“A found object is singular, irreplaceable, both lost and found.
When an artist discovers and uses a found object, its relationship is first and foremost with the artist’s own subjectivity.
It has triggered a jolt of recognition. Like a fetish, it fills a void, like finding the right word in a poem, it offers a vehicle for meaning”
This week, I invited two artist friends to look at my collection of objects and fragments that I’ve dug from the garden. I wanted to know whether others would find something in them, even though they haven’t ‘discovered’ them themselves in the same way, in the sense of digging them up, but in discovering them in my ‘collection’ in the barn.
My first experimentee (if that’s a word? Perhaps I should use the word ‘subject', as in 'focus’) was Pippa. I wasn’t sure how may objects to suggest she chose – I have a bit of an obsession with the numbers 1, 3, 7 and 11. So I thought I'd start at the beginning and suggested she chose just one. After looking around for one, she decided she needed three, and chose a two pottery fragments and a big, but intricate, metal one. A few days later, Maggi also chose three. Three very different objects: remnants of an old bucket, a shovel and a teaspoon.
I found their choices fascinating: I couldn’t have predicted any of them. Pippa and Maggi had swept over many of my ‘favourites’, and focused on things I’d not really noticed. The act of watching them choose, and then explain their choices brought out stories and insights (and more questions) about both the people choosing the objects and the objects themselves. Past, present and future of the objects and the people were all wonderfully tied together in a sort of chaotic continuum. Both Pippa and Maggi told stories that exposed something of their values, formative events and experiences. The ‘jolt of recognition’ seemed to be when they found something that linked the past – whether their past, or the object’s past - to something about them, or about an interest or concern, in the present.
I think this is maybe what Will Viney means when he says: “Asking what waste is for me, is to ask how its relation to ‘someone’ has been done and undone over time”.
Pippa’s choice 1: Ridged plate fragment
"I knew this type of plate as a child", Pippa said. "I used to trace my fingers along the ridgey curves when I was 4 or 5. My Nan had plates and the jug as well. I was sitting at the table, tracing the curves, and just enjoying it in a very simple way..."
Pippa’s choice 2: Wheat decorated fragment
"I’m obsessed with the shape of wheat, and the fact it’s a fragment is like … aaagh, finding a jewel! I guess it’s the symbolism, the fertility, the repetitive shape. I’m a visual artist and I look at it and I think, yeah, nice. Feathers do the same thing, but they are not as voluptuous."
Pippa’s choice 3: Trivet
"I just love the detail! It's all crusty and crumbly, but it’s the detail of the ironwork. Its something that I don’t think is done anymore - the 3 pieces from the firegrate are so elaborately decorated. Its just how ornate they should be! I love that detail. I wouldn’t like to live back in those days, it was so hard, but I appreciate the level of detail they used to put on these practical things, the craftmanship, compared to the modern wood burners and things".
Maggi’s choice 1: Bucket
"My three are all metal! I haven't gone for any of the ceramics". Maggi said. "I think it's because rust is synonymous with age and time and the patina and the stories it symbolises. I chose the bucket because it is to do with childhood. I spent a lot of time carrying buckets. It makes me think of milking and of both grandparents, for different reasons. Buckets were such a huge part of our life. As a child I was asked to carry a bucket - full of coal or milk - because its something you can do as a child. It gives you a role, so you can get on with it in the background. It was milking first that came to me when I saw it.
There's also something about it being a test of your strength as to how you carry buckets. I was quite often given two buckets – it was about balance. Once I was in a hammam in Morocco with a woman’s family, and they told me how they picked out wives for their sons from the way that women carried their buckets. They watched how they carried full buckets of water – they are very heavy. They looked at the hip power, the way they held themselves. They were very impressed with how I carried the buckets – they didn’t think a stick of a person like me would be able to do it."
Maggi’s choice 2: Shovel
"Rust again. Childhood. I used to help my grandfather make ‘pele’ for the fire, a mix of coal dust and clay that we’d make into little round balls to dry. My grandfather had an amazing tool made out of a can. It's now in the museum in Camarthen. He’d put the pele on the fire and make a hole in the middle like a turret so the smoke would come out of it. He taught me how to use the shovel. So I became a really important part of the household. We’d have to dance around in a circle to squish it together. The end result was called pele, but the coal dust and mix with clay (dug from the garden) was called ‘pele mond’. Its only in the Gwendraeth Valley in Camarthenshire that this was done."
Maggi’s choice 3: Spoon
"I think I like its aesthetic side – its shape, colour, the missing bit from the side, the natural patina. And it says such a story about being fed. It seems timeless, something that goes through all cultures, providing our nourishment from the beginning. A little teaspoon is one of the most important things as a baby, and it's rather left behind as an adult somehow: we just use it occasionally for little bits, for sugar and so on."
Thinking of the future: A collaboration with Chris Dugrenier
“[The challenge of making effective art] is to make resurrected forms meaningful now,
not in terms of nostalgia, but in terms of present struggles and dreams and hopes and fears.
If modern art is to have some general influence, it must manipulate some collective content of general human significance”
Lucy R Lippard
Writing this up now, I'm left thinking of teaspoons, of the significance of 3s, of whether I could possibly be as lucid as Pippa and Maggi in explaining my choices of fragments and objects. My experimental opening up of the barn does suggest to me that there maybe something about these things that is of wider relevance and significance than just a personal obsession. There are, of course, more questions: There was much talk of the past, and the present, but what of the future? What if Pippa and Maggi had gone away with their objects? What would have been the futures of both, tied together, at least for a duration?
Luckily I'm not going to have to make sense of all this alone! I was absolutely delighted yesterday when Chris. Dugrenier, an inspirational performance artist, agreed to collaborate with me on the project. Her thinking and writing and performance are exceptionally beautiful, honest, and insightful. I am so excited to have the opportunity to work with her. http://www.chrisdugrenier.com. One comment on her website says "The best theatre makes us see ourselves more clearly. Yours did that". What better feedback could there be?