I’ve always been interested in material and how we relate to the things around us, the objects in our lives. I believe that we are capable of feeling as strong a connection with inanimate things as we do with animate ‘things’ in our lives. Previously I’ve studied the role objects play in our lives from the perspectives of children. I then moved on to looking at our relationship with objects we value, those with a history, by examining how people perceive the collected objects at Powis Castle, a National Trust property in Wales.
My current art project focuses on things that have been left over from the First World War and the narratives they pass down to the current generation through their owners or curators and what ‘trace’ the owners of those objects have left on them for us to sense and learn from.
I’ll illustrate this idea with a story from my visit today to the Imperial War Museum North in Salford, Manchester. During my visit, I was very much taken by a display of a letter written near the beginning of the First World War by three children to Lord Kitchener. The letter was short and to the point. It asked Lord Kitchener to let the children keep their family horse, Betty, and to not have her taken away to serve in the war in France. I read this letter out loud to my son and one of the museum staff overheard me and approached me to tell me more about the story. He was happy to tell me more because he was a friend of the grandchildren of one of the children who had written the letter. So he told me the full story, and all about Lord Kitchener’s reply (he’d agreed to let them keep the horse called Betty). He also told me a bit about what became of that horse (she had a fowl which the children named ‘Kit’). He informed me that Lord Kitchener had opened the letter personally (as it had been addressed to ‘For Lord Kitchener’s eyes only’) and how he’d replied personally. He retold the story of how Lord Kitchener spared the horse a life on the Front with a white lie (he told the children that the horse was too small to be of any use on the Western Front (this was not true)).
This story illustrates exactly what I find fascinating about these objects. They all have a story, and perhaps in some cases they have more of the story than can initially be gauged by their known history.