M O N A  C H O O  / 2009 INTERNATIONAL PRINT ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE
 

The Brief in brief:


• To incorporate the objects in the V&A’s collections into my art practice, and to involve the public as much as possible in this endeavour.


  1. To experiment and to share with the public, elements of my work and my practice.


  1. To work with the print-making studios and with schools.


  1. To develop and run workshops in the V&A and the print studios


  1. To experiment and learn and inspire.


All to be done in six months.



The Thinking Behind the Proposal:


I decided to take the definition of print to the extreme, stretching it to include the notion of imprint. I also wanted to incorporate my own interests into the proposal, such as my fascination with things meta-physical, the paranormal, the inexplicable and the world of quantum physics.


There had to be a way to link the objects in the V&A’s collections with printmaking and the metaphysical world. Eventually, I found the link: humanity. Every object in the Museum started life, first as an idea, then gradually taking on physical form by the moulding and crafting by human hands. That object earned it’s place in, and became a part of, someone’s life. In some cases, they became a part of someone’s death, as in the case of weapons.


It is people who link the past with the present; people who link the physical with the non physical; people who decide to put their thoughts on paper, converting ideas into printed words, images and physical objects.


And therefore it was in people that I decided to make my starting point.


What makes us unique from other animals and objects, is our consciousness. Though it hasn’t been proven that objects definitely don’t have conscious-ness, for the moment we know that they don’t have the kind of consciousness that humans have. Yet, the main point to consider is that everything on this planet and in the Universe is essentially made of the same stuff. How is it that we have thoughts and self-awareness, and an object does not? Why are we the vessels for conscious thought and not objects?


How do we know objects don’t have some kind of consciousness?


Thought is energy, and energy is transferred when there is physical contact between two things.


In exploring the nature of our consciousness against the backdrop of a physical, material world, my residency proposal sought to investigate whether a person’s energy, and therefore consciousness, could be ‘imprinted’ into an object when that person creates the object, or handles it, resulting in the notion that an object can be a kind of ‘energy storage vessel’, and has within it’s constitution a kind of residual memory of a person’s life. This would certainly bring about a new way for the public to look at the objects in the V&A’s collections.

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force is the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

Max Planck, father of quantum physics, 1858-1947



I was awarded the Victoria and Albert Museum’s International Print Artist-in-Residence in 2009, after an international open call to printmakers. The Residency was jointly offered by the Victoria & Albert Museum, the London Print Studio and the London Printworks Trust.

My Residency Proposal


To test this theory, I proposed the idea of inviting a psychic to the Museum to ‘read’ selected objects by touch, known as psychometry.


These would be conducted as workshops, where the public were invited to attend and witness the psychic reading and the results it generated, in real time. Done this way, the public were given rare access to some of the Museum’s collections, and were also able to interact with the objects in a new and unique way. I wanted them to have a new perspective on the objects, to see them as extensions of their owners and not just simply as objects.


Workshops were not meant to be scientific, and I was not interested to prove or disprove the genuine nature of psychics and their work. My focus was on whether a person could get any impression of someone’s life, by touching an object that this someone used to own. My decision to work with a psychic was simply because they are meant to be more sensitive, and therefore stand a better chance at reading, or sensing, the ‘imprinted consciousness’.



Starting Point


I initially shortlisted a number of objects based on the trauma that these objects and/or their owners experienced. Examples included kaftans that belonged to some Ottoman child princes, who were executed by their half brother (top left); a piece of linen embroidered with text by a woman who spoke of abuse and her desire to commit suicide (left); brooches with real human hair in them (bottom left); and other objects with similar traumatic or emotional stories attached to them.


Later, it became evident that certain objects, especially those already on display, were unlikely to be available for the workshop readings. There were many other limiting factors. Many jewellery pieces were out of bounds due to the affects of skin contact on metal, for example.


Working closely with some of the curators, I was able to further narrow the search criteria. Some objects were chosen based on accessibility, the level of their fragility, and the period in time they were made, as well as the possibility of verifying particular details of it’s history. In the end, all the objects chosen for the psychic workshops came from storage and none were from display. I later appreciated this fact, when the psychic faced criticism from sceptics who suggested that she could have researched the objects before the reading took place. Members of the public are rarely allowed access to the Museum’s storage areas, so these accusations were easily dismissed.



The Psychic


I had had no experience whatsoever in working with psychics. I was interested in what they did in the sense that I was interested in other forms of consciousness apart from the simple, wakeful consciousness in which we operate on a daily basis. The idea of someone being able to ‘plug in’ to another layer of thinking, or withdraw information from somewhere that most of us have no access to, this was what intrigued me. I believe we are more than just our physical bodies, that we have the innate ability to sense with our mind, to send out ‘thought fingers’  that can probe into a wider consciousness for collective knowledge, information, and memory.


Thought is energy. And energy is transferred.


I reached out to the Society for Psychical Research and the College of Psychic Studies to find a willing participant who would be ready to put her psychic reputation on the line to work with me.


(More to come soon.)

I did not, at this point, know what kind of prints I was going to create. Perhaps the

prints were the actual imprinted memories of people that we would uncover from the

objects themselves.

Museum number: 768-1884

Date: ca. 1600 (made)

Place of Origin: Turkey (made)


Princes' Kaftans from Ottoman Turkey

These kaftans (and another in a nearby case) were worn by Ottoman princes who died when they were children. They were preserved in imperial tombs where, in accordance with Ottoman custom, they were placed over the graves of the deceased.

The kaftans may have come from the graves of the 19 younger sons of Sultan Murat III, who were executed at the succession of their half-brother, Mehmet III, in 1595. This gory practice, designed to avoid a struggle for the succession, was never repeated.

(The above text is taken from the V&A website)



Museum number: T.6-1956

Date: ca. 1830 (made)

Place of Origin: Ashburnham, England (made)


Sampler by Elizabeth Parker, 1813 - 1889 (maker)


This sampler [...] tells the story of the young woman who made it. She tells us she was born in 1813 and lived with her parents and her ten brothers and sisters until the age of 13. She then left home to enter service as a nurserymaid. She describes what she sees as her own weaknesses and sins. She also describes how her employers treated her 'with cruelty too horrible to mention', and how she was tempted to kill herself.


In 1998 an English historian discovered details of who she was and of her family.


(The above text is taken from the V&A website)


Museum number: 958-1888

Date: ca. 1800 (made)

Place of Origin: England, Britain (made)


Hair Brooch


Hair had long been important in sentimental jewellery, but during the 18th century it took on a new prom-inence. It could now form the centrepiece of a jewel, arranged in complicated motifs or as plain, woven sections. Tiny fragments of hair could even be incor-porated into delicate paintings. Some designs were made by professionals, but many women chose to work the hair of loved ones themselves, using gum to secure their creations.

Hair jewels were worn to cherish the living as well as to remember the dead. The survival of many pieces celebrating love and friendship indicate their great social importance.

(The above text is taken from the V&A website)