Car Doctors and broken boundaries by Karen Alderson

Car Doctors and broken boundaries by Karen Alderson

2017 has so far been a turbulent year, I am emotionally worn out and have found it hard to concentrate on the project. For me, creative practice requires space to contemplate and engage in the deeper aspects of the work.  I am fixated on the image of the railings and keep going back to the shapes made by the lines. In January I wrote notes regarding experiments putting stabilisers in fabric, similar to bones in corsets. The aim was to play around with distortion of shape by bending the wires in the fabric.


Here I used wire inserted in between two sheets of fabric.



The shapes in the fabric that emerge between the inserts also attract my attention.

I make a wire stencil of the  broken fence,put it on some white sheeting and spray it with grey and white car paint. Later I use red car paint and whilst the stencil is still wet I place it on more sheeting.



p1080575I wrap wire with hand dyed grey cloth and place it on a film of latex.


At the time of writing the latex is still wet & has dribbled on the floor so I’m looking forward to how it will be tomorrow.

I find a piece of broken fencing in the fields and photograph it. I love the distorted squares & angles.


In 2015 as part of a project called Subways, Street & Sidewalks I became interested in fencing on a derelict site. Fencing is about boundaries, broken fences represents transgressed boundaries, inside and outside merging, fusing, separation breaking down, sealed entities spilling their contents, material moving across the threshhold.

I was thinking about the point at which a barrier, like skin, is cut and the outside comes in (& the inside goes out)  and you are no longer a complete whole. No longer safe, unable to maintain the boundary, the prior identity changes it’s form. Even after the skin repairs a scar can develop and, if deep enough, a worry that it may happen again. One’s inner sense of self has now a memory of being entered, of the barrier being cut or torn, violated.

I want to amalgamate the hard and soft of metal and skin, both boundaries, both able to be transgressed, the car being an extension of our personal boundary, acting like a metal skin, yet with our skin inside. I wanted to have something physical to carry around than an invisible feeling, something tangible that others could see than this ephemeral sense of distorted & broken incompleteness, a container that cannot contain, a safety barrier that isn’t safe.

A have a new friend who repairs the body work on vintage cars, he sees himself as a car doctor & calls rust “car cancer”. I like the medical metaphors and ask if he has any rusty metal panels I may have. He does and now I intend to shape a sheet of metal into a sphere that is open at the top, like the fontanelle on the top of a baby’s skull. To do this I will have to chisel a round depression in a block of wood so that I can beat the panel into shape. If and when I manage to do this I want to cover the metal with softer material and a layer of latex to signify skin. This feels like a shift away from the warped fence image, things are finally moving.


2 thoughts on “Car Doctors and broken boundaries by Karen Alderson

  1. It’s always exciting to see the arrival of a blog from any of the three ‘Secret Life of Objects’ artists appear in my inbox. February’s posting have been quite fascinating for enabling a meaningful insight into the whole developing process of creative work. They are always stimulating and provoke my own thought trains. I really enjoy reading and looking at them, so thank you to all of you.

    Here Karen are some of my reactions to ‘Car Crashes and Broken Boundaries’, in no particular order. Incidentally i think the work is great.

    Returning to the same artistic stimulus can be extremely positive and no bad thing. Fixation or fascination? Some artists may pursue the same theme for their entire lives but if the ork is always developing rather than formulaic repetition then it’s always fresh. For instance, always drawing mountains, even the same mountain can be endlessly rewarding as it’s never really the same, changing lights, seasons, time off day, how we feel.

    Perhaps a time comes when the subject matter is naturally exhausted, like a worked out coal seam, but I don ‘t get any sense of this with your fencing theme. It still seems to me that you’re working a pretty rich seam and I’m sure it contains many more wonderful creative nuggets. Perhaps a seam can also just get too difficult or dangerous to work any more, when the confrontation with our own circumstances is too acute and uncomrtable to continue. But the fencing images are so fascinating, there is some beautiful work coming out, so i hope you can keep on with it.

    Looking at the images in all their varying stages I started thinking about fences that have naturally decayed and broken down, either returning to or being overrun by nature, and the boundaries they marked have disappeared. ‘Boundaries’ has become such a politically charged word, it’s now a very frightening currency.

    The rich have their gated communities, the politics of reinforcing a distinctive ‘us and them’ culture is running rampant. Phrases like ‘taking back control of our borders’ are ugly and horrible. They are locking us into a fearful and small minded place. These are boundaries I would really like to see broken.

    But back to your work. Maybe it’s just naturally healthy to follow another path for a while. I think that some of the experimental pieces you’re making could be removed from your ‘work in progress’ sketch book and displayed as finished work. I really like the ribbed and boned fabric pieces and could easily visualise them mounted within a simple open wooden frame.

    That got me thinking about frames as boundaries – not only giving artistic works their own status but when done well, always enhancing the work. The frames provides a boundary to help focus the eye, but it’s not a restrictive boundary, much more an enabler. Quite the reverse of most boundaries.

    Finally i imagine the metal or ‘tin bashing’ could be an exciting but physically hard challenge. Maybe you’ll need to find a friendly blacksmith who’ll let you use their anvil. Drinks cans could be much more malleable and can be cut with scissors, and shaped on a wooden block (milliner’s hat block?). The printed logos couldmmaybe throw up some interesting happenchance images when directed and beaten as well.

    So those are my initial responses. Always good to see your work Karen, I’m very impressed.


    1. Thank you for your generous comments Graham, yes, I have been careful as the notion of boundaries and borders is politically sensitive at the moment, thank you for expanding on this and your encouraging comments and suggestions. The broken fences theme is leading me to think about the concept of separation and connection, I know that we are all connected and the idea of separation is a myth but boundaries for me are a useful tool in order to set limits in order to protect myself from being violated by others. There is a history of my personal boundaries being significantly ignored in my earlier life and with an increase in views that dehumanise women and certain groups of people based on their perceived nationality I think we all need to have respectful conversations to agree notions both of personal and political borders. I say political than nation or land based borders because for me this is a political issue where fear is being artificially manufactured for political gain and control. The idea that in global capitalism we can revert to nation states and control economics via land is like going back 100 years. However, saying all this, I think what I am trying to figure out personally is interdependence, which, I suppose, is at the base of our survival as a species.


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