In August 2020 Aidan Moesby commissioned me to make work for the Thresholds Online Exhibition at MIMA as part of his DASH Curatorial Residency. I wrote this piece for Aidan to explain my work. I share it here as a blog post for the first time.
Concerned with interiority and an intense relationship with objects, Safe as Houses is a photographic series capturing my relocation to a secure studio space at the time of lockdown-easing in England.
This period feels like no other, yet echoes of past privations and confinements mingle with nostalgia and a desire for childish comforts. I’m interested in ‘regression’ as a response to reconnecting to a post Covid-19 universe.
Following five months isolation from a studio I occupied for nine years, I have exchanged a characterful and airy walkthrough space for the safety of enclosure; emblematic of a brave new world of mediated connection. I now have a lockable door but have also gained a window which looks out over a car park and the houses beyond. Windows are a recurring motif in this series. Studio 3 had an unreliable skylight which let in the rain and yielded only a patch of sky. The disembodied voice of Muhammed the car mechanic, heard in Studio 3, is now attached to the person I can wave to from the window of Studio 1.
This work is about navigating transitions, liminality, and disorientation. Under stress the psyche seeks the familiar, but even time feels different, marked here by the changing light, takeaway cartons, and shadows on a cake stand which looks like a sundial. We make tea for ourselves, endlessly it seems. Chairs are not occupied by the customary human visitors as we maintain strict social distancing at the studios. Video calls are the new interlopers. We’re often unaccountably exhaust-ed. Customary life is suspended, we feel hung to dry. We’re at work but we’d like to wear pyjamas all day.
Life borders on the surreal in this new post Covid-19 landscape. The threshold between dreaming and consciousness has acquired a new fragility. Curatorial conversations about the commissioned pyjamas made for this series by Ann Tutt, brought the book Marianne Dreams by Cathrine Storr to mind. Marianne becomes ill and is confined to bed for weeks at a time. Mark, also a long term invalid in ‘real life’, appears in pyjamas in Marianne’s sinister dreams populated with the objects she draws with a magic pencil – including a house in which Mark is trapped. The more she tries to draw a way out for Mark the more entangled they become. The book photographed is my own childhood copy.
In my studio I can lean into imagination. It contains many objects, redolent of playrooms gone by. A rocking horse acquired some years ago is an exact twin to my older sister’s Prairie King, familiar from birth. Transitional objects carry us over the threshold. A cheery thumbs-up, albeit made of moulded plastic, augurs well. A tree branch inherited from the previous occupant, and a discarded exhaust pipe from the car park are talismans, bringing outside indoors. We rely on signs and signals in the absence of reliable information.
The interplay of interior and exterior spaces is also manifest in the sliding scale between dollhouse, the studio and houses beyond. Focus shifts between close-ups and longer shots. Vantage points are sometimes floor level, suggesting the infant’s eye. Windows yield reassuring vistas or are sealed. Hints of claustrophobia flash in a hand held vanity mirror. Yet identity is embedded in hearth and home.
Nostalgic and paradoxical, these photographs hint at isolation, psychological unease, and the intense comfort to be found in the texture of domestic life.
Safe as Houses is intentionally fragmentary and open ended, it can be read in any order and would be suitable for a slide show format.