We are just back from a trip down to Windsor, where we were exhibiting at Art in Clay. It was a trip down to another country, both figuratively and literally. The grass was bleach blond from heat and the cars were massive. We walked along a street of tiny old cottages and idly checked the price of one that was for sale. We were shocked.
At events like this one, you get a lot of time to people-watch. Two immaculately dressed women, for example, accompanied by a girl of about eleven or twelve, all three of them in summer dresses, hats and high heels. The girl modelling her movements on her older role models as if carefully choreographed as they turned on slender necks and ran long finger nails over items that seemed worthy of attention. It seemed to me that the girle was in training; learning the rules of recreational shopping.
Because our stall is laden with words (poetry) people tend to stand for a long time and read. There are often tears. Sometimes there are long conversations in which we feel like priests must do when holding the humanity of others in confession or at moments of community crisis. It is a deep privilege.
Between these two extremes, we try to sell things and make a living. Sometimes to people who want to add decoration to already decorous lives, but often to those who are searching for meaning, or who somehow find the words/images/objects that we make allow them to reflect, to remember a loved one, or to set themselves once again towards something that matters.
I am sure you feel the contradictions here as we do. As we seek a simpler, more sustainable life, not driven by accumulation, we are dependent on those who would add to their storehouses from our manufacture.
There is another reason for my current introspection. This photo is of the house I was born in. On the way up from Windsor, we visited perhaps for the last time, to clear out the last few items from the vast accumulation that my late mother had ammassed from her almost sixty year residence therein.
I sat in a chair in an empty room and tried to collect in my mind things that mattered. Of course, these were not objects- we have to let them go, sooner or later. I tried to see through the mess of memories, both good and bad, and hold on to the truth of who I am and where I came from. This was not easy- after all, both of those I grew up with in this house are now dead. Also, I have spent a lifetime trying to leave this place behind – to make the power of it diminish. I wanted to be a person who did not come from here at all.
I remembered how shame characterised my formative years. How I lied to cover up that shame at times. How I never felt like other people, never quite belonged. How bizarre and odd our lives were at times because of mental illness and mad religion…
…and despite the front door respectability, I remembered the poverty. Each penny had to be pinched till finger-tips went white. We had everything we needed, but it never felt enough because we could never have things that those around us took for granted.
There it is again. The power of objects. They give identity, self worth, confidence even. They allow us (whilst accumulating the same things as those around us) to express our individuality. Or at least it seems that way for a while.
Later on, those object no longer express status, rather they become memories. My mothers house was stacked full of them. Pictures from my sister’s childhood. Pens, books we read together. Toys. Clothes still shaped to bodies now long gone.
All of which, whilst we might treasure for a while, we must eventually let go.