“Objects are ideas with the dust of exile upon them”

Originally posted here

The Museum is delighted to welcome Patrick Goodall object artist and art therapist, as guest blogger with this wonderful post about the secret life of objects including a ‘superpower’ to absorb molecules and carry the DNA of memory, person and even place within them. I love the freedom and the range of this post – beautifully written and sparkling with life itself. Enjoy!


15 Grandfathers-Stone
Grandfather’s Stone

I have an animistic fantasy that objects are only inanimate when observed, that they “play possum” (in other words play dead), in order to fool our gaze. In this assemblage the pen-knife is “really” a Toucan-like bird, lying immobile, so that the cat’s predatory killing instinct is not aroused. Since I first opened a pen-knife I have always seen a bird when opening a knife, the main blade a beak, the opposite blades and assorted accessories tail feathers, a rivet for an eye and so on.

Shamanism, totemism and fetishism are examples of ancient traditions which ascribe a spiritual life to objects dismissed as “primitive” by Cartesian rationalism. However in Japan there is the ongoing everyday influence of Shintoism, where for example a tool is named after and invested with aspects of its owner, to the extent that if it breaks it is not merely thrown away but ceremoniously disposed of; suggesting that this ancient tendency survives residually in modern society. How many of us name our cars, or ascribe personality to the objects that we own?

Animated cartoons are full of objects that spring to life under magical conditions; brooms that sweep for you, toys that come to life when the playroom is closed, the “Brave Little Toaster” that, when abandoned, heroically seeks its former owner. We laughingly stick “googly” eyes to objects to anthropomorphise them, but aren’t we really recognising that we have a need to invest supposedly inert objects with our feelings?

D.W.Winnicott, the object relations theorist, posited the notion of transitional phenomena being instrumental in our negotiation of our inner and outer worlds, the location of spiritual and artistic experience, and our means of individuating through “me and not me” phenomena. The transitional object in this context is an “as if” phenomenon; it is as if it has an impossible paradoxical existence as being both “me”, and “not me”.

The study of perception suggests that we project meaning on to objects just as much as light reflected from objects projects onto the surface of our retinas. We imbue objects with meaning, memories and associations. They become talismans, containers of meaning and feeling.

My late grandfather gave me a pebble from his pocket that he had smoothed by years of rubbing between thumb and forefinger. He called it his Thinking Stone. It is mundanity made precious by association. It must have absorbed microscopic agents from his sweat, or at least I’d like to think so. Flann O’Brien wrote that the policeman’s bicycle seat in “The Third Policeman” had exchanged molecules over the years he had ridden it to the extent that the bicycle had become part policeman and the policeman part bicycle. The laws of physics are challenged by quantum theorist’s discovery of the slippery nature of matter that is so surprisingly empty and tenuous that the absurdity of O’Brien’s bike becomes almost believable, and my grandfathers presence in the stone gratifyingly possible.

The title of this post is a quote by Saint-Pol-Roux, a remarkable French poet, given to me by my art school tutor Anthony Earnshaw (the imp of surrealism), a master of the art of assemblage. “Objects are ideas with the dust of exile upon them” speaks of the nature of our reality, and the weight of subjectivity in perception.

My work plays with our natural propensity to seek meaning in objects, made more complex by juxtaposing incongruous objects to create a network of associations, in an attempt to blow the dust off of these mundane objects and hopefully create a kind of visual poetry.

Patrick Goodall 2014