What Are You Prepared to Give in Exchange?

I Don't Suppose I'll Ever Go There, by Kate Murdoch

I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There, ©2011 Kate Murdoch

Kate’s work is a delicate balance of position, association, meaning and value – not necessarily in that order or with the usual expectations.  That is the beauty of Kate’s work; she presents slights which are out-of-joint and off-kilter familiarity which causes profound questioning of assumptions.  What you think you know is not what you knew and as a result memory slides sideways.

Jane Boyer: Tell us about the significance of memory for you and what role it plays in your artwork.

Kate Murdoch: At the heart of my work is an unravelling of memories; the desire to make sense of and preserve certain aspects of the past are a driving force behind it. I work mostly with found objects and the raw material for my artwork comes primarily from the vast collection I’ve accumulated over the years; both from my own life and from those of others. I use this vast mass of memorabilia to tease out and present my memories of childhood and family relationships, conscious of the distorted effect that time can have on real, authentic memory. I’m fascinated by what the objects we surround ourselves with say about us; steeped in social and political history they are a part of our identity, providing us with a sense of self and revealing our connections to the wider world.

JB: In your artist statement you say your practice is ‘a process of selection

Birdcage by Kate Murdoch

Birdcage, ©2009 Kate Murdoch

where you place familiar objects in an unfamiliar environment in order to challenge the viewer’s response’.  What about your own response, what is challenged for you when you reinterpret an object and change the context and significance?  Do you surprise yourself?

KM:  I think my piece Birdcage demonstrates how the placing of familiar objects in an unfamiliar environment can challenge both my own and an audience’s response to it. Though the initial placing of the brass bells within a cage was something I remember doing quite subconsciously, I was surprised retrospectively by the impact of doing so. The ‘ladies’ in the home of my Scottish aunt appealed to me very much as a child. They exuded an air of decency and femininity.  Their crinoline dresses and neat, sash-tied bonnets called to mind rather beautiful, Scarlett O’Hara kind of heroines – pretty and privileged. But there was a darker side as we know and placing these female figurines in a cage, albeit unconsciously, speaks volumes I think about the hidden aspects of these women’s lives – the repression, domination and dependency.

JB: In your blog Keeping it Going on a-n Artists Talking, you speak about value, both the perceived value of an object which you have made available for your audience to take (Going for Gold) or the associated value to exchange with something of similar value (10 x 10). It could be said the value we associate with an object is in relation to the depth of emotion we experience in any given situation.  Do you feel this to be true and what have you observed about this relationship through the interactive aspect of your work?

10 x 10 by Kate Murdoch

10 x 10, ©2008 – 2012 Kate Murdoch

KM: I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to this question but in terms of my observations of how the majority of people have interacted with 10×10 so far, then yes, I would say it is true. The emotional attachment we make to any given object can determine its worth in emotional terms as opposed to its monetary value. The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks. ‘What is an object worth to you?’ is one of the main questions posed by 10×10. ‘How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give in exchange?’

I can give you many good examples of the varying degrees of value and worth; they are contained in the stories people leave behind when they give their objects up for exchange. The woman who gave up a genuine diamond bracelet at the launch of 10×10 for instance demonstrates a really good example of value and worth. On the face of it, the value of a real diamond was high; from her story however, it was clear that the bracelet, in spite of its monetary worth, had become of little personal value to her.

An exchange made by an international student at Lewisham College has an equally poignant ring to it. He exchanged a small candle stub for a larger, unused candle. Living on a very tight budget in order to afford college fees, this student told me that he was doing his best to avoid having to pay for electricity. It was a practical exchange, then on one level – a used-up candle for one with many burning hours – but in terms of value in this case, the new candle represented a kind of life-saver for him.

“The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks.”

Kate Murdoch

It's The Little Things by Kate Murdoch

It’s The Little Things, ©2010 Kate Murdoch, detail view

JB: Tell us about your piece It’s The Little Things.  You raise an interesting point in what you ‘think is worth preserving’, tell us about some of the things you’ve chosen to preserve in this piece and why.

KM: The things I chose for this particular piece were largely an emotional response to the clearance of my Nana’s home in which she had lived for some 70 years. The items I salvaged were reminders of the many times I’d spent with my Nana as a child and the close relationship we had. I was trying to hold onto her history as well as my own through preserving them. The pastry cutters, the icing nozzles, the embroidery cottons, thimbles, darning mushroom and tape measure are all reminders of the many domestic skills my Nana taught me. The fun side of my relationship with her is reflected in the lipstick, powder and perfume which she sometimes let me play with at her dressing table. The ancient pocket Bible and the red poppy speak of the history of a woman who lived through two world wars and would engage me with her stories about the war as she taught me the rules of a waste-not-want-not life.

JB: We’ve spoken about the personal exchange and value inherent in your work; there is a sense of nostalgia for personal communication and connections underlying your work.  What are your thoughts on digital communications and the ‘faceless’ interactions which are commonplace for us now?  In a way, written communication has been reinvigorated through digital communications, but have we lost the personal connection or have we strengthened those connections?

Gentlemen by Kate Murdoch

Gentlemen, ©2009 Kate Murdoch

KM: That’s a very big question. But does it necessarily have to be face to face? Does ‘faceless’ communication lose any true sense of feeling connected with other people? I’ve certainly had a lot of face to face conversations where I’ve felt very unconnected with the person I’m speaking with – you just don’t connect with everybody – it’s a fact of life! I’ve had e-mail and twitter conversations, on the other hand where communication has been surprisingly personal and intimate when discussing certain matters.

I find forums like twitter and facebook working well for me because of my partial deafness; I find writing a more direct and clear way of communicating as it leaves less room for misinterpretation. I’m in close contact via email and twitter with a few people – mainly artists – who I’ve never actually met face to face. A lot of formality is broken down in the way people communicate via digital communications such as twitter and facebook which to my mind cuts to the chase and gets down very quickly to the core of good, open and honest communication. I know it has its critics, but I actually think you can learn a great deal about a person by the way they communicate on social media and I gravitate towards those who I believe share my own fundamental life values.


I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the Bookshop to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. Your book purchase made through This ‘Me’ of Mine will help raise funds for the project.

Kate’s suggested reading:

Evocative Objects: Things We Think with edited by Sherry Turkle
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris by Leanne Shapton
Interpreting Objects and Collections  edited by Susan M. Pearce
Contemporary Art and Memory by Joan Gibbons
The Memory Box by Margaret Forster
Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
The Whale’s Song by Dyan Sheldon
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks
The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Jane’s Additions:

Color Photographs by Marie Cosindas
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

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3 thoughts on “What Are You Prepared to Give in Exchange?

  1. […] our interview, What Are You Prepared to Give in Exchange, for This ‘Me’ of Mine. Kate and I discuss value, emotion, memory and […]

  2. helen gillam says:

    All that each of us experience of the world is sensation. All thought is purely the personal narrative drive to organise that sensation.. And so our individual view of the world with its concerns of values and meanings is simply projection.

    • janeboyer says:

      Hello Helen, thank you for your insightful comment. Indeed, you are right, however, I think a careful and discerning allowance for those projections of value and meaning is becoming more important as we become overwhelmed with a barrage of sensations. Understanding when and when not to make a value judgement, how it relates to our circumstances and to ourselves ultimately gives us a more complete view of our place in the world. Certainly, being in a body is a sensory reality, it is the only one we can know and it has limits, but we still need to know how to navigate that reality. As is commonly accepted, ‘Wittgenstein shows us the limits of the world,’ what’s been fascinating for me to discover is he means the world is each of us and each of us is a world.

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