all works © Lisa Peachey 2015

Untitled essay for ‘Its not what we want but we’ll settle’,
Sean Edwards.

Commissioned by Moot Gallery, Nottingham on the occasion of exhibition ‘Its not what we want but we’ll settle’ by Sean Edwards.

‘In my horizon-edged cup / I drink from the brim / A simple swallow of sunshine / pale and icy.’1

Some people dislike having children in a gallery. It makes them nervous, to have an unpredictable, uncontrolled entity in such a hallowed place. Surfaces that are crying out to be touched are surrounded by barriers of decorum that are somehow invisible to a child; looking but not touching is culturally defined, and must be learnt.

Sean Edwards’ objects remind me somewhat of children – they are difficult.  They are familiar and intimate, but precious; they are optimistic, but fragile. They teeter, balancing buoyant pine on top of cherry wood in unexpected places, full of nervous energy. As you turn your back to them, you almost expect them to reconfigure themselves, fidget slightly, taunting you to notice their difference.
And they are full of dreaming; not nocturnal, symbolic dreaming that makes sense of the day, but of reverie, fresh wakefulness, vivid and burning with colour and excitement. Their unpredicted surfaces and crevices speak of their inner lives, and his hidden reveries. And they are intensely inquisitive, staring back at you with bare-faced cheek.
(I wonder, if I dared to squeeze the cheek, if an impression, a
bruise would be left on the form, like the dent in Persephone’s
marble thigh?

Before we came to learn how seeing worked, it was believed that objects gave off ‘mini-me’s’ of themselves, fragile films that floated around the atmosphere, bumping into eyes to make us see – these were called simulacra. How true it feels, that sight could be physical, tactile. After all, other senses tarnish each other with touch – not just a finger dampening a string, but a pulse of vibration kissing an eardrum, a texture rolling around the mouth. How can it not be that sight is also triggered by a sense of touch, on a vessel soaked and impregnated with vision? When someone passes a hand across a string, your motor neurones are pricked – it is not just your eye that responds, but your body that empathises. Your brain acknowledges the movement of the hand by whispering a trigger to your own hand’s author, to play too. Your body imagines, quietly to itself, the string bending in glissandi, unheld.

Edwards’ works integrate everyday things that we have all held, or could hold. While many objects in the world of consumerism no longer function with the hand in mind, and become containers of a ‘symbolic void’3, the objects Edwards creates feel domestic rather than domesticated. They are familiar, if not in their entirety, then in their form, the warmth or coolness of their surface, their manipulability. In the gallery someone toes one piece of work on the floor – they are attempting to understand through physical impact rather than explanation: these things seduce us into consulting other senses to establish the state of play. Many of the objects are, have been, or could be, vessels or containers – substitutes for the hand, or the body. (And it is a body: elements conversing via mutating, vibrating echoes across a space, accumulatively stimulating; or sometimes perhaps the right hand doesn’t quite comprehend what the left is doing, but the notes are played.) The hand that holds the work in its making becomes another vessel with both surface and form. For a moment, in reverie, object, hand and maker enact a symbiotic metamorphosis. The acts upon the objects may be slight, deft and delicate, but the evident intent – intense and absorbed – is as grounded as Antaeus, earth entrenched under his fingernails, on hands coarse and inhabited, rough enough to strike a match on.

And yet for all this familiarity, all this touch, or perhaps because of it, all these works are tinged with regret. I notice the colours: either muted, distant pastels, or the bright primaries of youth – that inquisitiveness and optimism, that has been set aside. Edwards often uses DIY swatch colours – colours that we live with, that are familiar; colours that try to ignite our contact with the natural world – forest lake, green verditer, dusted moss. But they are not of nature, of the land in which his work is embedded, they only simulate it. Holding also suggests the possibility of letting go.

Recently passed was the first day of British Summer Time, when we choose to lose an hour. Our containers of time slip (slip rather than clay) and lose form; while those simulacral barriers that hold us in the routine of control become palpable.

‘We have lost the language of enchantment’, Bachelard said. 4

But the hour is not lost, it is stored, and given back, in autumn, while we dream. Edwards’ work might be made for that lost hour’s return, or out of it. These works – familiar, playful and full of tactile, visceral connotations – suggest a reclaimed, childlike enchantment, moulded into an inquisitive pawing, rather than a knowing gaze. That they are difficult and slight, and demand your delicate attention renders visible a serious comment on a state of seeing, of taking time – of reverie – that is easy to overlook in an insomniac culture exhausted from constantly looking without seeing, consuming without using, touching without feeling. Perhaps, given time, the artists’ reverie can suggest to us a way of connecting, regrounding with what it is that we have lost.

1 Pierre Chappuis, quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The poetics of reverie: childhood, language and the cosmos, p174.

2 See Gianlorenzo Bernini, ‘The Rape Of Proserpina’, Marble, 1621-22.

3 This phrase is Jean Baudrillard’s, from The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict, London, New York: Verso, 1996, p54. One example of his of this symbolic void is a cigarette lighter moulded into the shape of a pebble. While its design intimates the intimate coupling of tool, flint and hand – its curvature echoing the shape of the palm and resembling the natural – the actual physical act of making fire is withdrawn, mechanical and detached.

4 Gaston Bachelard, The poetics of reverie: childhood, language and the cosmos, trans. Daniel Russell, Boston: Beacon Press, 1971, p118.