opponent (only metaphorically hopefully) decapitated. On a good day this feeling can be experienced over and over again. It’s a bit of a drug… oh and also the basis of capitalism.

Over time this object evolved. Lots of us have stood in front of the mirror with a racket and laid it down with some heavy duty riffing or arm flailing kerranging. Mine was ‘Born to be wild’ and ‘Sunshine of your love’ with a bit of Dylanesque strumming thrown in. The tennis racket transitioning into a new object of aspiration and promise. The guitar becoming the mime made real.

Fortunately I still have my first guitar, well my first proper acoustic guitar. One that I acquired from a shop brand new, duly purchased in 52 weekly instalments. I played it regularly for years despite an exotic selection of wonderfully shaped electric monstrosities also passing through my hands.  These, in turn, were inevitably traded for yet more second hand discoveries on the road to nowhere.

It was at about this point that my tennis playing ambition waned and my guitar playing ambition grew. Objects in metamorphosis. I played tennis with my (natural) left hand – but something told me that this guitar idea was a keeper and that it would be sensible to learn right handed so you could pick up other guitars more readily. I am still in awe of my foresight at this juncture.

The guitar went with me to art college. The guitar has taken me to lots of places that I would never have otherwise been, and given me a glimpse of a whole other world. I’m thinking it fulfilled some of what I imagined a tennis racket might. But, in reality, making art has taken me to many more places than both of them.

Part of me thought to make art like I played tennis…to win. Except there is the rub. You can’t win at art. In fact you pretty much always fail; there is always a better, more alluring idea just around the corner and an issue that won’t resolve. That is both annoying and stimulating.

A few years after I left art college I found myself regularly playing tennis in a network which included a previous tutor of mine. Purely recreational – except it never really is once you get locked into combat. One particular game of singles stands out in my memory. I could tell he soooo wanted to beat me, and I was already down a set. This was to be his ‘moment’… and my task was to deny him that. A bit mean really.

We had such a struggle and eventually I won. Strangely though the winning, once achieved, was of little consequence. I remember it was such a well fought game, and that it marked a moment of mutual respect. The battle was more important than the victory. Well to me at least. In hindsight, to be more sure of the reciprocity of that sentiment, I should really have lost I suppose. But let’s not be silly.

Not long after that game the ‘big serve’ began taking its toll on my back, so I made the sensible decision to give up playing for good. To forgo my gladiatorial fix. I let it slip away surprisingly easily.

It made me think about what drives ambition, and how it gets re-aligned over time. Continuing my art practice; to hopefully make something that is more substantial than just ‘me’ – and offering that to others – well that’s about the sum of my vision now. Importantly though, what sets this particular artistic ambition apart from playing a ‘game’ is that, unlike tennis, I can’t imagine giving it up. It is a process without resolution,  ultimately beyond ‘winning’ or ‘recognition’, where in fact there is no actual goal at all; rather continuation.

My Slazenger Jupiter may be past its best and no match for the equivalent carbon fibre powerhouses of today, but as an evocative object it has become the embodiment of an evolved understanding of competition, and a reminder to be sceptical of ambition in most, if not all, of its forms.

Neil Armstrong 2015

Phil Toledano – When I Was Six

Originally posted here

The Museum for Object Research is once again grateful to object artist Kate Murdoch for sourcing this extraordinary project by Phil Toledano – When I Was Six.

A most poignant and powerful example of how objects open up into lost or buried memory, and can both document and contain aspects of our past lives or ‘former selves’.

I’m most moved by the careful conserving of objects by Phil’s parents. The work speaks for itself. Highly, highly recommended reading and viewing.

Long time no blog…

Originally posted here

It’s been a while since the Museum posted a new blog. This happens. A new idea comes into being and there is a flurry of activity and excitement – beginnings are easy I find. Sustaining the effort and keeping momentum is another matter altogether, and often a hiatus is reached for whatever reason. But that is the beauty of a resource like the Museum for Object Research. All you really need to do to feel excited by the idea all over again is to look back over the posts in the collection and rediscover the richness contained therein.

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Wherever We May Travel in Our Exile

That was a lot of activity back there! I hope for more to come and feel ready to turn my attention back towards this space and make some more of this brilliant stuff happen so that we can keep moving with the idea of both a forum, and resource. A space to sound off in and dig into for fresh perspectives on the value of objects in contemporary art practice.

One of the issues is focus – I’ve been extremely caught up in my own project on the subject of exile, and my practice has recently shifted back into the painterly side of things. The objects have temporarily taken a back seat to allow the flow of narrative onto a series of 20 randomly cut boards, onto which I’m layering paint, media, and thread. It’s exciting and consuming but despite the change in focus in my studio practice, it doesn’t mean I’m not haunting my habitual flea markets and charity shops in search of my other creative materials – the objects that will flesh out the spaces I’m creating and literally ground them in the present.

And aren’t painting objects after all? So for todays’ post, the visual element arrives fresh from yesterday’s session at the studio. It’s a painting with acrylic, thread and wax, and very different in feel to the previous cycle of paintings I was working on in 2014. It feels a little naked and unfinished, but I’m resisting layering up this time. I don’t want to loose what is there – a bold statement.

The painting is entitled “Wherever We May Travel in Our Exile” and is a quotation from my father’s letter of 1939, detailing his imminent release from a French internment camp to travel to England. It refers to carrying a vision of free Spain with him wherever he may find himself in exile. the threads I’m using are a relatively new element – but even so, to have the trail they leave within the media so openly contrasted and exposed is a radical turn. Previous examples have been more immersed and subtle – almost buried under further layers of media and paint.

So while I find my way with these new processes, which include ‘sanding’ back or indeed ‘sanding’ in with some rather curious wax/sand cakes I made earlier last winter, I’m going to be re-tweeting old blog post and gathering momentum around the Museum once more. Spring is springing after all and it’s a good time to show some signs of life.

(Apologies for the poor picture quality of the iPhone capture on this post.)

Brass Plate: Tower Works, Leeds

Originally posted here

The Museum of Object Research is delighted to open the New Year with a gleaming post from artist Neil Armstrong, which demonstrates the beauty, depth and power of the object as both symbolic talisman, and vessel of complex histories in our lives. It’s a joy to feature it as our opening post of 2015; beautifully woven with the threads of personal and socio-industrial history running through it. Enjoy!

Neil also has a blog at

The plate is solid brass and is very heavy to lift. But it wasn’t always a plate. It was in fact a shallow cylinder with thousands of tiny pin prick holes drilled in by hand, applied in a regular, graded pattern. Not regular enough as it turns out.

This plate sat in the boardroom of Hardings Tower Works from 1934 until 1981. I can dimly recall the boardroom; all shiny mahogany and glass cabinets. I might have had a more complete picture to imagine, had I ever been allowed to get more than a glimpse. On rare occasional visits to the upper sanctum I would pass an open door or maybe even sneak a peek if no one was around.

These were the days of established hierarchy; of knowing your place and generally accepting it. Nowadays we argue the toss of social position. Am I working class, lower middle class, middle class, ruling class? Personally I go for the homogeneous description of ‘educated class’ but apparently that’s just something I made up, and I am told by those who study such things that there are now other nuances, other subtleties that describe the complex web that is the current British class system. Maybe I am an inverted snob, but I would much rather be described as working class than aspiring middle class. That just seems pretentious and a denial of my family background. Of course a certain historical serendipity provides me with the privilege of not requiring to aspire to anything in particular anymore.

To understand how this plate sits in my own life you have to understand that when I was growing up my father was the shop floor manager of the factory that made this object. I say ‘object’ because I don’t actually know what it would have been called. I do know its purpose though. Through each one of those tiny holes there was to be a corresponding tiny pin and, once all of those holes were occupied, the resulting fine cylindrical comb was shipped off somewhere exotic like India and placed on a shaft which would spin it round. Its purpose in life was to comb wool; but not just any wool. This particularly fine comb was for the finest of wool… mohair.

My parents have just moved home to a place where they can get more care. Everything needs more maintenance in the end (although this plate has survived thus far remarkably unscathed). On clearing out their previous flat there are things that won’t make the next stage of their journey and so I have come to be the possessor of this plate. Yes it’s a plate not a comb. It is a plate because the (almost certainly man) who drilled this (almost) perfect grid of holes one by one, by hand and eye, made a mistake. Where that mistake is I cannot find. I am led to believe the holes are somehow not absolutely in line and for that reason it was rejected. WTF you may well ask.

But this object represents a lot of man hours of work and a not inconsiderable amount of brass, so Yorkshire men being Yorkshire men, they resolved to have it made into a plate by adding an inner recessed base. Engraved with the date, it was then placed in the opulent Victoriana Tower Works boardroom as a rather odd (if one thinks this through) homage to their industrial prowess. A mistake, saved from disaster by lateral thinking.

Even though the boardroom always gave off an aroma of polish, they could never quite eradicate that other ingredient… sweet oil, some fresh, some stale and ingrained into the walls, that was the perfume of industry. Downstairs wide open factory floors housed regiments of lathes, each one manned by a predominantly Indian or Pakistani turban clad work force. A cheerful bunch who may not have identified themselves as ‘working class’ due to their own particular, even more complicated, social conventions unpacked from immigrant baggage.

My connection to Hardings was as a boy either as an occasional visitor, made a fuss of by the office staff, or as a temporary labourer during academic holidays. When I grew my hair from the age of fourteen onwards, I would often have to wait for what seemed like hours on end in the car outside the factory. I guess my father wasn’t plugged into the hip ‘n happening world of youth culture and was a little embarrassed at my appearance. Strange now I think back. We rarely saw it but, wrapped up in turbans, those hard working optimists also sported flowing locks. Long hair was cool in my world then, and not least because the Beatles had discovered the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and travelled to India. We took from them, they took from us.

Between sixth form and college my summer job was chipping the limescale off the boilers in the Hardings factory. A hard, unremitting, boring, tedious, filthy, damp sort of a job, but I got paid and I was on my way to art college so not all bad. As I continued my education the plight of manufacturing in Britain wasn’t exactly foremost in my mind, but none the less it was declining despite my averted gaze. The miners kept reminding us something was up though.

Turn around and it’s gone.

A failed attempt to diversify to no avail. The doors closed at the Hardings factory in 1981. The auctioneers hammer saw many of the beautifully robust components of another age go to scrap merchants. My father had managed to move on but went back for the memories. He bid for one of the lathes, which he then offered to the local industrial museum, but they had not space. It sat in our garage until eventually he had to admit defeat and sell it for scrap too. But he also bid for the plate. It was never displayed in our house, instead hidden away at the back of a wardrobe until today.

Now it is mine I feel I have a duty of care. My experience of walking those factory floors, of imagining the kind of life the Tower Works represented, and my determination to not follow a similar career path to my father, is part of my own history; a diametrically opposed path from manual labour to more cerebral concerns. The lathe workers of yesteryear might now work in call centres – but just as a temporary measure on the way to who knows where. We don’t now expect jobs for life.

But this story has a happy ending. I am not so far from the man who drilled those fine holes. I too use hand and eye on a daily basis to earn my living. To make a buck I design things. I arrange things into shapes, layouts and visual patterns. They call it graphic design and it is a part of what I do away from being an artist. To do this I need commercial offices; somewhere to meet clients and generally to hang out. My current office is in a reclaimed building called the Toffee Factory in Newcastle upon Tyne.

There is a movement of late to construct modern, eco-efficient, industry sector specific buildings, out of the remnants of past industrial glory. Mine is one of those…but it turns out that the same developer also very recently redeveloped the Hardings Tower Works site too. Both my Newcastle building and the Leeds building house ‘digital’ companies. Generally that means some form of contemporary computer based creative activity. From millions of tiny pins to billions of tiny digits – a stunning example of scaling things down to scale them up again. Digits don’t comb wool but they do control the machine that does everything faster and finer.

It seems right that the plate really should reside in its place of origin as a reminder of this process. So 2015 shall be the year I make sure that it is returned (on loan, for I want to keep some thread of connection) to a suitable spot in the Hardings Tower Works factory. A testament to evolution.

I will have just one stipulation…that it be displayed in a place accessible to all.

Mourning cushions

Originally posted here

A new object for The Museum – a ‘mourning cushion’ one of a pair made on the death of a father. This post explores the importance of moments of abeyance in the grief process and the allusions and associations contained within the stitches of an object that has the potential to become a family ‘heirloom’.

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Indian Elephant Red by Anita Gunnett, Erhman

The photograph for this post is of one of a set of two cushions in needlepoint sewn by my sister and me shortly after the sudden and unexpected death of my father twenty five years ago.

I think that my sister bought the first kit and that shortly after I most pressingly ‘needed’ an identical kit of my own, which I bought in a tiny shop in the Cotswolds dedicated to needle crafts close to where I then lived. This perceived need was acute I remember, as was the one for chocolate and other comforts. My father’s life is the subject of my other blog, and the emotional turmoil we experienced on his passing was undoubtedly aggravated by the unresolved and unspoken issue of his own grief at his lifelong exile from Spain at the fall of the Second Republic in 1939.

Our mother was a huge influence in the choice of object with which to mediate our feelings, being a needlepoint cushion queen with many gorgeous creations cheerfully plumping her sofas and those of her family and friends. The very act of sewing steadily along a line with method and concentration becomes an apt metaphor for aspects of our mother’s character. Mum seems to have been born steady, a natural nurturer, constantly yet quietly productive and organised in so very many ways. A marvellous thing to observe from the perspective of a butterfly brain.

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I well recall the soothing action of pressing and pulling the needle through the canvas and revelling in the time-stopping concentration required to stay on track (not always successfully). It wasn’t that the grief left you but rather that it was held aloft somewhere while the brain prioritised attention to the task. A trick perhaps but so very welcome. A relief from the constant bruising and chafing of such a complex loss.

Looking at the cushion all these years later I can see how my sister was drawn to the design. Our father travelled to India as a UNESCO delegate in 1957 and was forever taken by the experience, returning with his delegate suitcase brimming with menus, hotel receipts and programmes, hundreds (possibly thousands) of black and white photographs, ankle bracelets, yards of sari fabric, and a broken wrist from falling between the gap at Delhi station while attempting to step onto the platform. Even his fall couldn’t dim his affinity for the people and the place. I’m certain Dad would have loved Anita Gunnett’s design.

To this day we can tell the cushions apart and my teenagers enjoy identifying which bits I fluffed or made a neater job of, even with a pre-set design there is room for manoeuvre and for personality to come through. You still have to interpret the lines and make decisions – you have to stay steady and upright. My sister had a tendency to turn the cushion round and some of her stitches face the wrong way. I tended to make a hash of the elements that needed regular spacing. Yet somehow we stayed within the structure enough for the cushions to form a pair and I am, due to my sister’s extreme generosity, owner of both.

The mourning cushions have recently been rescued from the loft, where they were stored for safe keeping while the children were younger, to reduce the risk of too much of a certain kind of heavy duty wear and tear. To my astonishment I found them to be almost completely flat and in need of new fillings (where did all the feathers go?). A gentle hand wash was also part of their process of rehabilitation. They now sit on a futon which doubles as a sofa and vie with school books and electrical clutter (earphones iPads etc) for space where teenagers sprawl. This feels good, dad is somehow still part of things, in the thick of daily life, and jostling familiarly with the next generation.

I think he would enjoy the view.

Sonia Boué

Cobweb Hat: A Christmas Donation!

Originally posted here

A Christmas/holidays post for The Museum of Object Research, which began with a flourish earlier in the year and has been resting nicely after the initial excitement of it’s opening. It’s a thank you post to all readers and contributors – a growing band of object artists and friends who it’s been a delight to encounter. Happy reading and don’t forget all contributions around the growing practice of object art welcome and considered. A merry Christmas/holidays to all and a very happy New Year!

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Cobweb Hat

The image for this post is of a spiders’ webs, cane, twine and ostrich feather hat made by the San people of southern Africa in the early 20th century, on display in the British Museum. It’s my rather poor iPhone capture which has also passed through an Instagram filter or two, but I think it captures the atmosphere of the moment I spotted it among the vast collection of treasures at the BM and fell in love.

I happened to find myself standing next to a mother and her teenage son, who spoke most knowingly on the many thousands of types of spider that exist and the candidate whose threads had been so skilfully fashioned into this hat. I knew with a certainly honed from years of proximity to ‘unusual’ minds that here was a boy on the autism spectrum and the exceptional luck of meeting him at this moment added to the magic of the encounter.

At the time I was working in quite an embryonic fashion as an object artist, transitioning from a painting practice and using found objects for assemblage and customisation. I had developed a fascination with dirt as a medium and had a small body of work in which hoover dust was employed for texture and metaphor. Cobwebs had found themselves experimentally between brush and canvas or board, pushed around a surface and left to set before paint was applied in some of these pieces. This kind of playful incorporation of the ‘dirt’ that most of us strive to get rid of was a precursor to the sand I now regularly use in the painting side of my practice. As a metaphor for the historical ‘dirt’ I would need to look at in my current work on the Spanish Civil War it was pretty spot on too. Of course I see this now with the benefit of hindsight. The unconscious is a wonderful compass and usually takes us where we need to go.

But back to the hat; a delicate piece, made without the ‘benefit’ of man made materials or manufacturing processes it wouldn’t stand up to British weather being now cheerfully permeable at almost every point. I imagine the known superior tensile strength of the spider web thread means this wouldn’t always have been so, although it’s function is more likely to have been to provide shade. There’s a Western influence in the design and the suggestion of a potent condensation of socio-political narrative in this BM ‘curio’. This troubles me as much as the object enchants me and I include a useful source of information about the San people here, whom are it seems the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, and once known as the Bushmen, the very people I first read about in The Lost World of the Kalahari by Sir Laurens Van Der Post, for CSE English decades ago.

I look back on my work with dirt and cobwebs fondly and still observe that the ethereal beauty of this hat lies in it’s use of natural (and thus biodegradable) materials, but more specifically of the stuff we in the West think of as an annoyance to be swept or brushed away. It’s frightening arrogant this denial of nature and without doubt the source of our current ecological crisis.

In the context of Christmas the hat is particularly resonant – so much consumerism and plastic tat is it’s contemporary counterpoint. I feel a New Year’s resolution to be more vigilant about my shopping habits coming on. And so I’m thus inspired anew by this wonderful object, which has led my post through such diverse topics as the unconscious, politics, history, ecology and autism.

I want to end this post with a question once asked by another incredibly sensitive and visually gifted autistic friend, Brent White of ACAT: Ala Costa Adult Transition Programme.

“Are objects portals?”

Yes Brent, I think they are.

“Objects are ideas with the dust of exile upon them”

Originally posted here

The Museum is delighted to welcome Patrick Goodall object artist and art therapist, as guest blogger with this wonderful post about the secret life of objects including a ‘superpower’ to absorb molecules and carry the DNA of memory, person and even place within them. I love the freedom and the range of this post – beautifully written and sparkling with life itself. Enjoy!

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Grandfather’s Stone

I have an animistic fantasy that objects are only inanimate when observed, that they “play possum” (in other words play dead), in order to fool our gaze. In this assemblage the pen-knife is “really” a Toucan-like bird, lying immobile, so that the cat’s predatory killing instinct is not aroused. Since I first opened a pen-knife I have always seen a bird when opening a knife, the main blade a beak, the opposite blades and assorted accessories tail feathers, a rivet for an eye and so on.

Shamanism, totemism and fetishism are examples of ancient traditions which ascribe a spiritual life to objects dismissed as “primitive” by Cartesian rationalism. However in Japan there is the ongoing everyday influence of Shintoism, where for example a tool is named after and invested with aspects of its owner, to the extent that if it breaks it is not merely thrown away but ceremoniously disposed of; suggesting that this ancient tendency survives residually in modern society. How many of us name our cars, or ascribe personality to the objects that we own?

Animated cartoons are full of objects that spring to life under magical conditions; brooms that sweep for you, toys that come to life when the playroom is closed, the “Brave Little Toaster” that, when abandoned, heroically seeks its former owner. We laughingly stick “googly” eyes to objects to anthropomorphise them, but aren’t we really recognising that we have a need to invest supposedly inert objects with our feelings?

D.W.Winnicott, the object relations theorist, posited the notion of transitional phenomena being instrumental in our negotiation of our inner and outer worlds, the location of spiritual and artistic experience, and our means of individuating through “me and not me” phenomena. The transitional object in this context is an “as if” phenomenon; it is as if it has an impossible paradoxical existence as being both “me”, and “not me”.

The study of perception suggests that we project meaning on to objects just as much as light reflected from objects projects onto the surface of our retinas. We imbue objects with meaning, memories and associations. They become talismans, containers of meaning and feeling.

My late grandfather gave me a pebble from his pocket that he had smoothed by years of rubbing between thumb and forefinger. He called it his Thinking Stone. It is mundanity made precious by association. It must have absorbed microscopic agents from his sweat, or at least I’d like to think so. Flann O’Brien wrote that the policeman’s bicycle seat in “The Third Policeman” had exchanged molecules over the years he had ridden it to the extent that the bicycle had become part policeman and the policeman part bicycle. The laws of physics are challenged by quantum theorist’s discovery of the slippery nature of matter that is so surprisingly empty and tenuous that the absurdity of O’Brien’s bike becomes almost believable, and my grandfathers presence in the stone gratifyingly possible.

The title of this post is a quote by Saint-Pol-Roux, a remarkable French poet, given to me by my art school tutor Anthony Earnshaw (the imp of surrealism), a master of the art of assemblage. “Objects are ideas with the dust of exile upon them” speaks of the nature of our reality, and the weight of subjectivity in perception.

My work plays with our natural propensity to seek meaning in objects, made more complex by juxtaposing incongruous objects to create a network of associations, in an attempt to blow the dust off of these mundane objects and hopefully create a kind of visual poetry.

Patrick Goodall 2014


Object of Desire

Originally posted here

This playful guest post from object artist and songwriter Elena Thomas is about objects we desire or indeed need to make progress in our work. Objects can facilitate – change what we can do, can they even change us? Objects as enablers is an intriguing and joyful prospect for The Museum to contemplate. I love Elena’s ability to expand the scope of this enterprise and look forward to the fruits of her first mic.

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This museum of objects then…
Does the object have to be old?
Does the object have to be something I already own?

Can it be something shiny and new?
Can it be something I covet?
Can it be an object I have already imbued with hope and change, before I’ve even got my hands on it?

Can it be a microphone?

It is already symbolic for me.
My first microphone

Like my first car… my first house… my first album (Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon… I KNOW!!)

Music has always been a part of my life… it has bumbled along in the background, it has burst out of bedroom windows, and crackled through the car stereo.

I cannot believe that it is only in the last few very recent years it has actually been PART of my work. Why didn’t I know I could do this? I feel like Manny in Black Books, who suddenly and accidentally discovers he can play the piano! (if you haven’t seen it, it’s on Youtube, go find it!)

I have written poems, usually daft ones at school, and later on the occasional ode of love and lust gained and lost.

But music? I don’t know anything about music except what I like, and that it excites me, soothes me, restores balance to my over-excitable, over-emotional life.

I have always sung too… sung along, that is… school choir, shower, very rare karaoke, and drunken crooning.

And now I sing. Now, I sing songs that I have written. This week, just this week, it got serious.

My musical mentor said “Get yourself a decent mic to plug into your mac and your iPad”.

It was a cast off sentence… it meant nothing to him other than we need my recordings to be of a higher quality.

But it is symbolic in that it means I have a voice worth recording at a higher quality.
It is symbolic of this change.
It is imbued with hope that I can live up to expectations.

Black Books clip here


Objects talking

Originally posted here

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Group work

In a recent series of workshops in a community setting, I have been intrigued to observe many of my ideas about the importance and value of objects being not only confirmed but enriched and extended.

My training and background in art therapeutics mean that I am always prepared for workshops to carry emotional undercurrents for participants and I work hard to contain the group – keeping all the members safely held at a level that is comfortable and enabling. It’s not that I avoid deeper waters purposively – it’s simply that the boundaries of the work in community arts must be set in a different place. In therapeutic work, we know our purpose is to confront and contain that which has been traumatic and continues to cause distress. It’s a project which takes time.

In community arts the brief is often to enable, value and support in more immediate ways. It’s life enhancing too, of course, but very different in tone to the therapeutic enterprise. There are many ways of keeping a group within a certain comfort zone while providing enough interest and challenge – also while giving space for genuine exchanges of the self. The trick is knowing how to pitch things and my best trick of all is leading by example – sharing at the level I’m aiming for, enthusing about objects and what they can do for us, and giving some verbal signals about the purpose and function of the group all help.

My observation however, is that the objects also work hard to protect us. I say this knowing that without the boundaries set through the strategies I employ things may be very different. Objects can evoke powerful emotions in us which can be traumatic and at times overwhelming. Yet objects also ‘contain’ emotion. They hold our memories and our felt responses, and because they are not us but separate and at some little distance, we may observe them in a relatively peaceful place at one remove.

Using the safety nets of sound group work practice we found that loss, retirement, loneliness and even personal crisis could be ‘shared’, referred to discretely, obliquely even. Individuals were held and heard by the group and through their objects were valued and accepted. It is possible to acknowledge and bridge these feelings in ways which are light in tone but deep in effect and the net result of these encounters was a noticeable uplift. By week three participants were on a roll, sharing and arranging their objects ready for a professional photographic session, and the possibility of showing this work in various settings spurred them on.

This post for The Museum is perhaps best seen as one of three about the therapeutic potential of objects, maintaining how important they are not only in mediating our emotional lives but also in speaking for us. I came away from this group with such a sense of the lives and personalities of each member through their prized objects – their ability to share them brought each one a sense of intimacy which in turn pierced their social isolation. I can’t help thinking of objects as consummate mediators and connectors and am tempted to say that throughout this series of workshops it was the objects that did the talking.

Object-ive therapeutics

Originally posted here

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Art as Healing?

Today The Museum seeks to follow on from the excerpts from Philipa Perry’s article on transitional objects, which was posted a few blog posts back. In doing so I delve back to an article I wrote as a special feature for The Palette Pages entitled ‘Art As Healing?’ here.

In it I explore my own background in art therapy and what compels me to work with my father’s plays in my work over on Barcelona in a Bag. I suppose it has been only a question of time before The Museum blog and my personal artist blog should meet, if only for one post!

In my own practice I consider it vital to unpick the therapeutics of the work – it is after all autobiography of sorts and very much a ‘felt’ response to the material I encounter in my research. An understanding of the emotional entanglement with my subject allows for a distancing eye to come into play and I find there is no conflict in ‘working through’ my subject, and the visual output from the project. For me this is natural and harmonious but not always easy. We can’t control the material that may be encountered when using research into past lives, but also as war is my subject I am exposed to atrocity in many forms.

Thus an understanding of therapeutics, for me, is a tool of the object artist’s trade. I wonder how other’s see this?

The Willard Asylum Suitcases

Originally posted here

The Willard Asylum suitcases are an inclusion to The Museum suggested by conceptual object artist Dawn Cole who works on WW2.

This is an incredible collection – apparently 400 suitcases of former patients of the asylum, found in the attic of the building several decades later in 1995. It’s suggested that these are the possessions patients brought with them on entry to the institution with which they were perhaps never reunited. It’s almost overwhelming to view the accompanying photographs and their poignancy strikes harder the more the eye scans the objects in each case shown.

These photographs are sumptuous – beautifully curated, and I read in one comment some doubt about authenticity. I think this seed of doubt is a product of the curation process. Is there something which goes against the grain of authenticity in these photos, and challenges belief? Certainly there is a sense of the ‘editing’ hand at work. Where is the sense of chaos and distress that might accompany admission to an asylum one might ask? And yet – isn’t the process of packing one of ordering, sifting and deciding, and might not relatives have helped? The reasons for entering an asylum were perhaps also social and moral at times and mental illness poorly understood – we can’t make assumptions on a supposition about a state of mind. So many questions are laid open – and of course the ambivalence shown in the comment raises the importance of documentation and narrative. What are we being shown exactly? At what stage in the story are we?

My own desire shifts between wishing to see photographs of the discovery – the attic and the suitcases as they were – and feeling grateful for the opportunity to see the beautiful and sensitive work of the curators and photographers.

I am extremely grateful to Dawn for suggesting this rich find – so many angles for object artists to bring to and draw from. I’m looking forward to your responses.

The Gift – by Kate Murdoch

Originally posted here

Riches are arriving at The Museum door in quick succession and the past few days have seen a lot of activity and interest in the project to create a forum for ideas and a resource for artists working with objects. Last night ‘The Gift’ arrived from one of The Museum’s earliest supporters and inspirations, artist Kate Murdoch. And what a gift it is. Striking at the heart of the emotionality often contained within the simplest and most ‘valueless’ objects that pass through our lives, Kate turns the question of value upside-down, and her arresting photograph brings home the beauty of a gesture underlined by a grim social reality.  Kate’s work is delicate and powerful all at once, and the Museum is most grateful for this precious donation.

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The Gift

My offering to the Museum of Object Research is a small, gold-coloured, heart shaped brooch, cheaply manufactured to promote the Variety Gold Heart charity, which was established some 20 years ago. I saw these brooches everywhere at one point in my life, but the only ones I see nowadays are in charity and junk shops. The face value of them isn’t high and they usually sell for around 50p – £1 apiece. A lot of you I’m sure, will be aware of them.

This particular brooch, however took on a completely different meaning in terms of its value because of the circumstances in which it was given to me. Being handed the brooch as a gift, marked a symbolic moment and an exchange of friendship and kindness which touched me, emotionally. It’s something I still find myself thinking about.

I wrote about how I came to be the owner of the brooch in a post on my a-n ‘Keeping It Going’ blog in January of this year – the poignant circumstances in which it was handed to me by ‘yet another emotionally bruised and battered casualty of the recession’, as I described the shop owner at the time. As we spoke, in his abandoned, near empty shop, people were loading vans with the few remaining items – bargains galore! – the owner’s voice was despondent as he gave things away for virtually nothing.

The fifteen minutes or so I spent in the shop saying my farewells summed up value and worth in a nutshell to me. The items in the shop were worth nothing to him now that his business had failed and I saw in the once proud, creatively-driven shop owner ‘…yet another person left feeling devastated about their business ‘failing’ – all that time, all those hours, all that money invested – all for what?’

As it turned out, I came away with something of greater value and worth than anything I could ever have paid money for – this small heart-shaped brooch, handed to me with a quick ‘here y’are, have this’ by the shop owner. His action for me is a pertinent reminder that even in these difficult, cash-strapped times, kindness costs nothing.

The brooch demonstrates perfectly the way in which seemingly insignificant objects can become objects of great personal value. So often, the emotional attachment we make to objects transforms them from being irrelevant into something special – to be valued, cherished and carefully looked after.

For me, donating the brooch to the Museum of Object Research, to sit alongside other objects, all with their own unique attached stories, increases the significance and worth of the brooch still further.

Kate Murdoch

Current ideas and explorations around objects – Kate Morgan Clare

Originally posted here

The Museum is particularly pleased to host a blog post by Kate Morgan Clare, who is near completing a six year part time BA degree in Fine Art at Herefordshire College of Art. Her blog weaves in personal reflection with critical thought derived from her studies and she draws on many of the ideas the Museum would like to explore. I find Kate’s choice of image and her spur to working with objects incredibly moving. A person’s ‘hand’ is indeed animate and of all the traces we leave behind us marks our pulse so very eloquently. I very much look forward to more from Kate’s crystalline thought processes – she has a great deal to contribute. Thank you Kate!

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Father’s Letter

Current ideas and explorations around objects. Kate Morgan-Clare October 2014

In my practice with objects I’m attempting to understand how I perceive the world – why I am who I am and what informs my judgements. I believe that many of our perceptions are formed by childhood experiences and that objects play an important role in recalling these experiences. The familiar object from childhood – or a version of it – is a vessel for a multitude of emotions and associations and in this way is never inanimate.

Initially my interest lay with the stories and objects of other people’s lives – clothing, toys and first–hand reminiscences of children of WWII; a friends’ 1950’s party dress; a 1930’s exercise book kept by a French fashion student.

Quite naturally I turned my attention to objects with a personal significance – and that’s when everything changed dramatically! Since finding a letter from my late father I have been set on bid to explore the intense nature of our relationship to ‘evocative objects’. Firstly I needed to understand and define the importance of objects in our lives. Daniel Miller discusses our relationship with objects of all kinds in his book Stuff (Polity Press 2010) Miller argues that we use objects as outward reflections of who we are and who we wish to become. As we grow and change so our need for more and varied objects grows too.

In an essay on the subject of my own evocative object I ask how our important personal objects survive when we are bombarded daily with hundreds of other objects made available to us (with the added pressures of marketing). I looked for evidence of their recognised value in our culture – in the art world where the object is transformed; in museums where it is held and protected and in photography where it is reproduced.

I have come to the conclusion that the evocative object is best cared for in our own curated spaces – our homes – where objects can become part of a personal collection or displayed in ‘pride of place’. Our objects might equally be cared for in secret – kept in drawers or in the loft. Wherever and however we choose to keep our ‘special’ things I believe they have a constant influence on our sense of identity. They remind us how we came to be the people we are and link us powerfully to people, places and events.

I think Sonia’s idea about a museum existing without a physical presence is very important. If we see a museum as a ‘place’ that links us to our pasts or to other places then there is in fact no need for a physical building or indeed for objects at all; only the ability to recall these things and articulate them in some way. The ‘virtual’ world of the internet just reinforces this idea – ‘everything’ is represented by words and images – not by real things at all. This makes the idea of collecting and keeping things very exciting to me as it gives a freedom to meaning and interpretation. It also makes being an artist exciting as there are no limits to how one might transform an object in creative terms.

The idea that objects can be transformed through our relationships with them seems to compliment the concept of transitional objects. Philippa Perry’s article in a recent blog post on The Museum of Object Research discusses how the transitional object allows a child to reveal their internal realities in an external form – the example she gives is the teddy. If the teddy stays with you right through to you leaving home then it sees you transform too. I think that we continue to ‘collect’ such objects with similar emotional value at various stages of our lives. In the book Evocative Objects Sherry Turkle discusses D.W.Winnicott’s theory of the transitional object. “The transitional objects of the nursery..are destined to be abandoned. Yet they will leave traces that will mark the rest of life. Winnicott believes that during all stages of life we continue to search for objects we can experience as both within and outside of ourselves.”(Turkle,2007:314).This idea accommodates the need to collect – and even perhaps hoard!

I’m not a collector myself- instead I feed off other’s ability to collect! Most of my mother’s possessions were given to her, lots of them are old, and whilst some are functional as well as ornamental they all have a sense of mystery around them. We know them but don’t know much about their provenance. My eldest brother has been collecting agricultural implements since he was a young man. Hundreds of tools hang from the walls of his shed and sit in his yard dripping in cobwebs and rusting – they are his and they are ‘alive’ and significant to him. (They also link us to our farming roots which is very important.) I work with an avid collector too – he buys ‘new’ old things every week. Some things are transformed into artworks others are cherished for their reference to a particular time in our industrial past or to popular culture.

Even if we don’t collect ourselves I think we all have a healthy thriving ‘museum’ living nearby which feeds our creative lives.

Recommended reads – with lots of pictures too!
Putnam, J (2009) – Art and Artifact – The Museum as Medium. Revised edn. London: Thames and Hudson.
Naylor, T (2007) – Living Normally – Where Life Comes Before Style. London: Thames and Hudson.

Object artist or hoarder?

Originally posted here

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A pilot session for a new series of workshops I will be leading with Claudia Figueiredo beginning in January 2015 (under the whizzy title ARTicles) recently yielded an unexpected question. Unpacking a small suitcase of objects – which relate to my ongoing project Barcelona in a Bag – in front of a group was a richly rewarding experience and plenty of fun. The sessions are designed to facilitate conversation and participation for a group of elderly people in an area of high social deprivation. Over a period time we will aim to build trust, ignite interest and enable hands on making.

The lightest of touches was required I felt in the ‘getting to know’ each other through our objects and my feeling (and I suppose thus my approach to the group) was rewarded with a great deal of banter through which some striking themes emerged. So many of the objects selected by participants to bring to their first session were those treasured and kept on mantelpieces. Many objects related to family members, women seemed to focus on grandmothers and men on their uncles. More common themes will no doubt emerge.

The most telling aspect of this group is that of pre-established connection. They are all members of a church community and the level of confidence in one another seemed high. Later I wondered if the nurture these people received through their church community ‘family’ enabled them to play so creatively (indulging in high jinks in some cases) with the objects provided. Self-consciousness wasn’t an issue.

The question most eloquently and gently put, after much unpacking and explanation on my part of the origin and significance of my objects, was genuine. What is the difference between what you do and a hoarder?

My response went something like this:

We might think of a hoarder as someone who collects objects and can’t throw them away. I’m quite good at throwing things away and while there are some irreplaceable things I could never get rid of, my philosophy is that life takes things from us in every sense – including our lost objects. It’s what we do with the objects that remain with us that interests me. But yes, one of the very important techniques in my work is to find replacements (usually approximations) for lost objects too – so this does mean I acquire a lot of stuff.

A hoarder might be someone who is limited by their objects, certainly the cases we see on TV are of people whose houses are crammed full of objects to the point that they literally can’t move around freely. Perhaps they don’t do much with their objects and perhaps the acquisition of new objects isn’t so considered? I could be wrong of course.

Some people might see me as a hoarder but for me the act of collecting and arranging objects is for a very specific purpose – to create new works and tell a story. Objects also lead my research and spur me on. It is true that my tiny studio could do with being bigger and needs more storage capacity.

Perhaps there are elements of the hoarder in the object artist? I wonder what others think!

Evocative Objects – Book Review by Kate Murdoch

Originally posted here

Another Happy first for The Museum and it’s a double! A first post from Kate Murdoch feels like something of a coup and a first book review is equally significant. I am in constant awe at the calibre of contributors to the Museum and delighted at the variety of post that is emerging. It was my hope from the start to build a resource including links to articles and reviews alongside the posts about practice. So here it is Kate Murdoch’s review of Sherry Turkle’s (ed) Evocative Objects. It’s a resounding thumbs up!

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Sherry Turkle, the editor of ‘Evocative Objects, Things We Think With’, writes eloquently about the impact of objects on our emotional lives. I became completely entrenched in this book on a first reading and have returned to the various stories time and time again. I’ve searched back, but unfortunately, can’t find who it was who recommended the book to me in the first place – I’m sure it was a fellow a-n artist/blogger, so thank you, whoever you are.

Many wise words about the power of objects on our lives are written by Sherry Turkle in her introduction to the book – here’s a short extract from it that, to me, perfectly sums up the impact of the connection we make to the things that surround us. It ties in very well also, with what’s already found itself into the Museum of Objects – the objects and their related stories and related articles – the bra, for example; the soft toy; Jenni Dutton’s self portrait and the article on transitional objects by psychotherapist, Philipa Perry:

‘We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences. We are on less familiar ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lives or as provocations to thought. The notion of evocative objects brings together these two less familiar ideas, underscoring the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things. We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.’

On a similar note, this is what I wrote in my artist statement about my own relationship with found objects:

The objects we surround ourselves with are loaded with meaning, reflecting both our internal emotional world and the external image we present to others. From the mundane to the meaningful, they are steeped in social and political history. Objects are a part of our identity; they provide us with a sense of self and reveal our connections to the wider world.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to artists whose work is concerned with working with found objects and investigating the emotional connections we make with them.

Kate’s blog can be found here:

The ties that bind us and a failure to link up…

Originally posted here

Cross pollination at the Museum for Object Research!

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Puppet boy

Object artists have been stepping up to blog about their work and now Elena Thomas has blogged in response to the Museum’s latest post about ‘transitional objects’ on home turf over at her a-n blog Threads. This is exactly what the Museum has been hoping for – cross pollination of ideas, stimulating discussion and a growing resource of ideas and theories with which to conjure in our object work.

What I love about Elena’s post, aside from the wonderful photographs, is the way she teases at the underside of what we might think of as the ‘transitional object’. These objects are thought of most often as facilitators but can they also hold us back or be used to restrain us? I ‘m fascinated by the push-pull within these works and the complex relationships of nurture in which such powerful emotions reside. The ‘transitional object’ is usually referred to  in the context of the child, but Elena observes from the dual perspectives of the adult care-giver and the child.

Elena  has kindly given me permission to link to her post here, and yet for now I can’t! It’s proved impossible to attach links to any of my blog posts but I’m hoping this can be resolved. Meanwhile I’m resorting to cut and paste and very much hoping that you will take the time to view Elena’s work over on Threads: Chuck the theory at the work and see if it sticks.

Philipa Perry Talks Teddy for The Independent Newspaper

Originally posted here

Thank you to Jenni Dutton for suggesting a highly relevant article as a source of information for the Museum. In her piece, psychotherapist Philipa Perry talks about ‘transitional objects’ in the context of managing transitions and our ability to navigate between inner and outer worlds. I hope the theme of objects as emotional containers can become one of the Museum’s concerns as it is a mainstay of my own artistic practice. I particularly like the phrase Philipa uses for the transitional object as – “a symbol for the internal life”. Can object artists use this kind of psychotherapeutic framework to better understand their practice? Do we have a strong need to have our inner world seen and also be reflected back to us through the objects we use?

The following are excerpts are taken from Philipa Perry’s original article (Teddy bears for adults: Why a third of students take a teddy bear with them to university) which was written for the Independent Newspaper and appeared on Tuesday 30th September. The picture which accompanies Philipa’s words has been selected by Sonia Boué.

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Gebruder Bing teddy bear at the Museum of Childhood in London


“At the beginning, a child’s relationship with a teddy may be largely physical – a first step from sucking their own thumb or fist may be to chewing a teddy’s ear – but there is more to it than this.” Winnicott states: “It is clear that something is important here other than oral excitement and satisfaction.”

The first “not me” object that a baby encounters is the primary carer with the breast or the bottle, and so the second “not me” object often takes on many of the qualities of the first. For example, the ability to cuddle, care for, nurture, feed and generally soothe, so it is not surprising that a lasting bond with this second object, often the teddy bear, is formed. Patterns set in infancy often continue into childhood and beyond so that the teddy bear is still needed, especially at times of stress or loneliness.

So, apart from being a warm cuddle, what else is a teddy bear good for? Winnicott’s phrase “transitional object” has passed into everyday use when it comes to talking about teddies or soggy bits of highly prized blanket. But a transitional object isn’t merely a replacement for the relationship with a carer when they are not ever-present. There is more to it than that. The transitional object is a symbol for the internal life of its owner.

The transitional object is part of this inner world, and yet it isn’t just a mental concept because it exists in the external world, too. Teddy, if not flesh and blood, is certainly fake-fur and stuffing. One of teddy’s jobs is to give an external reality that matches the child’s inner life and the child’s capacity to create.

An inner life is not easy to articulate with words, and however private we may be, we have a need to have this inner world seen. All of us need human mirrors, people who reflect back to us, in the way they are when they are with us, a picture of ourselves that chimes with our own experience of our identity and essence. We need people who have known us a long time to do this, and when we go to university, there may be no one there who knows us, no one who can mirror back to us the person whom we believe we are. So a teddy, who has been with us from the off, can act as a stand-in for a human mirror for a while.

When we watch a child lost in play, we are seeing the child make sense of the collision between their inner world and the outer reality.

Winnicott states that the task of accepting external reality is never completed and that no human is free from the tension of relating their inner and outer realities. It’s probably unrealistic to assume that we can grow up completely.”

Dancing From Fright by Neil Armstrong

Originally posted here

Neil Armstrong’s post combines a beautifully rendered and powerful portrait with a fantastically rich and eloquent analysis of his process and symbolism. As with previous contributors I hope this will be the first of many.

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Dancing From Fright by Neil Armstrong

…is the title of a Paul Klee 1938 watercolour (always a man with a good title) and one I have borrowed for the portrait I am contributing here. I cannot submit the actual objects in the picture as they belong to a museum already – the Durham Light Infantry Museum. What I do have possession of however is this picture. When uploading to this or most other websites you are asked to tick a box along the lines of ‘are you the owner of this image?’…well yes I am. This picture is my reconstruction, my reinterpretation, of objects that once had other significance.

Things arrive with their own histories of course and my attitude to using them is that one should take the time to understand their past, and then take on the challenge of adding something to that ongoing dialogue.

I began with the idea of making portraits of teenagers wearing uniforms from the museum collection. I wanted to reference the convention that many soldiers through the ages have followed, of having their portrait made before heading into the awful unknown. The invention of photography made this an ever more democratic proposition for those who weren’t socially blessed to be able to afford a painted portrait so is prevalent particularly during WW1 and onwards. The DLI collection includes uniforms from the 18th – 20th century and what interested me was less to take heed of any particular time period but rather to regard them as a contemporary wardrobe which could be utilised to cloth my youthful contemporary recruits.

There is the beautifully made dragoons tunic, with all its overtones of ‘empire and glory’ which is now more generally recognised as being co-opted into pop culture; think the beatles, Michael Jackson..and in particular in this instance..Cheryl Cole (sorry Cheryl Ann Fernandez-Versini). My sitter stares blankly as if she is somehow beyond historical categorisation. In her hand she holds a grenade circa WW1 but I wanted her to hold it more like it might be a bottle of perfume or a mobile phone or iplayer. It is a quite delicately shaped object, less brutally charged than what was to evolve later. She is still wearing a braid on her wrist from a recent pop festival. For me, the fact that the original intended use of the grenade is so comprehensively subverted is a pleasing acknowledgement of what I imagine the 60s hippies felt when they co-opted all manner of military paraphernalia as fashion statements. That idea has persisted into popular culture today.

When this and other work from my project Gestalt was shown at the DLI gallery I was particularly interested to see how viewers entered into a dialogue with the pictures…soon realising that they were not what they appeared to be, but intrigued none the less.

The background is a photo I took in Schiphol airport. The blossom flower emblem on the plane’s tail represents China Airlines but could easily be a poppy… which of course has a host of other connotations. I wanted to hint at the contemporary fear that now pervades the wider world, and flight seems to encapsulate that. No longer are we fighting wars on defined fronts; no more trench lines of attrition; no more charges of the light brigade, but instead a sort of background dread (particularly since 9/11) that you might be hijacked, disappear mid ocean, or be sitting next to a man with explosives in his shoes.

One of my favourite radio progs of recent times is the radio 4 series ‘A history of the world in 100 objects’ where the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells history through various objects. His delivery, his wonderfully ‘establishment’ voice, is somehow supremely appropriate in this context and reminds me of times spent in museums as a child pondering where all these things came from. There is something very comforting about it. As if THE EMPIRE still existed and we all had a part to play in a world that had no collective guilt. The real touch of inspiration however is in the introductory voice over to each object. It has a touch of the ‘hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ about it which offsets the overall effect perfectly.

When I look at my portrait again, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ and the idea that perhaps an object can absorb the essence of time and lay waiting to tell its curious, delectable and possibly despicable tale again. In that case perhaps the role of the artist is to examine it.. and then add another thoughtful chapter.

Neil Armstrong

Self Portrait with Portals by Jenni Dutton

Originally posted here

Rarely am I moved to actual tears by a piece of writing but Jenni Dutton’s marvellous Self Portrait with Portals has touched on something deep. How do we connect with memory and what happens to memory over time? What is the role of the object in keeping us together, in keeping us whole. I love how Jenni creates her portals within the portrait – inserting the objects quite literally into her features. An embodiment of the urge to unite with the object to fuse with our memories and maintain a sense of self.

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Self Portrait with Portals by Jenni Dutton

Self Portrait With Portals started as a painting on MDF as part of a mixed show in a shipping container on Watchet Docks, Contains Art.

I needed to express more of myself than just a likeness, so sliced up the painting and created recesses in which to place some small objects I had saved up during my life. Growing up in an army family we moved all through my childhood and at boarding school, some items took on a preciousness and almost talisman like quality. The top left hand recess has a medal I won at netball, the middle space contains a tiny tiny doll and a slightly larger one. A brooch belonging to my grandmother lies in the floor of the bottom portal. There is no space here to explain what memories these objects conjure up in my adult mind of my childish self. Those fears and fantasies, stories woven around the pieces, which I no longer know if they are really true. Does this matter? It brings to mind all the things one has lost… I should have put them in The Museum of Objects to keep them safe.

Jenni Dutton

Wäuwäu by Marion Michell

Originally posted here

The museum is honoured to have Marion Michell as a contributor with this startlingly beautiful and affecting post illustrating the rich layers of meaning contained within the object. Filial love, politics and an early memory of the genesis of an art practice are but some of the strands Marion explores. She asks if such a personal object has a place in a museum. It is an excellent question. For me the answer is yes but this opens up an important area of our work as object artists and I hope this will lead to some interesting comments.

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For a brief instant I thought ‘here is an object I can consider without worrying about history, politics or war-fare’, but as soon as I started writing I wondered about working-conditions at the place of production, employees (men? women? different levels of pay?), hours worked, matters of health and safety, sourcing of materials, who could afford buying, etc. etc. The mantra ‘nothing is innocent’ is like a worm in my brain, eating holes into each and every notion, as well it should. To think I’d also doubted if such a ‘purely personal’ object had a place in a museum for object research…

I remember learning to crochet (at school) as an alienated chore – little girls can’t be inspired by making two-tone pot-holders. A couple of years ago however, at my brother’s house, I happened across the tiny, salmon-coloured and rather close-fitting outfit I’d made for his favourite soft-toy: a little brown-beige Steiff-doggy which he’d had since he was a baby and whose once soft fur had become threadbare and was leaking its filling. With the best intention our parents had tried to replace it with a new one, the same kind, but looking like a gleaming, puffed up version of this love-worn pup, lacking its familiar scent and without the hairless indent around its middle (the opposite of love-handles) where my brother’s small hands had gripped it every night.

I had completely forgotten about it and wish I could recall its actual making, esp. as crocheting has become my medium. From he image I get a sense of yarn moving through sweaty hands, and an air of unaffected commitment and concentration, out of love for my little brother. My mom thinks I must have been eight or nine years old.

Steiff of course is a German company (founded in 1870 by the rather inspiring Margarete Steiff). Given my current project – how could I not research its history? Thing is, the question: What did you do in the war? has permanent residence on my tongue and wants frequent airings.

Too great a task though. All I will say after cursory on-line glances is that in times of conflict nothing is unaffected. On the simplest level: male employees become soldiers, manifold materials are unavailable, borders are closed/embargoes in effect, factories do ‘essential war work’ and produce military goods. From cuddly toys to gas-masks and grenade handles… And that’s just for WWI.

Well, Wäuwäu was probably bought in 1961/62, not long after a wall was built to separate East from West Germany – the Cold War in full swing. I don’t think my brother held on to many objects from childhood, maybe a book or two, and I haven’t got much either. For a long time it didn’t seem important. My Fuchsi though, a Steiff-fox, equally thin around the middle, slumbers on a shelf across the room. Looking back in time it’s easy to make connections which are rather too neat, but the outfits I fashion nowadays seem to throw an arc back to this one: a two-piece ensemble, consisting of a vest and pants which logically allowed an extra opening for Wäuwäu’s stubby tail.

Marion Michell

Shifting around and light bulb moments…by Sonia Boué

Originally posted here

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Refugee Stack with Typewriter

Today my task in the studio was to adapt my working space. Yet again the objects that surround me were in flux. How many times have I arranged and rearranged, destroying one order and function to create another? The studio had become an installation for a weekend of Open Studios and while this is one of the most satisfying and productive functions my tiny space fulfils I have to break whatever spell it casts so that I can create new work.

The process takes some courage – I have to DESTROY what I have spent many hours working on after all. Yet the bind is that if it remains as it is I am stuck. The process has to continue or I may as well pack up and leave the installation to go the way of Miss Haversham.

By now I’m familiar with the bewildered feeling I rub up against when beginning to undo what I’ve so carefully done. It’s more than taking down a show and leaving the space as it was, it’s shifting around my familiar and beloved items (a growing collection), storing some but placing others in new corners, stacking, ordering, grouping.

My recent paintings slide around the walls coming into contact with objects and deciding if they like the view. It all has to fit, look how I want it, make sense and provide a space for new work. I don’t ask for much do I!

The funny thing is that as I worked today a beautiful new juxtaposition suddenly came into being. I couldn’t have planned it if I had been thinking things through, that doesn’t work for me at all. No, I had to slide and push and lift and place the objects that make up my working collection – so this is my thinking I suddenly saw, and this is my process, and that means that this is my work! Each time I go though this ritual I come up with new pieces, this is how I make my assemblage.

The light bulb moment presented itself there and then. I determined in that moment to learn to take better photographs and document the life of my studio because this is the work.

For me this is testimony to the power of these objects I have acquired. In my universe they do have a life of their own and require sensitive and harmonious placement in any space they inhabit. Their juxtapositions conjure and animate, creating new and richer meanings, amplifying, speaking and yes, even singing.

When I have it right, my space becomes a finely tuned generator and my objects seem to will me on in my work. I guess this could be called an optimum environment or my inspiration but I like to think the objects around me place me somewhere – a zone in which my imagination is supported and I am free to step over the threshold of invention.

Sonia Boué

Guest post by Elena Thomas!

Originally posted here

Thank you Elena for stepping up with a fantastic first piece for the museum! Handling quite beautifully the power of objects to suggest narrative and provide a springboard for creative elaborations her post enables a tantalising glimpse of one object artist’s practice. I wonder if this rings any bells with other object artists?

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Bra Detail by Elena Thomas

The Bra.

The one I have on my studio table: It is white… well, it was white. It is now both yellowed and greyed. The elastic is perished, and in parts, when manipulated, makes a slightly scrunchy sound as the rubbery fibres crumble. It has been repaired, taken in, perhaps to compensate for the no-longer elastic fabric. It has illegible labels.

As I handle it, I feel the urge to try it around myself, over my clothes. I somehow think I will have some sort of vulcan mind-merge with the woman that wore it. Somehow I will instantly know of her life.

But no. So I imagine. Poverty of money, or poverty of time, or both, has caused this garment to become like this. I also imagine a poverty of self esteem, but that is perhaps a step too far? But despite my internal argument about making assumptions, my imagination wins through. Some life events have caused this calamity. One last broke-the-camel’s-back life event has at last, caused it to be discarded.

It might be the final life event. The final discarding not by its wearer, but by the wearer’s relatives. But me, I imagine a glorious transformation to something more beautiful. I imagine a line drawn in the sand. No More.

The woman takes a deep breath, holds her chin up, pulls back her shoulders, pushes forward her freshly dressed breasts, and strides out into a new world from the changing room.

The bra I have embroidered here, one of a series, is a celebration of the transformation… the scars/repairs. It is an acknowledgement of the beauty of love and effort given before the love of self. A waiting for a time when it is ripe and right for transformation. The stitches to repair and embellish take a long time. I have lavished colour and stitches, it has been likened to automatic writing: my automatic stitching, unplanned to a large degree, responsive, betrays my Eastern European roots, so I’m told. The tears/tears are still visible… they leave their mark. But I have drawn attention to their beauty: I show the struggle is appreciated.

The stitches I make are an act of love for this woman. She might be my mother, she might be me, as a mother. The empty-nested, new-found, mid-life-crisis me.

Life is short.
Sing songs, and stitch faster.

Elena Thomas