This was an exercise in letting go. I went to an event this evening for which we were asked to bring an “artifact” to leave behind. This broken and badly repaired teacup seemed to fit the bill. Why do I have a broken and badly repaired teacup in the first place, you might ask? Well, it’s partly because I’m an artist and people like to give me things that might be useful in some artwork some day, and partly because I come from a line of folks who make things precious that will seem like junk to anyone else. We are not hoarders, per se (thank goodness) and keep generally tidy households (I have even lived in almost bare rooms at times), but sometimes we get attached to things and can’t bear to throw them out. This mass-manufactured teacup with its hastily applied decoration wouldn’t be very valuable even if it wasn’t broken, yet someone considered it precious enough that when it was broken, they tried to repair it and even in spite of the lumpy, dirty glue rendering it useless, they held on to it. Some time later, it was passed on to me. I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of it either, because of who it had belonged to. But it really was junk by any one else’s measure.
However, if I can’t repair something precious, I’m often compelled to find a way to give it a new life. I couldn’t let the teacup alone be the “artifact”. I thought I might make a diorama based on the figures painted on the cup. The sad-looking woman looking over the sea reminded me of Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly. Like the teacup, she was also precious, yet broken and pathetic. So I sculpted her watching and waiting, maybe reaching for someone or something, maybe letting go.
Besides making an object that I was immediately going to give away, the other part of the exercise of letting go was to let go of some of the time-consuming, obsessive labour (and time-consuming, obsessive self-doubt) I often put into projects. I wanted to try to complete an object in a day, for once. Besides, the decoration on the cup was crude so the figure based on it could not be too much more refined. I did my best to sculpt loosely, as though I was sketching (I just saw an exhibition of Degas’ rough sculptures on the weekend, so that provided helpful inspiration). I completed the whole piece, including paint, in under 5 hours.
Within a half an hour of finishing it, I gave it away. I hardly had time to even photograph it.
By eerie coincidence, I just learned that Malcolm McLaren passed away today. In 1984 he recorded ‘Madame Butterfly’ featuring the aria ‘Un Bel Di Vedremo’.