Abandoned Geographies is a growing body of work that documents imagined packing lists. Together with the Open Book Art Collective, I read Jane Urquhart’s Away, a novel tracing the lives of three generations of women facing significant displacement and change over the course of their lives. I was drawn to the characters’ packing lists, containing both practical objects and other items only necessary because they are charged with memories. These lists reveal the characters’ beliefs about what they need to re-establish their identity in new, unfamiliar places, asking, to what extent do objects and possessions keep us rooted in our identity when faced by displacement?
I created these paintings — what I think of as object portraits — in response to this question. I began this project by asking friends and family this question: what would you bring with you if you had to leave home, never to return? As I collected photographs of collections submitted by participants I was struck by the diverse range of items. Some were very practical, including bottles of medication, warm socks, passports. Others were less practical, such as toy cars, worn books, a bottle of perfume. Other lists included only the sparest of necessities: guitar, passport, wallet.
The resulting paintings are deeply personal reflections of what each contributor thinks would help to re-establish themselves if ever they experienced displacement. The mundane objects we handle and interact with daily, though not necessarily valuable or visually beautiful, also carry the capacity to sustain us and remind us of who we are when our time and place shifts and changes.