It was when Kate and I were at the Cupar Arts Festival at the start of October, 2013, that this piece of furniture came into our lives. We'd been directed to the Castle Furniture Project and were on the lookout for G PLan furniture. Which is to say chairs that might be suitable for either Gaga or George. Within minutes I was being asked to consider this object, price-stickered at £49.


“It’s perfect for Gaga’s chair,” said Kate. “She used to like furniture like this. Repro and kitsch!”

Kate asked me to imagine it with the wood painted black. “Check.” To imagine it with a copy of her father’s book,
Operational Amplifiers, in the drawer designed for a telephone directory. “Check.” And, further, to imagine it with a ginger jar containing the ashes of Gaga’s cat - Ginger George - resting on the shelf intended for a telephone. “Run that by me again.”


Kate told me she would reupholster the seat using the white cotton on which she’d printed the last letter that Gaga sent her. The letter in which Gaga, almost certainly suffering with undiagnosed dementia, tried to come up with a suitable name for the child that Kate was expecting back in 1974. All the suggested names were boys’ names, whereas the baby, when it arrived, was a girl. Ellie, short for Eleanor, short for
Lady Eleanor as sung by Lindisfarne that year. Kate thought she might place in the drawer Ellie’s very first pair of red leather shoes, which she’d carefully preserved, instead of her father’s book. I agreed that that might tie-in better with the theme of the reupholstery.

Kate paid for the item and arranged to collect it at the end of our day in Cupar.

Next, Kate needed to outsource the reupholstery. Could Kate not do it herself? Why would she do that when it's a skilled job and Carmel Ward, who has been following Kate's progress on the MFA, used to work as a fashion designer and has the technical skill to do the sewing required as well as the contemporary vision. Below is Carmel dancing with Kate during Heather McLane's 24-hour residency at the BCCA last summer.

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So after Kate had painted the chair black and stripped off its old upholstery, she delivered it to Carmel's house across the river from where we live in Blairgowrie. Carmel asked if Kate wanted to preserve the buttons and the corresponding curves on the back of the seat that they gave rise to. Yes, Kate wanted to preserve such detailing, it gave the piece character and complication.


Kate wanted to further complicate the chair by adding a couple of organ stops. Gaga had enjoyed playing the organ, and Kate had found a set of organ stops when walking around the derelict church that our house is next door to.


Kate decided to us one stop as a handle for the drawer and the other as a non-functional embellishment.


Below is what the chair looked like after Kate had added the organ stops and Carmel had got started with the reupholstery.


Kate was conscious of the chair that Tracey Emin transformed in tribute to her grandmother. Tracey appliquéd significant words and sections of text onto the chair which had actually belonged to her grandmother.


An exchange between Tracey Emin and her grandmother: ‘OK PUDDIN,' 'THANKS PLUM’, covers the bottom front of the chair, and a saying of Plum’s, ‘There’s a lot of money in chairs’, can be seen in pink along the top and front of its back. Behind the chair back is appliquéd the dictum: ‘It’s not what you inherit. It’s what you do with your inheritance.’

Back to Kate Clayton's art. Good decision to stick with the buttons, each of which Carmel has made sure features a capital G from Gaga's signature at the end of her letter. The way the buttons pull in the cloth does strange things to the text...


Actually, there was much talk between Carmel, Kate and me about the text's legibility. The material used to reupholster the front and seat of the chair features a reproduction of the letter at too small a scale to be read easily. So, on the back of the chair, Carmel was asked to use material overprinted with the letter on a larger scale. The idea being that a visitor would first see the chair from behind and might then pause to read the letter.


However, Carmel was also asked to cut out a sample of the larger print and to frame it with the black braid that goes all around the reupholstered material. This sampler would fit in the chair's drawer. So that gave three options for what would go inside the drawer. A copy of Operational Amplifiers by George Clayton; Ellie Clayton's first pair of shoes; or the letter from Gaga to Kate Clayton.


Kate was still of a mind to place on the telephone shelf the ginger jar that once belonged to Gaga. This was partly because Gaga's letter had been sent to Kate by Gina, Kate's mother. Gina had explained that Gaga was unhappy in the nursing home and was missing her cat, Ginger George, who was not allowed inside the home. I suppose Ginger George was a kind of substitute for her son, George, who was too busy setting up home with his second wife to spend much time visiting his mother. Gaga died a few days before Kate gave birth to Ellie. She has long imagined that the potpourri found in the ginger jar is the ashes of her grandmother. Plus the ashes of Ginger George? And now with the ashes of George himself?


Perhaps all those ashes are too much. For, in presenting the piece during her assessment in December 2013, Kate jettisoned the ginger jar in favour of a vase of flowers. Red roses for remembrance and white roses to commemorate new life.


As for the drawer, well Ellie's shoes were given the nod. The toes peek up at the viewer and it's up to him or her to pull open the drawer. Or not.


So far the main viewer of the piece has been Kate herself. In the photo below, behind Kate can be seen a view of herself swathed in the cloth, with her fellow part-timer Claire Briegel reading aloud the text of Gaga's letter in a performance that was videoed.


For this particular outing of the cloth, this showing of the chair, as well as the roses, Kate has chosen to locate the piece
Convoy close by. Convoy being a list of names of people that Kate has assumed will be around for her in her old age.


Soem names have been deleted, either because the person has died or, in Rose's case, there has been a permanent falling out. Other names, such as those of her parents are not there because Kate never assumed they would still be around when she herself was elderly. (The George on the list is not her father.)

Ellie's children, Zayed and Zakariah are on the list, because Kate has made friends with them and hopes the friendships will last. Ellie's daughter Sophia, is not yet in her convoy because she is only four years old and it doesn't seem fair to land her with responsibility of keeping Kate company in her old age!


But Sophia has not been left out altogether. Kate can envisage her granddaughter about to become a mother herself in twenty years time, by which time if Kate is still around she will be 84, much older than Gaga was when she wrote Kate a letter about names of her child to be. Kate's letter to Sophia might go something like this:

June 11st.
My dear little mum.
I hope you are
feeling as well as
can be.
Have his or her
be got a name
yet I am what
about Bertram or
Alfie What about
Daniel OR
Fri k

But that letter refers to a hypothetical future. Where are we now?


Mo(u)rning Chair is to be on display at the Members show at Generator, opening night January 31, 2014. The piece is to be shown without either the ginger jar or a vase of roses. How will such a honed down version come across?

Stay tuned to find out.