A nuanced piece of writing by Stella Rosa McDonald about our current exhibition.
Brassaï: A few years ago, I was in the valley of Les Eyzies in Dordogne. I wanted to see cave art at the source. One thing surprised me: every generation, totally unaware of the ones that preceded it, nevertheless organized the cave in the same way, at a distance of thousands of years. You always find the “kitchen” in the same place.
Picasso: Nothing extraordinary about that! Man doesn’t change. He keeps his habits. Instinctively, all those people found the same corner for their kitchen. To build a city, don’t men choose the same sites? Under cities you always find other cities; other churches under churches, and other houses under houses. Races and religions may have changed, but the marketplace, the living quarters, pilgrimage sites, places of worship, have remained the same. Venus is replaced by the Virgin, but the same life goes on.[i]
I imagine Art as Brassaï’s iterative cave. I imagine Artists entering the cave and heading straight for the ‘kitchen corner’, levelling the earth and preparing the build. But the artist, in this conceit, doesn’t behave entirely like Brassaï’s common cave dweller, who remains ignorant of the home’s previous arrangements. The Artist is totally—and necessarily—aware of what came before. This knowledge is essential if they are to raise the galley again, their antecedence guides their sense. And so, they begin to arrange the kitchen once more, in the very same place, but with difference.
The idea of working ‘in response’ is not an alien task for the artist, whose arrangements form both the echo and the call. The photographer Olive Cotton (whose own 1985 photograph Pepperina Lace is re-formed here in a 2017 ceramic series by Alice Couttoupes) returned to the same subjects with heartbeat regularity in her life. The photograph Willows (1985), for example, could be the opposing view of the very same tree that is depicted in Willow Rain (1940)—and it probably was, only with 45 years in between. Cotton made careful studies of her subjects and she wrote with even greater caution around the photographs that contained them. Her notes were spare and direct and they tasked the image with the heavy lifting. There are no photographer’s notes for Pepperina Lace (1985, showing here). But from the descriptions Cotton assigned to other photographs, we can assume she might have simply noted the delicacy of the flowers and, perhaps, their equivalence to thread. Because of its small scale, Olive Cotton’s daughter Sally tells me Pepperina Lace was possibly sent out by Olive and her husband as Christmas cards for close family and friends in the 1980s. The card making was meticulous and heartfelt on the part of Cotton and her family and took around a week from print to post. Some recipients of the cards threw them away at the end of the season; others kept them carefully, and even framed them. Chance plays no small role in laying the foundations for Art’s cave.
Beneath the city lies another city, there are churches under churches and houses resting atop the foundations of other houses. The kitchen is, now, where it has always been. We return to each other with time.
[i] Brassaï̈, Jane Marie Todd, and Henry Miller. 2002. Conversations With Picasso. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 92