ooh i sprained my brain in the lead up to this class…perhaps because i’d missed a week and some relevant discussion, but i suspect more because i follow daoism. we were asked to bring in an object that was significant to us, to present to the class for ‘reading’. well, i have a flat fuuuuuuuulllllll of objects that mean things to me, they mean i can make things! i chatted with jennifer about it and had decided on a pot of prussian blue brusho pigment.  

mondrian said that any problem of resolution in painting could be solved with black…black oilbar is made with burnt animal bones so i’ve never used it, but i learnt that when in doubt, prussian blue will fix most mistakes. now in my change over of media, a constant remains, prussian blue in brusho is just as comforting. but then i got an email saying the object could be something life-changing and it could be a text. so i dug out something i find really strange to possess : the map of my grave.

yikes!

it’s because when we bought andy’s burial plot, if we wanted the space above him, we had to buy it at the same time. so it is reserved for me. if my stepson should die before me, he can be buried there, but as i’m over 20 years older than him, let’s assume i’ll die first, that there won’t be such a collapse of society as we know it by that time that individual burials will be a thing of the past (i’d happily be chucked in a mass incinerator to heat community housing if that was a possibility, but composting is the next best) so i know where my grave is…which has really interfered with how i feel at my husband’s grave…as a daoist, the place he left the organic sack he came in is really insignificant to me, his energy has rejoined the universe, his individual life force still exists in films, cds, poetry, artworks and constructions all speaking strongly of his creative approach to life and great sense of humour. he has a son, who has two sons, there is a tree and a piece of woodland protected in his name funded by what was collected at the funeral/instead of flowers, many things live on because of him…but kneeling on my own grave is an odd feeling!

anyway, possessing my own grave plot has changed me, it makes me even more keen to seize the day, even less patient with soap operas (on tv or in real life),when there is a real drama going on, as mary oliver says ” tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”

first we presented our objects and discussed readings of the objects, some were easy, some were so rich it was very hard to do them justice…

mary: shells  brought up a sense of how much older nature and organic life is than the merely human; their  mystery (well rolled in shoals for a few years or buried for a millenium?) their inevitable change in form as the sea works them, the beauty of their appearance, the pleasure of touching them, makes links between our human scale and the timelessness of the ocean which is as much as most humans can cope with of the infinite time of the universe…how much more significant the shells became for some people if there was an identifier that these were from norfolk/holcombe beach, the flat openness of the east coast beaches, the seals, personal memories…

vesse : dried lavender and poppyheads in a painted and embellished jar with thyme oils (a piece made by her that was shown in Textduality) this spoke of the duality of her bulgarian roots and her nottingham garden, aromatic and comforting, it was felt to be gendered, even though the jar was glasspainted a translucent turquoise blue, the flowerheads and pink yarn made it feminine and then the hiddenness of the thyme oils among the herbs became mysterious. i felt there was a dissonance between the “prettiness” of the object and the strength required to balance the healing and longing for home/land, but i had a very gender-aware irritation going on that day!

hilary:  a favourite aunt’s umbrella this again was felt to be gendered, and also spoke of sensible thriftyness and a love of the well-made; the brolly has so far lasted 20 years with a few signs of wear on the wooden handle, but works perfectly. there was also a flavour of old fashionedness, that this suggested an older lady.

singingbird: burial plot papers this spoke of preparedness and organisation, perhaps one of the reasons i find possessing them so incongruous! they are very misleading as a signifier of me, but perhaps signify well how death makes one deal with life, and how this has changed me.

pat: her dead father’s autograph album from his military service during the first world war   this was almost impossibly rich, as eric said, it could have been the basis of a book and i could see a film or tv series based on it. it contains lots of sketches and gave a flavour of the 1914-1918 wartime spirit, it has anna pavlova, the great ballerina’s autograph, glamour and the gritty humour of the trenches all in one album…

eric : his dead father’s silver 1920 engraved cigarette box this was also very rich, the contrast between the engraving and sentimental value and its current scrap value, the lost use, cigarettes are now twice as long as then 🙂

chris: a diabouka, that is a middle eastern pressed aluminium drum with european tuning and a broken skin this made real how quickly things can change, an ancient style of drum that would be fragile and carefully treasured in its traditional ceramic form is now easily affordable, easily repairable, easily tuneable, originally it was common to all muslim countries right through to the muslim areas of china, now it is common to all areas enjoying world music, so including europe and america again, a contrast in value because it is temporarily unfit for use, this spoke to a love of music and dance, celebration…

all this learning to read objects as text is key to postmodernism: there is no one single truth, the way Modernists believed anything could speak to all was totally exploded once we allowed everyone else into art (everyone who wasn’t a eurocentric  straight white male). duchamp first used found/chosen objects in assemblage and the pop artists of the 50s loved assembling incongruous objects, the playfulness of robert rauschenberg’s goat with a tyre brings a smile, if not a full belly laugh, at the thought of all those pompous critics having to be deathly serious about it…

installation art depends on this reading of objects, however random the placing of stray objects may look, some concept lies behind which accidents are accepted and which meanings are emphasised. how much nuance an installation artist brings to their work may be the key to the success of the work, and certainly to the accessibility of it.

textere is the latin for “to weave” and postmodernism posits that text is woven of meanings and associations as a textile is the interplay of warp and woof fibres. context : the weaving together of those meanings within the site it occupies (time and/or place) leads to contextual analysis ” a sophisticated approach to a given subject that necessitates a detailed examination of its origins, its relationship with others of its kind and its history, all of which will help to elucidate its true identity”.

next we divided into 3 groups to make an installation with our significant objects and any other materials available in the store cupboards.

vessa and rekha made a piece based around the blue jar of dried lavender that vessa had brought in, they call this:

one day in winter

i felt like this was the most accessible installation and perhaps the most successful, all of us felt like two women had just left after a coffee/tea together, having a heart-to-heart, the comfort of the healing herbs and a hot drink on a cold day…

eric, latifah, hilary and pat had an embarrassment of riches, the umbrella, autograph album and silver cigarette case were all resonant and i felt they did a really good job of making a coherent installation in such a short time from such rich objects. possible titles were: lives lived or: dues paid the addition of the coppers and empty wallet suggested the struggle of pensioners on war and war widow benefits, the chairs, blanket and umbrella an invalid’s bath chair being wheeled to the promenade…the cartoon in the album is of the vaccinations the soldiers were given, while the cigarette case and roll-up cigarette remind us how carelessly their lives were treated otherwise…

the comfort of the blanket and the protection of the umbrella are so little after years in the trenches or caring for an invalid soldier…there was a real sadness to this piece, perhaps with the three objects being bequeathed this was inevitable, but the positioning of the umbrella to hide the occupant, a hint of ‘trouble bravely born’ in contrast to the cheery cartoons of the album…very evocative, nostalgic, a little melancholic…

sorry, i didn’t take a very good photo of this…

mary and i made links between the sea and the predictable/unpredictability of death and the way we feel individual energy returns to the great deeps of the universe, again the boundless energy of the oceans is an easier way for humans to imagine that…the twisting coils of the freeform crocheted paper bring in the edges of energy only the quantum mechanics have a hope of understanding. the fragility of the paper and human plans against the solid strength of the shells could be depressing, but hopefully their
beauty and the comfort of how their weathered selves feel in the hand is a reminder that change is only change and not to be feared.

so, it all got very deep…i was so tired when i left, and town was so busy, i ended up having  agoraphobia on the way home, luckily a friend could phone buddy me round lidl! yes, retail therapy occurred, but the pretties i’m making are well worth the bend in the budget 😉

update: tony had missed that day, but brought in his object the next week – i failed to get a photo, but if i say it was a pruned piece of hazel with scarred bark from coppicing, which had an uncanny similarity to a priapic (look it up! lol) male, i think you will know what i mean 😉 i laughed out loud when i saw it, andy used to collect them too, although he also had ‘female’ branchings. we discussed what it brought to mind, as well as the shamanic/totemic ritual it could instantly be used for. but also a catapult and the way children could range freely for miles, so sad to compare with nowadays, very few lads would go to the woods alone or even with friends now. chris and mary also saw similarities to the animated figures of Jan Svankmajer (Schwankmeyer) and i saw the two fingers V symbol – either way round. i think it would have been quite hard to fit the hazel into the installations we made, though two fingers to death might have worked! 😉

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