Flotta Chair (1)

A chair, commissioned by artists Rebecca and Richard, at the pre–physical stage. The story here links two pairs of people, generations either side; Rebecca's two grandmothers and her two children. It is a family chair, originally owned by one of the two who was born on Flotta (Old Norse for 'float island' or 'flat island'), a small island in the Orkneys.

Charted here, by Blachford & Imray in 1846. The island now has a population of about 90. The only school recently closed; no children of the appropriate age still living on the island.

Rebecca has a wonderful archive of both sides of the family. Two contrasting characters in the two grandmothers. A Flottarian and a South–East Londoner. One removing herself from a strictly religious upbringing, her father a minister on the island, to become socially mobile, travel widely; as testified by the glamour of this photograph. I believe, though, she returned to Flotta later in life.

The other, from family with numerous business interests in South–East London. Rebecca's Victorian terraced house has always belonged this side of the family and as such, has a rare integrity and atmosphere to the interior, rooting back to its newness (in a way that ours and many others don't).

The fabric in this photograph provided an initial, compositional cue.

The Orkneys, the Shetlands have fascinated me, particularly since seeing Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937). The film blends known actors, such as John Laurie (later of Dad's Army) and local people. So the dialogue, the attitude is peculiar, unextended toward the audience. There is some forecast of Emeric Pressburger's dialogue for their later, amazing films together; Pressburger's Hungarian, outsider–observing take on manner and speech, gives The Archers' films an eerie, stilted Hyperenglishness. Also in The Edge of the World, the natural elements interfere with sound and picture quality, with the net result of something between documentary and theatre artifice. A very good interview with Powell's wife (and later collaborator with Scorsese) Thelma Schoonmaker on the film here.

In the absence of going there, it's all mediated but nevertheless striking how such a small place can transmit an identity. It's the case each time for me to build a vocabulary up out of disparate sources within the source then chamfer it down to something that has a cross-purpose line character.

The impression of a flat landscape, a low viewpoint studded with a network of elementary gun battery structures and Neolithic circles. There is an apparent formal resemblance between the two. The emplacements feature throughout the Orkneys, I think around the Scapa Flow. This, the Cara Battery (via the Fortress Study Group) interesting in the way the concrete shuttering has been formed by water tank panels, giving an oddly ornamental exterior.

Renwick Battery gunhouse loophole. Other images of Neb Battery here.

The Standing Stones of Steness, via. Originally a circle of twelve. Their shard–like geometry does link them to the batteries and both suffer/gain the patination of harsh weather. So I'm getting at the sense of an ancient modernism which is evident generally in the British inflection of something that was ostensibly universal.

Paul Nash has always meant a lot, before maybe I knew what that might mean. He was in and out of something wider spread and as such, so unusual. His photographs and collages, including those for his Shell Guide to Dorset, really give off his attitude to source. I like those that do note a grafting of abstract and 'modern' with the elemental 'romantic'. This is Seashore and Steps, Swanage, Dorset (1935/6), via Abbott & Holder. A very good article by Michael Bracewell here, on British Modernism's 'sense of the modern quotidian running parallel with, and at times overlapping, the presence of the supernatural and paranormal'

Swanage (c. 1936), via Tate. Nash described this small, coastal resort Dorset town as possessing 'beauty, ugliness and the power to disquiet'.

Other ingredients include local flora, such as the Marsh Cinquefoil, illustrated here in Rambles in Search of Wild Flowers by Margaret Plues (1864), via Time & Life.

And compositionally — the flora, the lunar–solar, the shuttered concrete slabwork, the thirties lips, the serge grids, the battery blasts — I wanted to not overtweak the scaling, for an even and patchy tattooing of the surface. Michel Simon's torso in L'Atalante (via) is foremost, the components filling the space over time and event, so that each one is not too much in rhythm with the other.

Trish Keenan

Very sad to have heard yesterday from Alice, that Trish Keenan of Broadcast died a month ago. Such an artist, with so much to come. This, a recent collaboration with Julian House.