Grandma Kathleen

As I have mentioned quite a lot of times, this work has all stemmed from the figurines which my grandma keeps. So whilst chatting on the phone to her the other day I began thanking her for being such an important part of the work. I explained that I was now looking into council housing and mentioned I had been researching the Glasgow tenements; this set her off on a few stories which I feel I should mention. As a child, Grandma lived in the tenements, a one bedroom flat in Glasgow with her 6 brothers and sisters and her parents. Just one room for all the kids! Absolutely crazy to think of now! 5 families shared one toilet which was the next street away she said! She did say it was immaculate though- so was proud of that. She was born in 1947 so only two years after the war, which then made a lot of sense considering all the research I’d been doing concerning the state of housing post-war. 8 years later, again making a lot of sense in terms of new social housing, she moved to Drumchapel, an area 7 miles away from the centre. There was another room available- a 2 bed flat, but with the arrival of two more siblings it was still a tight squeeze; with 5 girls in one room and 4 boys in another.  Although this all sounds pretty terrible to me, she was happy to say that: “It was happy days in the tenements.” and what also made me laugh was when she said, “O yes, you would have had to be a posh person not to live in a tenement in Glasgow.” I loved that! While she was on a roll I began asking her about her ornaments, intrigued as to why she likes them so much, she said “I couldn’t live without them.” she said that her mum had had them; probably to show she could afford them. And to my disbelief she came out with-“You better yourself with ornaments.” My grandma truly is the picture of aspirational working class.

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Title?

Back in the studio today to check on the drying process! As its dried it’s captured all the details! I think it’s fantastic! I had a chat with my lovely friends today to see what they thought about the piece and what they think my next step should be. Surprisingly they liked it just how it was! They liked the white wallpapered plinth. I mentioned that I was thinking of painting over the wallpaper in the hope that this would portray what I’m implying with the figure- that time gone by. Helen said it looked like I’ve already gone over it WITH the white wallpaper so maybe that’s the idea. From this discussion and seeing the piece dry on the plinth today I’ve decided I like it too much just the way it is. So I will show this next week and see how people perceive it. Now I just need a title! Suggestions were made for Grandma or my Grandma’s name Kathleen but I feel this is too personal. Perhaps that title I used for the emptying process of my grandma’s house: The Home of Nobody? I want imply this time gone by, but without making the audience think of the objects in terms of fashions of the home, which I feel could happen with such a simple title.

Grandma’s Ornaments

Now along with those fitted wardrobes I spoke of earlier, my grandma also left behind a hell of a lot of ornaments at her old house. My grandma is well known for her huge collection of ornaments, she has them everywhere- around the TV, in the bathroom, kitchen- everywhere. She was determined she wasn’t going to take them all with her to the new house, so I asked her to put aside all the ones she was going to throw away for me. I was unsure of what I wanted to do with them, artists like Lisa Selby and Ruth Claxton have been big influences here. See previous blog posts:  https://rachelfenwick.co.uk/?s=lisa+selby and https://rachelfenwick.co.uk/?s=ruth+claxton.

I’m really interested in these ornaments. These objects have been of such high importance to my grandma and now she chooses to cast them aside. So strange! I had somewhat of a brainwave on the train coming back to Nottingham about this next stage of work. Firstly bleaching these figures- see how that goes. Leave just the eyes? Silent witnesses! And also I have a few ideas concerning plinths. Taking these ornaments out of their context- the home, felt really strange, what would it be like when I put them in a gallery setting? What would it be like if I wallpapered plinths bringing back some of the context? Could I continue this plinth idea with other home objects?

The Home of Nobody

As a follow on from the previous post, I’ve chosen to title this entry as The Home of Nobody. I think it could be a good working title for this series of photographs were I’m photographing these almost empty homes- their occupants gone. These photos have actually been taken from my Grandmas home. Thankfully my grandma is perfectly alright! However I helped her move home this weekend so it was a great opportunity for me to take photos in that “mid move” stage. It was a really insightful experience! As my grandma had A LOT of stuff! It was so interesting to see what she had chosen to take with her and what she left behind. Some really expensive things which it seemed my grandma had no need for- we found some expensive tea sets in her wardrobe which we’d been told to leave. It really highlighted how much material rubbish we hold on to in our homes. The mirrored wardrobes were a particular interest to me. As I found out my grandma had had these wardrobes for over 40 years- imagine all the “private and vulnerable moments” those wardrobes had been witness to! And now she was just going to leave them- (the new house had fitted wardrobes.) This just seemed so monumental in everything I’m considering at the moment whereby our objects are witnesses to our most private moments however in the end they are  just left unwanted.

Lisa Selby, Artist Talk

One thing I mentioned briefly, a couple of blog posts ago, was Lisa Selby’s show With and Without, however I never got round to blogging about the fantastic artist talk which she gave at The Surface Gallery all the way back on the 9th of May. I was amongst just a select few of the artist’s “fans” as she gave an extremely personal talk about the selection of works exhibited in With and Without. I found the artist herself particularly down to earth and really appreciated this about her. She spoke about her work in such an easy manner which I easily related too. Her work was such an inspiration to me. I spoke about her artist statement before- particularly this sentence- “Selby rearticulates items from the domestic environment, relaying the familiarity and alienation experienced as one moves physically and psychologically from one home to another.” As I said her work relates so closely to mine, so I was so excited to hear her speak about it!

At the beginning of the talk Selby explained how she found herself at Goldsmiths creating mostly sculptural work; when as a student at Trent she tried so hard to be a painter. The sculpture came from somewhere so enlightening to me. It was in fact her grandma’s figurine ornaments that were pasted down to her. As a child she wasn’t allowed to play with these precious objects. She never understood why her grandma insisted on this- as she said they always looked so ready to play with. Now these objects were hers she began playing and creating with these objects- changing their form, firing them in the kiln etc. After hearing this from Selby I have a new found fascination with the multitude of ornaments my grandma has. I keep asking her why on earth she picks one from the next. What makes one ornament more important than the next? Why does that one get centre stage in the middle of the fireplace? I learnt that the stamp underneath meant an awful lot. But I still can’t fathom out why she likes buying these and whether it matters what these women are doing or wearing. One thing I’ll never understand is why she has so many, and why she even has them in the bathroom! (Photos to follow!)

Some interesting research Selby mentioned was something I studied at English Literature A level- it’s a short story called The Yellow Wallpaper. I have a feeling this might be key to something next year so I need to track that down from some old notes I think. Also Sylvia Plath was mentioned so may have to crack those books out too!

Selby soon began to talk about the shift from home to home and the impact this has on us. For instance she spoke about the objects we choose to take with us, the ones we keep. Why do we keep some and not the others? What are those objects we lose from our lives? She spoke about the build up of layers on an object- something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Can there be such thing as a neutral object? She spoke about the titles of the work too which is something I have been tackling in my work. In my latest piece – “In every dwelling, even the richest, the first task of the phenomenologist is to find the original shell.” I hoped I had intrigued the viewer with this philosophical sentence. However Selby made me realise that this may not be the case, I’m more likely to be alienating the average viewer- distancing them from the work. The viewer can be intrigued by the title without using big fancy words.

One last thing I want to mention was Selby’s carpet piece- “Dance me on and on”, I enjoyed that whilst listening to her artist talk I discovered a lot of Selby’s sculpture had huge personal meanings behind them. These meanings are kept secret from the viewer and the piece becomes whatever the viewer sees. I’ve been slightly afraid of doing personal work at uni- unsure as to whether others can relate to personal work? But Selby showed me that it can be done. “Dance me on and on” was one of those personal pieces that had such an endearing meaning. Selby explained that this piece commented on the association with song, dancing, drinking and having a good time with a lover. But when that lover has left you repeat the drinking and the dancing to forget those moments. The red wine spilt on the cream carpet shows not only that but Selby also comments on the pristine way we want to keep our houses. Surely those stains of red wine are the signs of a person living a life in that house? Mark making their life.

http://www.lisaselby.com/index.php