Updated: Nov 11, 2021
The cupboard in question in 3 stages:
original condition, initial artwork, final work
Is your interest piqued? Keep reading for a run through of the creation of this artwork otherwise feel free to skip through to see all the project images if that's more your style. If you want to volunteer to take photos for me afterwards I accept, seriously, send me a message because I struggle to be in the art and photo documenting at the same time.
Art you can put your hands on is a rewarding experience for me, and I'm sure you'll agree that some art just calls out to be touched. Sometimes it's the delicious textures, the distinct brush strokes or the bright images, but whatever it is, there is something in the art that you want to connect with on a physical level. I had just gotten into creating and exhibiting interactive art when, you guessed it, the COVID-19 pandemic had as all concerned about the safety of touching, well, pretty much anything, and getting to close to other people, even indirectly. So that put paid to my interactive aspirations for 2020.
In 2021 the implementation of COVID-safe practices and the easing of some restrictions in Queensland at least made it a good time to start connecting people with art through touch and participation. And I began playing with ideas around safe spaces, of course influenced by the fact that we've all been locked inside for long periods at a time over the last year.
I wanted to create safe space for people to engage with. And I came up with the idea of using a cupboard to house that space. Here it is in all it's, well not exactly glory, it's a pretty non-descript average smallish cupboard that I found on Facebook marketplace. And honestly it's not even a good photo.
Originally I had thought to get a very large wardrobe with a bit more decoration until I realised that there would be no way I could move it, I even needed my son to help me move this one. But it worked out perfectly for my concept; this is not supposed to be a gorgeous, large, and imposing cupboard. In fact, a small, plain cupboard you wouldn't look at twice, was what I really needed.
Without the spoiler photos right at the start of this post, and after reading the title of this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that the empty shell of a cupboard is all there will be to it, that I might simply turn it upside down, sign the thing and walk away like Marcel Duchamp's urinal art. Yes, that urinal titled 'Fountain' is considered an important artwork and the replicas sell for $1,600,000, you can see what all the fuss is below and decide for yourself if that is something you consider 'real art'.
MARCEL DUCHAMP 'FOUNTAIN'
read more about this artwork and it's market value at https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/marcel-duchamp-artwork/fountain-1964
Buuuuut, (back to the cupboard) there is definitely more to the story. As a child I watched the BBC adaptation of 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' a lot. In those old days the only copy I had was of episodes painstakingly recorded on VHS from the TV over a series of weeks. And even though I had not directly been thinking of that wardrobe (a perfectly ordinary wardrobe that leads into a secret world), when developing this work, it obviously had a profound influence on the young me, as now I had my very own cupboard which would soon hold my own secret hideout.
Here are the photos of the cupboards progression for you to look at and some more details:
First off the shelves were cut into lovely curves (and yes those are but a few of my books in the background, I might just have a rather large collection stored in my studio, I purposely didn't crop the photo for all you Bibliophiles out there (whoever you are, you are my people).
Then came 3 coats of magnetic primer (black!) followed by the 3 coats of white paint it took to cover up the black. But no, it had to be a white cupboard and not a black cupboard even though that would have been sooo much easier to paint it black. I also added a coat of sealer to minimise any scratching.
Finally we are getting to the inside! These blocks were cut from beams and given the same treatment as the cupboard, magnetic primer and white paint.
That is certainly a LOT of white, so now for the colour!
In the earliest iteration of this artwork I intended the inner space of the cupboard to house a library. The interior was designed to represent my safe space, a place I use as a visualisation so that I could recharge or feel safe and empowered.
This concept was represented by the Superhero's Secret Hideout, a superhero needs a place to take off their mask and just be themselves without feeling pressured to conform to the world or present a certain identity. Unlike a crystal fortress or space station, I had originally considered representing that secret hideout as a library. The library has always been a safe haven for me, as a child, but particularly so in my teen years, and still conjures up those warm, homelike feelings in me now. I had pictured a Beauty and the Beast style room with a large fireplace and books to the ceiling. So what happened?
I had a realisation. The library will always feel like a safe space for me but there was another place that came first. If I was talking to my inner child and asking her about it, she wouldn't be imagining a library.
I want to you close your eyes and imagine the world opening up around you into a wide space, feel the blades of grass crushed beneath your feel. Smell the fresh air, the breeze gently wafting around you. There, can you hear the chirrup of small birds playfully darting past your head. Now open your eyes, there is a green carpet stretching as far as the eye can see, trees stretch up from the ground; tall and wondrous. Perhaps you begin to see a real place in your mind's eye, a place you have visited and felt this wonderful feeling of peace and vibrancy.
I had forgotten, until I looked inside me, how much the small child in me loved to play outside, run around, climb and jump and move. The whole practice of sitting still, engrossed in a book filled with fantasy lands or interesting facts, and filling my lunch break time with board games and puzzles, was something that came later. Before all of that existed, there lived inside and around me, a world of my imagining. The parklands I played in as a child have a dreamlike quality about them, as memories often do, I'm sure if I were to visit now, they would seem smaller, more bounded, less colourful. But in my child's mind the space stretched on and became bound up in stories I'd heard or dreamt up, in feelings of movement and freedom. Time was not structured into 24 hours but flowed around me, the sun, the moon and the numberless stars all shone with untold possibilities, came and went in a graceful dance. Though I am grown with children of my own, I still hold this wonder of childhood in me. And these feelings, memories, wishes all budded into a blossoming world, leaf by leaf, star by star, flower by flower. So that is how I ended up representing my hideout as a moment in time, this childhood memory. Good luck to any supervillains trying to find me in a world of my own making.
I love the freedom in painting collage paper, painting just for the joy of playing with colour. I end up with lovely blends and textures which is great for projects like this. I had a lot of fun layering all these scrumptious textural goodies and bringing my garden into bloom.
The plan had then been to scan and print the artworks onto magnet sheets which I ordered online but I ran into a problem. Even though the magnet sheet had a white coating suitable for printing, it wasn't able to go through my home printer or the enormous printer I normally use for my quality printing. I was also now on a deadline because I'd been accepted for a solo exhibition at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery and due to certain circumstances I had a very short lead time to get the whole exhibition together. So because the show must go on I printed all the pieces onto paper, cut around the pieces, laminated them, (because people were about to get very hands on with them) cut them out again, cut the right size of magnet, and stuck the magnet to the backs. I admit I had help with this task as there were a lot of pieces to prepare.
Lights were also added to the cupboard to give that dream-like quality that very distant memories have. And I loved that the lights could be set so that each level would glow a different colour, that really was perfection.
It was then time to assemble all the pieces, carefully arranging the blocks to create depth and placing each leaf and tree just so.
Want to see how it turned out?
Full disclosure, I did not take any photos of the work on opening night. I was running on little sleep owing to technical difficulties with another of the artworks and I was swept up in a mixture of relief of having the exhibition all put together and up on time, euphoria because it's a job I absolutely love, and the busyness of meeting and greeting people at the exhibition opening. So this is a photo of the artwork in my studio.
But in the words of the Cat in the Hat, 'that is not all'. My finished artwork is not the final piece, as I mentioned earlier, this is an artwork made to be touched, the pieces moved and even removed, to make way for other's art. I invited people of all ages to draw or collage a piece of themselves to leave in the cupboard. At the start of the exhibition all that existed was a representation of my safe space, a space I could remember and find solace in during challenging times, where I could find some inner peace. But for the artwork to be fully realised I wanted people to add their own artwork to the cupboard, a representation of something they would want in their own safe space.
And the transformation was incredible!
After the 2 month exhibition, there were so many new additions that every inch of the space was filled. I wasn't able to see it at the very end of the exhibition filled with all the wonderful pieces of art. I came up to Bundaberg to collect all the artworks and it had already been packed away ready for transport. It wasn't until I got home that I found and opened the package with all the art in, I felt quite humbled by the number of people who had taken time to interact with, and add to the work.
So now that you've seen it all come together what is the verdict? Is this the type of art you enjoy? Let me know what you think, seriously, anyone who knows me well knows I love to receive (and provide) feedback. As an artist it's really easy to get stuck in my own vision/ thoughts about a work on exhibition so honest feedback helps me see things I may not have noticed, or hear a different view.
I also want to acknowledge that back at the start of this journey, while the idea for this artwork was still a vague idea in my mind, I applied for and gratefully received funding from the Continue Creating RADF Grant through Moreton Bay Regional Council, that contributed towards the development of 3 projects including this one. Hooray! The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Moreton Bay Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. Grants like this one makes such a massive difference to an artist like myself, especially so in pandemic times.
If you are interested in more of these posts consider subscribing to my email list. I have another post coming up; another behind the scenes, this time showcasing the 'A World to Save' collaborative textile artwork.