The “object poems” or “thought engines” that I’m proposing to make will be like visual “figures of speech”, not the common simile or metaphor (the substitution of like for like) but more like metonymy (substitution of an attribute for a holder. e.g. a crown for a king). Some will act as a synecdoche (part for whole), for instance an egg shell can refer to or stand for an egg, or for food, or for good living, or for new life and innocence. Some of the relationships suggested in the juxtapositions of the chosen objects will be provocative and nuanced while others may only make sense by demonstrating a kind of collective futility in the face of contemporary media bombardment. Some will elicit ideas of cultural evolution, others may suggest more socio-political metaphors of hope. I hope that these proposed assembled objects will create a sense of both unease and strange familiarity. I want them to walk a fine balance between representation (and illusion) and the material’s need to to conform to a certain use so as to become, to use Harold Rosenberg’s term, “anxious objects”. Most need to be old, everyday objects that have been used. They must be familiar and understandable, stained with a patina of time and traces of use, thereby suggesting possible histories. And yet when eased into improbable, enigmatic alliances with other objects, they will become new, suggesting possible futures. Through ambiguity, each juxtaposition would make precise and easy interpretation impossible. Meaning would slide backwards and forwards between the collective (of the assemblage) and the individual (of the meanings and history inherent in the parts) in a manner that is by nature both unstable and subversive. Some will generally be concerned with ideas of preciousness (not necessarily of rare “things”), essentials, fundamental choices and preferences, etc., set against objects that are non-essential. Talismanic, they would act as reminders of certain values, beliefs and hopes that we all share or need to prioritise more than we do. Above all their purpose is to be signifiers of potential, of what might be rather than what is or what has been. They are enabling and transformative.
The “object poems” or “thought engines” which I’m either working on or which I hope to produce are listed below. They are not in any order of priority and this is not a complete list as new ideas and juxtapositions are suggesting themselves daily. Conversely some may not be possible if I cannot find and acquire specific objects or if I cannot afford to purchase the necessary materials or services.
1) A life size head of rust dust. Possibly with a “Spirit Level”. I’m still trying to formulate, to work out exactly what this is about at present. It represents so many ideas for me about natural flux, about the need for balance and parameters in our lives. It’s also about the primacy of process and how materials are signifiers, carriers of ideas and metaphors to replace linearity or representation. As Robert Doisneau said ” To suggest is sublime, to describe destroy”.
2) Two silver goblets, one half full of honey and a second half full of ashes. The first represents birth and promise, the second suggests death and ending. The journey between the two is short. It is very minimal Beckett-like idea. Also with the goblets being half full they are also half empty and as such they allude to the test to discover if one is a pessimist or an optimist – another Beckett-like dilemma.
3) An old, rural egg carrier with 41 holes for eggs, holding only 40 eggs over which will be suspended a series of “Dobby Stones” – stones with naturally formed holes in them. These stones are local to Cumbria where I live, and are believed to “ward off the evil eye” i.e. protect against misfortune. They are good luck charms, which are usually hung over cattle stalls or the doorways of people’s houses. The egg is the true virgin, an innocent and real, a symbol of new life and new beginnings. Whereas the “Dobby Stone” is symbolic of old superstitions, of foolish, illogical and unfounded myths which tend to confound and stop progress. Perhaps we can purchase the eggs in Siena?
4) Four or six “Incubator” assemblage boxes, each containing a bird’s nest. Each nest will cradle, protect and nurture an object of potential. I have finished three of these so far with titles – “Pivot”, “Cardinal” and “Loop”. I’m currently making two others at present, one of which will contain either a piece of quartz crystal or mica, which is symbolic of frozen sperm, which in its turn suggest new life and potential. The second one is not resolved yet.
5) Thirty-six X-Rays of human skulls, all different, all unique. I envisage these being displayed in the inner vault of the Caveau, in all the cages that are at about head height. They will need some form of simple lighting behind them so as to illuminate them, perhaps a suspended fluorescent strip light in each cage? They will also need some form of black card or wooden mounts to be made on site, to frame each X-Ray and to fill each cage so that there is no light spill. Can these be made in Siena?
6) A specially made wooden attaché case carrying a display of “The Dust of Men’s Tears”. I can explain the thoughts behind this piece later if need be.
7) A series of small black square boxes each containing compressed materials such as coal dust, volcanic stone, roots, etc. These are materials that are usually hidden, unseen, and yet they effect us everyday – they serve to illustrate both the primacy of process frozen in time and the potential power and energy of compression whether it be of materials or ideas or words. For example, good poets have this ability to convey ideas of jaw-dropping insight and beauty in a few lines of crafted compression.
8) A “cave drawing” in sanguine of a common garden shed inside a split stone. Here in the UK the shed is a common site, usually made of scraps of wood and old doors, an assemblage. A place of refuge, it is also symbolic of independence and innovation, a place where individuals explore and develop unique ideas, a laboratory of the possible. There are many other meanings that I recognise a shed having, which I can supply you with later. For me the shed is a very potent metaphor for all that I do and believe in. I think that these two small pieces may be best displayed on a simple, single block of wood. If this is OK with you I’ll send the ideal dimensions nearer the time. Rather than having me carry it over or to have it shipped to Siena it would be easier and more economical if this were made on site in Siena.
9) A book titled “XXXXXXXXXXX” sealed in salt, on a bed of gold leaf with a sheet of glass holding it down. Salt destroys all but gold and glass. Salt, like time itself, is a preservative and a destroyer. This also refers to Italo Calvino’s writings and in particular a book called “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” which contains a short essay called “Exactitude” in which he discusses beautifully, the similarities and differences between a crystal and a flame. This is a really inspiring, erudite book that is alive with stimulating suggestivity. I can forward the text if necessary.
10) A small ceramic bowl containing a stone rounded by the currents in a river, which is attached to a copper wire suspended from and attached to a small motor turning at 1 revolution per minute. The stone sculpts the bowl whilst at the same time the bowl shapes the stone. The stone symbolises nature, what is given, and the certainty of mathematics and natural laws. The bowl represents what we make of that nature. The two objects working reciprocally together allude to the (uneasy) symbiosis we have with nature, that produces culture and cultural evolution. This piece has been inspired by my readings of William Wordsworth and serves to illustrate the imperative that runs through all of his work, which is that art should disclose in the workings of the universe analogues for the human mind and soul.
11) An old Kodak bellows camera flanked on one side by a suspended red rose (right way up), and on the other, similarly suspended, a seemingly fresh rose – in fact an artificial silk rose complete with fake dew drops. Over time the real rose will die whilst the second rose will apparently defy death and stay fresh. This is about photography’s peculiar ability to capture a moment in time, to freeze the instant and convey only a version of the truth. It is also about our perception, and our readings of such images.
12) An old shovel head with gold leaf swirls along its cutting edge and a suggestion of a starry sky. This refers, obliquely, to Galileo’s discovery of sunspots and it also suggests a conjoined paradox in that this is a tool made by man for working on and with the land and yet it also carries a message about the infinite, the heavens. It also suggests aspiration and ideas about enabling and transformation.
13) A small black wooden crucifix and egg hanging in space by a discreet thread. Another piece that refers to Galileo’s discoveries and the conflict they caused with the Catholic Church. It also refers to the differences between religious belief systems and natural phenomena, about the invented myth and the given fact, the analytical and the actual. The title for this will be crucially as important as the piece itself. Needless to say I still haven’t decided on the title – it must be just right.
14) A large Victorian family Bible riddled with holes made by bookworms, which will hopefully resemble constellations of stars. Again this eludes to Galileo’s achievements and the fear that they instilled in the Catholic Church as well as the ongoing debate between dogma and fact. This may be displayed with one other object or material such as sawdust, a by-product of an action to demonstrate cause and effect … not sure yet.
15) A pair of white Crow’s wings hung discreetly by threads in a cage. This is an alchemical allusion to aspiring to the ultimate goal, the philosopher’s stone or gold, which is of course impossible.
16) Three school inkpots found in a dig in the garden of the home I had in London. I converted an old Victorian school in Vauxhall, which had started life as an Art School. The inkpots had obviously come from the Victorian school. One is completely embedded in earth and stones, another is also embedded in earth and stone with roots emerging from its base and a third is also embedded in earth and stone with roots emerging from its base and will have tendrils of copper wires shooting from its top spout. (Copper is a conductor of energy). These serve to demonstrate an idea of progressive cultural evolution and again refer to Wordsworth’s work and his ideas that put nature at the centre of all we do.
17) A glass bell-jar containing either deer fur, cottonweed heads, leaf skeletons, or “Angel Hair” (a synthetic material used to drape over Christmas trees and lights to make them shimmer.) I want this to be an object that displays something that is ethereal and hard to grasp or focus on. Wild Deer are notoriously shy and nervous and as such are difficult to get near to. What the material is will be difficult to recognise or identify.
18) Kurt Schwitters’s scissors plus one other object. I’m not sure what this complementary object might be just yet. I want to make a link between his pioneering work using the collage principle in a wide range of disciplines including abstract picture making, sound experiments, phonetic poetry, installations, graphic design, sculpture, set design, etc., to the multimedia world that we now live in and which we take for granted. This will be a gentle but heartfelt homage to a man whose life and work have been a constant source of inspiration to me and whose influence on the arts and the media, I feel, has been totally overlooked.
19) A rope of sand to hang from a thread in one cage. Queen Elizabeth I of England, when discussing religions once said that ” … all religions, (except her faith) were but ropes of sand” – therefore useless.
20) A pile of about five or six old books each wrapped in waterproof brown paper and tied together with string plus one other, at present unknown, object. As with some of the other proposed objects and juxtapositions, I haven’t figured out what this about yet … hopefully it will come. I t feels like the weakest idea so far and my well be abandoned. If it does develop and take on a body then perhaps the books, which would be preferably old, large academic tomes, and the old-fashioned water proof paper, can be bought in Siena?
21) A series of small assemblage boxes which I’m working on. Each will relate to and celebrate the small, unseen, quiet explosions of energy in natural phenomenon, what I call “little forevers” – as opposed to what I call the “big nows” of most of the contemporary media landscape. These are meditative, contemplative and curatorial works. Titles for these so far are:- “Little Niagaras”, “Fall To Rise”, Perfume, “Air (Community)”, “What If? (Hum Box)” and “Velocity or Pause?”
22) A fish skeleton covered in blue-ish crystals. With another unknown object. This refers to the fact that in olden times before man had devices to enable them to detect poisonous gases underground, miner’s would take dead fish down into the mines. If a poisonous gas was present the fish would glow. This is just such a beautiful “enabling” idea. It also relates to the fact that the Caveau is underground, a place of secrets and the unknown of the unconscious.
23) A clock marked with thirteen hours. This is called the “Geek” clock. “Geek” is an American slang word given to people who were employed in fairgrounds and freak shows to perform the most ugly, disgusting and depraved acts in order to earn their keep, such as bite the heads off of live chickens. The thirteen hours on the clock face refers to the insanity of this behaviour and the questionable attitude of both the fairground owners who instigated and insisted on such acts and the strange mentality of those who paid money to see such acts. The “Geek” clock can also stand as a critical comment against the current “Geek” culture of society today, with its cult of celebrity in which the mundane, the dubious, the inane, even the criminal or the deliberately provocative are elevated to global status. It also refers to a society, which celebrates and encourages short term thinking, a society which I feel is moving to fast without enough thought being given to what is being lost or the subsequent consequences of this headlong rush.
24) A “random radio” that I’m devising. It’s an old, 1940’s valve radio that has a slow moving motor (1 revolution per minute) attached to the station tuning dial. Manual tuning of the radio signal is impossible as it is ceaselessly searching for a static station signal. This produces an endlessly changing sound collage of the everyday – a listener will never hear the same sound twice. A generative sound collage, it alludes to numerous ideas about the shifting nature of European history, of geography and borders, boundaries and those in between areas known as “no-man’s land”, languages, cultural similarities and differences, and the current question of asylum seekers.
25) A hand made fictional globe of the world. This will be about twenty inches in diameter and be constructed of rope, plaster, earth, sand, ash and computer resistors. It will be bound in a multitude of coloured sewing threads. It may be attached to one plate of a domestic weighing scale, On the other plate, the plate usually used for placing the weights on, may be a “Spirit Level” artificially weighted down so as to outweigh the world, metaphorically and physically. Ideally the globe should be illuminated from within so as to send beams of light through the gaps in the threads and ropes, creating a dappled light all around.
26) The bones of a horse’s spine, preferably in one continuous piece.
27) Glass aquarium full of blown light bulbs.
28) Another glass aquarium full of water and a block of stone-like material with a crack in. From the crack air bubbles escape. This will also need a small aquarium air pump.
I also like the idea of having a number of empty or apparently empty cages/shelves. Some could be minimally occupied, say with an evaporating pool of salt crystals, or a puddle of water or a sprinkling of earth. Others may have dust or tiny remnants ribbon or fragments of cloth. These would be like forensic details found at a scene or they may simply suggest an absence, a trace, a clue as to what might have been.
:- some leporello (concertina folding) hand made books concerning the ethereal and the enduring; one demonstrating the process of rusting (man-made materials being gently subsumed and transformed by a natural chemical process) and another showing abstracted cloud drawings using a Victorian art which uses of candle smoke; both are ethereal forms and both express the fragility and unpredictability of our contemporary condition. One never sees the same cloud twice and yet the smoke drawings are fixed. Other ideas for “mind bombs” for this contemporary Kunstkamera, (or is it Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer?) are massing on a daily basis! Editing will be the key to how effective these individual objects correspond to one another. The actual display of these objects will also be of critical importance if their effect, individually and collectively, is to be conceptually and contextually strong and visually seductive.
Alongside and to complement these, Petulia is conceiving of ways of using films of people appearing and disappearing, like ghosts of past, present and possible futures. These would suggest both the permanence of our presence and the transitoriness of life itself; the polarities of the enduring and the ethereal would be pulled like magnets. The films would display and suggest truly human emotions and qualities which we hope will create both a bond and an uneasy alliance with the series of objects within the cages of the vault. I know she has many ideas as to how these will be made, how they will look and how they will be projected. Also I know that she has many ideas that are informing their creation, but I cannot speak for her or attempt to outline her ideas in precise detail. I think that this is for her to do far more eloquently in her own language and her own words.
As for a title, Petulia and I have decided on using the word “Hold”.
This word has been continually suggesting itself to me as a word that encapsulates the ideas at work on all levels, and as such might make a good, bold, enigmatic yet multi-layered title for the installation. In English it has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used. It is duplicitous too; it can imply a power that is compassionate or which is sinister or destructive. For me, as a word on its own, it is a simple, strong word which demands attention and yet is disquieting. It suggests ownership and possession, a vault, jail or bank vault or a safe whilst also alluding to safety and strength, certainty and also to love and one’s need to be loved and belong within a social group. Below are the main dictionary definitions which are complex I’m afraid, even for me! But hopefully you’ll read some parts that may let you understand what I mean.
hold1: keep fast, grasp; keep thing in a particular position (hold it in the light); hold a thing over a person, threaten him constantly with it; grasp so as to control (hold the reins); keep (oneself, one’s head) in particular attitude or condition. 2: (Of vessel etc.) contain or be able to do so (jug holds two pints); not to be unduly intoxicated by (liquor etc.) 3: possess, be the owner or holder or tenant of, (property, stocks, land or absolution: holds from the king); have (specified playing card or cards) in one’s hands; have gained (holds a law degree, the long-jump record); (Military) keep possession of (place etc.) against attack; occupy (place, person’s thoughts, etc.); engross (person’s attention); dominate (holds the stage). 4: keep (person etc.) in specified place, condition, etc., (hold him at bay, prisoner, in suspense); detain in custody; make (person) adhere to (terms, promise; hold to bail – bind by bail; (Sport) restrict (opponents) to (draw etc.) 5: observe, celebrate, conduct, (festival, meeting, conversation): use (insolent etc.) language. 6: restrain (hold your fire, noise, tongue); withhold, cease. hold everything!, cease action or movement); hold your horse !; there is no holding him etc., he etc., is restive or in high spirits or determined. 7: think, believe, (thing, opinion, that, person etc., to be. hold it against a person, regard it as to his discredit that; hold it good, think it advisable to do); (of judge or court) lay down, decide, (that); have specified feeling towards (hold him in high esteem, contempt); hold a thing as cheap, not value it; hold dear, regard, with affection. 8: remain unbroken, not give way; (of weather), continue fine; hold by, to, adhere to (choice, purpose, etc.); hold with, approve of. 9: hold good, true, (of law etc.) be valid, apply. 10: keep going (hold on one’s way). 11: restrain oneself; hold hard!, stop, wait. 12: hold the baby, hold one’s breath, hold the clock, hold on, hold the court, hold the fort, hold one’s ground, hold one’s or person’s hand; hold one’s head high, behave proudly and confidently; hold the line, not yield, maintain telephone connection; hold one’s nose; hold to ransom; hold water, be sound, bear examination. 13: hold aloof, avoid communication with persons etc.; hold back, restrain, impede progress of, keep (thing) to or for oneself, hesitate, refrain from; hold back, hindrance; hold down, repress, to be competent enough to keep one’s job; hold forth, offer (inducement etc.), speak at length or publicly; hold harmless; hold in, confine, keep in check; hold off, delay, keep one’s distance, not begin action; hold on, keep one’s grasp on something, not ring off, stop or wait; hold out, stretch forth (hand etc.), offer (inducement etc.), maintain resistance, persist or last, continue to make demand for; hold out on, refuse something to (person); hold over, postpone, relic; hold together, (cause to) cohere; hold up, support, sustain, maintain (head etc.) erect, (hold up one’s head, not be downcast), exhibit, display (especially hold to derision etc.), arrest progress of, obstruct, (stop and ) rob by (threat of) violence; hold up, robbery of this kind, stoppage or delay by traffic, fog, etc. 14: hold all, portable case for miscellaneous articles; hold fast, firm grasp, staple or clamp securing object to wall etc., attachment-organ of alga.
hold), grasp (catch, get, grab, keep, take, lay hold of, hold of); manner of holding in wrestling etc.; opportunity of holding, thing to hold by; hold (on, over, influence (over); (architecturally) fortress; get hold of, acquire, make contact with (person); with no holds barred, all methods being permitted; take hold, become established.
hold, cavity in ship below deck, where cargo is stowed.
[from obsolete holl from Old English hol from adjectival = Old Saxon, Old High German hol, Old Norse holr hollow from Germanic hulaz from Indo-European kel cover]
Also in slang there are other meanings for “hold”:- such as, retention in jail or vault; to have drugs for sale; hold down, extract a living by theft or begging; to hold one’s guts means to keep silent; hold-out, a device for hiding playing cards up a sleeve or in a vest; hold out, retain more than one’s share of the proceeds of a theft or robbery; hold-over, local jail; hold still, won’t be fooled; hold the bag, to be fooled; hold-up, one who robs by “holding-up” a person or a train, etc.; hold fast, property, pledge; holding heavy, having plenty of money; holding the lady down, holding her down, riding on a train, underneath to avoid paying for ticket; etc. The phrase “hold dear” above, when used in ordinary conversation also means considering someone or something as being extremely precious, more important than anyone or anything else.