by Jade Montserrat
“…the artist is an eternal type, solid, purposeful, observant – and, beneath it all, p-p-passionate….” Evelyn Waugh, “Brideshead Revisited” p. 53.
Had my mother stayed put and not decided to move to Scarborough on my arrival, 30 years ago, I would have had a more entrenched experience of London living. I was born in Highgate, September 1981. My father, allegedly a gun peddler imprisoned during mum’s pregnancy, is not on my birth certificate. I have never had contact with him and I have never re-visited Muswell Hill, my first home, despite living in London sporadically. I reached adolescence having lived a privileged middle-class lifestyle; by the age of 15 I had attended nine schools, five of which were private (I started boarding age 7). I might add, to save speculation, two schools closed down. I was occasionally a disruptive pupil who led a disrupted life. I am chronicling my upbringing because I believe this informs my current art practice.
The defining and obscure characteristic, shaping my outlook, is the living arrangements in which I was raised. I am currently living back with mum. Home couldn’t be more remote, more difficult to make functional, more expensive or more idyllic. Ambivalence and ambiguity prevails here. There are no immediate
neighbours; there is no electricity or t.v. signal, the roof hasn’t been repaired for 40 years, the house is finally drying out after a lifetime of liquid petroleum gas induced rising damp, the water supply is fed by a natural spring, and that sort of thing. Mum has a modest plot of garden, half of which is brash, and subsequently an overwhelmingly difficult individual undertaking.
I have taken it upon myself to act as foreman for the “tidy up the garden program”, having found that a garden area is vital for my wellbeing. By tending to the plot we operate communally: we get to eat veg and salad straight from the garden, whilst I personally use the time in the garden to re-focus. One job was to redress a particularly unruly area since named the Studio Garden. Don’t let this posh name fool you – yes, a raised bed has been erected and beans are growing, but on the whole it remains difficult to distinguish between weeds and ‘proper’ plants. This doesn’t worry me – I know with patience and thoughtful persistence the garden will flourish. Working on the garden cannot be rushed, individually or collectively.
During my last stint here I used unopened Sunday supplements to suppress the weeds in the Studio Garden. Tomatoes and Love-in-the-Mist grew successfully with the plastic wrapped magazines buried underneath compost. I was heartbroken to find that stinging nettles, docks and comfrey had completely taken over. However, I began working on this area, where I unearthed these plastic packages, bagged them and shelved them in the studio, whilst I grappled with my specific interest in these decomposing objects that I wished to preserve.
I have been concerned with buried imagery, in various guises, with veiling, with cultural identity and my identity for a long time. This interest has seen my archiving of media images, photographs and drawings in collage and incorporating them in printed editions. But how to combine, or distance, my art practice with and from personal interest? I have discovered that I can only distance myself from personal trivialities but my work experiences, hobbies and interests are integral to my practice. Revisiting memory and histories plays a substantial role in my practice. I cannot yet shy away from autobiography: the constants and unknowns that have shaped my outlook and direction.
“’Just the place to bury a crock of gold’, said Sebastian, ‘I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember’. “ Evelyn Waugh, “Brideshead Revisited” p.26.
Living in isolation has allowed me to reflect on a certain repression that prevails in British society at large. Collectively we forget that ‘things’ are meaningless. Personally, I have denied myself both comforts and luxuries driven by a false economy, so I might adapt to my present situation. I am determined to pursue
that which makes me happy and for which I believe I have a purpose. The work I produce, however, allows me to present aspects of my society and identity that I confront and question with, antagonism, alarm and confusion. Unlike Sebastian in Brideshead, I have accepted my relationships with and may look objectively at the main themes prevailing in the book. It is withdrawal from treasuring what is ‘precious’ in society at large that I face with chagrin.
My current living arrangements dictate that I observe an economy of fuel. The battery generator packed up ten-months ago. Since then the house (2 cottages knocked into 1) has run on a pull cord generator purchased cheaply from Argos. We could not have done without it when we were snowed in for the main part of two months. We went without water, filling buckets upon buckets with stream water in the snow, no means to light the fire for that would have blown the boiler with the pipes being frozen and no post. If there had been no electricity at that point the lifelines that I rely on would have undoubtedly resulted in my complete collapse. Social networks remain a steadfast way for me to keep up to date as well as a convenient marketing tool to peddle my wares. I use twitter as a news-feed; I observe rather than comment (at the moment). Facebook allows me to keep abreast of my friends and family. The difference between the two is that I can carefully select the individuals and businesses that I follow on Twitter, without personal connection. Facebook differs in that I invariably do have a personal relationship. The recent riots incited many of my friends to make comment on ‘alternative’ ways of policing and punishing the rioters. Reading these I suddenly felt relief that I was able to remain on the periphery of these comments, whilst feeling isolated from the people that were implying immigration was the associated, and I would suggest antithetical, buzz word.
We live in a country founded by immigrants. Our country relies on immigration. I believe that the majority of the population draws spiritual, cultural and social values from the collective and embraces individual difference and characteristics that make us unique. I would suggest a minority have, in parallel to one another, disregarded priceless values with an entrenched emphasis placed on consuming products. This greed is top heavy. The Protestant work ethic that Thatcher expounded has met its match with my generation and after. These conundrums affect us all and in an attempt to diffuse a paranoid, anxious and panicked society we must ignore them at our peril. It is our duty and responsibility to collectively appreciate and seize
values that were previously upheld: the economy, living, health, education, working, transport and family standards must raise alongside the next generation as they blossom.
I value my time re-visiting Scarborough. I am constantly reminded that rather than uprooting the past to fuel backwards thinking, I can question my experiences and draw parallels from history that relate to a wider community of people. I am in the enviable position that I can unashamedly devote much of my time to these questions and conveniently challenge my practice in the process with space and time on my side. It can only flourish from here folks.
“…that to know and love…is the root of all wisdom”. Evelyn Waugh, “Brideshead Revisited” p. 46
All images were provided by artist. In order of appearance: Untitled (Newgate, buried supplements) 2004 – ongoing; Illegal/Alien, 2001; Untitled (Newgate burial) 2004 – ongoing
The work was submitted by Jade Montserrat 20 March 2014.