It’s just a piece of wood

Figure 1. Practice based research, Knuckle.


The ‘knuckle’ is the name I have bestowed upon a part of the universal structure, the wooden pallet. The assemblage of wooden blocks and slats are secured hard-and-fast with certain wire thread bound nails in order for a solid and reliable construction. Over and above although not withstanding the history of the pallet, more is to be said of its function at this point. The continuous weight baring object is created to bear up to the industrial weight limits whilst transported on a global scale with its cargo in situ. Forklifts easily and efficiently manoeuvre pallets into the exact places they need to be as they carry out their function of transportation locally, nationwide and worldwide, forever in motion, circulating the planet by the billions, 2 billion in the USA alone. Totemic like stacks of these objects are found in the hinterlands of cities, borderlands, disintegrating into urban background like some kind of gargantuan bacteria, their invisibility everywhere. Noted as the red blood cells of consumer capitalism (Farley, P Roberts, MS (2011) EDGELANDS Journeys into Englands true wilderness, LONDON: Johnathon Cape p196.) they act as a type of barometer indicating slow down or inertia as they sit idle in the pallet hire yards. Companies such as Ikea have redesigned products such as the ‘Bang’ mug in order for ‘pallet cube optimisation’[1] ( Vanderbilt, T. August 2013 The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy [online] Available from 31/01/2016) a term given to an area of pallet science. The redesign is said to have reduced up to 60% of all shipping costs.

My response towards this industrial object held a certain anthropomorphic quality in so far that I saw how this could relate not only to the internal weight we as humans tend to bare at points of time, but our physical baring of ‘cargo’ concerning aspects of the human condition.

Taken out of its context, I used the materiality of this potential disregarded object to embody its own theory and interpreting a human state. Gradually through a vicious process of grit blasting I was able to reveal the essence of the wood, unveiling the hard and softer elements to the matter. The flesh started to open up and cleared was for the appearance of the fixtures that kept it joined together. This in itself resonated with certain physiological degenerative situations that make the structure of our bodies vulnerable, painful. It was almost as it I had revealed the wearing of bones that required fixing by means of intervention or supporting in some way. The erosion left a gaping hole revealing its only means of support uniting elements together implied a feeling of being wounded, vulnerable almost.

The work, in my opinion, had been done the beauty found was my own aesthetic response that brought a poignant realisation of the parallels between the overlooked work of the revolutionary pallet and our own human existence as we deal with wear and tear through degenerative situations of age and disease. What I had experienced ignited a broader question concerning material and how, as artists, we imply a level of meaning.

From the latter part of the twentieth century art materials have changed and the art object has become transient and in some respects temporary. Walter Benjamin commented on how the reproduction of art lost its aura and presence in time and space[2] ( Dupreez, A. (n.d) (Im)Materiality: on the matter of art. [online] Acadamia available from 31/01/2016) As an intended art object   ‘knuckle’ has emerged from a purposeful mass produced object that is symbolic statement of our place and time within a historical context.

With this in mind when I came in contact with the comment, ‘It’s just a piece of wood!’ it was with conviction that I was able to move past that critique with ease. My ‘piece of wood’ was part of a well-designed functional object that revolutionised a whole transportation system, essential to import, export, and commerce. Mechanisms of work had shifted creating an easy flow in the globalisation of industry. My ‘piece of wood’ was part of an ecological growing system that has increased the number of trees grown in the USA. My ‘piece of wood’ is a testimony to our skeletal system, muscular system, and all other complex systems that support our own flesh and bone constructions that have transported us through life.


‘The ultimate realisation of the work takes place when the aesthetic and narrative elements combine to form the creative event that is the work, which simultaneously unfolds in front of the viewer and through their imaginative space’ G. Hogg


Figure 2. Practice Based Research, Knuckle.

Author: Sharon Read

Images & Content © 2015 Sharon Read

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