Post script:

There’s always room for error when it comes to participatory work and I anticipated that ‘Borrow a Cup of Sugar’ wouldn’t be without. One of two of the mysteries was solved today when I heard from Deborah Burnstone who left a fragment of pottery/china inside a cup. Deborah found the piece on the banks of the River Thames while out filming one day. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to speak with her during the artist’s talk on the last day of the show, but really pleased that I have been able to match up the fragment with her name and can credit the photo below accordingly.

As a result, I’m now curious to know who left the dark-coloured metal coin with a square cut-out hole in the centre, as per the image below.

There are still some borrowed tea cups out in the world which may/may not wend their way back to me at some point in the future. This uncertainty reflects the precarious nature of lending – because, despite our best intentions, we don’t always remember to return what we borrowed.


borrow: take and use (something that belongs to someone else) with the intention of returning it

When Jane Boyer and Rebecca Fairman, curators of the group exhibition ‘Something Borrowed’ first spoke to me about the premise behind the show, my thoughts turned to the past – neighbours at the door, often in the middle of baking – hands covered in flour. They’d run out of something or other; could they please borrow a cup of sugar – some flour, or an egg, perhaps – just until they got to the shops, or their Family Allowance came through?

It was a part of family life for me and a way of keeping the lines of communication open between neighbours. There would inevitably be an exchange of information about the news, the weather or tidbits of gossip about one of the villagers while the borrowing/returning went on. And it was of course, an excellent excuse for knocking on the door of newcomers to the area.

There was a strict etiquette about borrowing – if you wanted to be respected, you brought back what you borrowed – that was the expectation and god help anyone who erred.

Being invited to be a part of ‘Something Borrowed’ also made me wonder about borrowing today: how much has the borrowing tradition I remember from my childhood survived? How much has improved access to credit and extended shop opening hours impacted on the need to borrow? And if the tradition of borrowing has waned in any way over the years, has it now gone full circle – through necessity perhaps, in light of the current government’s austerity measures and the consequential effect of living hand to mouth?

I presented a new piece of work ‘Borrow a Cup of Sugar’ inspired by the theme of the exhibition. It was made up of 25 sugar-filled tea cups, displayed in a cabinet, in the Arthouse1 gallery in Bermondsey, London. I invited visitors and other artists in the show to borrrow, through taking away one of the cups of sugar with ‘… the intention of returning it.’

I also gave people a choice of leaving something in exchange for the borrowed sugar when they brought the cup back – just a small gesture of some kind, to acknowledge the borrowing. There was no obligation to do so – the choice was theirs, completely.

I was curious. How would people respond? Could I guarantee they’d even borrow the cups, let alone return them – many of them rather unique, beautiful objects to my mind. Or, was this going to prove to be a sure-fire way to say farewell to some of the cups from my collection? Participatory events like this rely on an audience – and a ‘good’ audience at that – nobody can ever be sure about how things will turn out, however deep one’s faith in humanity.

But as has been the norm in my experience, humanity and people’s overall sense of generosity and goodness always fares well. This particular case was no exception and people responded very positively. Some amazing, creative items were left in exchange for the sugar, as well as many fascinating stories, told through the personal experiences, histories and memories of those who shared them. A vintage cup with an image of Queen Elizabeth called to mind a beloved grandmother for example, while a pretty, royal blue and gilt-painted cup stirred up memories for another of taking tea with a great-great uncle in his garden, ‘surrounded by hollyhocks and bees.’ This uncle, J E M Mellor, was a renowned entymologist, hence the significance of the bees.

Another story involved the extraordinary lengths that people will go to to both borrow and lend, as relayed by one artist who told the story of her neighbour, who borrowed her internet by hooking a cable out of her window and into one of his. If that’s not the modern day equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar, I don’t know what is!

It would take too much time to list every single exchange made in the course of the exhibition’s two week run, or to include the entire narrative that ran alongside much of the the borrowing that occurred, but I hope the images presented below will sum up a lot of the amazing ways people contributed. Experience has also taught me that it’s not always necessary to document every single thing that happens and that it’s the overall experience that matters – in this case, experiencing the actual process of borrowing and what it feels like to have temporary ownership of something that belongs to someone else.

Here is evidence of some of the wonderful interactions that took place – all in the name of borrowing.

I’m very grateful to those who participated – all the visitors to the gallery, including friends and other artists, as well as fellow artists involved in the show itself. Thank you for getting involved and participating in such thoughtful and imaginative ways.

Thanks are also due to Rebecca Fairman (co-curator of the exhibition, as well as director of the Arthouse1 gallery) for encouraging people to take part and for helping make the images above look a lot sharper than I ever could.

1 Comment

‘Every picture tells a story …’

From the archive – spring cleaning the laptop and putting things in order; looking back at past work and seeing how certain pieces resonate so strongly with what’s happening in the present.

The work ‘Wrench’ (above) feels particularly pertinent as the countdown to twin sons leaving for their respective university towns commences – and of course, properly separating from each other.

‘Wrench’ was selected for the ‘Home Time’ group show at Transition Gallery in 2016, organised and curated by Corinna Spencer.


‘Objects of Desire’

It’s always a delight to be reintroduced to something you loved and had completely forgotten about, as happened yesterday. It was while I was thinking about titles for a small body of work that the words ‘objects of desire’ came to mind. Maybe subconsciously, I was remembering Matthew Sweet’s programme on Radio Four, a series I had listened to some time ago. I really enjoyed it.

Whatever, I was pleased to be reacquainted with ‘Objects of Desire’ – it fits very neatly into my current research around objects through my involvement in The Museum for Object Research, created by Sonia Boue. Here’s a link to five episodes of ‘Objects of Desire’ :


Even the programme’s titles drew me in – The Nest, The Unlovely, Order and Territory and so on, conjuring up all sorts of narratives about the wonder and fascination of objects and how they define us. Revisiting the programmes has also reminded me of my own ‘unlovely’ collection which, like so much of my stuff, is currently tucked away in boxes. All a matter of taste, of course, but I’ve always envisaged showing (what I consider to be) these rather hideous and ugly objects in an ornate display cabinet – raising their profile from the unlovely to something more beautiful, perhaps. It’s open to debate, but it’s often said that there is beauty to be found in most things …



‘The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me -the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular …’


A Facebook memory popped up on my timeline over the weekend and made me want to touch base with my ‘Keeping It Going’ blog again. The memory showed a photo of a piece of work that was inspired by objects which belonged to my late Nana. The memory also included a blog post from the same period and it was fascinating to recap and go back two years in time, particularly in terms of world news – politics, specifically. So much has happened!

‘Nana’s Colours’ Part of an ongoing series of assemblage work in tribute to a dear grandmother.


But, as well as what’s been going on globally, the blog post also reminded me about how much of my creative work continues to focus around the life of my late grandmother (Nana) and the many objects associated with the home in which she lived for some 70 years.

It also made me think about my recent involvement in an Arts Council funded project, The Museum for Object Research, created and led by artist Sonia Boue. The proposal I submitted for the Museum sums up the way in which the ‘Nana’s Colours’ body of work began and continues to evolve; how the mass of objects that make up my own personal collection provides the vast majority of raw material for creating work. The proposal I submitted to The Museum for Object Research is very relevant to the overall theme of my work with objects and for this reason, I have included it here:

I propose to build on an existing body of work, ‘Nana’s Colours’ which was inspired by the small collection of things that I gathered from my Nana’s home when she was finally forced to leave it. In the five years since my Nana’s death, I have combined the various items I rescued from her home with others from my extensive lifetime collection to create small assemblage works.

The source material is diverse – china, glassware, fabrics, soaps, powders, paper, plastics and so on – but the objects selected are all steeped in social history and speak volumes about my Nana’s identity, age and social standing and of course, my relationship with her.

The small celebratory assemblages are an ongoing testimony to the relatively simple existence my Nana lived in a small Cambridgeshire village. She lived until the grand age of 102 and the work demonstrates how much life has changed over the past century, particularly in relation to the things we own nowadays – the things we have in our homes and make use of.

Examining my late Nana’s objects in this respect is extremely poignant, homing in on deep-rooted childhood memories around family and relationships – love and loss. The objects still exist – my Nana sadly, no longer does. The subject of our mortality is one that has always fascinated me – the fragility of life versus the permanence of objects, in particular. The objects live on, our emotional attachments projected onto them, and become enriched with the assorted narratives and stories surrounding them.

The Museum for Object Research touches on a recurring theme in my work around the question of value and worth. What is an object ‘worth?’ How do we put a price on certain items? As it stands alone, a used powder puff has no monetary value. If however, it’s one that my Nana used, then it becomes imbued with a highly personal history and narrative. Its emotional value is enormous – it’s worth an awful lot to me. People pay thousands of pounds for John Lennon’s glasses, or even Elvis’s hairdryer. Shouldn’t objects that belonged to ‘ordinary’ people be celebrated too?


The end of summer 2017 is set to be an eventful and symbolic time; my twin sons leaving for respective universities will undoubtedly have a big impact on the amount of spare time I’m going to have. It will be a time of massive change and readjustment for all of us as a family and only time will tell how much of my sons’ leaving will affect my creative output. I’ll be back at some point in the future to report back, I’m sure …

In the meantime, you can read more about The Museum for Object Research – the premise behind the project, the participating artists and so on – by following this link: