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Contained/ Uncontained: printed cloth, antique suitcase

The original inspiration for this work was the story of Christian Watt- a Fraserburgh fish wife who inherited property from her grandmother, but ended up dispossessed because she was declared insane, and all her property forfeit, after suffering a nervous breakdown. She spent most of her life in an asylum: she reconciled herself to her fate and saw it as God’s will.

A local antique/junk shop, a place of possessions dispossessed in house clearances, was another inspiration: the pathos of objects that had lost their story, their connection to the past. A similar sad tale was recounted in The Foundling Museum in London, tokens that had lost their meaning. This museum was also coincidentally where I encountered the exhibition dedicated to The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris.

The personal background to all this was watching my own mother losing her memories and her past through dementia, trying but failing to reestablish connections through images and stories. In the end her ability to name objects was gone. Lost words, made all the sadder because she had loved them so much.

In the wider context, this led to an exploration of collecting, storing, maintaining links to the past through museums and our own hoards. The process I’ve used is mainly cyanotype, one that uses light sensitive materials to create images from cast shadows.

The main piece, The Garret, is conceived as the memory space of the house: the place where memory is performed by actions of opening, unfolding and folding again. When I recreate the past, I remember how I went up stairs to our garret, the light bulb that was always missing, the wardrobe , the fishermen’s chests, the things brought back from trips, the clothes, my mother’s wedding dress, blankets, linen: parts of a story- performed by opening out, then put away again. Closed boxes and suitcases invite that performance.

The past year has been one of loss, and loss of connections in all sorts of ways. Planned exhibitions could not take place. I invited a small group of people to perform actions with the collection of objects – to touch, open, fold, make connections. I do not have the same certainties about life’s purpose as Christian Watt did: this work became my way of articulating loss.

The Christian Watt Papers (1983). D. Fraser (Ed.). Paul Harris Publishing. Edinburgh.

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