Man Eating Eels and elephant intestines

I’ve been struggling to find time to work in my studio since Covid when I have found myself caught up in a myriad of organisational urgencies.   Yet speaking about my work as part of DCP helped me to make sense of some new questions that are beginning to emerge in my art practice.  

E.B (my mother) and P.J beach sculptures, Italy.

There’s a Federico Fellini film called Giulietta degli Spiriti where the eponymous heroine and my Italian namesake is plagued by spirits and stories that Fellini elucidates as a kind of perpetual dreamworld of parties, eccentric and elaborated characters, persuasions, rooms and anti-rooms both inside and out.   As the film rolls on Giulietta seems to slowly come to terms with her spiritual under/inner world.  Moving from the voyeur or outsider resisting their movements to welcoming them in as friends into her own existence.    In the Spring season of Deepening Creative Practice I spoke about my work as an artist and how it has intersected with social science in the Tavistock tradition illuminating my own personal history and relationship with the spirituality of objects through my encounters with organisation, archive, landscape and their associated ecologies. 

Telling the story of my work connected me with Fellini’s film. My mother was a fan of his work and she lived in Rome in the 1960s.  Sorting through her affairs recently I found a collection of letters sent to her mother and her childhood teddy bear Cubby, always referred to as C.  I initially confused C for my grandmother’s lover.  They are missives from another era punctuated with images that convey a romantic relationship with the country and its people.  The letters are mostly typed onto airmail paper.  She worked at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO as a secretarial assistant and this meant using work typewriters and working over lunch breaks.  The letters often allude to the typing itself, breaking the rules by continuing to write on after her break has ended and participating in meetings where she finds herself outwitting the men who she worked for:

In the afternoon I went to see a wonderful museum which houses various sculptures etc. which they have found in a nearby cave, where Tiberius used to have a villa and make his slaves fight maneating eels; all very fascinating.

And:

I have told them if they are good I will bring them back a packet of spaghetti! But I am saving the best for you, special type macaroni which has a diameter of at least 1 ½ inches!!! It looks like elephant’s intestines when cooked, the Italians simply love it!  So will YOU!!!! [Text in blue handwritten]

Mothers are of course tied up with our object relations and through my encounters with the Institute’s archive I had woven in the intergenerational trauma and loss that was hers, her mothers and her maternal and paternal grandmothers’ stories through two world wars.    My still lifes unconsciously like Giulietta exploring the dynamism of transference and counter transference between objects – a bleach bottle that evoked a Velasquez portrait of the Pope, the straining graphic of the Brasso bottle, the crab like creeping of metal egg poachers.   When I discovered the Object Relations cards in the archive it allowed me to link these objects with a sense of history as being passed down and on through those early relationships and the past infusing how this happens.   The push-me, pull-you between past, present and future that is our inexorable fate.  

P.J and E.B. (my mother) Getting ready for a party in Rome

Coming across these letters has been akin to Giulietta degli Spiriti’s awakening and coincided with explorations and research in my studio where I have been trying to make connections between still life and a wider spiritual ecology where the objects now weave between environment, emotions, generational dynamics, archive and history.   Objects from the natural world have been finding their way into the compositions for a while.  They form a dialogue with the encaustic paint or the metal point and its ground.  A reed from Romney Marsh,  clumps of dried seaweed, shells, beeswax.   And the still lifes now including passages of landscape which are taking the place of the occluded domestic scenes in the Object Relations cards.   Finding my mothers’ letters coincides beautifully with this expansion in my practice and with the illustrations that I have been doing from Social Dreaming matrices.  I find myself wanting to include these stories in my work – the giant elephant intestine pasta, and Tiberius’s slaves fighting man-eating eels; the chicken that awoke her one morning when on an archeological dig at Lake Bolsena.  

Programme Director. Artist; curator; consultant weaving together the arts and social science in engaging ways.

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