Yorkshire raised and Berlin based artist Martha Breeze set up a long term art project: She pickles things. No matter if it’s cornflakes, rice or a tear. Everything will remain in vinegar – forever. We talked to her about the art of letting go and preserving. (capital letters have been intentionally omitted by the artist).
Martha, why do you pickle objects?
i first pickled a piece of spaghetti and it was too long to fit in the jar. i was overjoyed because i had to wait for it to soften and collapse and it reminded me of the feeling people sometimes express when they want something so much but the external limitations are out of their control. people often look so far in to the future or focus on one aspect that they overlook the logistics of the situation. the spaghetti here represents that thing we need or crave, the vinegar represents the method we choose to keep it, the bottle represents the constraints and limitations of the things we feel we need.
vinegar is an unsuitable method to preserve most things, in the same way clinging on to something we don’t need is an unsuitable means to keep something in our lives. in vinegar, the objects change, grow and disappear, just like all things that pass through our lives.
the more time went on, the more i began to fall in love with this concept and the heavier it became. it became important to visualise this idea more thoroughly and so i got lost in the concept.
from the physical side of things, the bottles give a place for lost objects. glorifying previously unconsidered items. it gives them worth and weight and the ability to be analysed. just like aspects of my life – comments, memories…some i have forgotten but they still linger around until carefully taken out and observed.
i love finding metaphors in my work. the idea started through play and continued to become a thorough study of obsession and habit. i want to give a visual perspective on thoughts and feelings which occur in us all and a physical and visual analogy to complex human issues which we otherwise take for granted. the essence of this work is about representing the connection between objects, processes and human emotion. i wanted it to be sweet, funny and sharp but with a hint of confusion and disgust.
What kind of objects do you preserve like this?
i preserve objects that are near to me and in my life. some of them i may not normally notice but make up who i am, in a way, and what my life might look like from a very small observer. this is supposed to mirror the emotional baggage, the comments, society’s constraints, expectations and our own fears we bring with us that we may not necessarily notice yet we still absorb and treasure.
What is the liquid you use for the process?
i use vinegar to preserve the objects. vinegar preserves food, if done correctly, yet for other substances it is corrosive. sometimes we learn certain methods for comfort or happiness, but it doesn’t translate in to what we want. i love this analogy.
What is time doing to your objects?
like feelings, they change over time. some have turned in to really fantastic unrecognisable shapes, some have developed growths, some have swollen, some disintegrated and some stayed the same. trying desperately to contain and preserve these objects is an impossible task in a way that reflects craving continuous contentment. sometimes we only appreciate the present when it’s become a contained memory and becomes the past, and then their durability is out of our control.
Are you afraid of letting things go?
the feelings i struggle the most to let go of are the negative ones which i haven’t given myself the chance to have a look at. i’m often happy to let good things go, possibly because they are more enjoyable to look at. i can only learn to accept these feelings when i have a good look at them with perspective, but often i don’t give myself the chance. somehow the idea of them passing through me again in order to look at them is terrifying in itself.
i think we often don’t realise we are carrying around bleak emptiness until we have a look at it. we feel things so much, so strongly, but with perspective we can observe them and then it doesn’t feel so much. then it feels like letting go. i like to imagine sad things as art and then i can understand it, because actually, bleak is beautiful when it’s given perspective. it’s what makes art real. it’s what makes sad poetry nice. we understand it on an emotional level.
Are there objects that are affected in a more positive way then others?
as it’s a process of understanding in order to observe and open up, i don’t think positive and negative really exist here. the metaphor represented in the bottles is providing perspective on a human trait and taking away the desire for clinging or repulsion that we have in relation to our own attachment. in this way, we can observe change without it being one way or another, therefore making the concept of positive and negative obsolete.
How long will your objects remain in the glasses?
Have you ever thought about pickling yourself for a while?
when i have a bath, i use oil, salt and vinegar, so i already do pickle myself, actually.
and aren’t we already pickling ourselves? if the bottles represent how we cling on to things with inadequate means, then we already do pickle ourselves in the memories and lessons we have built up and rely on. society’s constraints already are a pickling solution which we all accept and lie in. we chose to use the methods given to us, even when they don’t work. we fixate upon these rules and allow ourselves to become the swollen or disintegrating object. sometimes people even become lost in the past.
Thanks, Martha. May the internet preserve this interview forever.