It’s been a while since the Museum posted a new blog. This happens. A new idea comes into being and there is a flurry of activity and excitement – beginnings are easy I find. Sustaining the effort and keeping momentum is another matter altogether, and often a hiatus is reached for whatever reason. But that is the beauty of a resource like the Museum for Object Research. All you really need to do to feel excited by the idea all over again is to look back over the posts in the collection and rediscover the richness contained therein.

That was a lot of activity back there! I hope for more to come and feel ready to turn my attention back towards this space and make some more of this brilliant stuff happen so that we can keep moving with the idea of both a forum, and resource. A space to sound off in and dig into for fresh perspectives on the value of objects in contemporary art practice.

One of the issues is focus – I’ve been extremely caught up in my own project on the subject of exile, and my practice has recently shifted back into the painterly side of things. The objects have temporarily taken a back seat to allow the flow of narrative onto a series of 20 randomly cut boards, onto which I’m layering paint, media, and thread. It’s exciting and consuming but despite the change in focus in my studio practice, it doesn’t mean I’m not haunting my habitual flea markets and charity shops in search of my other creative materials – the objects that will flesh out the spaces I’m creating and literally ground them in the present.

And aren’t painting objects after all? So for todays’ post, the visual element arrives fresh from yesterday’s session at the studio. It’s a painting with acrylic, thread and wax, and very different in feel to the previous cycle of paintings I was working on in 2014. It feels a little naked and unfinished, but I’m resisting layering up this time. I don’t want to loose what is there – a bold statement.

The painting is entitled “Wherever We May Travel in Our Exile” and is a quotation from my father’s letter of 1939, detailing his imminent release from a French internment camp to travel to England. It refers to carrying a vision of free Spain with him wherever he may find himself in exile. the threads I’m using are a relatively new element – but even so, to have the trail they leave within the media so openly contrasted and exposed is a radical turn. Previous examples have been more immersed and subtle – almost buried under further layers of media and paint.

So while I find my way with these new processes, which include ‘sanding’ back or indeed ‘sanding’ in with some rather curious wax/sand cakes I made earlier last winter, I’m going to be re-tweeting old blog post and gathering momentum around the Museum once more. Spring is springing after all and it’s a good time to show some signs of life.

(Apologies for the poor picture quality of the iPhone capture on this post.)


The Museum of Object Research is delighted to open the New Year with a gleaming post from artist Neil Armstrong, which demonstrates the beauty, depth and power of the object as both symbolic talisman, and vessel of complex histories in our lives. It’s a joy to feature it as our opening post of 2015; beautifully woven with the threads of personal and socio-industrial history running through it. Enjoy! Neil also has a blog on a-n

The plate is solid brass and is very heavy to lift. But it wasn’t always a plate. It was in fact a shallow cylinder with thousands of tiny pin prick holes drilled in by hand, applied in a regular, graded pattern. Not regular enough as it turns out.

This plate sat in the boardroom of Hardings Tower Works from 1934 until 1981. I can dimly recall the boardroom; all shiny mahogany and glass cabinets. I might have had a more complete picture to imagine, had I ever been allowed to get more than a glimpse. On rare occasional visits to the upper sanctum I would pass an open door or maybe even sneak a peek if no one was around.

These were the days of established hierarchy; of knowing your place and generally accepting it. Nowadays we argue the toss of social position. Am I working class, lower middle class, middle class, ruling class? Personally I go for the homogenous description of ‘educated class’ but apparently that’s just something I made up, and I am told by those who study such things that there are now other nuances, other subtleties that describe the complex web that is the current British class system. Maybe I am an inverted snob, but I would much rather be described as working class than aspiring middle class. That just seems pretentious and a denial of my family background. Of course a certain historical serendipity provides me with the privilege of not requiring to aspire to anything in particular anymore.

To understand how this plate sits in my own life you have to understand that when I was growing up my father was the shop floor manager of the factory that made this object. I say ‘object’ because I don’t actually know what it would have been called. I do know its purpose though. Through each one of those tiny holes there was to be a corresponding tiny pin and, once all of those holes were occupied, the resulting fine cylindrical comb was shipped off somewhere exotic like India and placed on a shaft which would spin it round. Its purpose in life was to comb wool; but not just any wool. This particularly fine comb was for the finest of wool…mohair.

My parents have just moved home to a place where they can get more care. Everything needs more maintenance in the end (although this plate has survived thus far remarkably unscathed). On clearing out their previous flat there are things that won’t make the next stage of their journey and so I have come to be the possessor of this plate. Yes it’s a plate not a comb. It is a plate because the (almost certainly man) who drilled this (almost) perfect grid of holes one by one, by hand and eye, made a mistake. Where that mistake is I cannot find. I am led to believe the holes are somehow not absolutely in line and for that reason it was rejected. WTF you may well ask.

But this object represents a lot of man hours of work and a not inconsiderable amount of brass, so Yorkshire men being Yorkshire men, they resolved to have it made into a plate by adding an inner recessed base. Engraved with the date, it was then placed in the opulent Victoriana Tower Works boardroom as a rather odd (if one thinks this through) homage to their industrial prowess. A mistake, saved from disaster by lateral thinking.

Even though the boardroom always gave off an aroma of polish, they could never quite eradicate that other ingredient… sweet oil, some fresh, some stale and ingrained into the walls, that was the perfume of industry. Downstairs wide open factory floors housed regiments of lathes, each one manned by a predominantly Indian or Pakistani turban clad work force. A cheerful bunch who may not have identified themselves as ‘working class’ due to their own particular, even more complicated, social conventions unpacked from immigrant baggage.

My connection to Hardings was as a boy either as an occasional visitor, made a fuss of by the office staff, or as a temporary labourer during academic holidays. When I grew my hair from the age of fourteen onwards, I would often have to wait for what seemed like hours on end in the car outside the factory. I guess my father wasn’t plugged into the hip ‘n happening world of youth culture and was a little embarrassed at my appearance. Strange now I think back. We rarely saw it but, wrapped up in turbans, those hard working optimists also sported flowing locks. Long hair was cool in my world then, and not least because the Beatles had discovered the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and travelled to India. We took from them, they took from us.

Between sixth form and college my summer job was chipping the limescale off the boilers in the Hardings factory. A hard, unremitting, boring, tedious, filthy, damp sort of a job, but I got paid and I was on my way to art college so not all bad. As I continued my education the plight of manufacturing in Britain wasn’t exactly foremost in my mind, but none the less it was declining despite my averted gaze. The miners kept reminding us something was up though.

Turn around and it’s gone.

A failed attempt to diversify to no avail. The doors closed at the Hardings factory in 1981. The auctioneers hammer saw many of the beautifully robust components of another age go to scrap merchants. My father had managed to move on but went back for the memories. He bid for one of the lathes, which he then offered to the local industrial museum, but they had not space. It sat in our garage until eventually he had to admit defeat and sell it for scrap too. But he also bid for the plate. It was never displayed in our house, instead hidden away at the back of a wardrobe until today.

Now it is mine I feel I have a duty of care. My experience of walking those factory floors, of imagining the kind of life the Tower Works represented, and my determination to not follow a similar career path to my father, is part of my own history; a diametrically opposed path from manual labour to more cerebral concerns. The lathe workers of yesteryear might now work in call centres – but just as a temporary measure on the way to who knows where. We don’t now expect jobs for life.

But this story has a happy ending. I am not so far from the man who drilled those fine holes. I too use hand and eye on a daily basis to earn my living. To make a buck I design things. I arrange things into shapes, layouts and visual patterns. They call it graphic design and it is a part of what I do away from being an artist. To do this I need commercial offices; somewhere to meet clients and generally to hang out. My current office is in a reclaimed building called the Toffee Factory in Newcastle upon Tyne.

There is a movement of late to construct modern, eco-efficient, industry sector specific buildings, out of the remnants of past industrial glory. Mine is one of those…but it turns out that the same developer also very recently redeveloped the Hardings Tower Works site too. Both my Newcastle building and the Leeds building house ‘digital’ companies. Generally that means some form of contemporary computer based creative activity. From millions of tiny pins to billions of tiny digits – a stunning example of scaling things down to scale them up again. Digits don’t comb wool but they do control the machine that does everything faster and finer.

It seems right that the plate really should reside in its place of origin as a reminder of this process. So 2015 shall be the year I make sure that it is returned (on loan, for I want to keep some thread of connection) to a suitable spot in the Hardings Tower Works factory. A testament to evolution.

I will have just one stipulation…that it be displayed in a place accessible to all.

[email protected]


A new object for The Museum – a ‘mourning cushion’ one of a pair made on the death of a father. This post explores the importance of moments of abeyance in the grief process and the allusions and associations contained within the stitches of an object that has the potential to become a family ‘heirloom’.

Indian Elephant Red by Anita Gunnett, Erhman

The photograph for this post is of one of a set of two cushions in needlepoint sewn by my sister and me shortly after the sudden and unexpected death of my father twenty five years ago.

I think that my sister bought the first kit and that shortly after I most pressingly ‘needed’ an identical kit of my own, which I bought in a tiny shop in the Cotswolds dedicated to needle crafts close to where I then lived. This perceived need was acute I remember, as was the one for chocolate and other comforts. My father’s life is the subject of my other blog and the emotional turmoil we experienced on his passing was undoubtedly aggravated by the unresolved and unspoken issue of his own grief at his lifelong exile from Spain at the fall of the Second Republic in 1939.

Our mother was a huge influence in the choice of object with which to mediate our feelings, being a needlepoint cushion queen with many gorgeous creations cheerfully plumping her sofas and those of her family and friends. The very act of sewing steadily along a line with method and concentration becomes an apt metaphor for aspects of our mother’s character. Mum seems to have been born steady, a natural nurturer, constantly yet quietly productive and organised in so very many ways. A marvellous thing to observe from the perspective of a butterfly brain.

Mum 2014

I well recall the soothing action of pressing and pulling the needle through the canvas and revelling in the time-stopping concentration required to stay on track (not always successfully). It wasn’t that the grief left you but rather that it was held aloft somewhere while the brain prioritised attention to the task. A trick perhaps but so very welcome. A relief from the constant bruising and chafing of such a complex loss.

Looking at the cushion all these years later I can see how my sister was drawn to the design. Our father travelled to India as a UNESCO delegate in 1957 and was forever taken by the experience, returning with his delegate suitcase brimming with menus, hotel receipts and programmes, hundreds (possibly thousands) of black and white photographs, ankle bracelets, yards of sari fabric, and a broken wrist from falling between the gap at Delhi station while attempting to step onto the platform. Even his fall couldn’t dim his affinity for the people and the place. I’m certain Dad would have loved Anita Gunnett’s design.

To this day we can tell the cushions apart and my teenagers enjoy identifying which bits I fluffed or made a neater job of, even with a pre-set design there is room for manoeuvre and for personality to come through. You still have to interpret the lines and make decisions – you have to stay steady and upright. My sister had a tendency to turn the cushion round and some of her stitches face the wrong way. I tended to make a hash of the elements that needed regular spacing. Yet somehow we stayed within the structure enough for the cushions to form a pair and I am, due to my sister’s extreme generosity, owner of both.

The mourning cushions have recently been rescued from the loft, where they were stored for safe keeping while the children were younger, to reduce the risk of too much of a certain kind of heavy duty wear and tear. To my astonishment I found them to be almost completely flat and in need of new fillings (where did all the feathers go?). A gentle hand wash was also part of their process of rehabilitation. They now sit on a futon which doubles as a sofa and vie with school books and electrical clutter (earphones iPads etc) for space where teenagers sprawl. This feels good, dad is somehow still part of things, in the thick of daily life, and jostling familiarly with the next generation.

I think he would enjoy the view.

Sonia Boué


A Christmas/holidays post for The Museum of Object Research, which began with a flourish earlier in the year and has been resting nicely after the initial excitement of it’s opening. It’s a thank you post to all readers and contributors – a growing band of object artists and friends who it’s been a delight to encounter. Happy reading and don’t forget all contributions around the growing practice of object art welcome and considered. A merry Christmas/holidays to all and a very happy New Year!

The image for this post is of a spiders’ webs, cane, twine and ostrich feather hat made by the San people of southern Africa in the early 20th century, on display in the British Museum. It’s my rather poor iPhone capture which has also passed through an Instagram filter or two, but I think it captures the atmosphere of the moment I spotted it among the vast collection of treasures at the BM and fell in love.

I happened to find myself standing next to a mother and her teenage son, who spoke most knowingly on the many thousands of types of spider that exist and the candidate whose threads had been so skilfully fashioned into this hat. I knew with a certainly honed from years of proximity to ‘unusual’ minds that here was a boy on the autism spectrum and the exceptional luck of meeting him at this moment added to the magic of the encounter.

At the time I was working in quite an embryonic fashion as an object artist, transitioning from a painting practice and using found objects for assemblage and customisation. I had developed a fascination with dirt as a medium and had a small body of work in which hoover dust was employed for texture and metaphor. Cobwebs had found themselves experimentally between brush and canvas or board, pushed around a surface and left to set before paint was applied in some of these pieces. This kind of playful incorporation of the ‘dirt’ that most of us strive to get rid of was a precursor to the sand I now regularly use in the painting side of my practice. As a metaphor for the historical ‘dirt’ I would need to look at in my current work on the Spanish Civil War it was pretty spot on too. Of course I see this now with the benefit of hindsight. The unconscious is a wonderful compass and usually takes us where we need to go.

But back to the hat; a delicate piece, made without the ‘benefit’ of man made materials or manufacturing processes it wouldn’t stand up to British weather being now cheerfully permeable at almost every point. I imagine the known superior tensile strength of the spider web thread means this wouldn’t always have been so, although it’s function is more likely to have been to provide shade. There’s a Western influence in the design and the suggestion of a potent condensation of socio-political narrative in this BM ‘curio’. This troubles me as much as the object enchants me and I include a useful source of information about the San people here whom are it seems the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, and once known as the Bushmen, the very people I first read about in The Lost World of the Kalahari by Sir Laurens Van Der Post, for CSE English decades ago.

I look back on my work with dirt and cobwebs fondly and still observe that the ethereal beauty of this hat lies in it’s use of natural (and thus biodegradable) materials, but more specifically of the stuff we in the West think of as an annoyance to be swept or brushed away. It’s frightening arrogant this denial of nature and without doubt the source of our current ecological crisis.

In the context of Christmas the hat is particularly resonant – so much consumerism and plastic tat is it’s contemporary counterpoint. I feel a New Year’s resolution to be more vigilant about my shopping habits coming on. And so I’m thus inspired anew by this wonderful object, which has led my post through such diverse topics as the unconscious, politics, history, ecology and autism.

I want to end this post with a question once asked by another incredibly sensitive and visually gifted autistic friend, Brent White of ACAT Ala Costa Adult Transition Programme

“Are objects portals?”

Yes Brent, I think they are.


The Museum is delighted to welcome Patrick Goodall object artist and art therapist, as guest blogger with this wonderful post about the secret life of objects including a ‘superpower’ to absorb molecules and carry the DNA of memory, person and even place within them. I love the freedom and the range of this post – beautifully written and sparkling with life itself. Enjoy!

I have an animistic fantasy that objects are only inanimate when observed, that they “play possum” (in other words play dead), in order to fool our gaze. In this assemblage the pen-knife is “really” a Toucan-like bird, lying immobile, so that the cat’s predatory killing instinct is not aroused. Since I first opened a pen-knife I have always seen a bird when opening a knife, the main blade a beak, the opposite blades and assorted accessories tail feathers, a rivet for an eye and so on.

Shamanism, totemism and fetishism are examples of ancient traditions which ascribe a spiritual life to objects dismissed as “primitive” by Cartesian rationalism. However in Japan there is the ongoing everyday influence of Shintoism, where for example a tool is named after and invested with aspects of its owner, to the extent that if it breaks it is not merely thrown away but ceremoniously disposed of; suggesting that this ancient tendency survives residually in modern society. How many of us name our cars, or ascribe personality to the objects that we own?

Animated cartoons are full of objects that spring to life under magical conditions; brooms that sweep for you, toys that come to life when the playroom is closed, the “Brave Little Toaster” that, when abandoned, heroically seeks its former owner. We laughingly stick “googly” eyes to objects to anthropomorphise them, but aren’t we really recognising that we have a need to invest supposedly inert objects with our feelings?

D.W.Winnicott, the object relations theorist, posited the notion of transitional phenomena being instrumental in our negotiation of our inner and outer worlds, the location of spiritual and artistic experience, and our means of individuating through “me and not me” phenomena. The transitional object in this context is an “as if” phenomenon; it is as if it has an impossible paradoxical existence as being both “me”, and “not me”.

The study of perception suggests that we project meaning on to objects just as much as light reflected from objects projects onto the surface of our retinas. We imbue objects with meaning, memories and associations. They become talismans, containers of meaning and feeling.

My late grandfather gave me a pebble from his pocket that he had smoothed by years of rubbing between thumb and forefinger. He called it his Thinking Stone. It is mundanity made precious by association. It must have absorbed microscopic agents from his sweat, or at least I’d like to think so. Flann O’Brien wrote that the policeman’s bicycle seat in “The Third Policeman” had exchanged molecules over the years he had ridden it to the extent that the bicycle had become part policeman and the policeman part bicycle. The laws of physics are challenged by quantum theorist’s discovery of the slippery nature of matter that is so surprisingly empty and tenuous that the absurdity of O’Brien’s bike becomes almost believable, and my grandfathers presence in the stone gratifyingly possible.

The title of this post is a quote by Saint-Pol-Roux, a remarkable French poet, given to me by my art school tutor Anthony Earnshaw (the imp of surrealism), a master of the art of assemblage. “Objects are ideas with the dust of exile upon them” speaks of the nature of our reality, and the weight of subjectivity in perception.

My work plays with our natural propensity to seek meaning in objects, made more complex by juxtaposing incongruous objects to create a network of associations, in an attempt to blow the dust off of these mundane objects and hopefully create a kind of visual poetry.

Patrick Goodall 2014