Collars Installation view

Collars (installation view).

This work was originally made as a site-specific installation for the Crypt Gallery, Euston Road, London, in May 2012. It was inspired by Judith Weir’s ‘grand opera’ King Harald’s Saga, which condenses the lives of many different characters and expresses them through one unaccompanied solo soprano voice.

It leads on from the ‘thread’ idea I have been working on, to find ways of expressing and representing our lives as a continuous thread. The collars reveal a certain part of that multi-layered thread within one person’s life.

These detachable shirt collars belonged to my uncle, Rolf Daltrop, who had a long and varied life until his death at the age of 95. Born in Germany, as a Jew he fled to Britain in’May 1939, but was interned on arrival as an enemy alien and sent to Australia. He was only able to return to the UK after the war. He was an engineer draughtsman by trade, a profession which also took him to Iran, Greece and Mexico. He led an ordered life and his work was methodical, detailed and precise. His accurate drawings, executed with a fine pencil, were always in a particular and appropriate scale.

Through wear and laundering these collars reveal their own stories. They delicately mark time. They hold the image of my uncle’s neck, expressing the feel of skin and sense of touch, while revealing the unseen area that would have rested on the nape of his neck.

Elements of my uncle’s own working practices have influenced the way I have chosen to create this artwork. Having recently worked with wire, threads and electrical ‘ components, I chose to put the collars on mild steel rods. They reinforce a sense of continuity, ground them, and create a visual link with my uncle’s precise, pencil-drawn, lines. The occasional, subtle, movement of the rods allows the collars to have their own space and freedom, which brings them back to ‘life’. The rods provide a consistent height for the collars – the height they would have been while being worn. Sculpturally, I like this piece’s weightlessness, its ability to capture something instantly recognisable as ‘human’.

Over many years, I have used a vast variety of media, preferring materials or objects that hold within them special elements that ‘speak’ through their visual presence: collars, scans, hair, wire, dialysis tubing and stone. The materials and the artworks are completely bound by the qualities of each other and these dictate how I work with them, and the final outcome.

My intent is to bring out what is special about the materials themselves, and to make artworks that communicate and are open to many readings and interpretations.

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