Here I blatantly use questions put to Marie Shannon in an Urbis interview, the questions were asked by Federico Monsalve, editor of Urbis. This interview and content feels relevant as I am working with objects and stories that connect with home and the interior, these questions might be useful for me to reflect on and respond to, and propose as a working practice statement for my next seminar.
I have taken the liberty to edit questions to suit my practice.
The home and it’s content is a very important source for a lot of your work. Why?
I would say it’s the relationships that happen within the domestic interior and the stories that can be told through domestic objects that is at the forefront of my thinking at the moment. I also see tangible, but invisible work, the ‘maintenance’, that Mierle Laderman-Ukeles focuses on in her performance work, again and again the work of women’s hands and hearts:
“clean your desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.”1
I also spend a lot of time in my home, I have young children and as the main carer, a studio away from home is not practical (or affordable) at this time, so I have a space at home to work. I also engage in day to day care work, the emotional labour of running a household, facilitating learning (my children) I also support my mum and ageing poppa.
So, what kind of material are you using?
I’m working with objects and stories that have surfaced while supporting my mum and wider family while my maternal nana’s health deteriorated and she passed away in April 2017. Since then I’ve been helping my mother clear out her parents home and these objects took on more meaning. The objects themselves are quite ordinary in that they speak to the everyday routines, everyday needs and activities of a household. The ways that they seem extraordinary to me relate to the work of care and attention to the needs of family, and the memories that I call up with these objects.
Opening up long closed cupboards and deep drawers led to the discovery of eleven blankets that my nana had made in the 60s and 70s for the beds in her home and in a family bach. She had given me one, years ago, and there was one on ‘my’ bed whenever I stayed with nana and poppa, so I knew of these blankets. I didn’t realise she had made so many, and I can feel the work in them, the weight of them. They embody knowledge of my family history, they have been on the beds of my aunts and uncle, and many members of our family will have felt the weight and warmth of these objects. On close inspection, most of the blankets are marked and stained, some with holes, one has been seriously damaged by sunlight. This reveals something of the lives they’ve lead.
Other objects I’m working with relate to time spent with my nana and my daughter; collections of golden oyster shells, old paint tubes, and fragments of ceramics. The result of time at the beach, of identifying specific finds and story making through found objects. Collective gathering, sorting, valuing, opening questions, ‘to what end?’ and ‘why chose these over others?’
In your work, the act of remembering the objects that create a home seems crucial. Is this as a form of embalming them? A way of ‘showing’ the emotions they carry?
I consider these objects as evidence of care, work and attention, when the work in a household is constantly undone, objects like the quilts remain. I suppose this could evoke an emotional response, the emotions they carry may elude the viewer, or they may bring their own emotions or memories to the work.
“…I realized that my mother had done all these things for me before I had remembered. I was fed; I was washed; I was clothed; I was taught to speak and given a thousand other things, over and over again, hourly, daily, for years. She gave me everything before she gave me nothing.”2
I’m also attempting to reframe care work and domestic work, rather than sidelining it or denying its existence. This work is undervalued in contemporary capitalist culture. It is only because of this unpaid, invisible work that our society functions, it is carried out by millions of women working in the domestic sphere (often as well as outside the home).
When and how did you first become interested in exploring memory and domestic life through art?
Since childhood objects have existed as containers for memories, I considered certain objects significant because they related to a loved one or a formative life event. Certain objects helped me work though the death of close family members. These objects take on a role that affirms my sense of belonging in my family, and provide generational connections. Some objects reveal information about a person I would otherwise not know. With Exercise 45, I knew my nana had started work at 14, when I found a notebook from shorthand night classes she attended at 15.
Nana Joy (left) and colleague walking from work at Farmers Trading Co, circa 1940s.
It was while working with my mother to clear out her family archive that I began to see these objects and their stories as source material for my practice. Partly because they are important to me, and I knew this is a fleeting time, a transitional activity, this clearing and cleaning the old family home.
For many years the world of home interiors was seen as the realm of the ‘female’, while the world of architecture was seen as ‘masculine’. Do you think your work can or should be viewed through a gender lens?