Boltanski (Modern Art Oxford, 2014)postulated that you could create a person’s identity from their belongings, an idea that underlay his exhibition of photos of belongings in “Inventory of objects belonging to a young man of Oxford” in which he displayed museum-like collections of photos, which could be a way of exploring the sense of presence and absence.
I’m now living with lots of my mother’s possessions here in my house. Similarly there is a sense of presence and absence. I thought about using some of the objects to create a still life in a historical, nostalgic style.
I decided to try putting cyanotype images on other materials- I tried a few items, but they all proved more or less impermeable, but it worked with a handkerchief and a hand crocheted doily. These are old, antique, materials, of significance in themselves, now being stamped with an identity. I arranged these in a still life, trying to arrange the light so as to achieve depth from the chiaroscuro effects. The still life was composed of books from my mother’s collection, and one from mine, TS Eliot, Four Quartets. A handbag, a broken string of pearls from my brother’s wedding, an antique glass vase, a small brass container, a wooden box which she had used to keep my father’s papers in, and a collection of my grandmother’s lace. The effect is of a Victorian photograph, and resonates a feeling of a dusty unvisited room, relics, memorialising as an art form. Without this stamp, this is an ordinary object that is only recognisable to me. By placing an image on it, it becomes clear that this is some kind of object of reverence, stamped with an identity, and evocative of a presence. I’m thinking of Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam, in which the weight of memory is overpowering, and the stillness of the present is palpable, making it hard to move forward. That makes it become fetishistic, perhaps.
It is a still life, but “nature morte” is a more chilling title. The images of my mother are now entirely objectified. She is imaged on handworked textiles, with objects that recall days gone by, as if to freeze her in a time and set of values.
What I want to portray with this image is an acknowledgement of their “museum” artefact status, and even, going beyond that into perhaps an unhealthy obsession, a fetish.What the practice hints at is the idea of the artists as a collector or curator of images, rather than a creator, acknowledging the impossibility of creating anything new in our multi-referential world. The art I make is a reflection of my culture and experience, holding up a mirror to what I value, and revealing, in my composition, my interpretations and priorities. The fact that this is a self-consciously staged picture, a tableau, the pearls carefully placed, the box artfully open and the textiles seeming to fall out, the images posed, all entirely unnatural, further acknowledges the fact.
To extend this, and further create a “museum-like” feel, these are cyanotypes based on the above. I need to consider the paper used- this is Fabriano, and it’s too grainy, maybe with sizing that reacts chemically. The negatives are not sharp enough either. Perhaps this needs an exposure unit with a vacuum.
I am thinking of Cindy Sherman and her staged tableau self-portraits, in which the artifice is clear, and seems to parody a particular genre, below, the Elizabethan oil-painted portrait, stressing the profile, the genetic identification of that nose and high brow, the status of the sitter, the textures of her clothes and jewellery, the pose, not making eye contact, but having the look of being looked at.