WHAT A small, squat mug, 2013
A small, squat mug consists of a digital photo frame that is around 25cm wide and 20cm tall. It sits on a very large purple table in the meeting room/dining room area of a studio/gallery space called Duende in Rotterdam. The table has around 15 chairs around the table, all different. The table is oblong with an oval end on one side.
The room also has some plants, a leather sofa and a small heater. The walls are two colours; a minty green colour and a cream. There are two entrance and exit points in the space, doors at opposite ends of the room. The space itself is also an oblong, and the table takes up the majority of the floor – forcing a particular passage around the table to move through it. There are also two storage rooms off the room and another door to a studio.
The photo frame presents around 120 images on a rolling slide show. The images stay on the screen for 5 seconds. The images depict two rooms, mainly focusing on tables and their contents. The focus of the photographs is a broken ceramic object, which the camera focuses on with varying degrees of micro and macro levels. The details of the objects can be seen; it’s glaze, colour, shape and the rough edges of the broken fragments. Surrounding the object are many other things such as; papers, notes books, books, fruit, flowers, mugs, a laptop, gloves, sunglasses, pens and pencils etc. Sometimes the camera pans out further and the room can be viewed, in this case prints on a wall can be seen, a box of rolled papers, two sofas, a window, other people.
The perspective of the camera (author) also changes, sometimes the images are on an eye-line with the object, sometimes from the position of sitting in front of the laptop, sometimes directly above. These shifts in perspectives allow more information to be built up around the object and it’s content. Sometimes the author can be viewed in the images as well through their shoes and legs, with their clothing changing during the slide show. Light conditions also change in the images, as do the contents of the desk and room.
Accompanying the digital photo frame is a performance, which happened twice during the exhibition. The performance is of a woman who sits at the table next to the frame and reads a text for around 10 minutes. The text contains a collage of different styles and voices but is read in the same manner through out.
The text begins with a description of a mug on a shelf, its appearance and function – it is too small to be used to drink with so is used as a plant pot on a shelf. It then moves onto to describe the other contents on the shelving unit, such as books, a vase, belt, bags etc. It then describes how the mug was obtained; it was an expensive gift and asks what to do with an expensive mug? Not use it.
The text then describes the mug and its size (190ml) and price (£14.95) alongside a commercial style description ‘ striking and handsome’. It then shifts into a more personal account of a person clearing out their house and finding some ceramics by Rachel Barker, which leads them to reminisce about how they knew her and how they have lost contact (due to that being pre-pre-pre facebook).
The text then describes four large people in a room, the possible relationship (family) and the possible context (a waiting room) due to the flowers, fruit and laptop. The text moves next to describing a gallery, the openness of the space, the sounds occupying the room and how the elements of the show interrelate.
The text finished with a description of a bee buzzing at a dirty window.
The work was made by, firstly, a plant breaking a ceramic mug. This object (the broken mug) was then kept for a period of time; it got in the way and became redundant. The artist then started to document this by taking photographs of the mug everyday. This began in her bedroom and then moved to the studio.
The photos were taken over a period of around 6 weeks.
Once the photographs had been amassed (around 120) the artist decided to write an accompanying text to be performed with the images. The text at times relates very strongly to the object and at times moves around it in a more abstract form.
A digital photo frame was selected as a display device due to the domestic quality, the mundane nature of the photographs seemed to suit a more ‘every day’ and familiar form of technology. A non-standard ‘art’ display device was also wanted, over a projector or flat screen TV. This was echoed by the choice of space for the work, the dining room is small and intimate and the viewer can sit at the table to watch the images creating a more ‘domestic’ experience than in the main white gallery. For the performance there was around 30 people in the room, sat at the table and stood around. This mass of bodies created an interesting dynamic in the space and a strong sense of focused attention on the speaker and the (small) images.
This work was instigated by a chance, which is an important aspect in my practice. The initial act was not created by myself, it was by a plant, which grew so much in my absence that it fell off a shelf and pulled the mug with it. This event interested me as it was authored by another, not even human presence, and I wanted to try and understand how I could respond to this, as authorship and appropriation are important aspects of my work. Initially, I also kept the broken pieces because I intended to repair it, but this never happened so I was left with a redundant object taking up valuable space on my desk. In order to try and understand my own rationale (alongside my interest in re-thinking the plant braking the mug as a creative act) I started to document the object through photography.
I then moved the mug to my studio to continue this process. In doing this I also became interested in implicating all of the other aspects of my studio and practice into the work, so enlarged the frame of the photographs to include the table and the room. In doing this other works in progress become visible alongside research material such as books, notes, emails etc.
I have become interested in thinking about what it means to have a lived experience of a work (or something which may inform a work), how my perceptions can change with the object and in this sense how I can produce a work through inhabiting it. I tried to reflect this process my locating the mug in the space (the studio) where these cognitive processes take place, as well as through the text, which attempts to think through the potential of multiple interpretations of the object by using multiple subjectivies.
I inhabited different modes of address in the text, from modernist style objective description, to text lifted from the Internet of a commercial sales pitch for the mug as well as a personal account of a relationship with the ceramicist who made the mug (taken from a blog). I then move into a fictional imagining of the mugs fragments as a family and the studio as a waiting room. I also use sections of two reviews from a recent exhibition. I selected fragments of the texts that hover between being general and specific in their descriptions of works as I wanted to create a tension between whether the description is of the mug, the whole exhibition at Duende or of another show entirely. Either way, I wanted to inflect interpretations of the new work with interpretations of previous works, to create a cyclical dynamic of potential interpretations and misinterpretations in the larger practice as well as this work. Through using both my own subjectivity and other peoples, which hopefully the viewer will also contribute to in their own readings, creating a generative space of instability and a potential flux of meaning within the practice.
Using myself as an unreliable subject within the work, as both the visual documenter of the mug and the textual documenter, is an approach I have been exploring over the past 6 months. The idea of the witness is also important, who is the witness within the work and of what. The ethics of being a witness and not an active participant and what it means to be implicated in this within a work. The mug becomes a silent witness to it’s own death, the cause of which is not revealed.