Every artist probably has at least one Unicorn, a huge cumbersome object or painting usually made in the first enthusiasm of youth, (mine was made in 1985), that they haul from studio to studio, an important talisman that cannot be thrown away, however demanding its stabilising requirements.
My Unicorn was shown a couple of times, but my work moved on to other things – the Unicorn stayed in its 176 cubic feet of storage space where it still waits…
In 2004 I was looking in the back of my mind for an image that would allow me to talk about conflict in my work. War, Uccello, Spears, Horses, then I remembered my Unicorn. Among other things, I am still making unicorns.
There are also the ephemeral fragments that artists keep rather than throw away at the end of making a piece, our way of telling our story back to ourselves. They are echoes of our struggles to get things right as we wrestle with drawings and matter to find equivalents to hold a mirror back to the world in a convincing way. They are often all that we have left of a piece, or they are fragments of ideas that were not used that could hold the seed for a new idea at another time.
Ephemera needs to be archived in some way, its relevance somehow marked for the poor, grieving relative in the future who will have to sift through these random bits of stuff and fluff and work out what is important. The input of the grieving relative and how they decide to edit our “stuff” is paramount to achieving any kind of legacy for an artists’ practice. How can we expect them to understand that the ephemera is as important as the finished Unicorn if we don’t signpost it for them clearly while we are alive?
I am lucky that almost all the works I have made since that Unicorn have been exhibited and sold into collections.
The only reminder of their existence is my boxes of ephemera and a deeply shambolic image bank, which ranges from 1977 with self-printed black and white photos, going on to slides, transparencies, floppy discs, Videos, tapes, CDs and memory sticks.
Having an Art360 Award has helped me focus on sifting through the things that represent my practice. It has been particularly helpful in scanning my muddled image bank and putting in one place all my images and information about the work from ephemera, to work in progress, to finished object, to where it was shown and who has it now. It is still very much a work in progress, but I am very grateful for the help and support of Art360 in getting it started.
Cathy de Monchaux, 20 March 2019
Cathy de Monchaux received an Art360 Award in 2016. Art360 Foundation has worked with the artist to build an archive which reflects and preserves the legacy of her practice. Our work aims to ensure the accessibility of important artwork and ephemera today and in the future.
Do you need support with your archive? If you are an artist or artists’ representative in Scotland, you can apply for one of 12 places on our latest programme, here.