Tuesday, 2 August 2016


Action Research
August 1st 2016
(First draft notes)
I am gathering household objects. I buy a china tea service from a junk shop - thinking that this has no emotional connection to me and that therefore I will feel comfortable working with it, experimenting, breaking it potentially. Yet once I am in studio, sharing the space with these delicate cups, plates and saucers, I feel attached to them and somehow responsible as a new custodian of them. A simple score determines my actions: to repeat an action; to think about my feet. I place the plates. The action research sits in a creative environment loaded with context that seeps into the space as if triggered by the presence of the objects I elect to work with at that time.

The research action asks how does my body describe the properties of the plates, and perhaps visa versa. What is the moment when the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and why? Dramaturgy is developed in a responsive manner, dealing with the moment of encounter and interaction. As I take the crockery from a cardboard box and set it on the floor a series of automatic gestures are triggered, that involve hand and foot. I place the plates and saucers on the floor and hear them offer a slight ringing sound to the air around. I feel the warmth of the ceramic with my toes. I stack the plates and stand on them. The plates creak a little but do not break.

The action describes a dialogue between the inanimate object and the body. Responding to the ‘found’ crockery speaks of the negotiation of the present/ presence in a way that Susan Stewart described a sense of suburbia, something of the two foci of the suburban as nostalgia and technology (Steward. 1994.1). In the moments of holding, handling and standing upon the crockery I am reminded of the industrial technology that produced it and indeed the industrious hands that made it. (I have been engaged in a conversation recently with a ceramicist and am reminded of the history of labour in the pottery industry). I imagine the hands of the woman that applied the slip transfer to this design, or edged the rim of the plate with gold paint. I also recall the antiquated tradition of accumulating a dinner service for marriage and the young housewife’s attachment to the display of and use of the crockery.

The placing of the foot on the plate seems naughty, taboo*. The action tests the body by placing the lower limbs under tension and creating a dramaturgy of tension, balance, holding. Whilst the action presents at stillness the body is placed in a constant motion, shifting weight, tensing and relaxing muscles so as to keep a balance.

Is the work ‘about’ nostalgia? I don’t think that there is any intention of wistful or sentimental longing for the past evoked here. Rather, a strange tension develops in the unsettling action of the body with and against the objects. The work dismantles the nostalgic through the irreverence shown in the employment of the feet, whilst somehow recalling a memory caught in a memory, in Freudian sense of ‘working through’ that is physically recalled in the existence of the plates as a kind of ‘portal’. There is /was no utopian life of the suburban housewife to recall. Rather it is the memory of a construct, and the aspiration to a construct that cannot and was not achieved. Swedish philosopher and editor in chief of Site Journal makes reference to Hegel’s notion of Aufhebung, in relation to poetry and I wonder if there is not a useful parallel here apparent in the simultaneous cancelling out and preserving of a state of being as expressed in the action of standing on the plates? By this I mean, the action emerges from philosophical concerns to both acknowledge (and perhaps even a supressed desire to achieve) a sense of status quo as represented by the suburban home, whilst at the same time to undermine and deconstruct this archetype. And yet, nothing is destroyed. The detritus of broken plates, or old mattresses serves only to re-recall, re-repeat the presence of the domestic?

* I think about Freud’s thinking on taboo – and belief in the power of the person to transmit a spiritual energy to an object: “Persons or things which are regarded as taboo may be compared to objects charged with electricity; they are the seat of tremendous power which is transmissible by contact”.  (Freud. 1918.12)

Steward, Susan (1994) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  USA. Duke University Press

Wallenstein, Sven-Olov (no date) Tropes of Nostalgia: Winckelmann, Hegel, Heidegger, and the Quest for Origins. Accessed August 2016 at:

Site Magazine

Freud, Sigmund (1918) Totem and Taboo. 
Chapter II. Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions. Accessed August 2016 at: http://www.bartleby.com/281/2.html

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