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 www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/gestalt-and-all-it-has-become

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: www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/keeping-it-going-1

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