The work I have created for this years HACS exhibition is inspired by my memories of my Dear darling Gran and the objects that I possess since she has died. This has also been a wonderful opportunity for me to combine my work as a Grief Recovery Specialist and as an artist.

‘Object association and how hoarding can be a way in which we endeavour to ‘cope’

This body of work has been inspired by my Dear darling Gran, my memories and the objects that once belonged to her. You see I collect the sentimental. But what surprised me is that I can and do participate in a selective process. And as the project evolved it made me think about those who can’t.

‘THE BOOK OF VERSES’ was a very special book. It was the little cherished book that my Gran allowed me to read and reread on my school holiday stay-overs and our favourite poem was ‘Goodnight dear mother, dear mother goodnight’. This cherished keepsake was the catalyst for my ideas and their development. I have taken a poem-like approach to this work to honour that book and the love we shared for it.

The TEA TOWELS pay homage to my memories of my Dear darling Gran cooking, baking, wearing her apron and washing up, stood in her little kitchen. Memories of the washing line outside, held upright in the middle with a tall stick and her adorable ‘curtain cupboard’ under the sink inspire the way in which I wanted to display the verses.

There were weeks of deliberation around how this ‘poem’ would be written, the format, the colours, the fabrics, the presentation etc. I knew as soon as the words and fabric snippets were placed on the white linen that that would be my way forward. I loved the paleness, the delicatecy, the paper-like connection to a poem in a book. The words? This question brought about a lot of idea development. Initially I handstitiched the words but that was unbelievably time consuming and I rarely kept a straight line! I used freehand machine embroidery but the words were too big and too difficult to read when they were the size I wanted. I finally came up with the idea of using a biro, like I would if writing a letter…. Originally the words were too bold so I placed organza on top and this ‘protected’ my words, my memories, my feelings. It also added to the delicatecy and sensitivity of my pieces and of course it made everything a little more hidden and ‘secret’… I just love the way the work evolved and the whole ‘diary -like’ associations.

It was incredibly important to me that all the words were handstitched to the linen. In honour of my Dear darling Gran, who taught me to sew as a young girl and because I have such a connection with it – I love handsewing – the closeness with the fabric, the simplicity and rhythm of it – it’s therapeutic and brings me hours of contentment.

And

These cherished OBJECTS you see here, were either given to me by my dear lovely Gran over the years, or they are objects that I chose to keep on the day we sorted out the ‘stuff’ in her little flat- only days after she died. And on reflection I realise that for so many people this selective process isn’t attainable. For many there is an anxious struggle over what should be kept, or needs to be kept, given away or chucked. A dilemma that is so uncomfortable, so terrifying in some cases that everything is kept. This can be the mindset of a hoarder.

I love archiving and discovered when placing the objects on a white background that I instantly went with ‘less is more’ and
entitled them just as they were, for example: ‘Yellow Newey Hooks & Eyes packet, 4 snap fasteneners’. It reminded me of museum artefacts and their labelling and that appealed to me. The placements and ‘grouping’ was decided quite literally in seconds. It took a lot longer however to ‘fix’ them as I like to use stitch or wire to secure the pieces.

When it came to the message of hoarding the displayed items became more haphazard and random. The final one ‘The contents of a sideboard drawer’ is a chaotic mess of bits and pieces – no placement, no consideration, no real attachment for me. But it may be how a hoarder would keep stuff.

“I realise now that most collectors collect things in order to feel whole.” Isabel Ettedgui of the Connolly boutique,  ‘Cereal’ magazine A/W 2018 .

 Despite this article referring to collectors, it did make me wonder if a hoarder felt that same sense of completeness, with everything around him or her?

“I open the door to the cupboard under the stairs and peer inside .. It is time……

I shift a drift of tinsel, a collection of used wrapping paper, a stack of folded, faded cushion covers, their colours recalling living rooms past.

“You kept all of them? I call out. She replies “Yes.” I fight a spurt of complicated emotion, warm nostalgia, an ache of loss, annoyance, a hot flush of guilt at having taken up so much of her time and space for so long. “Just get rid of it mum. If I’ve done without it till now, I don’t need it.”  “I couldn’t” Her voice is small. “It’s Yours.”  Richard Aslan contributing editor of ‘Cereal’ magazine.   

There is no doubt that certain objects hold memories and evoke feelings but I guess it’s distinguishing that association and it’s personal value that is pivotal to the ‘keep or get rid’ dilemma. I love the sewing/haberdashery pieces because they bring back wonderful happy memories of my childhood with my Gran. I especially love the brown tape measure, the pair of knitting needles (she tried to teach me but I never really got in to it) the buttons and stripey fabric which she has put a needle through, complete with black thread and her gold framed reading glasses. Her hands have touched these things, she has created with them for herself, for her family. That makes them priceless to me.                             

And for some hoarders that is the crux of the matter; they feel they can’t throw away what isn’t theirs to throw. But there is another element too  – many hoarders feel that if they get rid of something, they’re getting rid of the person too. But of course they are not.

But it ‘s not that black and white. It’s a lot more complex an issue than that. The need or compulsion to hoard is not remedied by people coming in and sorting through and de-cluttering a home. In my work as a Grief Recovery Specialist I have come across clients who struggle to ‘let go’, who hoard and I believe the compulsion to hoard, to hold onto everything, lies in the emotional attachment to said objects and the loss or traumatic event that triggered that need for the attachment.  So I encourage my clients to talk about how they feel, not to hide their emotions ,which in our society is frequently how we feel we have to behave. “We say we are OK, when in reality we’re anything but.”   By talking about their loss my hope is for the hoarding compulsion to be greatly reduced or diminished entirely as clients learn to keep only what they want to keep and not what they think they should.  “What mattered was that for the first time ever, I controlled the stuff, instead of the stuff  controlling me.” Corinne Grant ‘Lessons in Letting Go’.

When I agreed to submit work for this exhibition last autumn, I will be honest, I had no idea where I would go with it. The only thing I knew was the brief would definitely be Grief and Wellbeing in art. I experimented with painting, I didn’t like that but loved some of the abstracted areas. Keen to use fabric and stitch I printed the abstract images onto fabric BUT it wasn’t working. I spent hours drawing too but they weren’t right either. It was too contrived. However it was when I drew the pea pod that I realised a small drawing on each ‘page’ could be the ‘certain something’ that I felt was missing. The pea pod drawing is still my favourite of the four….

That is the thing with my artistic process – it never follows a straight path. And despite at times, feeling unbelievably panicked… when the ‘light bulb moment’ comes along … I am never happier.