There is a moment when one walks into an historic house set out with the precious gatherings of past lives and the forced stillness of time even as it is ever marching forward grips one tangibly. The table is set with china, beds are neatly made and beside them to add an air of authenticity sits a candle and needlepoint half finished. Behind velvet ropes layers of wallpaper have been meticulously revealed by a conservator - just enough to convey the idea that generations loved and changed this place. Each pattern is a decision informed by age, taste and wealth and talks of temperament, status and above all personality. A plaque next to them speaks in uncertainties. There are photos of loved ones on the wall, stern and quiet; the people who lived here, the people who chose the paper. Ornate frames sit on mantlepieces or beside chairs, albums with leather binding or hand painted forget-me-nots gather on shelves; tomes of lives closed now - a memory and a portent. The boards creak underfoot and through the rippling glass of the ballroom and the small windows of the servant’s quarters one can view the quiet trees beyond this hermetic bubble of time bending slightly in the breeze and a small sorrow forms accompanied by joy. Preservation and loss are ingrained in the fabric of such places. Here it is always dusk; even at midday.
Once I ate an apple; the direct ancestor of an apple tree which once thrived in William Morris’s garden in London. It had the taste of many lifetimes and it was sweet. There it was dusk and I couldn’t find Morris but beneath the whitewash the Pre-Raphaelite’s paintings still existed.
Victorian cabinet cards are intrinsic to my work. Through them I reach back to look within myself by stepping outside of time. The whitewash exists and is yet to come as patterns like papers are added and subtracted. This is the poetry of my work and it teases, playing with memory, desire and allusion with the sameness and difference, loss and joy. It is a kind of worship and an ode to those Victorian photos with their unnamed and unknowable sitters for they were us and we are them - from now into infinity.
~ Fern Petrie 2020