The exhibition was always an exciting prospect, but also one which made me feel slightly nervous because it is so important to combine subject and accessibility. The items that emerged from the event I organised and charity shops really seemed to come together coherently, like a “before and after” moment, but I had to find the best way for people to encounter the work I was producing and to reflect on underlying meanings.
I was allocated a space in the “Glass Box” and I was very pleased with that decision to have boxes in a box. I originally wanted to hide the work from plain view, making it more about discovering stories and getting fleeting glimpses of personal items an imagining their importance, so I was not thinking in terms of frames or typical displays. I set out to use a box with a hole so that viewers could discover the ceramics inside. I looked at commercially available boxes, but decided to make custom boxes for the show with laser cutting as the most professional option. I made a few prototypes, but, unfortunately, while the options offered by the university were really good, they didn’t quite match what I wanted. The original card was too thin and the wood options were too thick for the small ceramics. I decided to use cardboard, ideally 2.5 mm thick. I managed to find some that turned out to be perfect and had them cut and assembled ready for the show. I did not do uniform sizes, so there is some variety between the boxes. I also had my paintings printed on lovely textured paper and cut into different shapes and sizes so be displayed with the ceramics. I had a few plans for what I wanted, but they remained fairly flexible.
The stone wall was a challenge as I wasn’t able to screw or stick the boxes to the wall as I had planned or put up the half-shelves I’d considered. There was also a lack of plugs and that affected the lights which I had originally considered to light the boxes along with some other considerations. Plans had to be changed. Shelves were added to joists, new battery operated lights were ordered. Prints, ceramics and boxes would now be displayed on the shelves. I decided to keep the shelving white to matched the supports and the raw space suits the ceramics and paintings so much better. I’m really happy with the grey wall. I think It’s beautiful and really works with the display. I was really pleased with the finished result, I had to adapt and I think it’s worked out for the best. Managing the lights and batteries will be an ongoing challenge, but I am uncertain about the effectiveness of the natural lighting and the solid wall and wish to avoid wires and too much heat from electrical wiring and bulbs.
Despite all that, putting up a show is far less daunting now that I have actually done it!
It was a year I never really anticipated. In many sense it became the culmination of the last two years in academic and personal terms, but in the form of significant changes to the way I approached my final project. For most of my previous coursework I had been developing a form of work that often included collage. I expect that approach to continue, but that changed.
I spent last summer considering potential projects, something that coincided with my Great-Aunt move to a new house. I began with a wish to celebrate her life and character through the objects she collected and loved, but, on reflection, my choice may also have been about me coming to terms with change. I know loss through death, but what I observed was different, it was the loss of a world I inhabited as a child, but with many strands of that world transferred into a new space. Her new house mixes her possessions with those of my Grandmother and the Great-Grandmother I never knew but whose likeness I bear like a genetic echo. Collections of objects from three lives were blended to create something new.
Clearing and sorting, moving and changing are part of life, but perhaps we generally avoid too much reflection in the processes of “doing”. I felt the needed to consider something that we seem to avoid thinking too much about.
The general direction was set, and having one theme for the year was great, but I needed input from my lecturers to help me to put my vague thoughts into more coherent plans. I decided I wanted the work to be physical, textural and mark making and the first term was spent experimenting and coming to come to terms with the downside of experimentation, the hard reality of producing work that I would decide would not be used in the final exhibition. It was a process that is stressful when the pressure of deadlines and delivery loom, but it was essential.
I set the project aside to do the dissertation, but although I found it worthwhile in many senses, my heart and mind wanted to finish the project. However, the break seemed to bring more certainty about what I felt I needed to achieve.
I added greatly to my pressures with a decision to add ceramics to what I intended to delicate and complementary paintings. The decision threw me in to the unfamiliar world of clay, porcelain, glazes and kilns. It was very challenging, but I found it rewarding and so exciting to open the kiln door and see how they had turned out.
The objects and pictures are intended to encourage group and personal reflection and to deepen our understanding of how we often depend on them. I organised a social event to test out the power of bringing objects and sharing their emotional value. It far exceed my hopes and expectations.
This project feels like a new beginning. I feel excited and inspired for the future.
Following the event I began to paint small, gouache paintings of the objects and glimpses of memories surrounding them. These glimpses include sights, experiences, patterns, small things that are remembered and stay with a person. I imagined the mixture of real stories and lives filling the local charity shop as I viewed the shelves of ornaments for sale. I tried to make them as delicate as possible; fading yet every mark has a place. It was a slightly different way of working for me as I had become more drawn techniques using cut outs or collage, but there certainly seemed to be a different feeling to the painting that I hope viewers can connect with the stories.
The project then took a slightly different turn, as it became less and less about houses and homes and more about objects and the significance that we give to them. So many of our rooms and houses are defined by the objects we choose to collect or to keep. In a sense we often seem to use the objects to create a tableau that reflects our life and interests, to convey a sense of who we feel we are, our history, our interests, even our values.
The journey of an object subtly raised awareness of the cycle of our lives and how we treat or how others treat the object at the end of its life or what happens to these special treasures? I thought that there must be a more positive way to connect personal experiences and people’s feelings about their precious objects to other people and transfer that feeling or emotion.
I did some further research into my original concerns about the isolation, known as the ‘Silent Killer’, that older generations can feel. I decided this needed to remain and become more prominent in my work because it is such a big and important underlying issue that needs to be tackled. I decided the best way to approach the subject was to do something practical in order to try to make some impact.
I scaled down my work and began to work with much smaller items because sometimes smaller things can have just as much impact if not more. Being small it suddenly becomes a lot more precious and something that needs to be examined and zoomed in on. They represent the small quiet voices of people affected by the ‘Silent Killer’ but thousands of small voices add up.
A quirky habit that my great-aunt has is to constantly move the objects around in her room. Every time I visited, which could be over a number of days, the objects would have moved around the fireplace (in particular) and she had great joy in doing so and discussing the new arrangements. This inspired an animation where the objects move around the fireplace and disappear. It highlights the live, movement in the house and how it gently stops and fades away. I did a GIF test using my iPad and redid the animation using paintings. I think the concept worked but it may be too similar to game, as it bops about the screen, it does show life and movement but it perhaps wasn’t sensitive enough for the project.
It was all very much experimental work and potential tests exploring the issues.
I organised an event where a number of different people in two of the local villages were invited to bring objects that they treasured to a social event. The only condition was that the items were not of any real financial value.
The event went extremely well and was far more powerful than I expected. I didn’t take photographs as I had intended to as I was so caught up in the moment and also the atmosphere didn’t seem appropriate to begin taking photos as, in my opinion, it would have felt too intrusive and made people too self-conscious. I did, however, make a voice recording of the event.
The weather was wet and generally miserable which could have deterred people from coming but the number of people who attended was the perfect amount. With a range of people aged between 5 and 88 (so certainly inter-generational) who all talked, shared and listened.
Stories and memories started more conversations and connections as others agreed or shared similar or parallel experiences. Following the discussion, we shared food in the form of a sort of traditional “High Tea”. It became a really special experience. We all got to know one another better and everyone expressed how much they enjoyed it and how we should have more similar events. With the population living longer we need to find ways of dealing with these issues of isolation and I am now personally convinced that promoting an inclusive culture where people can relax and share with one another is one way of doing this.
I saw the first term very much as a time of experimentation and research and as a result I’d found I’d created quite a large body of work, but it lacked a sense of purpose. I didn’t have a place for it to fit. Things began to come together in the second term.
When thinking about how to display the work, the theme and groups that I fitted into were stillness and contemplation and hidden or forgotten narratives. I think these are key to the project and also key to how they would be displayed. I was very keen to do something that would be engaging and involve a degree or interaction, rather than simply looking at an artwork. I explored the option of printing very small versions of my pictures and using a magnifying glass to observe them, however the paintings by nature were already so small, they already seemed the perfect size, and weren’t detailed enough to require a magnifying glass as they were. Another option was to place the images on pegboard and make them moveable or to be hung on a washing line and able to be picked up and looked at like a postcard. I made pegboard, but it was a very distracting background, and I decided not to use it.
I also wanted to display my ceramic figures and one option to do so was to make boxes that have a small eye hole to look through and discover what’s inside and provide a sense of fleeting moments. I did some research into this and found some boxes but also discovered the connotation that such a peephole is linked to voyeurism which could take away from the intended meaning.
I set about making boxes, finding an empty box at home and experimenting with it. It seemed an ideal option for my intended purpose. I could cut a shape in the box for the same effect without it being a peephole. I experimented with laser cutting different materials making a wooden box that slotted together and the card that the university provides. The card was too thin and looked very much like a cheap takeaway packaging. The wooden box worked, if glued, but was perhaps too bulky for the nature of the ceramics and the project. I sourced cardboard that was 2mm thick (which is actually surprisingly challenging). The cardboard instantly made a difference. I also changed the oval design that I had been using and made the dimensions slightly wider so that one ceramic can go in it without being swamped. There is also a degree of natural light that is allowed in, but I’m sourcing some different lights to try a lit space.
The main challenge that developed was how to effectively combine the display in the boxes and the paintings. I need the two distinctive mediums to work in balance and to combine to engage viewers as they examine the figures inside the boxes and take a closer look at the small paintings. I hope that the balance and presentation will allow that kind of interaction. My underlying intention is that they will imagine how the art and objects presented were valued by their original owners and formed part of their lives. I was struck at how one of the ladies who brought a precious family dish to the event saw it as her tangible link to her family and the county of her birth, far from her current home. Someone coming into possession of that kind of object from a charity shop or as a gift could perhaps never guess it’s heritage or meaning, but they can imagine…