It is a cliché that ‘a nice cup of tea’ is the universally acknowledged panacea for the trials and tribulations of everyday life – the balm that soothes and comforts, mediating the transfer from any interference to normal routines creating psychic, social or other forms of disturbance to states of mind able to accommodate and adjust to such events. And, like most cliché’s there is an element of truth in this – the familiar sequence of boiling the kettle, adding the hot water to the tea, cradling the warm cup in one’s hands, the familiar taste, all serve to create a moment of reassurance calming moments of anxiety and remorse. Clare Walter’s 8-minute film evokes these patterns of stereotypical behavior whilst simultaneously throwing each element into doubt, mixing filmic genres – documentary, thriller, melodrama – so that each of the three brief sections subtly subverts normative expectations; instead of certainty we have doubt, the repetition of expression and gesture evoke the uncanny and veils of suspicion cloak the event in the unsaid. Through sublimation a transformative recourse opens to the creative imagination faced with the overwhelming incidents that are life’s traumatic rites of passage, an alternative space for another reality: the work of the work of art. However, repetitious rituals swiftly become habits referencing not eros, but thanatos, the reality of loss, endings, grief and mourning. And the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent or child, fundamentally fragments the cohesion of selfhood and identity, a cut into our connection to the world that can only be (partially) filled through metaphor. In Walter’s film, the social convention of making and drinking tea is an empty signifier, no longer sufficient to the emotional undercurrents spiraling out from the initiating event – the mother’s funeral – its narratival inadequacy becoming itself the sign of loss: some stories are never exhausted.
Jon Bird is Professor of Art and Critical Theory at Middlesex University. He is a writer, curator and artist. He curated 'Leon Golub Powerplay: Political Portraits' currently at the National Portrait Gallery, with an accompanying publication.
Clare Walter’s practice encompasses a variety of media. Her professional background includes work in the fields of asylum and human rights immigration, deaths in custody, domestic violence, and equality & diversity. Walter’s education includes MA Fine Art, Middlesex University (2016), From Story to Screen in Eight Weeks, Met Film School (2015) and Access Diploma to Art and Design, Working Men’s College (2012), all in London. Walter’s short film, A Nice Cup of Tea was made in 2015-16. Group shows in 2014 included Doh Mix Meh Up: Diaspora and Identity in Art at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, Bodies That Matter 2 and The Nest Builders of the Sea, both at ArtLacuna, London. 2013 included Eye-Eye at Mile End Art Pavilion, London, and Aesthetica Art Prize: Shortlisted Works, York St Mary’s, York. Artwork appears in print in the eponymous book accompanying Doh Mix Meh Up: Diaspora and Identity in Art, published by Oxford University’s Diasporas Programme, and in Celebrating Excellence, Aesthetica Art Prize: the Shortlist, published by Aesthetica Magazine, amongst others.