‘Travelling Companions’ was an exhibition conceived by Ro Spankie, in collaboration with two artists: Fay Ballard and Judy Goldhill. It opened on 2 March 2020 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) building, University of Cambridge, and remains closed due to COVID-19 until further notice.
In her book Evocative Objects: Things we think with, Professor Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT, suggests that objects act as emotional and intellectual companions that anchor memory, sustain relationships, and provoke new ideas.
‘We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences. We are on less familiar ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lives or as provocations to thought.’
The exhibition explored these ideas, contrasting the work of the two artists. Fay’s mother died on a family holiday in Spain when she was seven years old. The work exhibited is a series of intricate pencil drawings of objects belonging to her mother that she found when clearing her father’s house forty years later. In contrast, Judy photographs the expanse of the night sky, utilising the massive observatories and telescopes that allow us to look beyond this world. Traditionally, constellations of stars have acted as navigational tools, guiding travellers and giving direction, acting as a different sort of travelling companion to Fay’s more domestic objects. From a souvenir fan charged with significance, to a star guiding you across the globe, the exhibition contrasted the two scales, the personal and the collective, exploring how familiar objects act as travelling companions, both in the present and as remembered (internalised) objects, their function and the stories they tell changing over the course of a life time.
Alongside the exhibition fellow travellers were invited to describe their travelling companions in image and text. Released in digital format, these can be viewed online. Ranging from representations of self, of home, of someone loved, to more practical things that the individual can’t travel without, these objects both expanded on ideas in the exhibition and formed the basis of a Symposium entitled ‘Who or What is Your Travelling Companion?’