Incommunicado @ the 201 Gallery

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When artist and curator Lada Wilson invited me to exhibit in 201 telephone box gallery, I felt very honoured and excited at the opportunity. What a curious and unique little venue, which has been re-purposed as a result of changes in the way that we now communicate. Lada took over the disused telephone box in 2018, in the small, picturesque village of Strathkinness, near St Andrews. She won over the community with her idea to re-purpose the phone box into a gallery which would exhibit a rolling exhibition programme of a diverse range of contemporary art.

My initial thoughts surrounding the venue, and the fact that it was formerly a functioning telephone box led me to ideas of communication. Who would I most like to call if I was given the opportunity to do so? even if I was given the phone numbers of the numerous celebrities or famous people that I admire, there were many that would not be available to talk –no longer in the land of the living. This is why I arrived at the name Incommunicado.

Then it dawned on me that although I may not be able to communicate with them, they are still able to communicate with me through one of the most powerful mediums that exists – music. For most of us, music is a quick way to induce nostalgia and this has become the subject of extensive research. In a recent experiment in the Netherlands, researchers at Tilburg University found that listening to songs from their past made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.

As an exhibition piece, I decided to make the phone box into a shrine to those whose music helped to shape my adolescent years in the 80s but whose lives have sadly been taken. When a celebrity passes away, our Social media news feeds always tend to be bombarded with people reacting to the tragic news. There will be always be some who jump on the grieving bandwagon; rushing to report it first, whilst feigning interest an interest or loss that the person has passed away. Then there those who are truly shocked by the tragedy, or deeply saddened over the loss. But, for every few genuine outpourings of grief, there will be a few negative comments from those who are sick of people jumping on the RIP bandwagon.

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I can see their point… How many of us did actually know George Michael, Donna Summer or Whitney Houston? But it is unfair to generalize by accusing everyone who does this  of making a stranger’s death all about themselves – because it goes much deeper than that for some of us. For dedicated fans, these celebrities have been a big part of our lives. We’ve seen them on TV or if we’re lucky- in concert, we’ve sung along to their music, we’ve read their biographies – and, as a result, they – in a way – have become an integral part of our personal lives. After all, don’t many of us turn to certain films, songs, or TV shows when we’re feeling low? I know that when I’m having a bad day, I love nothing more than pouring myself a drink and tuning in to Absolute 80s where I’m guaranteed to hear music which will take me to my happy place. People grow up with certain figures in their lives, and that shock when they pass can be a frightening thing, and remember that losing someone who’s been a consistent factor in your life is a stark reminder of your own mortality.

Found Object Assemblage

For the main exhibition piece, I decided I wanted to make a sculpture which incorporated found objects, as  objects themselves can often trigger feelings of nostalgia. Some of us keep a collection of objects which are dear or meaningful to us in an effort to remember and relive the past. We may use keepsakes to stimulate memory, especially to trigger fond memories. In the act of collecting nostalgia, a magical relationship develops between collector and object, which places sentiment above monetary value. In her book ‘Evocative Objects’  which reflects on our association and relationships with material objects, Sherry Turkle argues that objects serve a purpose beyond that of their original use, by way of the emotional relationships we form with them. They act as tools which help us to shape our identity and facilitate a connection between people, places culture and time.

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As the daughter of 2 avid collectors, an interest in objects is part of my genetic make-up. Since an early age, I was encouraged to hunt for unusual objects at jumble sales, car boot sales and in charity shops. For the past twenty years I have continued this quest to scavenge for objects which remind me of my youth. It’s no surprise that treasure hunting has become part of my practice, and that my studio bears testament to this.

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I visualised this piece (below) before creating it, and am happy to admit that the final result is not far from my original idea, give or take a sprinkling of glitter.

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My treasure hunting proved successful as the turntable was sourced from a local car boot sale, the vintage mannequin legs and hand from a scrap store, and the mirror from a broken ornament.

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The placing of the mirror on the turntable is designed to emulate the appearance of a sundial, which casts its wistful shadow of time over the analogue music player. The perspex was added to give a bold 80s geometric aesthetic using a contrast of pastel pinks and blues with black and white.

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In Memorium

The plaque was a careful consideration in homage to musicians from the 80s who have contributed to the nostalgia of my adolescence. I decided to give them their birth names for two reasons; somehow I considered this to be perhaps more respectful towards them, as I had not known them personally. Secondly, I felt it might provoke enough curiosity for the viewer which would cause them to google the names to find out who they were better known as and also to find out a bit about their lives.

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If, like me, the thought of all these musicians who are no longer with us makes you sad or tearful,  consider the positive tweet by a guy called Dean Podesta around the time of David Bowie’s death; ” remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and George Michael.”

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The exhibition opening was a pleasant gathering of artists and community, where the work was introduced in situ, before I gave a talk about in the local community centre. It was well received and the audience seemed genuinely engaged with the theme, asking some really pertinent and interesting questions. The exhibition is scheduled to run until the 28th April so if you’re in the vicinity, please feel free to take a look.

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