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.
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.
For the past few years I have been systematically culling a lot of my possessions.
I am making a virtue of it to my friends, who often lament their accumulated stuff. There is a defiance about the way I relish the process.
They are impressed and I am now known for my fierceness in facing up to the task. I feel smug that I won’t have to do it when I am older.
Now I am wondering, how much older? I am already 66.
My mother died a couple of years ago, but I had cleared her house way before that, to make way for tenants who helped to fund her stay in the care home.
I have a very few of her possessions, only the small stuff, some valuable but mostly not. I come from an army family, we were never encouraged to hoard possessions. My home is small, it has my accumulated stuff and some of my daughters and most importantly contains my studio space.
Recently I needed a passport, I hadn’t renewed this important document, for 15 years. I kept putting it off. For those 15 years I was looking out for my mum and my daughter, my focus was on them. I didn’t feel the need to travel.
Getting back to the Museum for Object Research, is a passport an object?
I have kept all the old ones.
As a way of exploring self and identity I am making paintings of the 6 passport photos.
The portraits then have selected objects painted in the foreground. The objects are related to the time span of the passports. They are items of significance, but just ordinary things.
However I am aware that the objects I have kept and what I choose to add to my work represents my life. I become self conscious, imagining observers will judge me and it makes me feel vulnerable. The objects accompanying the image cause me to reflect and remember, which makes me nostalgic, regretful and sometimes sad.
I wonder how I can manipulate the choices I have made to enhance my offered persona, to present an alternative narrative, to appear a little more edgy……. I could cheat, just a little.
So far I have made 5 paintings and half way through the 6th. I refine the objects, adding something that I notice fits the narrative and seems to be jostling for attention. The reason some of these objects have survived is quite random. I mourn some objects that I no longer have. I toy with the idea of replacing them, but I know that would not work. Authenticity is key.
By the time I had made these five paintings ….. I had two rings, two hand written objects.
Two objects associated with travel.
Two associated with my daughter.
Two items for my father. Two with ex husband. Two with ex partner.
Three angels! (I had tried to ignore the wooden angel, but was proud when I bought it 55 yrs
Nothing yet linked to my mother.
So then, should decisions about what to include became about fairness, breadth and balance. I must include her, I have a choice of objects.
Do they fit the time span? Does that matter?
As I write this, the objects I have chosen so far for the five paintings have begun to assert themselves, to have a relationship and speak to each other. I think I need to give them some attention and allow them to become more dominant.
AND maybe the most important is the painting that I have not made yet. It covers the 15 years when I had no passport. I plan to represent this just through objects..
These small paintings are a prelude for what I hope will either be larger pieces, or a series of another 6 paintings offering an alternative image of me, or an assemblage, or…..
It’s always a delight to be reintroduced to something you loved and had completely forgotten about, as happened yesterday. It was while I was thinking about titles for a small body of work that the words ‘objects of desire’ came to mind. Maybe subconsciously, I was remembering Matthew Sweet’s programme on Radio Four, a series I had listened to and really enjoyed.
Even the programme’s titles draw me in – The Nest, The Unlovely, Order and Territory and so on, conjuring up all sorts of narratives about the wonder and fascination of objects and how they define us. Revisiting the programmes has also reminded me of my own ‘unlovely’ collection which like so much of my stuff, is currently tucked away in boxes. All a matter of taste, of course, but I’ve always envisaged showing (what I consider to be) these rather hideous and ugly objects in an ornate display cabinet – raising their profile from the unlovely to something rather beautiful.
‘The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me -the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular …’
A Facebook memory popped up on my timeline over the weekend and made me want to touch base with my ‘Keeping It Going’ blog again. The memory showed a photo of a piece of work that was inspired by objects which belonged to my late Nana. The memory also included a blog post from the same period and it was fascinating to recap and go back two years in time, particularly in terms of world news – politics, specifically. So much has happened!
‘Nana’s Colours’ Part of an ongoing series of assemblage work in tribute to a dear grandmother.
But, as well as what’s been going on globally, the blog post also reminded me about how much of my creative work continues to focus around the life of my late grandmother (Nana) and the many objects associated with the home in which she lived for some 70 years.
It also made me think about my recent involvement in an Arts Council funded project, The Museum for Object Research, created and led by artist Sonia Boue.The proposal I submitted forthe Museumsums up the way in which the ‘Nana’s Colours’ body of workbegan and continues to evolve; how the mass of objects that make up my own personal collection provides the vast majority of raw material for creating work. The proposal I submitted to The Museum for Object Research is very relevant to the overall theme of my work with objects and for this reason, I have included it here:
I propose to build on an existing body of work, ‘Nana’s Colours’ which was inspired by the small collection of things that I gathered from my Nana’s home when she was finally forced to leave it. In the five years since my Nana’s death, I have combined the various items I rescued from her home with others from my extensive lifetime collection to create small assemblage works.
The source material is diverse – china, glassware, fabrics, soaps, powders, paper, plastics and so on – but the objects selected are all steeped in social history and speak volumes about my Nana’s identity, age and social standing and of course, my relationship with her.
The small celebratory assemblages are an ongoing testimony to the relatively simple existence my Nana lived in a small Cambridgeshire village. She lived until the grand age of 102 and the work demonstrates how much life has changed over the past century, particularly in relation to the things we own nowadays – the things we have in our homes and make use of.
Examining my late Nana’s objects in this respect is extremely poignant, homing in on deep-rooted childhood memories around family and relationships – love and loss. The objects still exist – my Nana sadly, no longer does. The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me – the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular. The objects live on, our emotional attachments projected onto them, and become enriched with the assorted narratives and stories surrounding them.
The Museum for Object Research touches on a recurring theme in my work around the question of value and worth. What is an object ‘worth?’ How do we put a price on certain items? As it stands alone, a used powder puff has no monetary value. If however, it’s one that my Nana used, then it becomes imbued with a highly personal history and narrative. Its emotional value is enormous – it’s worth an awful lot to me. People pay thousands of pounds for John Lennon’s glasses, or even Elvis’s hairdryer. Shouldn’t objects that belonged to ‘ordinary’ people be celebrated too?
The end of summer 2017 is set to be an eventful and symbolic time; my twin sons leaving for respective universities will undoubtedly have a big impact on the amount of spare time I’m going to have. It will be a time of massive change and readjustment for all of us as a family and only time will tell how much of my sons’ leaving will affect my creative output. I’ll be back at some point in the future to report back, I’m sure …
In the meantime, you can read more about The Museum for Object Research – the premise behind the project, the participating artists and so on – by following this link:
This photograph was taken outside the Magdalen Road Studios project space Filament 14, during MfOR’s mid term gathering of artist proposals.
NB. The poem in this blog post first appeared on my (Sonia Boué’s) The Other Side blog site, which is where much of the material about my research on the autistic professional template for MfOR can be found.
So we’ve reach a mid term point in our Arts Council funded research and development for MfOR. Where have we got to?
My professional template research was planned to take place alongside practical development of the MfOR project, but in practice has been so radical in it’s findings that a reshaping of the project has been needed, which continues to evolve.
The key questions to emerge – what is an autistic-led project, and have we designed one – were not even framed at the outset, let alone tested.
The answer to the latter is that we haven’t, because (Catch 22 alert) we didn’t know what one looked like before my research began.
Due to prevailing norms we’ve designed a predominant neurotype (PNT) project, based on PNT principles – which (by definition) are largely disabling to an autistic person/professional.
Redesigning the project is therefore a process – ongoing.
In a nutshell, MfOR began as an optimistic experiment with my autism, yet I was from first principles unwittingly disabled by my own PNT influenced project design.
Autism is a non-trivial human difference, and yet PNT systems are so embedded in the everyday that one is easily wrong-footed and (in very real terms) dis-abled despite being a perfectly competent autistic human. But however competent I may be, I can’t project lead while disabled.
Fortunately, part of my particular humanness is a heightened ability to focus, analyse, unpick and reconstruct. My ‘condition’ (if it is such) makes me a creative troubleshooter par excellence – I have to be to survive.
The job right now is to allow space for this thinking to unfold. I’m discovering so much about being disabled, about the absolute wisdom of the social model of disability and – more importantly still – how non-autistic humans become disabled in autistic spaces. This really does work both ways.
I hope the Arts Council – if they’re watching at this stage – approve that much of my working through of this thinking comes via the poetic form. My last ACE funded project Through An Artist’s Eye had poetry as a core professional development goal for improvement in technique and confidence. Hey, Arts Council – that was money well spent, and this is too. I can’t think of many more important cultural causes than a true investment in diversity. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to carry out this difficult, challenging and significant work – which I hope will be of benefit to others. The personal and professional development for me is proving immense.
Here is the preamble to the poem from The Other Side.
“The context for my poem Perfect storm is the research for my Arts Council Funded project – The Museum for Object Research. It isn’t about any one person or conversation, but more about my growing understanding of the ways in which I am disabled – despite being a competent human – by ingrained assumption and the double empathy bind.”
Dawn brings the perfect storm.
And skylights catch droplets in rapid succession.
Yet I am deaf to their timpani.
Undoing the stitches of my carefully fashioned…
I have spoken for the first time of my disability.
A pointed conversation.
But what of…
Yes! I say (quite shamelessly).
I do have one.
And degrees and so forth.
(Despite scoring zero for I.Q.*)
And, what is more,
I often soar above you.
(The aerial view is our prerogative.
Including the ‘voiceless’ and the more visibly NEEDY.
Sharing a something you can’t reach.
Ah yes – a club of sorts.
Seemingly without a fee.)
And perhaps this difference.
Well. It’s irrefutably so.
Is. Also. Your. Disability.
The places you can’t go.
I am disabled.
But by what?
And by whom?
What (I ask myself).
And. Most certainly.
I can read it.
In the symbiosis of our smiles.
And we can act like kittens.
Playing with string.
Until it’s time.
To bring the dead bird in.
A trophy to trying.
A cup to greet the day.
* My cognitive profile is not measurable as an IQ score.
The air is crisp and I have a book to read. A book about material memory – the backbone of my artistic practice.
I reflect that this book is itself an object. A treasure sifted from the internet. I often go prospecting online. It suits my brain. Sifting is soothing and over time has proved richly rewarding.
For example, a tweet lasts for 18 minutes (I’m told) before it sinks under the volume of subsequent contenders. So you have to sift carefully, scroll and click, scroll and click.
Repeat and repeat this action often enough and either you’ll find something useful in the archive, or suddenly you’re there in the moment when a fleck of gold sparkles live.
Such was the case with, Material Memories, Design and Evocation, (Ed Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward & Jeremy Aynsley) Berg, 1999. It appeared in a tweet by the Art Historian Marius Kwint, who I’ve been following for some time.
My copy is ex library, it has a yellow 7 day sticker on the spine, and a white label which reads Gen. Lit. B—0.5 KWI. A Leeds University Library sticker (green print) on the inside cover has been stamped WITHDRAWN in black. A further loan record slip on the opposite (and otherwise) blank page confirms (in blue print) that it was a 7 day loan book. It bears one stamp – 15 JUN 2009 and a further black WITHDRAWN stamp. The slip also says in bold, Edward Boyle Library. For a second I play detective – withdrawn in 2009 this book has lived another life and known other hands.
Another layer of consciousness? A separate gear? I am suddenly transported to all the libraries I have ever known (as in falling down a rabbit hole) – but to one library specifically. The library of my undergraduate university days on the Sussex University campus, as a student of art history. A sensation no doubt egged on by two familiar names. Contributors to this book include tutors from my degree course – Marcia Pointon and Nigel Llewellyn.
Further good augeries are contained in this book’s colour. Ah, it is orange (the colour of my wedding dress). The right orange (positive vibes ++/ like a duracell battery lasting longer, longer, longer). Warmth and vitality are promised – a dose of intellectual vitamin C.
The pages are smooth and weighty.
Each section or chapter bears a rectangular back and white photograph of a dissected nautilus shell top right. Further visual interruptions (a fine right-angled line at the top corner of each page) signal, I feel, that our subject is visual culture. I like it all.
Willem van Aelst Still Life with Fish, Bread and Nautilus Cup 17th century (detail)
The nautilus for the art historian (one who wrote her dissertation on Dutch still life certainly) subliminally signals vanitas genre at each turn of the chapter heading; the allusion to natural history museums is not missed either (I even make a stab at fibonacci in the far reaches of consciousness).
Now I am in all the galleries and museums I have bodily experience of. But quickly (as before) specifics take over and I find myself in the Oxford Natural History Museum which, like a museums Russian doll, houses the Pitt Rivers (a museum displaying the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford ). I hover between them.
As sometimes in a dream, I break the 4th wall to ask myself a question. When images or objects transport us, when memory is embodied thus, are we floating I wonder? And does this have a steering wheel? But I’ve broken the spell, and I don’t have an answer.
Marius observes (p4) this kind of involuntary memory is,
“…not the symbolic realm of the Freudian unconscious, but something wholly sensual and hence physiological. Here memory connects with the entire body and the full complexity of the world around.”
It’s this power of the object to bodily transport us (or bring back to us visceral memory), which has stuck me most in my work. It was my beginnings with my grandmother’s handbag in 2013, by which I mean to say my formation as the object art practitioner I am today.
It was also the genesis of first incarnation of The Museum for Object Research blog. The extraordinary evocation of a childhood, tinged with the grief of war through this household object, led to my subsequent work on the Spanish Civil War as a postmemory experience – but it also begged some more general questions.
How can an object contain ‘lost’ or hidden worlds (of memory) and restore them bodily to us? By what mechanism; and how as artists can we convey such experiences to our audiences?
In my practice I moved sharply from making objects or distorting them, to conserving them and keeping them whole. I no longer wanted to create objects from found materials or paint over them – a different form of assemblage emerged where bringing objects together or framing them made it possible to be as specific as I needed to be in my allusions to an actual history. I did not want to mark them in any way. And in doing so I opened the door to the viewer’s imagination to sense the atmosphere and fill the gaps (although all the contextual material is available in my blogs).
You could say that I found my subject. But I found my objects too. Yet I was hungry for knowledge, for a framework to understand this work by. I sought to share these thoughts and findings with other object artists and widen the investigation.
The joy of the blog was in finding colleagues and revelling in the richness of their object art practices. In pooling resources we created community, which now seeks expression in offline spaces and is currently in development.
Marius’ book (it turned out) is actually a talking book – as Twitter proves again to be a catalyst for connection and also conversation. By the magic of this digital age I could read and tweet my observations directly to him. Further sorcery – Marius could respond!
How gratifying and instructive to be able to talk about some of the concepts behind this rich collection of writings on material memory, and also be joined by Elena Thomas my MfOR collaborator in chief.
This is honestly the best of Twitter for artists. Making accessible the thinkers who can bring your practice on through their insights, and who you instinctively feel from their writing will get what you’re about. This can only happen when people are open and generous with their time. Thank you Marius!
What a perfect antidote to the current negative trends this lucky find has proved to be.