Windsor chair, pinecone, wallpaper, info board
80 x 41 x 41cm
Dining room chair rescued from a municipal skip and appraised for its worth. Installation.
In the Courtauld Gallery a bored-looking boy around 10 removed the barrier rope attached to a chair by pushing it along the arms to the back. Catching him about to sit, the mother called his name across the room in a scalding, exasperated tone. Having reinstated the exhibit's primary function, his startled expression contained a kind of bewilderment at adult behaviour, and in the gaze of the room the boy silently slid the rope back along the arms to restore its authority, before walking to the next room to the large circular seat where others sat.
Physically incapable of controlling human behaviour, these types of barriers convey a silent language we come to understand.
Helping to clear the house after Elizabeth Orr died, the upended furniture heaped in vast skips at the municipal dump seemed absurd to look at, never having seen a single item an inch out of place in 30 years. The thought of a different family with different things in the house seemed equally as absurd as the furniture looked alongside things with no obvious history at all.
The keys returned to the council after an absence of 61 years, they entered the house and set about removing the original 1950’s kitchen, took up every carpet and stripped the walls to plaster as if to obliterate the anachronistic joy and sadness inhabiting every corner.
I saved the chair from the skip. This project is based on the narrative power of objects, the Japanese term Mono no aware, and a true story.
EDWARDIAN ALDERWOOD AND BEECHWOOD SINGLE WINDSOR CHAIR C. 1910, WITH A CURVED TOP RAIL, TURNED STICK BACK AND TURNED LEGS. This chair was in the possession of the Smith family who occupied Falcon Lodge House (built 1820 in the late-Georgian style) throughout the twentieth century, until it was sold by the owner, Mr Cattell, along with 20 hectares of farmland in 1937 to Sutton Coldfield Corporation and razed to the ground to make way for a municipal housing estate, which takes its name from the house, and forms part of the Sutton Coldfield conurbation. The widowed Annie Smith relocated with her only child Elizabeth, taking as much furniture as they could to a smallholding in Norfolk where they lived throughout the Second World War. Due to problems with diabetes, Annie’s eyesight deteriorated into blindness, leaving Elizabeth with full responsibility of the farm and sole carer of Annie, until, early one morning, Elizabeth found her mother drowned in the shallow lake on the outskirts of the farm in an apparent suicide. The orphaned Elizabeth Smith agreed to marry local mechanic Michael Orr on the condition they settle in the newly formed Falcon Lodge Estate, selling all the furniture from the original house apart from a dining table and four chairs to help fund both the marriage and the move. Of the five children Michael and Elizabeth Orr went on to have, the first died in infancy, the only son was killed in a car accident shortly after turning 18, and the eldest daughter was brutally murdered aged 19 in Birmingham city centre. Cut flowers were not permitted in the local authority house on Chadwick Road as Mrs Orr considered them synonymous with death. This rule remained unbroken even when, after 56 years of devoted marriage, Michael suffered a fatal heart attack out walking alone in Pype Hayes Park. As her mental health began to decline, Elizabeth Orr could often be found walking her black dog along Wyatt Road from Lindridge Road; which marks the line of the drive to the long-vanished Falcon Lodge House, or sat in silence at the dining table in the meeting-place of the house positioned to see visitors arrive through the unlocked back door, where, between fits of rage, she came to describe herself as a burden. Haunted by the “physical memories” that occupied the house, Mrs Orr took the possessions she couldn’t give away out to the garden to heap on a fire until satisfied at the near emptiness inside. Before waking early, opening a window beyond each thick net curtain and leaving for the usual route. Her body was discovered drowned in the small stream that splits the estate along Churchill Road. There were no flowers at the funeral of Elizabeth Orr (1922 – 2009).