Garlands of String
7 October - 5 November 2011
Kay Lawrence, your heart's desire (detail), 2010–2011 (in progress), two artist's books (from a set of four) designed by John Nowland, approximately 3000 mm of red, hand-spun silk string, buttons
Garlands of string by Dr Kirsty Darlaston
"String is good for doing things, and also good for being. The state of being is a state of being related to. String, in all its forms, holds the meaning of the fact of relatedness"1.
How do we find our way through the world? Jacques Ranciere writes that "…in a theater, or in front of a performance, just as in a museum, at a school, or on the street, there are only individuals, weaving their own way through the forest of words, acts, and things,"2 and Michel de Certeau writes of storytelling as a method of navigating our own paths amongst a "jungle of fundamentalist rationality"3. Jungle or forest, we navigate the world through the stories that we create about our surroundings and ourselves. In Your Hearts Desire Kay Lawrence lays out the mythological string to help us through the labyrinth, to find our way back to our heart of hearts. By asking participants to articulate their innermost desires, Lawrence provides a space and time where it is safe to stop, to contemplate, and to speak. Small buttons of desire, these hard knots of longing are allowed out and take their place on the button string amongst the thoughts and lives of others. Each button on the Lawrence's string represents the hearts desire of an individual someone. Ranciere writes of the role of anonymity on art: "What has to be put to the test by our performances—whether teaching or acting, speaking, writing, making art, etc—is not the capacity of aggregation of a collective but the capacity of the anonymous, the capacity that makes everybody equal to everybody"4. The texts in Your Hearts Desire are mainly anonymous - the handwriting differentiating each dream from the next - attesting to the individuality of the writer. The dreams and desires contained within the book are often either highly individualised (well wishes for children, notes to partners), or part of a collective longing for a greater world. Simple, everyday dreams and desires: for love, friendship, health, family and happiness take their place alongside more grandiose dreams for world peace and harmony. The collective and the individual make up the length of the string.
Buttons run through people's fingers in Lawrence's button tin, searching for the perfect button to represent their desire, or absently stroking whilst engaged in conversation. Benjamin thought that true experience was found in close and practised knowledge of what is at hand, "…the hand touches, has practical experience of life"5. Both the sensuality and the everyday qualities of the buttons permit more intimate responses to the artwork - and to the intimate question that Lawrence asks. The body and the senses are often central to memory. As Lawrence toured her button string around to different events, stories began to emerge. A button made during World War II is added to the string, with the story of it being made from the 'perspex' of the cockpit of a fighter plane by a pilot waiting to be sent on bombing raids in Germany; a button from the first garment ever sewn as a young lady is proffered; buttons are snipped off shirts; mother's and grandmother's button collections are brought into play again. These stories all clink and clash together on the button string - with the buttons no longer needing to match an individual garment - released from their utilitarian beginnings these buttons become precious, points of light that flicker like conversations amongst strangers (who are really no longer so strange).
Estelle Barrett writes: "There is growing evidence that bodily processes activated through artistic and creative practices are intrinsic to reparation and healing. In aesthetic experience, physiological interactions involved in perception, feeling and affect are integrated in complex processes of meaning-making which provide forms for feelings to take"6. When Lawrence asked her friends to photograph a button necklace that she had given them for their birthdays, and to reflect and write about connection, in some ways she provided this form. The necklaces, for many of her friends, have come to represent very intimate, sometimes difficult, personal moments - birth and death, the beginning and end of life, strung together on the very same string. Michael and Nancy Samuels write that art is a "manifestation of a more inherent and profound tendency of living processes…"7 and in the stories sent to Lawrence by her friends that make up A Garland for a Friend, we see this reflection and amplification of life in art. One friend writes: "I often look at my button string and wonder what it has witnessed. I don't know who owned these buttons before, if the owners are still alive what kind of lives they have lived"8. This simple meditation speaks of the connections, disconnections and transience of lives; it is a statement alive to both living and loss. The buttons on Lawrence's string necklaces mark the years of a life, they also create nodes of meaning and significance, points of remembrance.
Lawrence's string works are art as a form of being-in-conversation, of creating in dialogue with others. They allow for a form of "'connected knowing', in which personal 'local' knowledge has become a shared knowledge through acts of conversation, forbearance, attentiveness, listening…"9 Lawrence did not know what would emerge from both A Garland for a Friend and Your Hearts Desire, she simply asked questions and waited for stories and desires to emerge. Here, the artist is reframed in dialogue with her audience as she quietly makes another twist on her string. In Ranciere's terms she places herself in the position of both actor and spectator in a story that belongs both to her self and to others10. Secretively, she slips her own hearts desire into the book and takes her place amongst the multitude of dreams and desires. She reminds us that the world is filled with these hopes and that this is what ultimately connects us. When Claire Pajaczkowska writes of string as holding the meaning of relatedness in her article Thread of Attachment11, she writes of these very connections that thread through all of our lives.