Object Obsession, Part 1: Connecting The Dots Between Art Practice and Life
What purpose do objects serve in our lives?
What do they say about us?
Why do people hoard?
Is it all about control?
During a visit to the Thomas Dane gallery in Green Park I was suddenly struck with an epiphany.
My work is about sentimentality.
And memory. And transitioning. And accumulation. And control. And so on.
Basically the more I thought about it the more I felt my work was simultaneously becoming easier to identify and contextualise, and broader and disparate, slipping through my mind like sand through…whatever those things are called.
The gallery director, Clare, kindly took a few moments to talk about the exhibition, ‘Scaled-Down’ consisting of a selection of Michael Landy’s works that have been regurgitated in the form of cubes. Clare told us about how during a performance piece by Landy, “Break Down”, that Michael had to remove his mother due to her emotional response. She was crying because she did not know why he would do this. Destroy his belongings. It was the concept of these two things, both destroying and regurgitating that really struck a cord with the things I have been thinking about, not just in my art practice, but also in life in general.
The anecdote Clare had talked about took me back to an emotional call with my own mother when I was 21, at the airport preparing to leave for my first contract at sea. A woman with whom I haven’t lived since I was 10 years old, my mother told me she couldn’t understand how I could leave the country to fly to another one to join a ship where I did not know anybody.
The reason? I had nothing to lose and I had dreamt of travelling since I could remember. This very passion and dream literally etched on my skin in the emblematic form of a palm tree (a lunch break trip as a teenager to a dodgy tattoo parlour that rumour on the street had it didn’t ID its clients). Pure class.
Although this desire to travel and be an elusive nomad with blonde, wavy-beach hair, tanned skin and exotic furniture and jewellery burned deep inside of me, the truth was in fact that it had taken me pretty much reaching rock bottom to get the courage or rather ‘give-a-fuck’ mentality to actually go and pursue it. Granted, it wasn’t the hemp trousers – drinking from a coconut beach dream that my mind had conjured for me during times of teenage angst but it was definitely one huge step towards it.
Rather than regale and bore with the experiences of travel and life as a cruise ship photographer (it’s seriously great though – like seriously) this series of blogs are aimed to explore the other side of travel. The upside down if you will. The stuff we leave behind?? My things! My precious things!
To begin with I didn’t care. I was swept up with excitement, nerves, meeting new people, drinking my bodyweight and then some of double vodka cranberries in the crew bar (just another reason cruise life was great – $1.90 for a double shot and mixer thank you very much). But soon, I found myself having little strange and random thoughts. “I hope my leather jacket is ok” and “my friend’s kids better not be playing with my Little Mermaid stuff ”. At times these feelings very literally kept me awake at night. I contemplated messaging my friend, with whom I had entrusted all my belongings, just to check in. But then in the light of day I’d be glad that I hadn’t. Thanks to Facebook’s ‘check in’ function and despite the ships dodgy Wi-Fi, I was able to keep my friends and family back home updated on whereabouts in the world I was. What a sad state of affairs it would have been for my friend to see ‘Pippa Brabyn is in Fiji having a margarita’, just to receive a cryptic message at 2am “is my jacket hung up properly?”. It doesn’t exactly go far in representing myself as the free-spirited traveller, living in the moment and loving life.
What is so important about the things we possess? Working on Cruise ships for four years, living out of a suitcase and in a tiny cabin, taught me – not that much and simultaneously everything. I was able to live without these things for 4 years. My collection of Mermaid stuff, my leather jacket, my boots, jewellery, artworks from GCSE and A-levels, perfectly round stone I found on the beach at Birling Gap when I was 18… I had proven that I didn’t physically need those things to survive or be happy so why was it so imperative that I keep them in boxes, stored away?
Do they hold a sense of identity and belonging? Are they reflective of our existence like a footprint? Or are they more like anchors weighing us down and tethering us to the shore making it harder to not just physically move but also emotionally move on and maintain a healthy sense of mindfulness?
I am not suggesting that I will necessarily answer these questions to a level that is satisfactory enough to pertain to a majority audience (certainly not right now) but these are questions that I am thinking about in conjunction to Marshall McLuhan’s ethos of the ‘Medium is the Message’ and with particular emphasis on photographs as both objects and medium in terms of portrayal of concept.
“…for while the object is a resistant material body, it is also, simultaneously, a mental realm over which I hold sway, a thing whose meaning is governed by myself alone.” – Jean Baudrillard, The System of Collecting