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The Abject Object: a panel

Thursday 12 May in the Lecture Theatre, Wimbledon College of Arts

The Abject Object: a panel was held to discuss and debate the issues raised by the exhibition The Abject Object, which was held in Wimbledon Space 22 April - 20 May 2016. 


Participants included curator Geraint Evans, Course Leader for MA Painting at Wimbledon; Mark Fairnington, participating artist and Reader in Painting CCW; Frances Woodley, artist, academic and curator of exhibitions ‘All Coherence Gone? Historical currents in contemporary still life’ 2014 and ‘Still Life: Ambiguous Practices’ 2015; Dr Fiona Candlin, Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies at Birkbeck University of London and co-author of ‘The Object Reader’ and painter Damien Meade, recent exhibitor in the London Open, Whitechapel Gallery, London 2015.

The use of the word ‘abject’ was the focus of much debate. Within many of the works in the Abject Object, there is real craft and skill at play. Fairnington’s facility with materials and process suggests the possibility of animation in his anatomical specimens. The authorial application of paint in Meade’s work echoes the hand-fashioned clay that forms many of his heads. Candlin and Meade argued that the application of paint mitigated against any true qualities of abjection – the show’s measured installation within the white cube of the gallery space sanitises and contains.


However, Woodley argued that Kristeva should not be the show’s dominant text and she contextualised the application of the word abject with examples from the Dutch and Flemmish still life tradition. She identified, for example, the abject as a form of anxiety manifested in broken sugar crosses in paintings by Osias Beert; food and drapery in a state of droop in Abraham van Beyeren’s ‘Sumptuous Still Life’ 1664; or the drip of the peeled (or flayed) lemon glinting and seeping into the formless, grey muscle in de Heem’s ‘Still Life’ 1664/5. The astonishing skill at play seems to bring the objects into clear view rather and heighten rather than supress the sense of abjection.

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