Alex Flett; Modern Icons 2001.
In 2001 I was invited to exhibit at the Irvine Gallery in North Ayrshire and the result was Modern Icons. The idea behind this show was not to look literally at those elements in society, such as Celebrities, or other high profile figures in the current world, but to look at objects without which those elements which we see as being part of current modern life would not actually be as they are. One of those things which can be seen to be such is something as apparently simple as the loom shuttle. When the word shuttle is used now, it refers to e.g., the train which goes through the channel tunnel, or some form of backwards and forwards journey. In fact the loom shuttle is an object (like the wheel) which no-one knows how it was invented, but without it, we would still be walking around in animal skins.
Below: Shuttle, now in the collection of North Ayrshire Council.
Below: To see Oorsels (To see ourselves) photographed outside Lochfergus House.
The work was a revisit to the triptych format but using the saltire as and mirrors as a means of showing the growing concept of “Scottish-ness” which has brought a sense of pride in belonging as more and more Scots begin understanding their own historical background. It also was personal to me because my secondary and collegiate education was in England, and during the late seventies and eighties I often wondered where I belonged. Having the same birthday as Robert Burns curiously did not, nor does it now, make me particularly feel more Scots. In fact because the Burns poetry speaks of the commonality of man, it becomes a mechanism for seeing ourselves as primarily human before we think of ourselves as Scottish, English, or anything else. To see Oorsels, like the 1974 Henge, and remaining oil on paper Triptych works from 1971/2 are works which I will never part with.
Another object which has made the life of humanity so much better is the Button. Who invented the button? Without it we would be sticking pins in everything to keep our clothes on. Buttons started appearing in my work from the late nineties. Ard Righ contains buttons, as does works such as Spider.
In the eighties Eunice made most of all the family clothes, and she had amassed a considerable amount of buttons in a large jar. I also remembered the work of my friend the artist Edward Halter Meneeley called Tender Buttons from the late sixties, which actually is about the buttons on a computer, but which always reminded me of the buttons we fasten our coats with. Spider also is reminiscent of the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider in a cave. Buttons surround our lives, be they on clothing or on electronic equipment. I was very proud when my daughter, the artist Yasmin Flett, when she created a work called “A smack of jellyfish” with – buttons. Arguably one could say that it is not so much the computer which is a modern icon, but the buttons we operate it with. It is not so much the fashion which changes our lives, but the button its all held together with.