Marlene’s practice-based research focuses on exploring the creative inter-relationships between textiles and photography. For example, photography may be used to advertise the work of textile designers and photographs can be printed on different physical surfaces. Both are ubiquitous, yet there are significant challenges for photographers in attempting to communicate the materiality of textile design, in which tactile awareness is fundamental.
Tacit Encounter: Materiality and the Sensuous Object
When Copenhagen University’s Medical Museion issued an international call for papers inviting participants to explore new ways of experiencing museum objects through the five senses rather than relying on vision alone, she seized the opportunity to look at these issues further. After visiting four different medical museums in the UK and finding that there were displays of hip replacement joints in all four, Marlene chose these as the objects on which she would focus. While these were not textiles, they had tactile qualities that could not be conveyed through photography alone. In her words:
It was that touch, that sensuality, the sensuous awareness, that you could then transfer to these other materials.
She then turned to the question of how she would present the topic.
The photography side of it was covered. I had a colleague who had produced a wonderful series of photographs about the crematorium and I could remember some of the photos of the charred hip replacement joints from that. I also had a colleague who would lend me her hip replacement X-rays …, and I’d photographed arrangements of a range of hip replacement joints myself, arranged textile-style in sequence, large to small, shiny to matt, and I had some from the museums that they gave me permission to use.
In her presentation in the original anatomy theatre, Marlene also used some hip replacement joint pieces and two other materially significant items from the Copenhagen collection – a hollow metal leg dating from the 1940s and a nineteenth-century artificial arm with a leather gloved hand – which she covered over initially, and then revealed during her talk. Marlene was struck with the contrast between these two very distinctive items and the ubiquity of the hip replacement joints. She handed round the latter, but people were not sure what they were. As she said in her interview:
They’re such intriguing objects. One [comment] I had was that it was like a miniature Anish Kapoor sculpture. They were handed round the audience, and people were turning them over, and feeling and looking and didn’t have any idea what they were, because, I think, of the particular one I chose first, which was like a beautiful bowl shape, beautifully polished inside. The outside was matt but it had the little prongs, like it was a mine, a Second World War mine, so immediately that was intriguing.
This opened up a discussion around forms and materiality that could not have occurred without the opportunity for participants to handle the objects themselves. Laura Gonzalez, one of the other participants, commented that:
[Marlene] showed [the hip replacement] in X-ray, object form and artistic photograph in a way that reminded me of the language games of Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual art work.
Abstract of Marlene Little's paper for The Sensuous Object workshop held at Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, 2011.
More information about Joseph Kosuth's work can be found at https://www.artsy.net/artist/joseph-kosuth
Interview with Marlene Little, 23 September 2014.