Madonna in a Bottle

The curatorial practice group were given the task of selecting a single object from our homes that we felt in some way identified us, and then to accompany the object with twelve or less words that would give some insight into our choice.

Madonna in a Bottle

I love this thing. I bought it in the ‘Emmaus’ a homeless charity run bric-a-brac shed in the Mediterranean town of Narbonne in the South of France, years ago. I was looking for some trendy, oh so French and shabby chic, but slightly humorous item of furniture. I came away instead with this little kitsch glass bottle in the shape of the Madonna  …with a missing lid. Initially it was the straightforward iconography that attracted me, the Virgin Mary as stripped down version of the great goddess and symbolic for a feminine aspect in all of us. I was particularly interested in Black Madonnas I remember at the time, in the wake of Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘The Virgin’ and found myself seeking them out at every opportunity.

It looks like a souvenir from Lourdes; something a catholic pilgrim might have taken home; a kind of relic of the goddess, or rather (it being a bottle), a reliquary, a vessel containing a token of her body. I wonder what was in the bottle …holy water? …could just have easily been shampoo. With no lid it holds only whispers of its history and the secret life of all objects that have lost their way, to be re-discovered in another time and place, orphaned from their original text. I think the emptiness and transparency appeals to me too, the vessel that has lost some precious liquid or life force. Something that gave substance and meaning to its life is so clearly absent. As an industrially manufactured object, glass would have probably been blown into a metal two-part mould and the seams are clearly visible, going straight through her face, like scars. I love the irony of it. This is cheap and mass-produced but it embodies something so epic and universal, not a technological enchantment but a bit of enchanted technology.

Why do I associate myself with this thing? Firstly and most obviously it is a female figure but more than that, it is an empty and fragile figure bearing the mark of the divine. There are times when I feel possessed of an energy and spirit of some greater principle at work, and there are also times when I feel something very important is missing, there is no meaning and no purpose and everything is void. Like the bottle I crave the stuff of meaning.

There is a little bit of gold paint that hasn’t quite worn off, being made of stronger stuff than the possibly blue paint that had once robed the figure. This suggests that value has been lost along the way. Maybe I feel the loss of some all-consuming and unconditional mother love that endorses your efforts however feeble. When all is struggle to work and look after the kids, and there is no support, perhaps I fantasise about this great bosom of protection and nourishment. When all is defeat and repression, perhaps I mourn the loss of my great feminine force majeure, otherwise known as girl power. The G force is missing and Mary is empty and brittle without this other, which leads me on to twelve words I chose to accompany her.

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.’ From ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ by Sylvia Plath.

I discovered Sylvia Plath as a teenage Goth and identified with her tragic soul searching (typical teenage nihilist). She hunted enlightenment, meaning, depth and truth, only to find emptiness, defeat, enduring desolation and finally release with the help of her gas oven. This poem is particularly desolate with visions of death and defeat overlaid with the ache for salvation and love. Many books could be written (and probably have) about its symbologies and derivations but without doubt Sylvia identified both the moon and the Virgin Mary as signs for the feminine principle or goddess. The moon is ‘bald and wild’ and ‘With the O-gape of complete despair’ representing the dark, uncontrollable, sexual and destructive yet ultimately fertile forces, and then Mary, the sweet nurturing mother. Sometimes I feel empowered and flowing like a strong river to the sea of success, and sometimes I feel like Mary, and I perform my duties to family and various societies and feel as empty and brittle as the bottle.

Sylvia has always been my wayward friend.

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