In 2017-18, I was Artist in Residence at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre. During this time I worked with International students on ‘Things From Home’, an Arts Council funded project to develop and test ideas about how objects that are missing from our lives assume a great importance in our memories, how they might reflect our cultural roots and personal identities and how they can be ‘read’ in the same way as a narrative or text.
The International (predominantly Chinese) students who were far away from their homes, often for the first time in their lives, told me about special things they missed from home. I used their verbal descriptions of these things to make a collection of hand built ceramic objects which interpret and recreate the missing things for their owners.
Sometimes, the ceramic objects bore little resemblance to the original. I relied only on the words the students used to describe their missing things, and filled in the blanks with guesswork and imagination – revealing the cultural disconnect and difficulties experienced when living in an unfamiliar environment and speaking in a new language.
The words spoken by the students have been recorded verbatim and reproduced onto ceramic plinths supporting the objects, becoming an intrinsic part of the work itself – making the participants true collaborators in the resulting works. As the project progressed, I became very interested in the way the students negotiated an unfamiliar language in their attempts to describe sometimes quite complex objects, and this became an important part of the project.
The objects themselves can be seen as contemporary versions of 18th and 19th century Staffordshire figures that recorded and reflected the lives of the ordinary people who collected and displayed them. The plinths are mainly decorated in blue and white ‘Willow’ style patterns, a reference to the fact that this design originated in Stoke on Trent, not China. The re-appropriation of this English version of Chinese culture and decorative style here demonstrates the same act of interpreting and ‘borrowing’ from an unfamiliar culture by yet another generation, in a long drawn-out version of the game 'Chinese Whispers'.
The interpretation of words into three dimensional objects also alludes to my interest in the literary theory known as ‘reader response’, which contends that no two people read the same text in the same way - each reader bringing her own associations and idiosyncratic response to the text – making a reader an active participant, rather than a passive consumer, of text.
Objects such as giant noodles, combs, rings, friends, dogs, cats, rabbits, dumplings, trees, flowers and buildings show both the strangeness of a never visited, unfamiliar land and the universality of the experience of missing home cooking, family, friends and pets and the landmarks we associate with Home.
All images copyright Kazia Fiszer 2018.