In our Shelf Portrait series, Sophie White sifts among the relics of another life to reveal a story. Maybe not always the facts or the full picture but the feel and texture of another’s days…
I have always believed that we imprint on our possessions. As much as we possess them, they are possessed by us, by our selves, our very essence.[restrict]
Why do we keep the things we keep? When we hold on to tchotchkes and tickets stubs and pebbles and other ephemera – what is the hold they have on us? For example, I use my father’s old wallet and it has, in the years since his death, become imbued with a subtle numinance. His lumpy, brown leather wallet defies laws of time and space and allows us to touch once more every day – a molecular exchange that takes place every time I draw it out to acquire some new thing that he will never partake in: a slice of cake, a new book or a 99 by the sea.
In her collection, Portraits of My Family, Italian photographer Camilla Catrambone assembles the objects of her loved ones to conjure a likeness that goes deeper than her subject’s features and instead speaks to their concerns and obsessions.
French artist, Sophie Calle also delved beyond the mere physical to render likeness’ of her subjects. In the early 80s, she took a job at a hotel in Venice in order to riffle through the belongings of the guests, documenting and displaying their possessions in a photo book, thus inviting us, the viewer, to share in her trespass. Famously a year or so later she found an address book on the path one morning and photocopied every page before returning it to its owner, a prominent filmmaker. She then systematically began calling every one of his friends and acquaintances to create a compelling and unrepentantly unreliable portrait of him rendered entirely in layers of outside perspectives.
He objected to the finished work when he learned of its existence and managed to block its display up until his death in 2012. Only then did Calle finally unveil the semi-fictional portrait Address Book which 30 years after conception still holds fascination and striking relevance. The LA Times critic, David L. Ulin compared it to a social network profile, combining truth-telling and storytelling to create “a version of the self that exists for outside consumption”. And in a way aren’t we all doing a version of this in what we choose to display of ourselves? Be it on our bodies, our walls, our shelves and even, yes – the social grid?
I have always loved the collectors among us. The obsessives and magpies and hoarders, and you are really either one or the other. In Shelf Portrait, every month I sift among the relics of another life to reveal a story. Maybe not always the facts or the full picture but the feel and texture of another’s days.
This week, artist and DJ, Domino Whisker shares her life in objects…
Domino spent her childhood years in the Golden State, raising rabbits, watching sunsets and reading books in the back of her fathers ’67 Chevy Impala. She works largely in embroidery and her pieces speak to the shapes of our past, the fleeting beauty of memory and human resilience in the face of struggles both mundane and cataclysmic.
Do any of the objects take you back to a certain time in your life?
The Kewpie doll. Most of my childhood memories are of my sister India and I, either playing with or fighting over Kewpie dolls. There wasn’t a day that you wouldn’t find our pockets filled with Kewpies, Sylvanians or sticky lollies.
What’s the oldest thing on the shelf?
The skull, which I inherited from my father, Charlie. I’m not sure where it came from but it was given to him as a gift in art college.
I imagine most people think it’s an unusual thing to keep on your mantelpiece but something else inherited from my father is my interest in the macabre. I often sit and wonder who this skull belonged to, what they did and what became of them?
My mum’s mum, Peggy… was a prolific painter. She painted on canvas mostly but did a stunning collection on stones. Incredibly detailed… I don’t know how she did it all while raising nine children. I use it as a reminder to always make time for art.
What’s the newest?
The roses. I should probably buy myself some fresher ones.
Which object has the most interesting back story and what is it?
The painted stone. A beautiful gift from my mum’s mum, Peggy.
She was a prolific painter. She painted on canvas mostly but did a stunning collection on stones. Incredibly detailed paintings of ships at sea, colourful flowers and romantic skies. I don’t know how she did it all while raising nine children. I use it as a reminder to always make time for art.
What’s the least significant item on the shelf?
Nothing on the shelf is insignificant. I generally don’t keep meaningless things. The Virgin Prunes record is warped and doesn’t play immaculately but look at that cover! Gavin Friday has been a massive inspiration to me since I was a teenager.
What is the most significant item?
The John Keats book of poetry. Tiny as it is, it is important to me. Given to my mum by my dad after they visited Keats’ home in 1979.
It’s cute and romantic as hell.
What would you save in a fire?
I’d let it all burn to save my dog Blue and my teddy.