Alfreda McHale - Installation Artist

Knitting Matters, An Interactive Art Installation, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum
May 16th - 19th 2013

Knitting Matters, An Interactive Art Installation, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum,
The Royal Pump Rooms,
Leamington Spa,
CV32 4AA,

Thurs 16th May 1.30pm - 8.00pm
Friday 17th May 10.30am - 5.00pm
Sat 18th May 10.30am - 5.00pm
Sun 19th May 11.00am - 4.00pm

You are warmly invited to join me and other participants in the delightful space of the Hammam in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum over the stated four days. Please do pop in to be part of this Interactive Art Installation known as "Knitting Matters".


Installations at the National Trust, Charlecote Park
Winter 2011 - 2012

Alfreda McHale is showing three installations at Charlecote this Winter. Each piece is constructed from a collection of found objects.

In Trolley (2010) a line of redundant tea trolleys segues through the Woodland Garden before teetering on the brink of the ha-ha.

In Runcible (2010) discarded cutlery regroups to form plants in the herbaceous border.

In Seeking Pearls (2005) jar after jar after jar of buttons are arranged in the Laundry.

McHale has assembled each collection obsessively over many months, even years, scouring junk shops and searching through recycling centres.


The objects she has chosen to collect (tea trolleys, cutlery, buttons) are objects found within the home, but not necessarily the modern home. Some of these objects suggest the domestic world of forty, fifty years ago when many women stayed at home and looked after their men and their children.


In Runcible discarded cutlery is arranged in the dark soil of the stripped herbaceous border to form drifts of planting. Spoon buds and handle shoots push up through the winter mulch. A patch of cheese knives mingles with bone-handled grasses. Silver plate blooms, plastic handle stamen and cake slice petals glint in the sunlight as the rainbow hues of picnic cutlery snake through the bed. Knives, forks and spoons are objects that are deeply familiar not only to the eye but also to the hand: they are graspable objects from the everyday world of the kitchen and the dining table. Some of the cutlery in Runcible invokes the formalities of dining in another era and some the informality of the high chair. Runcible invites us to think about how our attitudes to dining have changed and to consider cycles of production and consumption. Metal ores prized from the earth, bone from animals that walked the earth and plastic from oil extracted from deep within the earth, are returned temporarily to the soil. Time passing, wind, rain, plants, animals and people will all take their toll on this installation.

McHale's work operates within the territory of the historical genre of Still Life painting, a genre that took food and the objects of the table as its subject matter. Within the tradition of Still Life painting a painting of a piece of fruit, a piece of china or cutlery is rarely just a painting of a piece of fruit, a piece of china or cutlery. The food and objects depicted tell stories, become allegorical or invite us to think about the vanity of wealth and consumption and the inevitability of death and decay. McHale is a contemporary installation artist rather than a painter. She takes familiar objects from within the world of the domestic and stages them outside in the artificial landscape of the gardens of a stately home and its outhouses. She choses objects that are known to the hand as well as the eye so our experience of her work is haptic as well as visual.

In its title Runcible nods to Edward Lear for the Owl and Pussycat "dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon". McHale's work is playful and humorous. Like Lear, McHale, in her transformation of the quotidian, makes good use of nonsense.

Claire Lofting
Art Historian and Writer
November 2011



Grouping similar objects together highlights patterns of similarity and difference: this one is like that one but different from this other one. As you walk the line of trolleys in Trolley you might notice that here's another marble one or there's another collapsible one. Much of the cutlery in Runcible is grouped according to type: forks forming one plant, fish knives another. How a collection is organised, sorted and displayed emphasises some similarities and differences over others. In Seeking Pearls jars of buttons and threads are assembled on shelves in the Laundry so that, at first glance, they could be mistaken for sweets in an old-fashioned sweet shop. The viewer is free to touch and play and becomes a participant in the work: you can decide how you want to sort your bowl of buttons and where you want to put your jar. As you sort and play you can lose yourself in memories and associations.

Your reasons for sorting buttons one way or another may be transparent (colour, form, type) or may remain private and personal ('my mum had some like this').

The trolleys in Trolley are not the large-scale tea trolleys of the office or public service but the smaller domestic tea trolleys of an age when there was time for the niceties of afternoon tea and the attendant social mores and social anxieties. Some are brash and brassy, perhaps a little aspirational, others demure, with rose motifs.