bunnyhopscotch making sense of the senses, musing over muses… and just having great fun!
In 2015, I created and presented Sonata in Z, from which emerged my now signature concept, “Clement Space“, first installed as its own entity in 2017 at The BIG Anxiety Festival, Sydney, Australia. Thereafter, Clement Space has been installed in different sites and situations, its enduring and developing presence attests to the universal need for respite, especially in frenetic, chaotic cityscapes.
Since then, I’ve been conscious about finding my own pockets of Clement Space too. Most of them are small studies in the state of clemency and grace, little spontaneous moments that bring sparks of Autistic Joy, or miniature physical podlets of rest and restoration found and taken in the midst fluttering, swirling and trundling through the day – not as large as a sonata, they are tiny études amidst daunting and domineering Wagnerian Symphonic Pulverisations. That chuckling shadow of Artaud does add liberal doses of vim and spice to my struggle with Wagner, but Clement Space – inspired by my beloved Lucy Like-a-Charm – is my antidote.
While helping mother locate a lost DC adaptor plug, digging around her drawers, I found some forgotten treasures that belonged to my late father, which mother kindly let me have.
A kidney shaped stainless steel tray containing various surgical and dental tools, and a minuscule pill-box sized leather case with two Chinese name seals inside.
There is a wealth of history behind each of these, but today is not the day to spin long stories. I am happy inside this mental clement space, this suspended moment in time and place, just from having found these objects which reach back into time, connecting me to the individual journeys that each item undertook while in my father’s possession. He is gone now, but a part of him – known and mysteriously unknown – is embedded within. And they are now mine, from Dr. Leong to Dr. Leong, captured inside this moment that I now call, “Étude in Z”.
One silver and turquoise Art Deco hand mirror, one blue velour Parker Knoll armchair: two random items, both of use to their owners, but of no particular significance – until you’re made aware of the history and narrative associated with them, that is.
The art work I make is often motivated by my connection and close relations with family. ‘Here Today…’ was created through assembling pieces from my late Nana’s more personal, intimate possessions and placing them on a bedside cabinet; a hand mirror, a vintage silk flower and palettes of used make up – items that she had handled and used over and over; old, well-worn objects, still in existence and now, with an even greater emotional charge, having survived my Nana by some years.
Likewise, with my late father and the continued presence of a favourite seat. How was it that my Dad’s blue armchair stood so resolutely in the living room of my parents’ home on the day of his funeral, begging the question: if the chair could survive, then why on earth couldn’t he?
Themes of loss and remembrance are present in a lot of the work I make and reflect my fascination with the permanence of objects versus the fragility of human existence – crucially, how things outlive people. The histories associated with everyday objects give the work its meaning, not solely for me, but for an audience for whom some objects will inevitably resonate.
A lot has been written on the subject of the emotional attachments made to the everyday things that surround us, and none more powerfully than Sylvia Plath who captured her love for objects in many of her poems, ‘Tale of a Tub’ and ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ being examples.
Tisha Nemeth-Loomis in her research paper ‘Plath’s Possession Aesthetics: Visual and Object Libido’ wrote:
‘Plath employed a visual exactitude which indicated surprising states of perceptual awareness; it filled her poems and objects with curiosity and dimension. When engaged in these states of visual connection, it is possible that Plath attempted to integrate herself with images and objects. For Plath, objects surpassed the mundane; they were unique, enviable entities.’
And her late husband, Ted Hughes, noted Plath’s psychological investment in the everyday object:
‘This genius for love she certainly had, and not in the abstract. She didn’t quite know how to manage it; it possessed her. It fastened her to cups, plants, creatures, vistas, people in a steady ecstasy. As much of all that she could, she hoarded into her poems.’ (quoted in Holbrook 279)
From a completely different literary genre, I found this piece of writing by romantic novelist Erica James. In this extract from her novel ‘Precious Time’, James describes the thoughts of a character who runs a house clearance firm …
‘It was the bedside tables that invariably got to him. It was in those little drawers that, often, the most personal and poignant objects had been kept, and which gave the deepest insight into that person’s habits and thoughts. Today’s bedside table had revealed the usual old tubes of ointment, packets of indigestion tablets, buttons, rusting safety-pins, bent hairpins, and a string of cheap gaudy beads. There was a tiny-faced watch that didn’t work, a money-off washing powder voucher (dated October 1988), a pair of tweezers, a throat lozenge that had oozed a sticky trail across an envelope of black and white holiday snaps, a crumbling bath cube that had lost its scent, and a small trinket box containing a collection of Christmas cracker jokes, unused party hats, two plastic whistles and a key-ring. There was also a small Bible, its pages thickened with use.’
It’s difficult sometimes to find the words to convey the true, agonising sense of loss and the very powerful emotions that we project onto objects that are left behind. Items presented as objects of remembrance and associated with the dead, are imbued with deep sentiment and emotion.
The hand mirror bears the physical marks of a well-used object, the metal and patina worn and eroded by my Nana’s endless handling of it. My Dad’s empty, unoccupied armchair, following his death, came to symbolise his absence, heartwrenchingly so for those who loved him – his revered place within the family unit and the actual physical space he once occupied. How on earth can we ever find it in ourselves to part with such precious items?
The reality is of course, that we can’t keep everything and for practical reasons, some things in our lives just have to go. House moves, house clearances, downsizing, relationship break-ups and other life-changing events inevitably lead to a serious rethink and overhaul about what we can and can’t keep.
William Morris stated that we should have nothing in our houses that we did not ‘know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ While I understand this sentiment, I know that peoples’ homes sometimes also contain things they positively hate but find hard to throw away – unwanted gifts from long deceased relatives, for example – the hideous ceramic owl inherited from Auntie Elsie who loved it and thought you would, too.
There’s no doubt that the bonds we form with certain objects are stronger than others and that our decision making about what we keep in our homes is often determined by the depth and strength of the emotional attachments we make to them. As time passes, these objects get handed down through the generations; their condition might become more battered and fragile, but their significance and sentimental value continues to grow – living on, immortal and becoming increasingly robust as they accumulate and carry with them, layer upon layer of their ancestors’ histories and narratives.
Hello! I recently attended the most marvellous conference in Cork. I’ve come away refreshed and reminded that conferences can be both stimulating for artistic practice, and also provide a framework for what we artists do. I love a good conference.
All Things Considered had a lovely spirit and provided an unusually good fit with my own areas of creative research. Aside from one awkward moment, all was harmony and light. The moment in question was in some ways quite comical, as one speaker complained about the problem of living artists (sic).
They sometimes insist on vetting and controlling what is written about them. It’s. real problem. You have to wait for them to die!
Laughter, of course, erupted in the room.
It was a moment of unmasking – unaware perhaps that there was a living artist in the room – the speaker had revealed to me a sudden and vertiginous window into the academic perspective. But we were just warming up.
A delegate beside me had thrown their arms up in protest, and so I knew I had a friend. Well I’ll just throw myself under the nearest bus! I quipped in mock outrage, but the sense of outrage was also real. The statement was both serious and made in jest. There’s a truth here wriggling to come out.
It was, of course, also secretly fascinating, and it opened the door to another question; in particular that of artists who deny the obvious influences in their work with a specific example in mind.
Who should we believe? someone asked. Never the artist! said a second speaker, this time it was a wholly serious answer.
I felt pleased to be an artist in the room to disagree, or rather to explain nuance. The creative process is complicated.
I loved the dissonance actually. I revelled in the insight. Much academic study deals with the dead, and the relationship between academia and the arts presents a potential quagmire re interpretation and ‘ownership’. For the living artist this is relationship which can be brokered – we need to be in the room at conferences. I am lucky to have had this opportunity quite often since 2013.
This conference has taken me back to the core of my own project, The Museum for Object Research, and my abiding notion that there is an area of study to be made in the use of objects in visual arts practice. It reminds me also that our forthcoming, Neither Use Nor Ornament (Arts Council England funded) exhibition and programme incorporates embodied research. I hope to invite academics to view and comment in a further iteration of the project.
Developing a performance piece, called Hung to Dry, for the conference has invigorated the performative side of my practice too. Oh the joy!
I can’t end this post without a massive thank you to my extraordinary collaborator, and the stage manager/ producer for my performance, Dr Helena Buffery.
Now I want to do it all over again!
See you soon,
All Things Considered…Material Culture and Memory, conference at University College Cork was organised through CASiLac: ‘Memory, Commemoration and the Uses of the Past’ research cluster, Departments of French and Italian, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, UCC.
The organisers were Chiara Guiliani and Kate Hodgson.
I thought I’d write a quick blog post, but keep it mainly visual. The Museum for Object Research (Arts Council England funded) #NUNO project is well under way. In fact we’re approaching our fourth month! We have a show and exhibition programme to pull together, and we’ll be making a film and booklet too. We’ll be launching on the 30th March 2019.
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to project manage – but I’ll also be a contributing artist, and my creative work for #NUNO is evolving.
To cope with my dual roles on #NUNO, I decided very early on to place a cabinet next to my desk. The idea is to experiment with and document the contents of the cabinet as I add them, move them around, and even discard some! Easy access from my desk means I can keep this work in mind and add to it when the spirit moves me. It’s proving to be a deep and very satisfying piece of work. It’s also shifting as I go along, and I no longer know if the title of my work will be as I planned – portrait of my father, may take on a new title and I have to decide before our booklet goes to print.
The objects all relate to my father’s exile from Spain 1939-1989, as viewed through my eyes. It’s a ‘postmemory’ piece, which means that it refers to inherited memory. I love the ease with which this works. I have my tripod always to the ready, and while I began with iPhone captures I’m now using my trusty Canon EOS 400.
What I want to share today are some new photographs I’m excited about. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the documentation, and have a better idea what I want to achieve.
October 10th, 2018 marked ten years since I first presented 10×10.
10×10 started its journey as part of Deptford X fringe festival in 2008. Ten years on, my intention was to return to the Art Hub studio space in Deptford, SE London, the venue where it was first launched. It was all set for 10×10 to be a part of this year’s Deptford X fringe events – opening up the cabinet of objects for further exchanges and even hoping to reconnect with people who had been at the very first exchange event in 2008. Sadly, due to a two week stay in hospital (the result of a severe ear infection which spread to the bone) followed by an ongoing convalescence period, none of this was able to happen.
In spite of the deep disappointment I feel about having to cancel (not just the Deptford X exchange, but all sorts of other plans), I’m happy that today on the 10 year anniversary of 10×10, I’m at least able to focus on writing and updating some of the narrative associated with the events and exchanges of the past 10 years.
10×10 responded to a call for artists to make work answering to the theme of barter and trade. I gave up 100 objects which were precious to me and invited people to take one, leaving an object of their own in exchange.
Throughout the past ten years I’ve taken 10×10 to a number of venues – Lewisham College, Herne Bay and Whitstable museums, the Stade Hall in Hastings and the First Site gallery in Colchester. Participants were asked to share the stories behind the objects they left behind if they wanted to, but there was no obligation to do so. I’ve collected some amazing stories associated with some of the exchanged items over the past decade; I’m looking forward to writing them up and sharing them one of these days.
The concept of exchange was particularly pertinent in the year 10×10 was launched: 2008 is a year synonymous with one of the biggest financial crises in global history. In the wake of a monumental financial crash, top banks & financial companies folding, I posed the question: how long would it be until people resorted to bartering?
The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks. ‘What is an object worth to you? How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give up in return?’ are among the questions I asked.
10×10 is about letting go, and exploring the powerful associations that we sometimes project onto objects and the emotional attachments we make to them. It is also about human nature and our response to being challenged away from a monetary system to one of exchange and barter. ‘Would it be people’s generosity or meanness that triumphed when it came to the value of the objects that were bartered? Would the piece be ‘worth more’ at the end of the process?
10×10 was once described as ‘a comment on humanity.’ It has been fascinating to witness the various ways people have responded to the exchange process. Overall, humanity has come out of it pretty well. Other than a restriction on size, people are allowed to leave whatever they want and for the main part, people have responded with great generosity and thoughtfulness. There’s always the odd ‘rebel’ of course, but it was interesting to witness the peer group pressure faced by participants who decided to ‘have a laugh/take the piss’ – call it what you will. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules, other than that the object had to fit in the space provided within the cabinet.
I remember one particular young man who spoke out loud his intention to leave a 10 pence piece in exchange for a vase that caught his eye. He told his friend: ‘My Mum would like that and it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday – that’s a good, cheap present.’ He was overheard and observed by a group of people interacting with the objects in the cabinet as he began to make the exchange. They were quick to voice their disapproval – ‘you can’t do that’- ‘show some respect’ – ‘cheapskate’ and so on. I can’t remember exactly how much he left in the end, but it was way and above 10 pence. It was interesting in itself to me that money started to creep in as an object for exchange. I was never over enamoured with £s and pence being introduced, but I decided at the outset that I wasn’t going to police what went in and out of the cabinet.
Things aren’t always what they seem, of course – quieter, more subtle exchanges have taken place. Many on the surface, have appeared quite straightforward and uncluttered by any sort of narrative. But dig deeper and it often transpired that an object left in the cabinet was in fact, highly emotionally charged. A real diamond bracelet was left behind on the first launch night of 10×10, for example. It was an exchange that might have gone unnoticed had the person who left it not written in the ledger book I always invite people to write in, should they want to. In the event, this message was left: ‘This bracelet was given to me by …. perhaps one day I will tell the tale …’
It’s a classic example of the concept around value and worth: genuine diamonds and their actual monetary value, versus the emotional worthless-ness of the bracelet to this particular person at this particular point in time. In contrast, a seemingly ‘worthless’ object in the shape of a small candle stub was left in the cabinet. It was exchanged for a pristine new candle by an international student on a tight financial budget. He told me he used candlelight in his bedsit room in order to save on electricity costs – a practical, pragmatic exchange.
Friday 10th October 2008 as I said, was the date I first launched 10×10. I had no idea when I did so, how things would turn out. There are many accounts (both oral and written) of what specific objects have meant/mean to specific people along the way. As well as the actual objects that people have brought along, it’s the narrative behind them that has also been a real source of fascination for me. I’m looking forward to fully documenting the stories associated with a decade of 10×10 in the future. But for now, on the 10th anniversary of starting 10×10, I’m pleased to feel well enough to at least acknowledge the date – 10/10 from 10am – 10pm – a decade ago, when my twin sons were 10 and my Nana reached the grand age of 100 years.
We are open for business again! Arts Council England have awarded The Museum for Object Research funding for an ambitious project bringing together findings from our R&D (research & development) phase!!
This means that our Artists will exhibit their work in realtime at the OVADA gallery space in March – April 2019. We will finally bring our blog to life!
At the beginning of R&D this outcome was our main focus. My research into working as an autistic professional was to facilitate leading on this outcome.
But if the initial version of our project design was a charm bracelet, the model we set out with at the start of R&D was a weighty chain, bulging with sharp edged bling, doomed to snag the very fabric of our plans. The charms looked good but were heavy with disabling ‘neurotypical’ expectations and we had to start from scratch on our project design. The learning curve on creating an autistically sound project was hard won but so worth it.
What developed (quite unexpectedly) was a project within a project. Through the autistic professional development side of my work I discovered a great need for support and opportunity within my community. WEBworks – was formed.
WEBworks redresses the balance of the project. Alongside the Museum exhibition we will now run a programme of events showcasing our autistic WEBworks artists/ creative partners. Information about WEBworks creatives’ projects will be added to this site ASAP – so do watch this space.
In effect, we will bring together two networks and level the playing field.
This project will also turn the seams inside out on my practice as I bring it all together in collaboration with artists and arts professionals across neurotypes. It’s a huge honour to receive public funding for this work and I intend to live up to it.
It’s also a challenge – but there is no doubt that each artist will produce a compelling work of beauty and excellence (this is why we have our funding!) My job is to make our offer to audiences gel. I want to enrich the cultural landscape artistically and challenge perception at the same time. No biggie!
Lucky for me I have a brilliant crew and an Arts Council approved ship. From bling to vessel we’ve come a long way – I’d love it if you could join us on this journey. So please do subscribe to our blog and follow our progress. We will blog and upload new content as we go along, and we’ll make our final works accessible on this website too (if you can’t join us in ‘realtime’).
So it’s a massive thank you, Arts Council England, for supporting and approving this project and a special thanks to @an_blogs for originally hosting The Museum for Object Research blog and being such a brilliant inclusive platform for artists!
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.
We’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.