Category Archives: Votive

Expressing the Unknown

Chapter House 2

 

di·vin·i·ty (d-vn-t)
n. pl. di·vin·i·ties
1. The state or quality of being divine.
2. a. Divinity The godhead; God. Used with the.
b. A deity, such as a god or goddess.
3. Godlike character.
4. Theology.

This Saturday is the closing exhibition for the work I’ve made during my time at Valle Crucis, further information here. The work will also be onsite for it’s final installation on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th August, 10-5pm.  Next week I have the photographer coming in to capture the work before it is packed away, along with my studio which will be going back in boxes before it’s transportation back to Manchester. I am looking forward to reflecting and continuing to develop the ideas which I uncovered here back home. In the meantime I hope to see you this weekend, or next week.

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Effigies and Figurative Depiction

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There is a piece of work onsite which invites visitors to leave their mark on three cast wax tablets with an attached scribing tool. I return to it once a week to see what marks and insignias have been added since the last time I saw it and I’ve been periodically replacing the tablets with blank canvases which always seem to stay blank until the first brave person breaks the barrier of hesitation, then they seem to quickly fill up. Of the various initials, names and symbols the tablets attract I have been particularly intrigued by the repeated smiley faces visitors leave and wonder what it is meant to communicate to future visitors.

Pair this with the numerous figurative depictions around the site, and the way in which humanity expresses itself through effigies across culture and history, and I wonder why it is so important for us to create these symbols of ourselves? If ornamentation is an expression of skill, taste and belief which outlives the individual maker or commissioner,  then what of the face, or in fact, any part of the human body? Are we creating a symbolic depiction of our civilisation as we know it? If decorative expression and ornamentation represent a particular point in history which we know to be fleeting then perhaps our effigies of humanity express a fear that our civilisation itself is also fleeting.

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Last week I held an evening tour of Valle Crucis as part of the Llangollen Fringe which attempted to reveal some of the interesting tales of humanity attached to the site, combining the historic with incidental stories from the present day. To culminate the evening I asked visitors to take a wax head and hide it somewhere around the Abbey so that their action and the legacy of the evening would outlive the residency. I have only been able to spot one so far so I’m pretty sure this interaction with the site will last well beyond it (and who knows how long beyond that).

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Wooden carving at Plas Newyd, Llangollen

Meddling and Destruction

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When I returned after a busy Bank Holiday at the Abbey Roger told me that some of the work I had left around the site were missing so I went to investigate. I found that six pieces were missing from the original 16. A few more than I had anticipated, but then I had wanted to know the limitations before I started installing everything in the securer spaces and now I had a fairly good idea what I could get away with and how I can work here without having extensive pieces go walk abouts.

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I began to look for evidence. Fearing destruction I looked for bits of broken wax or stone, coloured threads. Passing the South Transept I spotted the flash of white wax and discovered a carefully assembled collection of my objects: one piece had been taken apart and then grouped with another one of my pieces that was missing from the dormitory stairs. There was also a piece of ornate terracotta pottery here that was completely new. Strange. The total lost was now down to 4 pieces, but I had gained a new fragment too.
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A long thread of blue silk tangled on the Chapter House floor confirmed that at least one of the whittled figurines left within the Sacristy has been unfurled and the small wax figure detached and I stand over it, wondering which piece they wanted: the stick or the figure? I find someone else has placed a clump of cut grass under one of the wax heads on the dormitory stairs. After photographing the evidence I return to the Summer House. Upon turning the corner I see that one of the other whittled figures has been stabbed into the ground by the fish pond intact. Apparently Roger thought I had moved it when he found it there on Saturday morning, I hadn’t but had originally planned to install them like this and in fact, in that spot. Pieces lost: 3, not too bad.

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The pieces were intended to be temporary and whilst the research and idea development that led to them was extensive, the making of them was relatively quick. The process was not what made them precious, it was the ideas behind them and the reaction they received from viewers. If people interacted with them then this is just as valid a reaction. Of course, removing them all together is useless, unless I now receive ransom notes about them.

I hid my work and then someone else hid it from me, meddled with it and didn’t worry about handling it. Some of the future interventions here will be secured and some will not, I think we can be playful with this.

Votive Offerings

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I have been casting the tiny Frozen Charlotte dolls in wax this week. All this stems from my usual interest in ‘power objects’, things like Holy relics or lucky charms, but even including the keepsakes we have in our own lives which represent another person or an idea to us.

I am bringing to the residency some recent research from further afield, from a recent trip to the Volkeskundemuseum in Brugge, Belgium, where I saw their wax votive collection and the plaster and metal moulds from which they were cast. Instantly fascinating to me because of their scale, which like so much of my collection, fit in the hand and invite close inspection. But they also interest me because of their inherent figurative quality and their strangeness: tiny white bodies, or limbs, or organs, or even teeth.

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Votive offerings are placed within places of worship to gain favour or give thanks; often the wax and metal casts commemorate spiritual help with a particular issue – failing eyesight, fertility, arthritic limbs. I can only assume the Volkeskunde Museum acquired this collection in part from someone with very bad teeth from the amount of wax teeth and mouths.

A combination of thinking about the colour white and the materials that were in use in the working Abbey originally led me to wax. Faced with wanting to create copies of the objects from my collections so that I could make lots and leave at the mercy of the elements I thought I might try casting them in this lesser material to see where it might lead. In trying out materials and creating samples I ended up with a series of tiny wax figures in my hand which reminded me of something quite powerful and something I had felt excited by fairly recently. The idea that I might be leaving small sculptures around a former Abbey somehow seemed a little votive, although not in a religious sense in my case.

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I read last year in a book called ‘Supersense’ by Bruce Hood, how the human mind constantly creates these connections and that in artists this is heightened. Within my work, these connections are key in the making, and within the finished work too so that the viewer can recognise aspects and unravel some of these ideas. Sometimes it is difficult to articulate why something makes us feel a certain way and I think these subtle connections are the best. And sometimes, discovering these connections can be as simple as having a go at casting wax and remembering something from your holidays.

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Incidentally, I read that throwing pennies into lucky wells is considered the contemporary equivalent to votive offerings. I can confirm that there is at least 25p in the well at Valle Crucis and I wonder if the people who plopped those coins there genuinely believed they were exchanging money for luck.

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