As we rush up to the end of the course I’m getting all sorts of information together , my CV, an exhibitions list and a bibliography too.
Just thinking about the books that have informed my work over the last year drew me back to a few of them. I’ve become so attached to them and in particular to certain extracts that it feels a bit like linking up with good friends again after not seeing them for a while.
In no particular order here they are;
Evocative Objects – Things We Think With, Sherry Turkle (ed). This well devised series of essays links personal accounts with critical theory in a direct yet imaginative way. Academics from a range of disciplines are invited to write about their own ‘evocative objects’. Stories talk about a 1960’s Ford Falcon, pre-historic axe heads, a laptop and slime mould. The writing is poignant and often moving and brings critical theory to life. The evocative qualities of objects are defined by theme, for example ‘objects of discipline and desire’ and of ‘transition and passage’. If you are interested in the power and meaning of objects then this book is well worth a look at.
Contemporary Art and Memory – Images of Recollection and Remembrance, Jean Gibbons. This book took me a stage further in my understanding of objects and memory in its exploration of how artists express ideas about the past through their work. As my work looks at my own childhood experiences I was interested in the how the selected artist’s in the chapter ‘Autobiography’ mediated their pasts through a range of mediums and styles. The chapter ‘Revisions’ looks at artists including Yinka Shonibare and Doris Salcedo, whose work asks us to re-look at official versions of historical fact and to question their authenticity.
Stuff, Daniel Miller. This book is packed full of critical theory which is pretty heavy going in comparison to the other books on my list. However Daniel Miller’s writing style is amusing and straight forward allowing me to get into quite complex ideas. Using plenty of everyday analogies the anthropologist and critical thinker opens your eyes to the cultural meanings of even the most ordinary of objects. I didn’t manage to read the whole book (too much for my brain!) but what I did read has formed the basis of so much of my thinking and subsequent work.
After The Freud Museum, Susan Hiller. This books accompanied the exhibitions and is the antithesis of ‘Stuff’. It’s all about recording the work in photographs with minimal supporting text – always good for visual people! This was intentional allowing the work to speak for itself and it was great to have an understanding of the range of meanings that we attach to objects (thanks Daniel Miller) when looking at these images. Hiller assembled a range of objects – mostly things she had collected over the years – carefully labelled and boxed and placed in vitrines – to reflect on the subjectivity of an objects ‘value’. Her work was inspired by her residency at the Freud Museum in London (formally Freud’s home and clinic) and references his collections of historic and cultural value that in part informed his ideas about psychoanalysis.
Art and Artifact – The Museum as Medium, James Putnam. I realise as I put this book list together that much of what I like about the books is the way in which they are compiled. James Putnam covers a lot of curatorial ground in his look at how artists have made work that engages with the museum since the 1940s. With almost 300 images, short descriptions of the works and a longer more detailed text I found it easy to dip in to. There is almost a magazine feel to the book which looks at artists such as Christian Boltanski, Joseph Beuys, Mark Dion and Karsten Bott. I highly recommend this as a fantastic resource with regard to the notion of the museum; and how artists respond to and subvert the idea of museums as keepers of truth, knowledge and power.
The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal. The last book is the only work of fiction (although based on fact) and tells the story of the authors forbears’ from whom he inherits a collection netsuke. The family were fantastically wealthy and De Waal describes their lavish lifestyles and incredible collections of objects in suitably rich detail. I was a little put off at first thinking that the story was about privilege but as it took me chronologically toward the rise of the Nazis and the persecution of De Waals Jewish family I became completely engrossed. De Waal manages to immerse the reader in a world where touch and the quality of a surface powerfully describe a room, a day or a person’s likes and dislikes. I think his sensitivities as a potter lend themselves perfectly to the art of writing. The tiny and powerfully intriguing netsuke drive the author on a compelling journey through his family history and reveal the devastating personal experiences of Jewish families at the hand of the Nazis.
Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative Objects Things We Think With. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Gibbons, J. (2007). Contemporary Art and Memory. London: I.B.Tauris
Miller, D. (2010) Stuff. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hiller,S. (2000). After the Freud Museum. 2nd edn. London: Book Works.
Putnam,J. (2009). Art and Artifact The Museum as Medium. Revised edn. London: Thames and Hudson.
De Waal, E. (2010) The Hare with Amber Eyes. London: Chatto and Widnus