Still life


John Bratby, Jean and Table Top ( girl in ayellow jumper),  Graves Gallery , Sheffield

My riff on the idea of belonging caught up on the double meaning of belongings , the kind of multiple way we feel part of something, and the stuff that we acknowledge as ours.

Earlier in the week I found a discarded blue tit nest woven out of sheep’s wool , moss and badger hair, to what looked like a fairly exacting standard, and then abandoned in a wood. This indicated a different way of being , of presence , providing no more than a holder for a bird, some eggs , those fledglings , and then gone.

The process by which it came back to my home is a little murky now, but I remember wishing others might discover it, and then not finding the right place. So it stuck. In my hand, and then my saddlebag and travelled a long way to become an object of meditation.IMG_20180807_194819580

What I noticed, meditatingly, is that it was, despite its craft, exactly functional, and of no interest to its maker, beyond that. It was in effect, a holder, much like ,  in my life, a bivvy bag – a thing to sleep in whilst you remain part of your surroundings.


I thought about my house/home which I inhabit. What in practice does this mean? That I follow trails around it, well marked and quite predictable, some more used than others, which make up a kind of territory, and around the trails are discarded objects of use – some positioned carefully, others at random, and their orderings , or disorderings, responses to patterns of movement, which will have been, once, subjectively purposeful, but in time ( as purpose recedes or is forgotten), have become, more or less, stochastically chaotic. Thus the instructions for a voltmeter, put aside in January, lie next to scrap of mini cucumber, left previous night to feed the pets,  phone charger cable , last week, and scrap of paper torn form a notebook , date unknown.


The lack of order, or maybe lack of control , creates  a sense of shame in me which is hard to explain. Maybe the best I can do is that things should have their place. At these points the house/home feels a place for their ordering , and me, a failing custodian , nervous about the prospect of visitors.

I wondered if I could invert this sense in some way by framing. I remembered looking at still lifes in a gallery.


This is on a table in the Ingleby Gallery. It might be an accident but i dont think so..

On one level I am always amused by the posing of objects to have their picture took. How stiff the apple looks , how carefully the geometry is imposed on chaos. Yet in other ways the things are relational to each other, and perhaps to the life that has mysteriously just stepped out of shot, off down the river of things.


So I took some photos of the things around the house, as they have fallen, and thought about the images I liked and why.


I realised also that I was approaching another sense of belonging – that of being a part of something, rather than apart from it. In one way, by putting myself behind the camera I was separating myself again. On the other hand, I was using the things, or at least their juxtapositions for my own purposes, and letting them influence me. And by creating something with the prospect of an audience, I am describing myself as citizen of a world who might care about such things , and in a particular way.

IMG_20180722_145534030I did not think about what my neighbours might think about me wandering around the house taking pictures of unmade beds and cluttered kitchen units. As I do now it is almost a wilful act of difference ( although I don’t actually know whether my neighbours a) care, or b) don’t do similar things).


I liked a lot of the photos. They made me like my life more – so it felt more like a place of busyness, of things in process, as opposed to abandoned ( although in fairness they could be read like that too). The individual objects seem ready to move – to spring, or topple, to be picked up , or smoothed. They have potential. The clothes seem to have retained the energy of a body in their rumpledness ( perhaps not the socks).


Clothes peg, pen and alarm clock may make up my coat of arms,which I have unsteadily sketched out in my notes and will soon register with the Lord Lyon, King at Arms (Parted bend sinister, clothespeg rampant on field of washed beech , alarm clock passant superior. Crossed pencils accosted.)


The vacuum cleaner crouches like a prehistoric beast frozen, waiting to spring or flee.


The downlit  bathroom objects suggest some surgical procedure taking place, the stuff that is increasingly the lot of ageing bodies being trimmed and contained, which we must approach sanguinely, and with a necessary sense of humility.


The photos end in the garden, seen from the inside looking out, across the last layers of  space junk spiralling out through the asteroid belt towards the unknown.

Ive never owned a garden before and am not sure how much I actually do – there is a document with a map on it which I was sent by the estate agent that says it belongs to the Earl of Linlithgowshire who can take it back if I keep any poultry. I therefore look on myself as a watchman..

If I feel that the still lifes in my house say something about the state of my unconscious, the garden says more about the play between my idea of what I present to the world , and the sense of home I want to present to myself when I return.


I spent a lot of time this summer painting my back fence ( the towering green twin canisters in the last pic speak of the incompleteness of the project. Still it’s the same with the Forth Bridge).  At the time it seemed no more than an inexacting task, and a form of exercise a little more practical and located than running in circles . Looking back , I wonder if I was saying something about my boundary. I was aware it was a readily noticeable activity ( although the fence also creates a little pond of privacy behind it), and I wanted  it to look like some other fences, but unlike the collapsing and chaotic fence attached to the garden of domestic rubbish next door.

That accomplished I don’t know what I am supposed to do with my enclosure. I wander round the village looking at the gardens – I  think  I can identify  three sorts. The first is simply an extension of the domestic life within –  – the photos of my garden looking out have that air. Then there is another type which presents a front to the world – of particular arrangements of space; a display . Regularly placed  sunflowers, matching coloured ornaments, interesting floral combinations or a regulation boot brown fence.  The third type may merge with the second, but the primary source of pleasure is for the resident.


My neighbour has lived in her house for fifty years , her garden has layers like  dendrochronology.  It has a model railway lapping round it, made by her recently deceased husband, and a actual tree at its centre. She rarely leaves its confines but is convinced that some one is breaking in to steal her fuscias. She has spotlights linked to movement sensors trained around the garden. They go off when I use my kitchen sink.

I find myself weeding  – pulling out the plants I know the names of and leaving the ones I don’t recognise that don’t grow so well .

Belonging might be about time passing, or activity, or an inner space of relaxation. But I think its probably about not thinking of an alternative. As in the phrases , ‘AH belong ORMISTON’, or ‘We ve aye been In Ormiston’, which are equivalents, with the main equivalence being the stress placed on the actionword, the emphasis implying that this an active state of being.