‘The emotional attachment we make to any given object can determine its worth in emotional terms as opposed to its monetary value.’      Kate Murdoch, 2008

Getting prepared to bring 10×10 out into the world again has called to mind various articles I’ve written about objects over the years, and specifically, in this instance, in relation to value and worth.

Here Today…’ Kate Murdoch  

The title was: ‘Dead or Alive; the permanence of objects versus the fragility of human existence.’  It’s a piece of writing that I often refer to, memories of my late father and the chair that survived him being particularly poignant.  This is what I wrote in 2019:


One silver and turquoise Art Deco hand mirror, one blue velour Parker Knoll armchair: two random items, both of use to their owners, but of no particular significance – until you’re made aware of the history and narrative associated with them, that is.

The art work I make is often motivated by my connection and close relations with family. ‘Here Today…’  was created through assembling pieces from my late Nana’s more personal, intimate possessions and placing them on a bedside cabinet; a hand mirror, a vintage silk flower and palettes of used make up – items that she had handled and used over and over; old, well-worn objects, still in existence and now, with an even greater emotional charge, having survived my Nana by some years.

Likewise, with my late father and the continued presence of a favourite seat. How was it that my Dad’s blue armchair stood so resolutely in the living room of my parents’ home on the day of his funeral, begging the question: if the chair could survive, then why on earth couldn’t he?

Themes of loss and remembrance are present in a lot of the work I make and reflect my fascination with the permanence of objects versus the fragility of human existence – crucially, how things outlive people. The histories associated with everyday objects give the work its meaning, not solely for me, but for an audience for whom some objects will inevitably resonate.

A lot has been written on the subject of the emotional attachments made to many of the everyday things that surround us, and none more powerfully than Sylvia Plath who captured her love for objects in many of her poems, ‘Tale of a Tub’ and ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ being examples.

Tisha Nemeth-Loomis in her research paper ‘Plath’s Possession Aesthetics: Visual and Object Libido’ wrote:

‘Plath employed a visual exactitude which indicated surprising states of perceptual awareness; it filled her poems and objects with curiosity and dimension. When engaged in these states of visual connection, it is possible that Plath attempted to integrate herself with images and objects. For Plath, objects surpassed the mundane; they were unique, enviable entities.’

And her late husband, Ted Hughes, noted Plath’s psychological investment in the everyday object:

‘This genius for love she certainly had, and not in the abstract. She didn’t quite know how to manage it; it possessed her. It fastened her to cups, plants, creatures, vistas, people in a steady ecstasy. As much of all that she could, she hoarded into her poems.’ (quoted in Holbrook 279)

From a completely different literary genre, I found this piece of writing by romantic novelist Erica James. In this extract from her novel ‘Precious Time’, James describes the thoughts of a character who runs a house clearance firm …

It was the bedside tables that invariably got to him. It was in those little drawers that, often, the most personal and poignant objects had been kept, and which gave the deepest insight into that person’s habits and thoughts. Today’s bedside table had revealed the usual old tubes of ointment, packets of indigestion tablets, buttons, rusting safety-pins, bent hairpins, and a string of cheap gaudy beads. There was a tiny-faced watch that didn’t work, a money-off washing powder voucher (dated October 1988), a pair of tweezers, a throat lozenge that had oozed a sticky trail across an envelope of black and white holiday snaps, a crumbling bath cube that had lost its scent, and a small trinket box containing a collection of Christmas cracker jokes, unused party hats, two plastic whistles and a key-ring. There was also a small Bible, its pages thickened with use.’ 


It’s difficult sometimes to find the words to convey the true, agonising sense of loss and the very powerful emotions that we project onto objects that are left behind. Items presented as objects of remembrance and associated with the dead, are imbued with deep sentiment and emotion.

The hand mirror bears the physical marks of a well-used object, the metal and patina worn and eroded by my Nana’s endless handling of it. My Dad’s empty, unoccupied armchair, following his death, came to symbolise his absence, heart-wrenchingly so, for those of us who loved him so dearly – his revered place within the family unit and the actual physical space he once occupied. How on earth can we ever find it in ourselves to part with such precious items?

The reality is, of course, that we can’t keep everything and for practical reasons, some things in our lives just have to go. House moves, house clearances, downsizing, relationship break-ups and other life-changing events inevitably lead to a serious rethink and overhaul about what we can and can’t keep.

William Morris stated that we should have nothing in our houses that we did not ‘know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ While I understand this sentiment, I know that peoples’ homes sometimes also contain things they positively hate but find hard to throw away – unwanted gifts from long deceased relatives, for example – the hideous ceramic owl inherited from Auntie Elsie who loved it and thought you would, too.

There’s no doubt that the bonds we form with certain objects are stronger than others and that our decision making about what we keep in our homes is often determined by the depth and strength of the emotional attachments we make to them. As time passes, these objects get handed down through the generations; their condition might become more battered and fragile, but their significance and sentimental value continues to grow – living on, immortal and becoming increasingly robust as they accumulate and carry with them, layer upon layer of their ancestors’ histories and narratives.

Kate Murdoch 2019

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‘What is an object worth? How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give in return? ‘ 

‘The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks.’ 

Kate Murdoch, 2008

10×10 explores the theme of value and worth. An ongoing project, it was launched in 2008, a year fraught with financial challenges as the stock market crashed spectacularly, the worst market fall since 1929.

The 10×10 project consists of an ever-changing display of 100 objects. Wherever it goes, people are asked to take one item and leave something in its place. To date, only one of the original objects has stayed in the cabinet – others have been exchanged over and over again and the overall appearance of the cabinet has changed dramatically since I first put up my own 100 objects for exchange, fifteen years ago.

The last exchange event was at the Firstsite gallery in Colchester in 2015.  Eight years on and in just eight days time, I’ll be reintroducing 10×10 as part of the Deptford X Arts Festival in London, SE8. Given that ill health prevented me from presenting it in 2018, I am very excited to be a part of this year’s Deptford X fringe festival, with 10×10 being included as part of a group show in the ArtHub, London gallery.

I’ve written a lot about 10×10 in this blog since it was first launched. I’ve also had a lot of conversations with people about the many different aspects of the project over the past fifteen years. As well as ‘a comment on humanity’ a phrase given to me by a friend at the very start, the theme of value and worth is ever present in 10×10. I’ve been  reminded of a conversation I had with artist/curator, Jane Boyer way back in 2012, in relation to this.

‘What is an object worth to you?’ is a question I ask in text I’ve written about 10×10 – the narrative around the candle exchange sums up the question of value and worth perfectly, I think.

Below is an extract from my conversation with Jane in 2012, a conversation that came about in response to the ‘This Me of Mine’ ACE funded group exhibition:

JB: In your blog Keeping it Going on a-n Artists Talking, you speak about value, both the perceived value of an object which you have made available for your audience to take (Going for Gold) or the associated value to exchange with something of similar value (10 x 10). It could be said the value we associate with an object is in relation to the depth of emotion we experience in any given situation.  Do you feel this to be true and what have you observed about this relationship through the interactive aspect of your work?

KM: I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to this question but in terms of my observations of how the majority of people have interacted with 10×10 so far, then yes, I would say it is true. The emotional attachment we make to any given object can determine its worth in emotional terms as opposed to its monetary value. The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks. ‘What is an object worth to you?’ is one of the main questions posed by 10×10. ‘How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give in exchange?’

I can give you many good examples of the varying degrees of value and worth; they are contained in the stories people leave behind when they give their objects up for exchange. The woman who gave up a genuine diamond bracelet at the launch of 10×10 for instance demonstrates a really good example of value and worth. On the face of it, the value of a real diamond was high; from her story however, it was clear that the bracelet, in spite of its monetary worth, had become of little personal value to her.

An exchange made by an international student at Lewisham College has an equally poignant ring to it. He exchanged a small candle stub for a larger, unused candle. Living on a very tight budget in order to afford college fees, this student told me that he was doing his best to avoid having to pay for electricity. It was a practical exchange, then on one level – a used-up candle for one with many burning hours – but in terms of value in this case, the new candle represented a kind of life-saver for him.