Verity Standen, composer and performer, on the mantle piece in her family home

GB Tell me why you chose this.

VS I chose it because it’s home and it’s quite a difficult and lovely thing for me. You’re pretty much looking at what my mother was like. She used to be a curator of a museum and always hoarded and collected objects. The whole house was full of amazing images, odd bits of pottery and porcelain, all sorts of amazing objects all flung together and yet they made what I thought of as mini exhibitions. She was curator of Salisbury museum many moons ago and she oversaw contemporary exhibitions as well as the upkeep of the museum. She died suddenly of cancer five years ago this September. I suppose that’s why home is a big thing for me because she made it so ornate and gorgeous. I think about her a lot and the way she dealt with stuff so beautiful.

GB So is this exactly how she left it?

VS There’s a David Shrigley postcard that Dad brought back from an exhibition. This is in the dining room of my family home so we looked at this whenever we ate a meal. There are a lot of memories of different bodies in the house and dancing around the kitchen with my older sister.

GB If you had to choose one thing that you love from the mantelpiece, would you be able to, or do you love it as a collection?

VS I love it as a collection. There’s a small round, yellowed picture of mum as a baby that’s very beautiful. It’s generally the wonderfully odd texture of all of it that I love. Mum got into African idols for a while, so she’d go on eBay and buy them. Some would be original and some would be fake. There are so many materials here; porcelain, dried flowers, a huge dandelion head in a paperweight.

GB Your mum was clearly very visual, while you seem more driven by sound.

VS Yes, mum always took us to lots of exhibitions and theatre so she was someone to be inspired by and very supportive of us being creative. I am obsessed by sound and voices in particular, but this image is the best way of showing what mum’s voice was like.

GB Do you think it’s a different kind of beauty you experience when you’re listening to music to when you’re looking at something.

VS I think they both do the same thing but in different ways. Music is so evocative and can express emotions we don’t have words for, but then objects also have some much history attached to them that they can do the same thing. Music does give you goosebumps and can affect your whole body.

GB Are you deliberately trying to create beauty in your work?

VS I’m toying with and manipulating the voice and there’s always something unusual about the boundaries of it, so my piece, Hug, is all about having direct contact with a stranger that you never see. The music is dissonant and guttural and loud. Some people find it sad, some people find it joyous but you feel it. You can never predict the reactions. Everyone reacts differently. The performers have an assigned chair and hug whoever is sitting there. The audience is blindfolded so it takes them by surprise. I don’t want them to see the person visually and form a judgment. I think removing that makes it a safer environment for both participants. The Londoners in particular arrived so tense. They sat hunched forward in their seats at the start, but by the end of it, they were totally relaxed and open.

GB That contrast must make it even more powerful for the audience as well as the performers. The Londoners need the hug more. Are you a hoarder? Did you inherit that?

VS I’ve very much inherited it but I think my siblings have gone the other way. My sister’s a minimalist, I’d say my brother doesn’t particularly mind, whereas my house is quite like this picture. I love the comfort of that but I dl find it inspiring. There’s a jasmine plant in our kitchen that’s slowly taking over a shelf and wrapping itself around the glass bottles. I really enjoy watching that.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

VS When I look at this image, it’s the texture and structure, the things that don’t go but do go. The first thing that came to mind when you asked the question was memory. There was a Martin Creed exhibition at Hauser and Wirth I went to, where there was this huge metal sculpture of a word swinging around. It was so big that it filled the whole space and the word was Mother.

See Verity perform here.


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