London holds so much history and the river Thames is the landmark that has stood through it all, leading to it being referred to as “liquid history”. There is evidence of humans living off the river dating back to Neolithic times - some 12,000 years ago - and it is incomprehensible to begin to imagine just how many people have subsequently engaged with the Thames.
Polly's current theme explores different methods of recording what the Thames leaves behind, and how it holds history.
She regularly visits the Thames foreshore and gets lost down there for hours collecting almost anything, although many of the things she is drawn to, dating from the 17th Century to the Victorian era, are pieces signifying manual work, such as clay pipes or rusty manufacturing instruments, and they revive the ghost of the individual who once made or used them. This idea of manual work is reflected in the ‘making’ that is integral to her practice, and involving these found objects in a collated fashion results in vessels of remembrance.
Originating in Africa, Memory Jugs became extremely popular in the Victorian era as they memorialised the dead with personal objects, and connected the dead to the afterlife by way of water.
Looking at the surface of these vessels, Polly has used discarded broken clay pipes and shards of bone from the Thames to reflect the individuals who once handled them, as it is said that personal possessions are often broken before being applied to Memory Jugs to help release the individual’s spirit.
The panels, or ‘memorial plaques’, show the relief of the objects, to emphasise the void that is left once someone has gone.
Cotton is transformed into a relic of London’s industry. By allowing rusty industrial artefacts, like buckles and nails, to shed in water, only their traces are left, mimicking the environment in which they were found: the Thames foreshore, and as these objects once symbolised prosperity and trade, and in more basic terms, the movement of people globally, it seemed fitting the rusted garments conveyed movement and portability.
This idea took Polly outside to photograph the work, and subsequently she looked into methods of anchoring them. Flagpoles were raised, and the rusty objects became weights, being sown into the hems of the stained cotton to anchor the fabric from the wind, a trick originating in the 1800s to keep ladies garments shapely.