Lisa Milroy

I have mentioned this artist in a previous blog post following a trip to the Saatchi gallery, but I have begun to research further into her work as I have found it to be a good point of reference for the work I am creating now.

Lisa Milroy


Lisa Milroys work explores groupings and orders of everyday use objects, she makes reference in her work to the art of the Pop Art movement, and focuses in on our relationship with objects. She chooses objects specifically with no historical art significance, and consciously avoids objects that would evoke emotion or fetishistic narrative, instead simply represents generic objects. She largely uses shadow and tone to highlight the objects on an anonymous stark background, purposefully removing the object from context – it is this stark emptiness and anonymity that attracts me to her work. In the book ‘Lisa Milroy’, a retrospect of her work compiled by the Tate, the following is written about her work:

“Emptied objects – emptied only so that they may immediately be filled with personalised meaning – are potential love objects. Or lost objects: those things which, once lost, we invest with disproportionate importance. Milroy’s objects are both loved and lost. Looking at them, we experience a rush of recognition and also pleasure. And also wonder – they are not how we remember them at all.”  

Although largely the intention in Milroy’s work is to explore the relationship between object, paint and canvas – and the way that we relate to the object through the latter two, it is emphasised that her work is not painting pictures of objects but she paints from memory, specifically appealing to how we relate to objects.

From her work, I have been inspired to explore how the removal of context and the placement of objects onto an anonymous background can change the way we relate to an object. The starkness of her work draws attention to the individual objects, and highlights them specifically without any suggestion of intended function or context. Whilst the collective nature of her paintings, I feel, draws us to develop some sort of personal narrative in terms of how these objects are supposed to relate to one another. I am really interested in exploring similar ways of working, with my attention being drawn particularly to the zips and clasps that I have been looking at.


Installation Workshop

Between the degree work being exhibited and our level 4 assessment, we have the opportunity to take part in a number of workshops.

I decided to opt for a workshop with a visiting lecture, looking at installation and site specific work. The initial presentation was interesting and a lot of really useful artists were brought to our attention for example Susan Hiller and Celeste Boursier – and it was a really helpful introduction to understanding site specific work. I found this quote particularly interesting in summary of what it means to make site specific work:

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is a foreign land” – Hugh of St. Victor

We were then challenged to create our own installation, this was a very open challenge but we were to choose one area from the surrounding area to work with.

My idea was to look at an outdoor space from the uni and explore the parts of that space that were temporary and would easily move away over time. I chose a space of wasteland and looked at the rubbish that was present, rubbish that would otherwise be removed – and then began to come up with an idea as to how I could keep it for longer in the space. I decided to do this by caging the pieces of rubbish. We didn’t have enough time to fully establish a proper idea and project, but my thoughts were to try to play with idea of preserving that which would otherwise asked to be taken away from a site – and in doing so, actually draw attention to the smaller details of the area itself. Hopefully it will enable people to engage more with that specific site. These were photographs taken from the work that I did.

Handbag – a biography (photographs)

This is some of the work that I did exploring the handbag content as a biography of a person with dementia – it was more of a personal response to specifically my own grandmothers handbag content. I think this work has the potential to grow into a successful piece of work, however I am beginning to realise that it needs a lot more consideration, research and exploration if I was to propose it as a final piece. I discussed this with my tutor Chris, and we discussed the risk that it would possibly be to put this forward as a finished piece – considering that the majority of the preparatory work that I have done is looking towards using the handbag as a metaphor rather than as literal. Although I do think this idea could be taken further with more expansive exploration and research, the limited time I have left means that this could be put forward as a potential for future exploration, but that the ideas and work I have done in response to handbag as metaphor is far more established and realised than this.

I have now begun to consider the possibility of looking to a installation piece, but making reference to the pieces of handbag rather than the content. This is what I will now be looking to develop and establish.

Handbag – a biography

I’ve decided to take another look at the relevance of the content of a handbag to a woman with dementia, looking at the handbag in a more literal and biographical way rather than metaphorical as I have been mainly focusing on. I have been considering looking at it in the form of an installation, exploring the spilling out of the content as a reflection of dementia.

I have been considering the following artists work as I have been doing this.

Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998)

My Bed

I saw this piece in the Tate Britain, and felt it related to the subject matter that I am looking at – this piece is very exposing, and invites scrutiny and investigation into the normally private setting of a bedroom. It reveals chaos and grittiness that parallels with the state of mind that created the mess in the first place. To me, it reflects something of an internal state of mind externalised and then placed into a public setting – there is an air of vulnerability and I see it as a piece that offers me a way of looking at the handbag work that I’m doing. Similarly, I would like to explore the idea of a personal space (inside a handbag) outpouring into an open space – with the objects pouring out offering an insight into the life of the owner of the handbag.

Michael Landy – Breakdown (2001)

In this piece artist Michael Landy takes every object that he owns and destroys them. Although not a direct link between the work I am looking to do and this piece, what this work highlights to me is the emotional connection between a person and their objects (the memories attached to objects), and the process of a severing of those connections. Whilst Landy willingly observes the loss of these objects, it parallels to the loss of emotional connection seen in a memory loss process – his work highlights our relationship with objects, something that I am exploring in the work I am doing.

Becky Shaw – Twelve Museums


I am interested in Becky Shaw’s work as she directly explores dementia as the subject of her work. Her piece ‘Twelve Museums’ looks at transparency as a representation of the delicate and brittle nature of the illness. She worked with a dementia patient ‘Michael Gill’, and looked to explores the use of small rooms, rooms turning back on themselves, dead ends, corridors, familiar imagery to Gill and text to create a mirror of his experiences of dementia.

In reference to Michael Landy’s piece and Becky Shaw’s work, Joann Gibbons in ‘Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance’ writes “While Breakdown tested the limits of identity and the emotional or symbolic significance of material objects for memory, Twelve Museums was an exploration of the realities of an identity that was slipping and becoming inchoate through a pathological loss of memory”. 

Collecting the parts

I have looked to represent the parts of the handbag throughout this project through drawing, painting and print – however, now I am considering the strength of actually displaying the pieces as objects in their own right. Conceptually I feel this is a strong direction to take, as this dismantled handbag acts quite successfully as a metaphor for the destruction of identity associated with the development of dementia. The objects offer an interesting presence when separated from one another but still grouped together – they retain their existence as objects and still seem to offer a sort of collective essence but are no longer either functional or in anyway serve the purpose they were intended too. Something which I feel certainly draws parallel to dementia. I would like to consider taking this idea of a collection of handbag parts, further into some sort of installation piece.

Zips and clasps

A lot of the work I have been doing has focused around the imagery of ‘zips and clasps’ taken from the handbags. These objects to me are the most symbolic and significant element to the concept I am looking to explore.

Zips and clasps on a handbag symbolise security and offer a sense of ownership and privacy, they create a separation between the content of a bag and its accessibility to the outside world. The security offered by the presence of a zip or clasp on a handbag is likely, for the dementia sufferer, to provide a sense of physical security replacing the lack of security existing inside their own mind. When the identity, memories and abilities begin to escape the individual and there no longer is a binding, assuring sense of self – the zip or clasp provides that sense of control that they can no longer have over self. The handbag becomes a place in which an escaping identity is collected, with the fastening allowing the bag owner a renewed sense of control, privacy and security.

The work that I have done looks to depict the image of the zip/clasp – but as separate to the bag. I think this highlights the futility of the zip in its ability to offer security – it can only serve as a ‘pretend’ object of control. Although it provides the sense of security for the individual – in reality it serves only as an empty symbol, and offers no help to the fading individual. The separation of zips/clasps from the bag in the drawings I hope will illustrate a symbol of security that offers little security, a notion of loss of function, powerlessness and impotency.

Constellation PDP

This term has gone so quickly, it seems that it was only last week I was attending my first constellation lecture. I feel that constellation has been a real benefit alongside my practical modules, allowing me to engage thoroughly with many areas of art and design.

The large lectures during the first time were initially intimidating, the first time that I had been taught alongside so many other people.  It was, however, interesting to attend lectures on such a range of different topics, that otherwise I would never have endeavored to look into myself, for example Cath Davies’ lecture ‘Smells like teens spirit’ and Alexandros Kontogeorgakopoulos’ lecture on sound – understanding the depths that art can engage with technology was definitely insightful. The importance of cross-disciplinary practise is something that has been actively encouraged throughout the constellation module, and has motivated me to explore the use of art  to engage with endless other subject areas. I can now recognise that art does not need to be restricted to within a traditional art context, but can extend to robotics, science, popular culture, sound and multiple other areas. I found the study skills session to also be particularly beneficial, and from them my interest has been turned especially towards themes such as philosophy and phenomenology.

The baby cage essay was also a really beneficial challenge. What I found most difficult was the restriction of the word count, being someone who tends to ramble on a bit, I was forced to condense information into a concise essay. This helped me to concentrate on determining what information was necessary to formulate an argument, and to dismiss anything that did not directly help to answer the essay question. This was a good skill to learn.

The second term allowed us to opt for a specific set of lectures surrounding a specific topic. Having become interested in learning about art history and various art movements, I decided to put my name down for Jon Clarkson’s ‘After Modernism’ lectures. These have been incredibly beneficial in helping me to understand the evolution of art within the modernist era. Having not previously understood the depth in which art engaged with world developments, it was fascinating to see how artists and art theorists responded to the cultural, philosophical and technological developments of the 20th century. During 2nd term, we also had the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London – looking at the minimalist collection there. It was interesting to consider the difference between looking at reproductions of these pieces in photographs, and the actual pieces within a gallery context. I think the most significant difference is the effect of the material on the way that the art piece is viewed. We were also taken to the National Museum of Wales, after discussing ‘The gallery and institutional critique’, this was so interesting – I’ve been to the museum many times before but never engaged with it so thoroughly. It was particularly interesting to hear about the architecture and symbols used in the building, I’d never really considered the relevance of the actual building style and its echoing of Greek architecture.

The exhaustive questioning of the role of art within a changing world was fascinating to reflect upon. It enabled me to consider how I could now relate my own art practise to realities within contemporary society. I feel that I have really benefited from all of the sessions throughout constellation, learning to thoroughly investigate new areas of art & design and ideas that I had never considered before.