Coming to Welsh

Coming to Welsh

“What is subject to the work of distortion and rearrangement in memory are not the childhood events (intrinsically inaccessible), but the first traces of them. … The result of the secondary elaboration which is Freud’s interest here is the conscious memory: very precisely, the ‘screen memory’. But to evoke this term (Deckerinnerung) is to indicate that it both covers over and presents the resurgence of something: precisely, the repressed.”[i]


The Welsh Dresser: Constructed in the 1830s, and made of light oak in a form typical of dressers of its age from South Wales, the Welsh Dresser has an open rack with three shelves, a base with four side-drawers and a short centre drawer with a shaped apron beneath. The open potboard base has four turned front legs, terminating in block feet. The Welsh Dresser been in the family at least five generations; in my childhood it occupied the dining room of my great aunt’s house in a small mining village near the Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du). This was one of two rooms that faced the street – immaculate, seldom used and always cold. The Welsh Dresser stood opposite the window, screened by a layer of net, and a pair of heavy curtains, slightly faded where the fabric met the light.[ii]


Coming to Welsh is inspired by a Welsh Dresser that is part of my childhood and my mother’s family. I remember it in the dining room of my great aunt’s house in South Wales. It held delicate ornaments – lustre jugs I might break, but also lots of other more useful things – rubber bands, pencils, rulers, buttons, needles and thread, and, rather strangely, a red die. There were also cuttings placed between the jugs, taken from local newspapers reporting births, weddings and deaths in the family. I had written about the Welsh Dresser in an essay that artist Bella Kerr had read, and as part of her work Keeper she invited me to inhabit the Mission Gallery, Swansea, and to develop this essay in response to the sculptural elements – towers and tables – she had created for gathering and holding objects relating to childhood.

[i] Jean Laplanche, “A Short Treatise on the Unconscious” [1993], trans. Luke Thurston, in Essays on Otherness, ed. John Fletcher, London: Routledge, 1999, 84–116, at 96.

[ii] All scenes, in italics, are taken from Jane Rendell, “The Welsh Dresser”, in Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism, London: IB Tauris, 2010, 121–33 and 141.

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