Hector Campbell Presents Eleanor McLean


30th January - 18th February

Artist's Preview 2nd Feb 6-8pm

Eleanor McLean (she/her) is a British multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. She is a 2022 MA Sculpture graduate from the Royal College of Art, having previously completed her BA in Fine Art at the University for the Creative Arts Farnham (2020). Recent exhibitions include 'Pure Class' w. Royal College of Art's Working Class Collective, 'We Won’t Stop Showing' at SET & 'Prick and Stitch' residency w. Standpoint Gallery (All 2022). Eleanor also runs a monthly writing mailing list, Lost in Translation, and is a member of the Royal College of Art's Working Class Collective
Eleanor's practice operates within the realms of sculpture and installation, using found objects, writing and cathartic craft processes such as tufting and ceramics. It is often poetic, drawing on personal nostalgia and collective memories through British culture. The work references aspects of popular culture and investigates how objects, interiors and cultural references become romanticised, nostalgic and sentimental. Her practice is consistently informed by how space can be philosophised as utopia, dystopia and heterotopia, a reference to a concept by Michel Foucault, using this to understand order and behaviour in space, and how a particular group of heterotopias can bring comfort, happiness and escapism. Whilst building on writing by Sara Ahmed, Eleanor considers the political and social structure of happiness, understanding it as something to obtain, promised to us, and an experience changeable due to class and culture.
Hector Campbell is an Art Historian, Writer and Curator based in South London. Recent exhibitions include 'Pounding The Pavement' at Galeria Pelaires (Mallorca, 2022), Gianna T's 'Life Is Beautiful' at 9 French Place (London, 2022) and Lewis Brander & Sonya Derviz's 'First Light' at Collective Ending HQ (London, 2022). Hector is a founding member of Collective Ending HQ, a collectively run studio and gallery complex in Deptford, South East London. Hector is the author of the weekly contemporary art newsletter The Shock of the Now, and regularly contributes to exhibition texts and gallery catalogues. 
In mid-November 2022, Eleanor McLean and Hector Campbell visited Robert Young Antiques in Battersea, in advance of Eleanor’s solo presentation in January 2023. Guided by the incredibly knowledgeable Florence, the pair learnt all about 18th-century mangleboards (a precursor to the iron, often with hand-carved personalised motifs and given as a love token during courtship), Norwegian kasas or kjenges (ceremonial drinking vessels with twin horse-head handles, used during weddings and celebrations), marriage chests and cabinets (traditional wedding gifts, with hand-painted ornamentation and details of the marriage, often used to store bed linens etc.) and trade or tavern signs (unusual, oversized examples of the shops stock, such as a cricket bat or tooth brush, or for pubs such as the Black Pig). Florence kindly lent Eleanor a copy of Robert’s 1999 book ‘Folk Art’, the first comprehensive publication on European folk art and furniture, which will no doubt provide further information and inspiration!


Following a second visit to Robert Young Antiques in Battersea, artist Eleanor McLean selected this 18th-century Marriage Chest from the Austrian Empire as her primary object of inspiration. Marriage Chests, or Hope Chests, such as the above crafted from slow-growing mountain Pine, we’re traditional wedding gifts in Scandinavian culture, given to the bride and often the first substantial item of furniture owned by a young couple. Following the textile-themed love tokens that defined North-Eastern European courtship, after mangle boards and flax hammers, these chests would be filled with an abundance of textiles, wools and linens both practical and decorative. The chests would regularly be hand-painted with appropriate motifs (tulips or hearts to denote love, ribbons to denote celebration) and marked with the date of the marriage and the names of the couple. The above example lists the bride's full name and the marriage date of 1782. Alongside linens, marriage chests would often be used as a safe space to store items of sentimental or monetary value, such as jewellery, a marriage certificate or a bible. Eleanor will be studying the chest’s colouring and decoration, as well as considering its traditional use and the alternative term ‘Hope Chest’, to inform a new tufted artwork for her upcoming solo presentation in the Robert Young Antiques’ window display. Eleanor is responding to an 18th-century Scandinavian Marriage Chest from the Robert Young Antiques’ collection, paying close attention to its colour palette and hand-painted motifs.

The alternative term ‘Hope Chest’ in reference to the traditional wedding gift is particularly in keeping with Eleanor’s practice, which often references hope and/or happiness as something we seek out in destructive ways, and draws upon Sara Ahmed’s cultural critique The Promise of Happiness which views happiness through the lens of feminist theory as not a present state, but something to be obtained in the future. Eleanor also considered the concept of marriage as an expectation, a social construct and again an often aspirational or anticipated future obligation, a denotation of domesticity much akin to getting on the property ladder.
Finally, Eleanor discovered that the term ‘Hope Chest’ was employed in the early 20th century as colloquial slang for a packet of cigarettes, another pleasurable yet ultimately destructive pursuit. Alongside, Eleanor is hoping to produce the latest in her series of tufted lampshade sculptures, attempting to produce the object from scratch in similarity to the hand-made nature of much of the Robert Young Antiques’ collection. This reflects upon the blurred boundaries between functional objects and art objects or antiques, and when an object crosses from the former category to the latter.