My grandmother was the person who first sparked my interest in art. She baby-sat me from a young age when my mother was at work and she always returned to a chaotic mess of paint, glue and scraps of paper in the kitchen. We would spend all day making things like Abraham Lincoln style hats and without her creative encouragement I’m unsure whether or not I would even be at Gray’s today. She was the only one of my family who expressed an interest in art and although she never received any formal training, she was a naturally talented painter.
Her name was Annie Donnachie, and she died last month one day shy of her 84th birthday. While she was in hospital, even though she was touch-and-go, she was inquiring about my degree show and making plans to have a weekend in Aberdeen to see it. This is another reason why I would like her to be the subject, because she won’t be there in person.
I spent a lot of time with her near the end as I was working in the hospital, I would sneak down when I wasn’t busy and work my breaks around visiting hours. It was nice to see her spirits still high, she was always a ‘tough old burd.’ A few hours before her death she was joking with my brothers and I about a lady who was transferred wards because she kept showing everyone her pants and telling us about the men on the football field outside her window she could see running around with their tops off. The doctors never thought she would make it past the first night she was admitted with one consultant even remarking “I can’t believe her. ” She loved her whiskey and fags and as a result she had a few scares in the past, so we could believe she made it through. After living in the relatives room for about a week she started to gradually recover to the point where we could go home and arrangements were being put in place for her to come home too. She was even going to be allowed out for a few hours on her birthday. However, she died in her sleep that night but did not experience any pain. Her recovery gained her the time for her children to travel from England, Africa and America to see her before she passed and I like to think she fell asleep that night looking forward to going home.
After I had started to come to terms with her passing, I resolved to use her memory as the basis of my 4th year studio work as I believe it would be a fitting tribute to her life. I hope this does not come across as a clichéd or cheesey idea. In keeping with my natural inclination to produce more ambiguous works I have been researching artists who are engaged with more general issues of death, loss, and memory which is the route I too would wish to follow. Susan Hiller, Christian Boltanski, Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois, John Bellany, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Grayson Perry and Miyako Ishiuchi are the artists which I have been focusing on so far. I wish to research them and other artists in more depth while simultaneously beginning to produce work and experiments using their methods as of the start of next week.
I also have come across ‘memory jugs’ in the course of my research, which are believed to be Southern African American folk art that consisted of a jar covered in items which belonged to a deceased loved one, placed on their grave either as a tribute to them or possibly to make available items they would need in the after-life. This could be a potential form to exploit as my gran was a bit of a hoarder meaning there was a lot of her belongings to sort through after her death so my mum and auntie are still in the process of doing so and have not disposed of most of her things yet. I came across an artist, Miyako Ishiuchi, who photographs his mothers old clothes, individually, as a sort of ‘portrait’ of her. Even though she is not present in the photo, there is a real human presence to the piece. Since my gran was always trying to give her old junk away to me, I requested my mum keep me any of her things or clothes she would be recycling or throwing away. I think she would probably have appreciated the sentiment. ‘Waste not, want not..”
With a veracity of execution, Ron Meuck’s The Woman In Bed, 2005, creates an atmosphere of melancholy through the pose. The woman’s chin rests on her hand as she stares listlessly off into the distance. The image of the women in bed has been multiplied to become twice life size, which detaches the audience and emphasies her isolation through the use of scale as we don’t have to examine the sculpture from close range due to its size. Her size encourages us to keep our distance while still feeling empathy “with her seeming anxiety, but can find no way to get past her fixed stare”# Recruiting the motif of the bed within this work has proved invaluable to its interpretation as along with the pose chosen by Meuck, the bed suggests not only introspection but may even point towards the woman’s suffering at the hands of insomnia. This is a subjective realistion but the option for the piece to suggest this to the viewer would not be possible without the inclusion of a bed.
# Hartley Keith. Ron Mueck. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland; 2006. P9
Robert Rauschenberg was probably one of the first in a tradition of artists who have used the bed as symbol in itself. Bed (1955) consists of a combination of oil and pencil on a composition of a pillow, quilt and sheet resting on a wooden base. It is possible that Emin’s inclusion of used condoms and urine seeped bed sheets (and even Lucas’ stained mattresses) is a nod to Rauschenberg’s painting as the mass of spattered paint which encrust the surface could attest to bodily fluids: semen, sweat, blood and urine.
Lynton Norbert. The Story Of Modern Art. London: Phiadon Press LTD; First Published 1980.
Mona Hatoum. Incommunicado, 1993. Metal Cot, cheese wire. 1264 x 575 x 935 mm. Tate. Yet another contemporary artist adopting the bed as a motif is Mona Hatoum. She has produced a number of works manipulating the ideas, which the bed conveys. Perhaps most striking of these creations is her depiction of an infant’s cot, Incommunicado, 1993, which plays on “the oscillations between life and death.”#1 In cold carbon-steel with a dangerously tightly stretched base of cheese wires, it is an object which would traditionally invite feelings of comfort, security and protection, however, it is ostracised with her choice of materials and instead it conjures unsettling thoughts of physical pain and abuse. Rather chillingly, the title has a significant impact upon the work’s sense of threat, as a child cannot successfully communicate their suffering, they can only scream. Hatoum has stated that she sees “furniture as being very much about the body. It is usually about giving it support and comfort. I made a series of furniture pieces which are more hostile than comforting.”#2 Hatoum uses a wide variety of materials in her work, which she researches extensively before selecting the most appropriate for the subject she wishes to convey. Her intention is for “the material to carry some of the aspects of the concept or maybe even to contradict it at the same time”#3 Short Space, 1992, is an installation of a minimalist nature, composed of bed spring meshes removed from the frame which have been hung up in rows of three and suspended from the gallery ceiling on a pulley mechanism which serve as an armature. It reflects her interest in the treatment of individuals by institutional structures such as: prisons, hospitals, barracks, boarding schools where she believes that people are treated in a “dehumanising way, in a uniforming way”#4 and treated as numbers rather than individuals who have unique thoughts and feelings. In both these works metal grids have been created as an ambiguous metaphor for entrapment as a paradox to the feelings of comfort and security, which a bed would normally symbolise. #1 Merck M, Townsend C. The Art of Tracey Emin. London: Thames and Hudson LTD; 2002. P150 #2 Bett G, Archer M, Zegher C, Said E, Manzoni P. Mona Hatoum. London: Phiadon Press LTD; 1997. P20 # 3 The Eye – Mona Hatoum. [DVD]. London: Illuminations; 2005. # 4 The Eye – Mona Hatoum. [DVD]. London: Illuminations; 2005.