Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Weeks ago I went to see an exhibition at Contemporary applied Art in London called The Stuff of Memory by the artist Simone Ten Hompel.
See exhibitions’ brief on the CAA WEBSITE

The exhibition’s flyer says: “Spoons. Bowls. Jars. Containers. These are the stuff of our daily lives: dependable and utilitarian; and we barely notice if they also carry the ghost memories of their own pasts disguised within form and function.
But Simone has noticed for us”

I was particularly moved by a series of 108 spoons hanging on the wall and by the poetry of the display. They were grouped by “paragraphs” of 3 or 4 spoons, and the light was projecting their shadow on the wall.

Exhibition at CAA. Picture Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist.

I looked at them many times from left to right and then right to left.  I felt those spoons had a story to tell but as I was left alone with them, a lot of questions came to my mind: Why 108? Why is this particular one grouped with this one? Is there a story with a beginning and an end? How can I be moved by spoons that are amongst the most common tools on earth?
And then I let the magic operate: they started to whisper to my ears. “I look fragile but in reality I am strong”. “Try to eat with me and you will have a lot of fun”.  “Me and my two friends have something in common but you won’t find it”. “I am clumsy but I am beautiful”…
And they were not spoons anymore. Every one of them had its own personality and its own story. And they were talking and chatting.

I personally found this series of spoons very strong and moving because it encompasses what fascinates me with Applied Art works:  spoons are originally meant to be used but here they have a great potential that goes far beyond functionality: they become poetic storytellers.

But I know Simone, and I wanted her to tell me her own story. I had the great opportunity to interview her specifically about this part of her exhibition and I thank her for her time. Here is Simone’s story:

Spoons are the first and last tools we use in our life. We start to learn to eat with them, (not with a fork or a knife) and the last thing you possibly eat is soup and that will be with a spoon. So a spoon is a metaphor for life and what happens in between and it allows me to explore that. Also it has the shape of the hand: a cup with a handle attached to it. Sometimes it is a shell and a stick and in some of my spoons, I make the junction between the cup and the handle quite obvious. Those are the two elements. It is a symbol for life. 

Photo Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist

Why I have done so many?  Having done spoons beforehand, I have always done them in sort of groupings but the groupings were much tighter and here with that group I have done 108 of them which is a figure that can be divided or multiplied by 12 and 9. The dozen and also the figure 9 are sacred numbers in religion and have mystical connotation. ‘108’ is a Harshad number and thus makes it for me a figure that has personality. 108 then falls into groups that have a dynamic for debate or elude conversation among them.

I started with some spoons and put them out and then I thought what was missing in them. Just not “any” spoon was made. Some are specifically made to fit into the sentence of its group. Also having to think about selling them within the context of a gallery, I had to make something that would operate in that way, a sort of compromise. If it had been a series where I absolutely didn’t need to think about that aspect, it would probably have been one piece. However the display would have been the same. In this scenario the audience was asked to make a choice of their own new sentence with their own memory and people were asked to select 3 or more spoons. And then the discourse continued with the remaining spoons with new sentences or paragraphs.

Exhibition at CAA. Picture Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist.

They didn’t reinvent my grouping but because it was in the exhibition “the stuff of memory” they had to make their own association. It is likely that association was memory driven, but they had to ask themselves if this one goes with that one and usually stuff from the past came into their reflection.

Yes. Look at the whole series: the first one is a wire spoon and the last one is a thin cut out of a stainless steel spoon, a very fragile one.  So it sort of goes to full circle without being identical.

Photo Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist

Not all of them are functional. Some are reflection about function. The poetry comes from what we bring into the spoons, like a kind of embody memory, possibly?
Spoons are essentially life enhancing tools and as far as I could tell it is a symbol of culture. With one of my spoon (which is made of two pieces, a front and a back) I am speaking of cooperation, balance, division and separation of function. They are operations that are negotiated and quietly democratized.
When we drink coffee or eat pudding we must likely have our odd collection of spoons in a drawer. If we own a complete silver set, we must likely like one particular size because it fits the mouth better than the others or has other personal reasons for being favored. So we are quickly building up a rapport and affinity with a tool like that. And why is that? The spoon itself is not only a tool of life enhancing quality but it represents the start of independency when we start to feed ourselves getting the liquid food from the plate to the mouth without direct contact or interference of the hand. It manifests notions of culture boundaries and their manners or etiquette.

Photo Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist

It goes back from where I come from:  not only farmers would have spoons hanging on a wooden rail for display, but also they were hanging them because they didn’t have cupboards at all... In addition, hanging the spoons allowed me to handle them and to keep them in the position I had chosen. The shadow on the wall is their own memory. It is almost like their conscience. This I will leave it for the onlooker to make sense out of it.

There is a group in the series of spoons reflecting on, me making, that what I am making there and then. The spoons and other works in the exhibition are about all aspects of memory and how or what activates a memory. I am interested in the quest on how memory happens: where is it stored? What it triggers? Is it like a sign? Like a hidden path that you stumble upon or that you consciously seek out? All of a sudden, you find somewhere a kind of twig in a forest and you see there is a path. You follow it and out of nowhere, something hits you like the smell of your mum’s handbag from a far distance in your life. Is it truthfully perceived or subjectively sensed? It is a discovery, it is a journey, and it is unexpected. Depending on how much the audience is ready to let itself immerge into it. The exhibition is about that or it can just be taken as seeing objects, which may be read as a story. It can be very pragmatic as well as in the stillness of it hanging somewhere. It will suit me if people eat from it, make use of the stuff or take it as exhibition are taken?

Photo Simone Ten Hompel. Courtesy of the Artist

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