A Shift in Perspective

imageI began re-reading the Museum for Object Research blog yesterday in search for the post about the policeman’s bicycle, but in doing so happened upon a post from August 2015 that Sonia wrote about Joseph Cornell.

A conversation ensued about parallel play. Having spent much time observing children play, this stage of interaction and development fascinates me. I draw analogies all over the place about how artists work. I parallel play with Sarah, my studio mate, watching her output, her choices, and then making my own. I cannot help but be affected by my observations and comparisons. It won’t show in the work (I don’t think) but it is there. I also feel that Sonia and I are playing in parallel too. We are separate, working alone, but observing, taking on board what is happening with the other person. Our own movements sometimes imperceptibly affected, or occasionally momentously affected. I have appropriated the double helix as a symbol of this… Connected… Affected… Parallel… Watching and reacting…

Continuing my search for the Policeman’s bicycle, it occurs to me I have been a victim (or perpetrator?) of selective memory….

What I took from reading this the first time round was a tiny proportion of the post, but it came at a time when I needed it, so it stuck.

My use of objects – mainly garments – has its roots about ten years ago I suppose, and has evolved into the work I’m doing at the moment. The child and the mother have always been present in my work,and my non-art work (if there ever was such a thing?) over the years has been with children. So Patrick Goodall’s post struck chords.

I was familiar with Winnicott’s transitional objects research, which drew me in, but the section that slapped me around the face was this:

“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.”

This concept of a transference between people and objects and people and people was exactly what I had been shuffling around. In the amount of time it took me to read that paragraph, and read it a few more times, my work shifted… Like an optical illusion, it wasn’t an old lady I was looking at, but a young girl. The lines were still in the same place, the stitches I had made, the objects I had used, the lines I had drawn were still valid, still meant what I had intended them to mean, but suddenly they were more. This analogy of transferred molecules was perfect. This vision of the fluidity of the policeman’s bottom and its place in the world has stuck. I cling to it.

It is this concept of an object holding something of the people that interact with it, and something passes from one person to another, and that the object keeps a record… That leaks out somehow… I am interested in the imperceptible space between bottom and saddle. I am interested in the space between the hand that strokes or strikes, the garment holding the place between one person and another.

Before reading this, I was content with my work, but there was a niggle something wasn’t quite right. But I feel happier now that I’m not happy. I have something to strive for. I am no longer happy with the hand marks upon the children’s clothes.


They had their place in the thought process, and as items, I love them still. But the stuff going on in my head now might be the stuff of nightmares to some.
There is a layer of meaning, a place in the world for people that I work to encapsulate. And in some ways, I hope I never get there. My religion, my belief, my rituals now all involve this effort to stitch with smoke.

I cannot now conceive of a body of work that isn’t striving for something tricky to pin down. The conversation, research and art that will happen in the process of bringing the Museum into the real world, will blast us forward again I am sure.

Elena Thomas

December 2016


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