A Broken pram and a musk-pink nightgown.

I’ve been perusing junk shops for objects and clothing that belong in the underground world of Hutch. I’ve been searching for a costume for the Mother character – which begs the question – who is she and what aspects of her nature do I wish to accentuate?

As I’ve searched I’ve been struck by the silence and cacophony of old objects. In a giant collectables warehouse, with objects piled and assembled into stalls, I saw all manner of conversations going on between generations of artefacts.

Each object has a resonance, and encapsulates the aesthetics, function and culture of its time. So too, the clothes that hang like empty skins, jostling for recognition as the remnants of previous habitation. It is interesting to consider what message a garment carries. Garments can be very assertive in their expression of gender, age, occupation, status and aesthetic. They are the uniforms of our culture – they cry homemaker, mother, boy, girl, father, soldier, breadwinner! They state old, young, rich, poor.


A musk-pink nightgown.

As I’ve tried a range of clothes on, searching for the mother character, I’ve been particularly intrigued by intimate apparel and sleepwear dating for the 60’s, 70’s. Each garment suggests a particular body, desirable to its era – and also the delineations between different facets that are called into play during a woman’s day – i.e. diaphanous, pastel nighties that suggest the intimacy of sleep or sexual relations, the stylish sundress that suggests feminine allure combined with the practicality of a busy mother, the apron that protects a mothers clothes from chores and says; provider, nurturer. The corsets and pointed bras that restrain the body, that sublimate the unruly feminine and impose a neater shape. The maternity garments that preserve modesty, conceal a mother’s shame.

While rifling through a second-hand shop I found two 1970’s nylon nighties and a musk pink bed jacket. They are at once, chaste but erotic, endowed with pink ruffles that remind me of female genitalia. This shall be the attire for my character in Act One – why? because they remind me of the sleepless and unkempt vigil of the nursing mother.

My own mother’s bedclothes always held an allure for me as a child – they felt like secret garments, close to the skin. They carried the scent of her breasts and of her femininity. During her pregnancy in 1975 with my brother, I remember her wearing a large tent-like dress patterned with blue flowers. As her pregnancy advanced the garments became more fiercely modest, which filled me with the sense that I should be embarrassed by my mother’s body, and therefore my own impending female state.

In trying on these vintage nightdresses I was reminded of this time in my mother’s life and the mystery that it held for my six-year-old mind. Wearing one such a nightie, I was also confronted by the similarity of my own body to my mother’s – I felt as if I was displaying the memory of my mother’s fecundity as well as my own ‘unused’ motherly body.

To me these garments speak of lonely nights and leaking breast milk –  they also allude to the dissolution of a new mothers autonomy and perhaps to my own childlessness.

No matter how many times I’ve washed and aired these garments they still smell of must and neglect.

A Broken Pram.

I found this extraordinary object in an antiques bazaar – I love its tattered canvas and strident, rusty frame. It truly belongs in the underground world of Hutch. It sits in the corner like a reminder of some neglected duty of care, a worn out love affair, something inappropriate and insistent.

This object reminds me of some of the qualities of the Odradek in story ‘Die Sorge des Hausvaters‘ (The cares of a Family Man). Walter Benjamin describes Kafaka’s imagined object:

Odradek has “the form things assume in oblivion. They are distorted.”

Kafka’s short story is based on the possibility of an object that keeps resurfacing in a house and provoking the attention of the family man. It is an object of no definable purpose, a useless thing that lurks in the dark corners of a house, a thing that becomes an irritant to the story’s protagonist, as it is a thing that cannot die. It plagues him with the “almost painful idea” that Odradek will still be “rolling down the stairs, with ends of thread trailing behind him, right before the feet” of his “children, and children’s children…”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cares_of_a_Family_Man (More about Kafka’s story)

While the pram in no way resembles the physical description of Kafka’s Odradek, nor is it an object without a discernible purpose – it is an object which is “practicing its insurrection” (to quote Vivian Liska in her wonderful essay, The Uprising of Things). Liska proposes that we ‘insist on the lifelessness of things” as consolation for our mortality:

“We take revenge on their permanence and make them subservient to us… Henceforth their function binds them to us and subordinates their duration to our temporality.”

However, there are objects that resist appropriation and ‘practice their insurrection’, causing unrest.

This shambolic pram’s insurrection is to persist, to be found again in another era, having outlived the people to whom it served a purpose. This pram has returned from oblivion – the shadow of an infant, long gone and forgotten, hangs about it. Its stained canvas and absent canopy remind me of the inevitability of decay – of distortion.

A woman who watched me buy it commented: “that would have been top of the range once.”


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