Research Question: Using the lens of the 18th Century tea table, how can object-making become instrumental in establishing a narrative space in which personal memories and replicated images from two paintings are combined to impart knowledge about the notion of English politeness?
Object 1 Still Life: Tea Set
27 cubes Overall size: 21cm square, Weight 2.5kg. Papier mâché, modelling plaster mixed with gesso, paper, ink and lacquer coating. 2020. Imagery from Still Life: Tea Set, Jean Etienne Liotard circa 1783.
Polishing, grinding and setting up smooth surfaces make things fit, sit together – together they make sense to each other – the space between each surface of the cubes as they fit together make sense of each other. It is a channel of communication – it has been refined and smoothed so there is nothing to hold onto to act as guide – those who know how to tacitly read the surface information can put it together. When the box is put together with none of the tea-ware showing you cannot see inside. If you start to pick up the pieces and inspect or rearrange the information there is a fractured image, a section, a glimpse. It is like the past – we cannot make sense of it, we cannot make it completely whole because we do not know the contextual significance of what we see.
Object 2 Tea Caddy
Mahogany, late 19th Century Tea caddy. Interior stripped out and relined with red silk velvet. Card, Glue, gold leaf paste, silver-plate tea spoon, 19th century bone china demi-tasse cup. 2020
Each of the following is stated on the separate ‘page’ opposite the identical image of Mrs Hill at her tea table.
THE ENGLISH TEA PARTY.
BEHAVIOUR: Polite manner or deportment; habits indicating good breeding. Forms of politeness or respect.
CIVILITY: Behaviour proper to the intercourse of civilized people.
GENTILITY: The quality of being gentle (in manners, status, etc.), or genteel. Noble, generous, courteous, polite. Used in polite or conciliatory address, or in compliment.
GROUND SMOOTH WITH FRICTION.
POLITENESS: To be polished, refined, cultivated elegant, well-bred, correct, scholarly, modish. Courteous, mannerly, urbane behaviour. Made free from roughness, rudeness and coarseness, polished.
The words I have chosen here relate to the shaping of the barriers built around the social group in which Mrs Hill resides. Polishing and smoothing the communication to such an extent that it is only recognised and felt by other members of that same group.
Object 3 Mrs Hill at Home
Mrs Hill. Cardboard, glue, paper, high gloss and satin gloss lacquer. Battery operated turntable. 2020. Image from section of Mr and Mrs Hill, Arthur Devis, circa 1730
The constantly repeating figure of Mrs Hill, looking and looking and never changing, seeing herself reflected in the replicated images around and also in the mirrored image of the base – everything she sees is the same, providing reassurance. That same face is also shown the outside world behind the mask of the photograph, the replicated version of herself, shiny and hard, and yet wafer thin. Mrs Hill continues to revolve in her little world. Like Cathay, a separate history, a set of iterations is occurring in the parallel Chinoiserie world brought to life by tea drinking.