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Watchers and Memory continued

Alison Lochhead


Ever increasing fragmentation

For many years I tried to put my feelings, my politics, and my thoughts into my work. I tried to intellectualize them and then make the work conform to images I hoped would portray what I was trying to say, whether this was around violence against women, pornography, state abuse of power, or whatever I was struggling with and wanting to express, to try to explain and expose. At that time I failed miserably and the work reflected this – it was flat and said nothing. I decided to let it all go and go back to my love of rocks, their colours and textures; to de-intellectualize my approach to my work. I made casts of my body and aimed simply to make these bodies look like rocks. I went back to playing and to allowing my inner being to take over.


My bodies are only fragments; they are rarely whole. They are fragments of my thoughts and thinking, of revealed experience and interpretation; they are incomplete stories. The materials used fragment; the bodies blow up in the kiln and sometimes reassemble themselves in different ways. Often the areas that explode are the breasts and the tummy, which for me can reflect some of the most vulnerable areas for women and this seems quite symbolic

The bodies reveal vulnerabilities of humans, and increasingly the backbone of the body started to become important in the work; it kept emerging. To me the backbone reveals the strength within a body but it also reveals its utter vulnerability. It exposes the inner being of a body, turning it inside out.


The joy of the casts and materials

Many of the bodies I make emerge out of casts I have made of my body. No other body can be used; it has to be mine. The work is of my experience and interpretation, no one else’s, so no one else’s body can be used. The casts play an important part in the creation of the work. The ‘Modroc’ casts slowly break down with each usage, the body becoming more and more shadowed, its features disappearing, much as a body will break down after death but keeping a suggestion of its presence. The whole becomes dissipated as it changes; it takes on a different character and history. The work takes on its own life, through the cast.


Other casts I use go into the kiln and are fired with the body inside. The clays and metals move into the cast itself and after firing the plaster gets chiselled off, breaking the mould and revealing the fired body. It reminds me of archaeology and what the earth will reveal; what gets chiselled off by mistake, always to be lost, and what needs to be further chiselled to reveal an inner part. The real work takes place in the kiln through the alchemy that happens there, through the tensions that emerge between the different materials, the clays, metals, glass, slate, earth. The clay that unexpectedly emerges as old skin, the tears which emerge as the fire works within the body, the materials that completely disappear leaving behind craters and gaps, revealing inner parts that were unknown in the making. Some of the materials merge together and become strong, others tenuously hold onto each other. It is unknown what will happen. The bodies can take on wounds from molten materials emerging from crevices in the body and take on scars and textures of the earth while in the kiln.


All my bodies represent ‘watchers’ to me. They retain the memories of the land and of those who lived in it and expose their experience in surprising ways. Each person’s memory and experience is different and only parts remain of each, there is no ‘wholeness’, only fragments; the body itself is not a whole as each part has different memories and experience. However, when different memories are pieced together they make a particular collective reflection and memory. The marks made long ago are still there watching over us and reminding us of their presence. The body reflects the fragmented experience within the land, from which the materials have been wrenched. They are bodies returned to the earth and the minerals found within it, as in death. But their presence does not die, nor their witness. They will watch over us, to remind us of what we do, of what we should remember and why we should remember and not repeat the brutalities of the past, and indeed the present.



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Watchers and Memory • Issue 8