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                                       FURNISHING PEOPLE   

                                               AN INTERVIEW WITH MAUREEN BAIRD

                                                 SCOTTISH PAINTER AND PSYCHOLOGIST
                                           BY GORANA OGNJENOVIC AND LENE AUESTAD


GO: One thing that immediately catches one’s eye when faced with your paintings is the use of Nursery Rhymes which are integrated in some of your paintings. When and how did you get the idea to use them? 

Baird: Nursery rhymes are something that you are introduced to as a small child. The rhymes are catchy and easily memorised, they are part of repetitive language games played with adults and children. The rhymes may seem very simple, but on nearer investigation they are sometimes also concerned with serious subjects.  Historically, they were sometimes ironic comments on contemporary issues. In addition to the more ordinary references, emotional and family meanings, about relationships that are often embedded in the text. 

GO: So there is a direct connection between your psychological understanding and your paintings? 

Baird: I would call it an indirect connection. Free association on a text can be a source of multiple meanings “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry”. This may refer to the oppressive reign of the king of England, George the third who incidentally was rather fat. It is certainly an indirect way of criticizing the authorities. It also plays on themes connected to rivalry and bullying, something that is in constant need of expression. As for the way I use these ideas in the paintings – that is mostly intuitive. The feelings the rhymes awaken are often connected to shame and aggression. “Hushaby baby on the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall – down will come baby, bough cradle and all.” The rhymes may give siblings opportunities to express their less attractive desires! 

GO: One of things I remember has been said about an earlier exhibition – how objects/furnishing were used instead of people. 

Baird: Furniture and objects can be used symbolically. Ordinary furnishing at home – is the most familiar part of our environment. To see familiar objects and surroundings in a new way can transform them so that they can somehow generate new meanings. Even the artist can be surprised! 

GO: The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about a form of furnishing, dialectics of symbolism, how you relate to objects. When I came to the exhibition that was what came in to my mind. How do you place things in relation to people the interaction between the two, and on the other hand how do the objects reflect something about their owners? You turn the whole model upside-down, and place the illustrations inside the objects. So then there is the function of the objects and there are separate symbolisms within the objects. Faced with it I was not any longer sure what was the intention behind it. 

Baird: I think that it is very interesting that you see so much in it. Often when I make things like that I am not very conscious of it. It is only afterwards when people seem to be getting something out of it that I see something of what I did. In my last exhibition when people commented on the significance of the empty rooms, i.e. that they were without people. For me the empty rooms showed traces of their inhabitants. Perhaps clearing the decks can be seen as an attempt to gain control. This may be one way of creating some security and stamping out one` personal space in order to own it.  Furnishing an apartment is very personal. As to the question of objects, the chair is not about any chair, any table, they must be transferred into something you own. I think furnishing one` house is a very important way of self expression. Whatever you choose to place in a room is not accidental – it’s like choosing one’s wardrobe, one cannot feel comfortable in someone else’s dress.

LA: What I thought about when faced with your paintings is how paintings are in a sense much more immaterial than physical things. The space within them is something imagined, in contrast to chair or table. It becomes a very interesting dialectics when you paint onto furniture, placing something imaginary onto concrete, real things. 

Baird: I see it now. If you stop thinking about it as chair, it may become something else – confusing, something not quite straightforward. 

GO: Motives on all the objects have the same origin as motives on your paintings. Are they from dreams? 

Baird: Yes, maybe dreams, and also waking associations. Being conscious. When you start something and it leads to something else. I do not plan much. I let it happen by itself and change it afterwards. 

GO: I suppose that this is the same, as with our work in philosophy, when we interpret, interpretations stop by themselves we never know what will happen at the end. All you know is that you cannot put it down while it is unfolding and until is finished. It finishes by itself. 

Baird: You are carrying out all kinds of work, intellectual kind of work. I do not know what I could call what I do. Things happen and you might not have the time to do them at the moment, but they eventually catch up with you. The themes, the same themes keep repeating all the time. I think it is limited what one person can come up with. 

GO: But this is very psychoanalytic, the fact that people only have few themes in their lives that keep going in circles, keep dealing with the same themes on and on? Due to your other profession I am never sure whether you talk as painter or as a psychologist or both at the same time. 

Baird: I do not think or talk either like a psychologist or as a painter. Psychology was not initially what I wanted to go in to. In a way it was more external for me. It became very fascinating as I went on, and I think I became adept at imagining what other people felt. Communication with others- clarifying my own and the others thoughts about what was going on. Maybe it was because I was used to imagining things that I could get into their way of feeling. And in that way it was possible to use psychological methods to help people. As a young person I studied art, when I came to Norway I felt I did not have an entry into Norwegian society, as you know as foreigner that is not something you have automatically.  Being a professional therapist involved having a structured situation, something which is a relief from free expression. But as soon as I was able to afford it I worked 2 or 3 days a week in order to have the time for painting. I came back to what I felt was more me, myself. I think I was a quite successful psychotherapist, but I also felt that I sometimes was appearing in someone else’s clothes. 

GO: Point taken! But there is an underlying note here that is a figurative communication. All this might very well be my projection because when I think about them I always have them both there at the same time since they are so instrumental to me. 

Baird: It is a hard life as an artist. I have had several legs to stand on and in Norway, I wouldn’t have succeeded without some professional platform. But I still fell that it was not the first choice. I went into psychoanalysis myself and learned a lot from it, it helped me organise my life, sort out my emotions. It helped me gain the freedom to do my work. That is I was able to start painting again. Being married, having children, having a job and all that, was hard. Being a foreigner you have many gaps. Genealogy is important, to know who you are, who your family is, and that other people know where you come from. 

GO: But has this place changed towards you since? Did you manage to negotiate a connection, an entry to society, your place in it via your craft as painter, your art?

Baird: Yes I have been lucky and have had some good opportunities compared with other foreigners, I feel I belong here. But of course it has been a disadvantage not having all my education and background from Norway, I lacked the right contacts. 

GO: The reason why I ask this is the fact that all the motives in your paintings are daydreams and as we know, daydreaming does imply or indicate a form of absence, detachment from reality. If someone’s lifework theme is daydreaming, what is then about their earthly presence that is so despicable that they have to spend their life detached? Exile is an experience of non-existence, absence, separation, and detachment. 

Baird: Well, when you expose yourself to something like exile, as you know, even though mine was voluntary unlike many people, this view can be valid. I am not sitting here rejecting the real world in any way. I feel maybe that it has been a necessity to relate to things that are in your head instead of out of it. I do not feel entirely at home even after all these years, but at the same time I do not know where my ideal society would be. 

GO: I do not think that you are all that alone in feeling that. 

LA: I see your work as being concerned with reality that dissolves into fantasy, with floating borders between the two. Is there not a returning theme in what you do of strangeness entering into the familiar?

Baird: That is a good way of seeing it; it does not have to be compensation or anything like that. It is just one way of living. Instead of wondering who you are and what you are doing here. 

GO: What I had in mind was actually extending your self in time and space. Because there are different kinds of extensions of oneself children, marriages, successful career, but paintings, books and music are extension of someone’s mind, so the question is why exactly those instead of some others? The presence of exactly those motives in your paintings cannot be ignored. They are unbeatable in a very strange way. They tell you things in directly magical transference that we usually connect with dreams, since after all we too are in the business of symbolisms. 

Baird: When you have an exhibition you have direct access to other peoples associations and thoughts. I had to be present myself in the gallery at the weekends. People’s reactions were quite unexpected – some laughed laughs of recognition. Some seemed shocked that useable furniture had been wrecked, some even thought the whole project disrespectful. Some were worried and confused since it was not clear if the usable object could be used. Was a table transformed into something else the moment it was placed in an art gallery. This paradox could be seen as interesting and provocative at the same time.

GO: One of your paintings caught my attention. The one in which a tiny person sits on the floor with his back leaning against the huge bedpost. Anyone who had really lived a life can identify with that feeling described when everything around you is so overwhelming that you feel heavy, challenging, overwhelming as if can’t get up, can’t go on. Yes, the feeling is hard, nobody likes to recall that feeling, nobody likes to be in it, but it had not been too heavy, in a shade, heavy but at the same time not too heavy. After all we are now standing in the gallery facing the painting that reminds us of it and smiling at it purely fro the reasons of dispersing the evil that the feeling of that weakness contains. 

Baird: Many people were interested in this painting but nobody bought it. As you say nobody obviously wants to be continuously reminded. I also have other variations. It is a bit scary in a way. I also have one where a person is under the bed. As a child you are always under the bed. 

GO: But there is a great difference between “underneath” and “in front” of the bed. It is a difference between “the terrified” and “overwhelmed”. 

Baird: I always called that kid “Gnome”. It is a kind of “gnome” little boy. It is not a real child. I enjoyed painting the wallpaper prints. I never think that other people think the same as me. That’s what is difficult about also this situation when I am asked to say something about these things and in a way one does not want to say too much about it. I do not really want to appear as a fancy, pretentious artist. 

LA: There are a lot of animals in your work. What do you find fascinating about animals as motives? I think there is something very intriguing about the animals depicted in fairytales, being partly animals and partly human. What do you think of the connection between the way of imagining contained in these stories and common features of human mental lives? 

Baird: You can say many things indirectly. For us I think animals are often metaphors, they represent characteristics in ourselves. Greed, lust, cruelty, fear, dominance are often difficult to describe. 





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