Rollator drawings 27th–28th, 28th–29th September 2010:
When I began drawing the rollator I asked myself why I was drawing something that was so boring, so ugly with no interesting features.
I was reminded of the talk Nurin Veis, Deputy Head Sciences – Science Communication and Senior Curator of Human Biology and Medicine at Museum Victoria, Australia, gave at the EAMHMS conference. In her talk about issues in displaying the cochlear implant, Nurin stated that the problem lies with our insistence in seeing the ‘black box’ item as ugly and not suitable as a museum artefact. Rather than trying to avoid it, rewrite it change or replace it with something explaining something about it, she asked why couldn’t we just accept it and learn to appreciate it? Maybe it is our job to see the aesthetic qualities of these ‘black box’ objects rather than try and avoid them.
The rollator’s use is essential to many, there is no doubt about that, but as an object, as a thing, it is so unappealing and uninteresting. It would not take long to draw such a simple plain thing.
Or so I thought. As I began I realized that the plastics had degenerated and the handles and wheels had an organic, sticky feeling to them. The way the brakes were attached to the wheels were far more complex than I had at first seen, but they were also connected by crude looking bolts. Mass produced steel rods had a feeling of hand madeness at the apex where they joined and the whole object took on a far more complicated nuance and styling than I had realized.
After 2 days, the amount of detail I had noticed changed my view of this object from boring and ugly to beautiful and fascinating. It’s complexities were hidden behind my prejudices and became seen clearly through my making the effort to spend time actually looking at this object and to stop making huge assumptions about it. How it worked, how it was made and the aesthetic of the object became more and more apparent during the two days I spent drawing it. Paying attention to such a modest and overlooked ungainly looking object showed it to be far more than I had at first perceived.
Overlooking such a vital yet seemingly unattractive object highlighted the need to spend time looking and building relationships with artefacts. The rollator has become, in my opinion a very beautiful object and reactions from others have been surprising also. Others have seen far more beauty in the drawing than they thought would ever be found in such an object. Maybe they will re-look at them and see them in a new way.
So many things associated with the ageing process are thought to be boring, ugly, utilitarian and uninteresting to look at. I am discovering for myself how wrong this assumption is. The toothless skull, so iconic of the image of ageing is fascinating and beautiful rather than ridiculous and unattractive.
Objects that help and assist the elderly, items used to test for ailments associated with ageing and objects used for treating them are all seen as having little aesthetic value as objects in their own right. And often the ageing population, the people themselves, are not regarded as being aesthetic so ingrained is it that beauty is connected with youth and newness.
Spending time looking at them, overcoming assumptions about them, elevating them from mere boring utilitarian thing to being experienced as unique, beautiful and fascinating encounters helps to re-see aspects of ageing in a much wider and more positive way.