We’ve been thinking a lot about random objects recently here at Brick Box Towers. Rosie and Jess’s recent intrepid adventures in the river Wandle unearthing items for our fabulous forthcoming Festival Hub of Curiosity has got me pondering on the choosing and placement of objects and the powerful art, love and magic this can create.
Why, only this afternoon in the Robing Room of Wandsworth Town Hall*, young Rosie plucked a filthy playing card, a child’s shoe and a mangled cassette** from her rucksack to delighted oohs and aahs from the assembled dignitaries. Who would have thought that items so carelessly discarded and covered in sludge at the bottom of a river would find their way back into the light amid gasps and applause and a new, albeit temporary, life as an Icon? Come and spot these objets de jour in situ during the Wandsworth Arts Festival and Fringe, beaming proudly next to their recently excavated neighbours. Each with a secret, never to be told.
Our Cabinet of Curiosities is essentially a giant shrine to the river: not to its obvious treasures such as trout, but to its ‘shadow self’, its secret underbelly, the physical manifestations of human error it has accepted so graciously into its depths. That’s the beauty of a shrine. It can encompass, symbolise and manifest anything, however complex. It provides an opportunity for poetic juxtaposition, rich symbolism, meditation and ritual. It might provide comfort or seek the granting of a wish, it could be playing homage to a person, an animal, the sea, dancing, a God, shoes, or sparkly things. In short, it can include, be about, and be for anything you like.
I have always been a shrine builder. Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed collecting objects and arranging them into satisfying groups, then piling on the offerings and tending to the decor. Items previously unacquainted with each other and perhaps a little lost or unloved can attain gravitas and magical properties simply by a thoughtful assembly session.
For instance: my Cindy doll, bedecked with buttercups, a small china rabbit ensconced in her nylon princess skirts, her feet up on a fossil, sitting within a circle of stones, the whole lot then sprayed with many enthusiastic layers of ‘Tweed’ perfume – Bedroom Windowsill Shrine circa 1975. My more contemporary manifestations tend to involve plastic roses, trolls and statues of the Virgin Mary so you can see how sophisticated the concept has become for me now that I am in my forties.
I am not religious but I love Mary. Mainly because she is a composite of Mariamne, the Semite God-Mother, Aphrodite-Mari, the Syrian version of Ishtar, Juno the Blessed Virgin, Isis as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, Maya the Oriental Virgin Mother of the Redeemer, the Trinity of Fates and the Morning-Star Goddess. And many more …. but not many people know that. The modern version of Mary exists due to Christianity not being able to eliminate Goddess worship from patriarchal doctrines. So I like to praise her enduring spirit, which is easy when she comes in so many guises. Including glow-in-the-dark.
When I was twenty five, my ten year-old sister sent me a gang of trolls in a parcel as she said she had ‘outgrown them’. She knew that I would adopt them. I did. So now the troll family are regularly woven into my domestic shrinery, enjoyed greatly by my seven year-old stepdaughter who loves and involves them anew and understands shrines inherently. The roses, well….. who doesn’t love a bunch of plastic roses? They’ll still be ridiculously red and vibrant when we’re all bones and dust.
A noble shrine building tradition lies at the heart of many religions and cultures; Mexicans are hugely inspirational, particularly when dealing with the subject of death, and Hindus have an enviable air of confidence in all matters shrine. Shrines can occur naturally: a tree bathed in sunlight, surrounded by animal droppings and flora and fauna, or consciously constructed but not necessarily named as a shrine. My gran’s consisted of such items as faded gold-sprayed foliage, china (and knitted) mallard ducks, gonks (‘60s reference – Google if unfamiliar with the genre), pebbles painted to look like ladybirds, and jolly toads whittled from bark, gamely playing the banjo. All together, they created a bespoke totem pole of memories and emotions.
So a shrine might be a collection of special objects that surround a person for years and positioned in the same place, or it might be assembled for a specific purpose at the drop of a hat. I have lots of small objects to hand, all of which have memories and stories attached. I can construct a meaningful and satisfying shrine in seconds if necessary. Though sometimes it’s nice to take time over it and make it into more of a ritual. Right now I need a speedy shrine as I’m waiting for an important phone call.
So, after a quick raid of the dressing table, these are the objects I’ve chosen:
The Enchantress. This is from a game my dad made in the seventies (hippy). It’s an amazing game about life, death, and well, everything really. This is my favourite character. She can turn in to a tree, a crow or a rock if you turn her around by her oven switch hat. I use her when I really want to influence something.
Gold dish with love heart and ring. In this dish, which is from an amazing shop in Bradford called Bombay Stores, there is a ring and Love Heart sweet. The ring is from Iran; my mum’s husband is Iranian and she gave it to me for Christmas years ago. It is special because it’s gold, and I once had a fleeting terrible thought that I might sell it during a time of desperation. Those bloody ‘sell your gold’ adverts have a lot to answer for! Thankfully I resisted, so it now symbolises my triumph over a feeling of desperation. My stepdaughter was very interested in this story and is very pleased I didn’t sell it. She gave me the Love Heart to put in the ring. It says: ‘Stay True’. She also gave me the 30 pence to show I was not as poor as I thought. Every time she comes to see us she checks to see the ring and the money are still there.
Rose quartz. I bought this from a ‘mystical’ stall in Tooting market when we were delivering our OLF project. I dropped it on the floor and it is now cracked and therefore flawed, or should I say, its vulnerabilities are visible. I like that. True strength is delicate.
So, I have the items assembled. A quick light of the candles and we’re away. Within ten minutes the phone rings. It is the important phone call. It is spectacularly good news, which I can’t yet divulge. Suffice to say that Rosie is immediately summoned to bring Champagne round. We spend the rest of the night cackling and finish off proceedings with The Brick Box theme tune at 1.00am.
And now we’ve now added the Champagne cork to the shrine. Here it is in the morning sunlight. Now that’s magic!
*And yes it is as glamorous as it sounds
**which we have had analysed forensically and it turns out to be Demis Roussos
This blog post was written by Eleanor.