objects of significance…

We were tasked with bringing an ‘object of significance’ to the residential, as a means of learning about each other…

Andy: We were asked to bring an object to the process and if am were honest, identifying something was a problem. I was reminded of the limited attachment I have to ‘things’ and how in fact I spend a lot of energy keeping stuff to a minimum in my life. I thought about the ‘things’ that mediated some kind of connection with people and would hold significance in this way. Yes, there were things on and around me, stuff I wear has meaning to both me and significant others, as do pictures of those I love (both dead and alive,) yet somehow that level of intimacy is something I struggle to share with relative strangers.

I looked around my life for a material something, which if I lost or no longer had would cause me to grieve. What comes to mind is not strictly a ‘thing’ but more of a space created by things; a boat. The boat I have in mind is not a toy nor a pastime or hobby. It is the space I have lived in for over eight years. It is a small space and has itself demanded I minimise ‘stuff’. It is an assemblage of things, relational, functional with me in the centre. My hands and brain animating the whole, my connection with the ‘object’ agentic and possibly creative?

Gayle: My chosen object is a book. Stories and How to Tell Them by Elizabeth Clarke (first published in 1927 by University of London Press) is part of a small collection of my belongings that once belonged to my father Ronald (Ron) Thornton who died aged 55 in January 1979. In this picture are a few more of the ‘things’ I have left of him: a final draft of his 60,000 words memoir (finished just a few weeks before he died); two magazines in which he published short stories; his (and now my) pen holder and the Valentine’s Day Card he sent me the year after the girl I walked to school with got 13 and I got none. My mum told me it was from him years later when I was well into my 40s. That many of these treasured possessions relate to reading and to writing is appropriate in that some of my strongest memories of my childhood are of my dad telling me stories: both real and imaginary. He, and my mum Dorothy, both left school aged 14 and wanted for me opportunities not available to them and although we had little money for most of my childhood I was encouraged to do extra-curricular activities and to continue my education to A’ Levels and beyond. I miss being able to share my own written and verbal stories with them both.

Geraldine: In preparation for the workshop we were asked to bring an item of meaning.  I did not find this an easy task because I’m known to be a bit of a hoarder and had a number of things I’ve collected over the years that are special to me. After some thought, and a little trepidation, I decided that an apt item to bring was one of smy tap shoe as this holds positive childhood memories and also has meaning in my life presently.

Tap dancing has always been something that I have enjoyed doing and as a child many Saturday afternoons were spent watching musicals on the television with my grandmother.  As a child I attended tap dance classes and over recent years my pleasure has stemmed primarily from watching my daughter Gabriella learn and enjoy tap dance.

Much of my time is spent working. Indeed, the challenges of working in the academy are well noted, as increasingly we are faced with a multitude of demands which can impact on our family life and the time we have for hobbies and friends.  My tap shoe represents an opportunity to do something together with my daughter that we both enjoy. In addition, each class provides a great form of exercise which has also been a factor in my decision to attend classes. Even more importantly, tap dancing offers me something that is therapeutic both physical and mental. It provides space away from the stresses of academic life and the never ending depressing media cycle. My tap shoe represents an opportunity to capture the joy in everyday life, a chance to rekindle happy childhood memories, meet new people and work with others to produce something beautiful.   My tap shoe was the item that at the moment of making a choice about what to bring held significant meaning.

Jon: I have chosen a Plymouth Argyle football club scarf that is (roughly) from this the year 1992-93. My reasons for choosing this item are although a football scarf may be a purely mundane object for many, for me it has much meaning. This scarf represents my relationship with my father as I have been wearing it to matches for more than 25 years. When I think about how my life has changed during this time I am reminded of the time that I spent in a rehabilitation unit when I was recovering from a head injury (sustained in 2003). Returning to watch football matches with my father marked a significant period of time in my rehabilitation. It was where, and when, I realised that I had to return to my everyday social activities and at the same time rehabilitate, rather than relying on  my rehabilitation as something that would just happen. To put it simply, I realised that I had to take agency and control of my rehabilitation and incorporate it into my everyday social activities, instead of remaining passive.. As a person who feels that he will for ever be rehabilitating in some way, this scarf forms an important part of not just my identity as a static phenomenon. Moreover it is an object which represents some of the important parts of my life journey as it unfolds in a fluid way.

Julie: We were asked to bring an ‘object’ of significance for a show and tell session and I struggled with this. Mostly because I couldn’t think of any significant ‘things’, as in ‘what would you save if the house was burning down?’ In the past, this might have been the photograph albums I had carefully put together after each of our family holidays, but now, in a digital age, most of my photographs are online. I decided to bring along a ‘Word Cloud’. One, I had created and framed for my husband’s (Chris) 50th birthday. I had discovered these whilst working on my doctoral study in 2011. I was conducting asynchronous online interviews and had a lot of text to work with, and putting text into a ‘Word Cloud’ generator was beneficial when it came to analysis. I could identify the respondent just by looking for key words in the word cloud – food, eating, body etc. For the show and tell I initially took a photograph, but it didn’t come out very well. Then on removing the ‘Word Cloud’ from the frame, I found that I had made quite a few of them, so I had a copy with me instead of the original, which I left in its frame. This ‘Word Cloud’ has meaning for me because it is based on the food story Chris sent me as part of my research. He entitled it ‘food is love’, which I used in my book. He has a particular ‘voice’ in his writing, which is often very funny and always clear and to the point, which I like. For his birthday ‘Word Cloud’, I added words of significance to him (and me), this included words like mum and dad, the names of our two children, his business and of course my name.

Sarah Hocking: Immediately after hearing the brief I chose to bring my childhood teddy, a panda bear (imaginatively) called Panda. He is (very) well-loved and arguably unrecognisable as a panda. He has lost both of his ears, most of his fur, and a worrying amount of his insides, but to me he is perfect. He is one of the only ‘objects’ that I think is irreplaceable. My attachment to Panda is still as strong as it was 27 years ago, when he was given to me shortly after I was born by my Grandma. After finding out I was going to be a girl, she had asked the local haberdasher to make me something special. And panda is certainly special. He has spent over half a century by my side (sometimes literally) and, in some of my darker days, has absorbed more tears than I care to remember. More than just a stuffed toy, he symbolises uncomplicated, unconditional love.

Panda has also defined the theme for birthday and Christmas gifts for years to come; from other panda bear teddys (quickly discarded as they didn’t compare) to panda related stationery as I progressed into adultlife. Despite looking not quite ‘right’, Panda has captured the hearts of friends, family members, and even boyfriends, over the years. One of my favourite moments of the residential is, after explaining my love for Panda and my fears about his increasing deterioration, he was passed around the group with such love and care. I may be biased, but he is pretty special.

Sarah Hodge: My chosen object for discussion is a printed film photograph of a social sculpture made at LandWorks. It consists of 10 metres dry stone and cob walling, timber frame, meadow roof, and a timeline of the LandWorks project depicted by over 100 (to date) hand-made ceramic tiles, created by 42 people in prison, serving community sentences, art students, volunteers, and staff.

After talking through my reasons for bringing the photograph – a way of discussing participatory art practice – another participant raised the point that it brings together my personal and professional spheres, i.e. my personal interest in building with natural materials and my professional interest of working with socially excluded groups.I consider the line between my professional and personal work blurry. This set one of the themes of the week for me – the space where personal attitudes and beliefs meet the professional realm.

Other interesting comments arose around how we create safe spaces for people to be vulnerable, the responsibilities of doing this, to others and ourselves, and how much of ourselves we give away when building trusting relationships. The question of ‘What is creativity?’ arose – one answer: “realising what we are or aren’t in control of.”

“The object is an actor. A good actor can have a part in ten different plays; an object can play a role in ten different pictures.” (Matisse in the Studio, Exhibition, Royal Academy 2017)


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