What’s your favourite object? What is your relationship with objects like? And during quarantine, how has it changed? They surround us, influence our moods and even keep our secrets. Since childhood, we feel emotionally attached to many of them – be it a teddy bear or, as adults, a particular thing that holds symbolism and encapsulates good memories. Photographer Emilija Milušauskaitė and stylist and art director Sophie Daniel have been reflecting on all of this in this new series, titled Objects for Comfort, where they capture everyday objects like glasses, food or clothes seen from a new light – that of lockdown.
You say both of you “share a fascination with the repetition and obsessive rhythm involved within the day to day experience.” How do you feel this series reflects this fascination?
We wanted to invoke a sense of the daily ritualistic and frenetic movement that these objects are part of, in one way through the repetition and sequencing of the objects themselves in the images, but also through the implied actions that the objects are associated with.
This series focuses on everyday objects that we often take for granted and don’t pay attention  to – like food, clothing, books or medicines. Did you choose them based on their symbolic meaning, or were you more guided/driven by their visual qualities?
Emilija: I think both. To me, the process of making the series was one of continuous exploration, as the majority of time was spent at home. Hours and minutes spent on activities such as folding clothes or peeling vegetables became extended, things were done without urgency, giving me the opportunity to truly see the objects that surround me on a day-to-day basis. If I was not physically holding a camera, then I was subconsciously selecting things I could strip from their expected or usual surroundings and show them differently, whilst constantly discussing ideas with Sophie.
Sophie: It was a combination. We wanted to represent different aspects of our everyday lives that we associated with bringing comfort – comfort gained through intimacy, preparing food, caring for plants, reading and so on. Collectively, I’d say the chosen objects explore ideas not only around the concept of comfort but also of nourishment and human fragility. There were other objects that weren’t included in the final selection that we felt weren’t necessary to the series in the end.
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The still life genre (or vanitas) has a long, rich tradition in art history – both in painting and photography. How would you say you’ve been inspired by that?
Having worked together on fashion sets with models, we developed a mutual curiosity for the different way of shooting when it comes to still life. The slow pace and unlimited time, the study and playfulness of transforming an ordinary object into a fresh and sculptural configuration. Karl Blossfeldt and his life works on plants is a still life collection to admire for the scientific approach, clarity, and lack of mediation in his photographs. We also found Irving Penn’s still life compositions of food inspiring. There’s a striking simplicity as well as a sense of humour in his compositions that we were drawn to.
You title the series Objects for comfort. I see flowers, cosy knitwear garments, makeup brushes or combs, among others. How do you define an ‘object for comfort’? What qualities do you value the most in an object?
Emilija: That, I think, is very individual. Rather than focusing on objects with specific qualities, the series is more about elevating the banal to the beautiful.
Sophie: In the context of this series, we define ‘objects for comfort’ as objects directly associated with inducing a state of comfort, or objects associated with comfort-inducing rituals. Something I found relevant to our project was the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s idea of the ‘transitional object’ in his book Playing and Reality. He put forth the idea that in childhood development, there is a physical object which takes the place of the mother-child bond, such as a comfort blanket, doll or teddy bear.
I find it interesting that leading on from this initial childhood transitional object, we continue to form reliances or attachments to various other objects well into our adult lives. And also that, although it’s traditionally seen as a negative thing to have bonds with objects or to be materialistic, the bonds we form to objects can psychologically provide great comfort. I couldn’t say which qualities I value most in an object, there’s almost an invisible pull to certain objects that’s hard to describe.
I feel texture is one of the most important ‘invisible’ elements in this shooting – the shine of the plastic combs, the ‘meatiness’ of the cauliflower, the softness of the knitwear, the smoothness of the glass, the frostiness of the strawberries… How do these rich textures contribute to the feeling of comfort?
The combination of rich, contrasting textures was definitely important. We wanted to explore the idea of touch being one of the dominant senses associated with invoking feelings of comfort. We also wanted to play around with the perverseness of combining seemingly unrelated objects with contrasting textures that on their own have the potential to induce feelings of comfort, but mixed together might feel odd or even jarring. We share a sense of humour about the sometimes absurd or surreal quality to the reality of daily life and the objects we surround ourselves with, which we wanted to be represented alongside the more emotional themes.
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You started the series before the lockdown, but then shot most part of it during quarantine. How do you think the experience of being in isolation has affected or influenced the series itself? And the viewers’ perception of it?
The heart of the series was always self-care and mental wellbeing. I think it became even more relevant once the doors started shutting and many of us were confronted with solitude and feelings of isolation, seeking comfort in places so familiar and constricted. Something the worldwide pause enabled was the time and space to carefully consider the remaining objects we wanted to explore, and to develop initial thoughts without the distractions of the pace of ‘normal’ life.
After spending months in quarantine, how do you feel your relationship with routine, day-to-day life and everyday objects has changed? Do you see them from a new light? Has this relationship strengthened, or on the contrary, you’ve grown tired of them?
Emilija: As the time got inevitably stretched during the months of lockdown, I feel I began to stay present much more often even through fleeting moments of everyday, as well as appreciate things I used to merely think of as tools. Standardised view of our surroundings and the world is very limited and keeps rushing you to move on, it feels refreshing to have slowed down and taken time.
Sophie: I spent the lockdown period away from my flat in London with my partner’s family in Dorset. The immersion into a new environment as well as adjusting to life within a family unit meant I had to reassess and form new routines, as well as being challenged to function away from the comforts of my own space. I’d say the result has been unexpectedly transformative for me despite difficult moments. Certain daily routines have felt particularly integral over this period, and I feel more bonded or have a new appreciation for certain objects that I brought with me that remind me of home, friends or family.
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