An Exhibition for Modern Living

It’s not often when you search ‘what’s on’ on a gallery’s website that you find something you love. Occasionally you come across something that sounds like it could be interesting but never have I been so pleasantly surprised to see Matthew Darbyshire’s name on The Manchester Art Gallery’s website. He was an artist I discovered right at the end of my degree; he became a huge influence in the idea of the collection. The Fenwick Collection was born with his Exhibition of Modern Living in mind. I designed the layout of my plinths in the same style Darbyshire displayed his Exhibition of Modern Living– I allowed my viewer to walk around my grandma’s figurines just as Darbyshire encouraged his viewer to walk around his show room of desirable objects. So to finally walk around Darbyshire’s piece myself was something of a moment.

There was so much I could relate to in Matthew Darbyshire’s work. I could sense the notion of gentrification, the multitude of aspirational objects and the use of plinths to empower a humble object. I was slightly underwhelmed by the position of the installation Exhibition of Modern Living. It felt tucked away in a corner. It needed the whole room to itself. Regardless I walked around inspecting the carefully chosen and positioned objects. Darbyshire commenting himself that at this point you are “entering a curated space.” Louis commenting; at this point bored with the exhibition, “It’s just like being in John Lewis.” This, in a way, means Darbyshire has succeeded in showing his viewer the idealisms of Modern Living in a curated art space.


Since the uneasiness of the Untitled format used in previous works and then the too literal format I chose for the show and expose, I’ve been unsure as what to name this piece. In my head I’ve just been calling it The Collection. I want the title to talk of my collection of making, and the idea of collecting within the home, those belongs we keep to reflect an image of ourselves. I suggested during a tutorial the formal title of “A Collection of Appropriated Objects.” But as I thought, it just seemed too serious for the work. I want to play with the idea that these are my grandma’s figurines so why are they now in the art world? it was suggested I look at the base of the figures to formulate a title- finding one that read “The regal collection” as it’s stamp. I quite liked this idea of using this process to create a title. We spoke about where these objects came from, could that be referenced in the title? The Royal Kathleen Collection maybe? Or perhaps The Fenwick Collection -which I particularly enjoyed as it spoke of my own collection of making and my grandma’s collection for her home.

Haim Steinbach at The Serpentine

I made the rash decision, whist writing my essay the other week, to book a trip to London! I decided to go and see an artist’s work I was talking about in great depth; Haim Steinbach. Upon further research I found out he had a show on at the Serpentine Gallery, it was too good of an opportunity to miss. So this Sunday I went to see Steinbach’s incredible show. Although it may have been a little too close to my deadline it was undoubtedly a great decision. Maybe even more so at this time, it felt really good to assure myself that this is what I’m really excited about. Haim Steinbach really hit the nail on the head with everything he was saying and it related so well to my practice. For example the first sentence of  his exhibition catalogue read: “Haim Steinbach’s work is defined by his continued investigation into what constitutes art objects and the ways in which they are displayed. Through the collecting and arranging of objects, he taps into a fundamental human practice that is almost ritualised in its universality.”

It was Steinbach’s use of display that really excited me! In my essay I wrote; “it’s been said that Steinbach turned the notion of display on its head”- and he certainly did that. His almost quirky and playful methods of display not only redefined the way in which an art object can be displayed, it became an integral part of the piece- the object and display worked side by side, complimenting one another. Much like in my own work; I hope the wallpapered plinth and the transformed figurine work together as one. The wallpaper I use includes the object, it brings in the narrative of the object and confirms the home and the domestic. This idea is again spoke of in the exhibition guide: “Steinbach often positions his objects within larger architectural installations, which resemble domestic interiors. Several of these historical installations have been reconceived within the exhibition, where sheets of wallpaper sit on studded walls. These walls also guide the viewers’ navigation through the galleries and highlight the architectural qualities of the space.”

What seemed a really crucial piece for both me and indeed the exhibition as a whole, was a new work created specially for this show. In this work Steinbach invited members of the public to lend their salt and pepper shakers to be displayed within his installation. I enjoyed that Steinbach acknowledged that these objects have a story, a place in time- “By transporting objects that hold their own stories into the gallery, Steinbach’s participatory gesture reactivates them within this new context and makes the connection between the private and the public sphere.” The objects I use within my own practice I believe possess an even more telling story than these salt and pepper shakers; they encourage the viewer to search out their secrets an uncover their own narratives.

There is so much more I could say about this exhibition but I will stop here for now, ending with this extract, again from the guide,it perfectly sums up the notions I’m portraying within my practice: “Through juxtaposing these painting, sculptures, artefacts and children’s playthings, Steinbach uncovers alternative meanings inherent in the objects, while subverting traditional notions of display and the value of objects. In presenting these loan salt and pepper shakers, Steinbach also unites the day-to-day habits of the home with the seemingly more conventional museum-based act of collection and display.”

Matthew Darbyshire

So the idea of the collection begins! Like I said I’m really excited about this idea. I hope to make a multitude of plinths, their décor style will each be different; some may be very minimal, some over exaggerated and some will show the traces left behind after my decoration. The plinths will range in height. Some will host my grandmas figurines, or casts of these figures and I may even include some of  the magnolia figures I made earlier this year. I hope to leave some plinths without figurines- establishing the idea that the plinths resemble architectural walls.

I also want to mention here the work of Matthew Darbyshire. A big influence in terms of the collection that I’m intending! After being recommended his work I instantly saw the potential of my work being seen as a collection. In the piece above titled- “Exhibition for Modern Living.” Darbyshire accumulates a multitude of modern objects,  The audience is allowed to explore each object, taking in their purpose or lack off it and discover their ultimate tackiness; all the while they are being made aware of consumer capitalism and our taste choices as individuals and collectively.  I’ve also noticed in this image the layout of the piece; the viewer is allowed to step into the space, weave through and come out at the other end. This is the affect I hope to achieve in the layout of my plinths- enough room for my viewer to walk around the figurines and explore their secrets.

Luxury and Degradation

As my casting work continues in the studio I’ve also been doing some more research into the work of Jeff Koons. In particular his collective work: Luxury and Degradation. In the book I took out the library; Jeff Koons handbook, I found the quote below which talks about my work so closely, particularly my transformation of the object itself. Jeff Koons remakes these kitsch objects in luxury materials transforming their value and worth. I hope to transform my grandmas figurines into the materials of the art world, transforming their value for an art audience.

  • “In ‘Luxury and Degradation’ the objects are given an artificial luxury, an artificial value, which transforms them completely, changing there function, and, to a certain extent, decriticalizing them.”

Robert Rosenblum’s notes, at the beginning of the book, sums the work up for me; “I recall the shock of my initial confrontation with Koon’s lovingly hideous and accurate reconstructions the lowest levels of three-dimensional kitsch…” “We all, of course, have been seeing this kind of stuff for years in every shopping centre and tourist trap, but never before have we been forced, as one is in a gallery setting, to look head on and up close at it’s mind boggling ugliness and deliriously vapid expressions.” Won’t lie, had to look up the word vapid; it means bland. Bland and ugly objects being forced into the eye of the viewer.

Jo Addison

A couple of Thursday’s ago now on the 27th of February I had the great pleasure of hearing artist: Jo Addison, talk about her art practice. She spoke with remarkable truth about the obstacles she faces daily with the pressures that come with being a practising artist and the upset which this often causes her. Using the surprising quotation to begin her talk:  “I don’t want to be an artist, I want to be happy.” A statement which I found so appealing! She reflected upon her practice saying: “I have a crazy love of things.” Jo Addison is big into her objects and it’s the way she spoke about her use of objects that I really wanted to note here.

  • “Approximating a narrative through the role of an object.”
  • “Things speaking with a different language.”
  • “A language of objects.” (This could be an interesting title?)
  • Objects being communicated by a language.

After hearing Addison talk about her work in this way I began thinking about my work as a language of objects. The figurines transferring a language of working class taste and the plinths a language of cultural middle class.

Before and After

With these recent images of almost empty homes, I’ve recognised that throughout the photographing stage, gradually the objects become more depleted within the rooms. With each photograph taken the more objects that go. Playing around on windows photo viewer I placed these images side by side on the screen a before/after shot so to speak. I really like this almost spot the difference feel.


I’ve chosen the title Aftermath for this piece. I found the definition-  the consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.

A play on words with this definition concerning the after effects of leaving a property and leaving behind certain objects and also the after effects of my scraping away process.