Miserable Object, 2011

Miserable Object was made in response to an extraordinary sampler in the collection of the V&A. It is the only one that I have ever seen that has no visual imagery in it. Consisting purely of text in red thread, it is the stitched diary, or should I say autobiographical text, of a young woman from circa 1830. What is apparent from the text is that she came from a large and pious family, she went into service as a teenager, left that post against the advice of her peers and went to work for another family and, reading between the lines, it appears that she was raped by the master of the house. She left that employ, entered into another and subsequently had what appears to be a nervous breakdown before finding god. Referring to herself as a miserable object in the text, it’s clear that she is a person who has been severely damaged, she contemplates suicide and the text ends with a frantic, painful and hysterical declaration of her devotion to god. Why did she embroider it? Why not just write down her pain for it is obvious that she has education. What did her peers think of it; perhaps they wanted her to do it? Who knows?

It is one of the saddest things I have ever read. I looked at getting into her head and trying to understand her pain. Wax is a slippery substance, you have to work hard to control it – that concentration mimics the concentration you would need to do the stitchery in a sampler. It could perhaps shadow the instability of her mental state. Wax makes the work physical where there is a real sense of the body at work. My act of copying is one of attention and absolute focus carefully marking and reading the space between the lines.

Liadin Cooke 2011