In a world where things don’t seem new enough, quick enough or ‘fresh’ enough, I am captivated by these antique German porcelain fragments.
Years ago, I had the honour and privilege of researching and documenting a small artifact collection at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The narratives that unfolded were incredibly rewarding, and, it was this experience that dramatically informed my current art practice.
Now, I love creating art with old, rusty, broken, aged components. I am intrigued by the secret life of stuff. Well, It isn’t really the stuff, it’s actually the secret life of the makers, consumers and collectors that I find fascinating and mysterious.
These little porcelain pieces were dug out of the ground after resting there as factory seconds and rejects for over 100 years. They weren’t good enough to paint and be sold on the market in the late 1800′s, and yet, the detail and craftsmanship puts most contemporary goods to shame.
Over 100 years later, I use these pieces in my art to celebrate material artists, reflect the past, to evoke narrative left to the imagination of the viewer and to reinforce the ideas of life, death and resurrection.
Does anyone out there believe that objects have a life of their own? A soul? Or am I all alone in this neo-pagan age being called woo woo queen? When I refer to animism, I am not claiming that a rock over there is walking towards me and telling stories about its alien masters, nor am I wearing a foil headband to keep the ‘rays’ out, however, I do believe in my ancient ancestors’ relationship with nature. They believed that everything had its own energy, personality and soul.
From my own experience with academia and anthropologists, I must conclude that the term animism is imposed primarily on Indigenous viewpoints and on anyone who doesn’t see a separation between spirit and material, or, those who feels that objects considered inanimate, such as rocks or plants have energy or spirit.
It is something you dare not say out loud for fear of being called ‘simple’, ‘challenged’, ‘immature’, ‘uneducated’, or just plain odd. I don’t actually fit any of those descriptors other than perhaps…odd.
I know that objects have their own personality, and that is why I am drawn to material culture, man-made or natural. It is why I am compelled to make things. I also know that people with different points of view don’t always agree and can explain anything in a way that is often familiar or socially acceptable.
The rock pictured at the beginning of this post is of a gift that was given to me by a friend who knew nothing about how much I love bears, nor did she see this as anything but a piece of quartz. I respect that. I just look at things differently…I hope you can too now and then, as it helps sustain diversity and open-mindedness.
I take a lot of photos. I understand dust reflections. I understand how to use SLR digital cameras. So when I took about 50 pictures of products for an upcoming Etsy shop launch, I was a little surprised to find this light anomaly. The light hadn’t changed. It was a sunny day outside, and I was shooting indoors. I own a Canon Rebel EOS with an 18 – 55 mm lens. The camera setting was on automatic.
The porcelain head is an antique from 1870, the old iron key is of unknown origin. The sweater, lens, and mannequin are all stain and smudge-free. I didn’t see anything unusual through the lens at the time of taking the pictures.
I do have pictures with a few unexplained lights and shadows, however, this green orb is a first. So what do you think? Is the little boy head haunted? Is the key giving off a weird glow? Do I need to learn more about odd lens flares, or has this happened to any of you? I didn’t change the settings or lighting, and, two shots later, the rather odd green ball of light disappeared. I couldn’t replicate the orb. I didn’t see it in conjunction with any other piece of jewellery I shot. When I converted the ‘camera raw’ file to use in Photoshop, the orb, even when viewed very close-up, didn’t yield any clues.
So here I sit with another black and white photo, retrieved from yet another junk store, after yet another pack-rat fest…
Why oh why couldn’t I resist a smiling little girl with a hair ribbon, a grandmother, a fresh little baby? Do I really need more photos of total strangers when my own family pix are scattered throughout the place like a breadcrumb trail to the past?
Probably not. Yet what a nice picture. What a nice family, what an idyllic scene. I think there isn’t a person in this sea of rapidly changing identities, and cyber realitites that doesn’t feel a tinge of longing and nostalgia for a slower and simpler time. Not only that, we get to speculate about people, and, use our imaginations.
The back of the picture has these three words printed in pencil, “Mary, Belle and baby.”Enough said. Here is my brief profile of Mary, Belle and Baby…if you want to submit your own narrative, join in the fun in the comment section.
“Mary is a lovely nine-year old girl who possesses an unusual yet well-balanced and easygoing personality. She is simultaneously shy and disarmingly direct. She loves yellow hair ribbons, ponies, shiny clothes, and, can kick major butt when confronted by bullies. Belle is her Grandmother and loves Mary and baby, although baby seems to get a lot more attention. Belle is a 57 year-old, church-going suburbanite who loves tupperware and a smart dress. Although she attends church regularly, she chain-smokes, plays bingo and kicks major bully butt when no one is watching. Baby is simply baby, and no one really uses his proper name ‘Herbert’ yet because his personality hasn’t formed. He eats like a horse, but sleeps like a rock so no one minds his daytime screaming fits. Mary doesn’t mind that he regularly sticks his fingers in her eyes and pulls at her yellow ribbons. Mom is taking the picture. Dad has gone to war. Grandpa died.”
A typical middle-America photo and story. I just love pictures.
I am a scavenger, as the many bins of odds and ends I have stacked in my studio would confirm. So, when my husband and I were told of a certain Salem, MA beach that is a veritable treasure trove of broken ceramics, glass, bottles, and a few unidentifiable rusted things, we could not help but grab a couple of bags and flap our crow wings over there to peck for a while.
We were not disappointed, and found a wonderful cross-section of remnants from everyday lives. A melted lens from an old pair of eyeglasses, old bottles melted by intense heat, either from the Salem fire of 1914, or a garbage incinerator, jars, a tiny perfume bottle, and many bits of coloured china and glass.
We tried to edit a few things and perhaps left a small glass jar or two, but we kept a fair bit. A talkative, local gentleman who couldn’t contain his curiosity, wondered why on earth we were collecting this ‘stuff. ‘ To clean up? For money? I don’t think he could fathom what intrinsic beauty we both saw in these discards, and, I am sure the poor security people at the airport would have been extremely concerned if not for the business card I tape to my stowaway goodie-bags. The card reads Monica Bodirsky, mixed-media artist.
My current artwork is an ongoing exploration of narrative, life, death and memorial, particularly as it relates to material culture. Because of this, I find a variety of small objects, or ‘oddjects’ as iI call them, wherever I go. These silent and worn bits inspire me to retrieve my Sherlock Holmes cap and find the hidden stories they guard. While I don’t create narrative pieces specifically about the objects, the information does inform my choice of component combinations and provides an odd sensation of rescuing forgotten memories.
I haven’t put the following broken china piece into an assemblage work yet, but wanted to share the backstory I discovered when I looked up the makers mark on the bottom.
I found out that the Jackson Vitrified China Company was located in Falls Creek, Pennsylvania, and, that it had been originally named “Bohemia Art Pottery”. This company, founded in 1905 by brothers Emanuel and Louis Fischel took on partner Harry Jackson in 1914 when business was not thriving. By 1916, a new gas-fired kiln was added and the company name changed to ‘Jackson’s Vitrified China Co.”
Sadly, on November 26, 1924, Harry Jackson and newly hired salesman William Darden were shot and killed by disgruntled employee, Jon Souccob, who then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. Souccob had a note in his pocket demanding additional payment for his designs. Despite the tragedy, the Jackson China Company continued until 1989, when a suspicious fire destroyed the factory. Thanks to a collectors’ link below, I could date the mug from 1923 – 1946.
This information made me reflect on several things. Being paid for art or design has been an ongoing struggle, lead-based contaminants in the china making process were dangerous, and, material culture, even discarded, can seem to have agency because of obscure narratives.
I will keep you posted on the finished assemblage.
Below are a couple of links about this history and the Jackson’s Vitrified China backstamp or maker’s mark.
I’ve always enjoyed a walk in the cemetery. Any cemetery. They are a treasure trove of information, history, and, as a Romani photographer once shared with me “A graveyard in any city is the best library.”
Over the past decade or two there have been a number of public campaigns promoting graveyards as parks and urban green space to be enjoyed. Some still balk at the notion, however, I am grateful that what was once seen as deviant or creepy behaviour is now, more or less, acceptable. I still say more or less, because of our overall fear of death and insanity, So in sharing that you visit graveyards and speak to the dead, may cause the average person discomfort.
I recall an early college photography teacher of mine, who, after seeing my photo essay on one of our larger graveyards, barely gave me a passing mark because he thought it was just “…too damn spooky and weird.” I should say this same gentleman routinely photographed puppies, cute babies and used a star filter on most of his work. I use the term photographer as a matter of occupation not talent.
So, here I am still wandering boneyards, even in winter, or as a few close friends say ‘haunting’ them. The beauty of memorial carved stone, and the care craftspeople once took to convey loss and sorrow is stunningly beautiful. The stories of everyday people who occupied this city are etched on the wind, and, those who didn’t achieve notoriety, according to subjective historians, are lost or held with remaining family members.
As I walk through the graveyard taking photos and leaving offerings in return, I consider the legacy and contributions of these anonymous people and wonder how their narratives could become accessible to everyone. Though these may seem like walks with death and the past, they evoke a bittersweet melancholy born of wisdom. For me they are walks with life and the present.
As a working artist, designer and educator, I understand how important it is to take the time to stop and assess where you are in your practice. To assist with this, last summer, I spent two glorious weeks at Toronto’s Artscape Gibraltar Point artist’s residence. The point of my two-week self-directed residency was to explore, and, simply put, find the meaning of life as it relates to my art.
My search for soul began with a simple framework, I would go for a walk every day and pick up a few things and document them each night. For once, I left the plan so wide open, it wasn’t stifling. Being a designer, as well as an artist, I tend to get a little tight on my parameters at times.
What happened during my stay was just as wonderful as I had hoped. I picked up things I found, an ermine (weasel) skull, beach glass, rocks, sticks, as well as man-made objects like a lost fork, hair clip, old baseball etc. From these objects I began to understand how archaeologists start to speculate on the underlying narratives and made a deep connection between our material culture and memorial in a way I never had before.
It was the catalyst and driving force behind my current assemblage work and I will always cherish the experience. I ran a two-day workshop during that stay and shared some of my own experiences with participants. They seemed to make the connection and everyone found a creative voice in what they were seeing or finding – from amateur to professional.
I also had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people and making deep and lasting connections with the arts community, the hard-working people who run the residence, some of the Island inhabitants, and especially the beautiful lake, wildlife and spirit of the place.
Today was a snowy, cold and blustery day but reflecting on the summer warmed my heart. Below is a link to Gibraltar Point as well as my more recent work.