Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Crafting Personal Shrines

Carol Owen

Lark Books 2006

In mainstream Australian culture, corporate franchises manufacture everything. Homes, food, clothes, dreams and wishes are homogenised. Theyd even like to pre-package our emotions for us, and Im sure, somewhere, theres a committee working on it. Love and memory, however, are elusive creatures, and not even multinationals have been able to bland them out. Yet. The roadside crosses and memorials on our highways prove that people still crave authentic, individual expressions of grief.

Carol Owens book celebrates the hearts resilient mystery. The designers of those odious Valentines Day cards would disagree, but love in all its forms remains distinctive, unique to each person. And memories dont come in kit form. Yet.The shrines in this book are all intensely personal; viewers can appreciate their aesthetics, but can only guess at their significance for the creators. Owens mission is to inspire us to make our own. She gives basic guidelines on construction, suggests possible media, then leaves us to it. Like Ousider Art or Folk Art, many of the examples here use recycled or found objects: I was trying to celebrate the ordinary and discarded... says one artist. Another describes his compulsion to make enclosures: spaces that house mystery and wonder... the materials that thrill me continue to peek out from the homes I have fashioned for them.

Some of these shrines are so intriguing and beautiful they knock my socks off; theyre like medieval reliquaries, or the fuse-boxes of wizards. Some are housed in galleries, others made for private owners. From Joseph Cornells boxes to the Watts Towers built from rubbish, reincarnated objects give us a sense of ritual or mystery in a world which can be grindingly banal. Owen encourages our right to personalise, to decorate our dashboards, funkify our clothing, revere our loved ones in our own individual ways. There is no lifestyle program or chain store telling us how to give form to our memories and emotions. Yet. So lets do it ourselves, while we can. Books reviewed are available from the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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