In the Drawer: The Silver Lining – Found object assemblage sculpture

Melbourne was in lockdown longer than any other city in the world: 262 days. During these times, I collected a wide range of trash – including numerous wooden drawers – on my daily outdoor walks. To me, these drawers symbolised containment, lockdown, isolation, quarantine: the situation in which we found ourselves.

Yet during this time, I also witnessed immense resilience and spirit. People were undertaking imaginative family activities, exercising in unusual and creative ways, developing productive hobbies, and engaging in stimulating pursuits, all within severe public health restrictions. Despite the cloud of COVID-19, many people were creating their own silver lining.

I have used this variety of positive experiences as a trigger to create images in the drawers – often abstractions rather than representations. I assembled them from the metal, tile, wood and plastic I gathered from the streets, laneways and footpaths, mostly in North Melbourne and the Melbourne CBD. The exhibition that follows evokes the confinement of the lockdowns, yet celebrates the buoyancy of the responses to it.

To enquire about purchasing works from the exhibition, please get in touch via the contact page. Arrangements can be made for shipping or pick up from North Melbourne.

The exhibition below was on view at the Melbourne City Library Gallery from 15 December 2021 to 9 March 2022. It was supported by a City of Melbourne Arts Grant. The works were created at River Studios, which is managed by Creative Spaces for the City of Melbourne.

Melbourne in Lockdown

Weeping a season away
Laid bare internal constructs
And so the mind’s truest colors
Both as dark, sunken pits
And vibrant, bulging blooms
Which told a tale:
That to almost every
Face of life there is

© 2021 Julie Lauton. Reproduced courtesy of the author. Instagram @trujule

City in Lockdown
Found object assemblage installation

This is my largest cityscape to date. I sourced all the ‘buildings’ from the streets of Melbourne. They include parts of what were once signboards, wine crates, vacuum cleaners, window fittings, drain pipes, brooms, garden stakes, bed frames, skirting boards, tables and clothes racks. The flags and locks were also all street finds.

House and Garden

Many people took the opportunity of having to work from home to work on their home. Gardening and beekeeping were popular pursuits, along with DIY home improvements and DIY home cookery.

Honeycomb (In the Drawer 1)
Found object assemblage

Jon had started beekeeping before COVID-19 hit, but he used the opportunity to learn more online about how to keep his busy, buzzy friends happy.

Bees made me think honeycomb, and initially I tried to recreate a semblance of a honeycomb by stacking nangs (cream chargers) next to each other on their ends. However, this idea didn’t stack up, so to speak. It was quite boring to look at, and was going to be difficult to glue. In the end, I used the nangs on their sides, interspersed with miscellaneous pieces of wood and metal, which I found much more visually appealing. To me, at least, this work still suggests honeycomb.

The Answer Lies in the Soil (In the Drawer 2)
Found object assemblage

Fay used the days at home to enjoy her garden – flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. She planted, pruned and plucked on sunny days, and enjoyed the vista from inside on cold, wet ones.

From my collecting observations, fake trees tend to shed their leaves in laneways. However, fake flowers, bees, butterflies and frogs seem to gather on footpaths and nature strips, having previously served as children’s toys, hairclips or jewellery.

Cooking Up a Storm (In the Drawer 3)
Found object assemblage

Anne-Marie and Steve started making their own sauerkraut, kombucha and sourdough bread – as did thousands of others, if Instagram is any indicator.

Spoons, spoons and more spoons – it’s amazing how many end up in gutters once you start looking. And, of course, I had an abundance of nangs (cream chargers), which I collected by the half dozens. All I needed was the storm clouds – and rusted sheet metal was the closest approximation.

Finally Cleaned the Garage (In the Drawer 4)
Found object assemblage

My husband John was determined to recycle all those cardboard boxes he’d been saving for years just in case they were needed, but which had never yet been used. It took several weeks for him to process them through the fortnightly trash recycling pick-up.

I primarily pick up metal, wood and tiles, but to create this work, I started looking for bits of cardboard and paper on the streets. I hadn’t taken much notice of any previously, but when I started looking, there is unfortunately lots and lots! Most of it is at least biodegradable.

Spanner in the Workbench (In the Drawer 5)
Found object assemblage

James enjoyed the opportunity to get started on various home improvement projects. He was disappointed, however, when restrictions were at their highest, as he couldn’t go to Bunnings and browse.

Among the drawers, I also found some parts of ovens or air conditioners, or who knows what they once belonged to. To me, they represented things electrical and mechanical required for home upgrades, as did several of the other metal bits and pieces I found on the streets and used in this work.

Despite the Fire (In the Drawer 6)
Found object assemblage

Watching the television news one evening, I was moved by a couple who had lost their home in the bushfires and was having continuing hassles with their insurance company when the pandemic struck. Nonetheless, they seemed amazingly resilient, saying that they had managed to clear their block and were ‘just getting on with rebuilding despite COVID’.

I found the pieces of burnt wood on Bondi Beach on a trip well before COVID-19 struck, and had brought them back to Melbourne with me. The activity of home building in this work is only suggestive, in the shape of the black laminate, the door handle and the busyness of the screws. To me, it embodies the concept of starting again from scratch.

Kids, Kids, Kids

Children at home rather than at school or day care was a big ask, particularly if parents were working full-time as well. However, this also provided opportunities for doing things together, intermixed with home schooling. Grandparents also seemed to get involved, despite COVID-19 restrictions on visitors.

Hop and Bounce (In the Drawer 7)
Found object assemblage

I couldn’t help but admire a dad with his two pre-school children on the footpath. He was truly multi-skilled, managing to play hopscotch with his daughter, while simultaneously bouncing a large ball back and forth with his younger son.

I found lots of floor tile samples in a box abandoned in a CBD laneway, and the spiral balls in a ‘free’ box on a footpath in North Melbourne. Although this drawer turned out quite abstract, it still makes me smile to recall my unobtrusive observations of a dad on child-entertainment duty.

Zoo Streaming (In the Drawer 8)
Found object assemblage

I read an article by Melbourne Zoo Director Michelle Bruggeman, who said that millions of people had tuned into the zoo’s Animals at Home livestream service, and hundreds of thousands of school students had engaged with the zoo’s educational resources online. “I do hope this has brought some joy to children studying from home and some relief to their parents through the many months of remote learning,” she said.

Firstly, the drawer: Yes, I found it exactly that way, lined with a leafy printed fabric. Then that rusted part of a tool: Does it say elephant, or what? The rest of the leaves and animals showed up here and there, all rather randomly.

Me and My Dad Did Lots of Stuff (In the Drawer 9)
Found object assemblage

Alex was really excited about helping his dad with all the repairs and maintenance to house and car when his dad couldn’t go into work. Much more fun than home schooling!

I found the plastic tools, along with other toys, dumped in a carpark in North Melbourne where a recycling bin had previously been located, but was no more. I picked the other items up from the streets – with nails and screws a common find on the footpaths around construction sites. Although in the past, I’ve found lots of sparkplugs on the streets in Laos, this is one of the few I’ve found in Melbourne.

Games On (In the Drawer 10)
Found object assemblage

Belinda played, and played, and played some more with grandchildren, as did Jan – and no doubt countless other grandmothers that I didn’t talk to.

Puzzle pieces and bits of Lego turn up infrequently and randomly, but surprisingly often in car parks. I found the blocks in the same carpark in North Melbourne where I found the plastic tools for Me and My Dad. The broken pinwheel and the dart board were on a nature strip near Gardiner Reserve in North Melbourne – but in different places at different times.

Twins! Need I Say More? (In the Drawer 11)
Found object assemblage

Beth’s daughter had twins during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not the best time to have a baby, let alone babies. She, along with her daughter and son-in-law, felt like they were having to work in shifts to manage them. Still, what joy!

Dummy, dummy, who spat the dummy? I picked them up cautiously from footpaths and nature strips, washed my hands carefully afterwards and waited for several weeks before I cleaned them to use. I retrieved the soft toy from a ‘free’ box on Errol Street. And the drawer – what a mustard-painted gem.

Staying Fit

With gyms, pools, golf courses and sports facilities closed, people still found innovative ways to exercise and keep fit. COVID walks or runs were the rage – with or without a dog. Online yoga, Zumba, and exercise classes flourished.

Walking the Laneways (In the Drawer 12)
Found object assemblage

This was me, Nancy. I used my COVID walks to wander down numerous laneways and back alleyways within 5km of my home in North Melbourne. And as you can see, I picked up all kinds of wonderful trash to use in these drawers.

I wasn’t purposely creating laneways, initially only playing around with some of my favourite wood and metal finds to create an abstract design. However, once I’d fiddled with all the bits and pieces, it seemed to represent my laneway wandering.

One, Two, Cha Cha Cha (In the Drawer 13)
Found object assemblage

Wendy found a weekly cha cha class on Zoom, and danced Friday evenings away.

To me, cha cha cha meant Cuba – vibrant, active and bright. I started with the most colourful items I’d found, with peeling paint, flags and netting as a backdrop. I knew I wanted five footprints, similar to a ‘how to’ dance diagram. I tried various combinations of all the shoes, runners, flip flops, heels and soles that I’d found. Black worked best, and these were the best of those in black.

Daily Dip (In the Drawer 14)
Found object assemblage

Lyn went for a dip at the Williamstown beach, rain or shine, along with a few other stalwarts. She persevered, even as the winter progressed.

Initially I thought I’d use the blue rocks and shells as the ocean, but in my picking up paper items for Finally Cleaned the Garage, I came across the discarded non-plastic substitute for bubble wrap, which reminded me even more of ocean waves. And there among the shells and rocks is Lyn, fashioned from bits of metal, walking towards the water.

It’s Training Cats and Dogs (In the Drawer 15)
Found object assemblage

Dogs and cats became companions for many during isolation. On my laneway walks, I always stopped to chat with the local cats: Phoenix on Errol Street and Bert on Provost Street. However, it was almost embarrassing at Royal Park –I was often the only person walking by myself, without a furry friend by my side. Nonetheless, I always took the opportunity to chat with the owners (masked, from an appropriate social distance), and tickle a dog under the chin if it would let me.

I loved this little white box, and wanted to fill it with something special. I have picked up the dogs and cats on random walks, and found a few grubby dog collars along the way from which I de-coupled the tags. Normally I don’t pick up beer caps unless they are flat and rusted, but these paw prints were too good to pass by.

Strolls by the Sea (In the Drawer 16)
Found object assemblage

Mardie walked regularly along the beach in Beaumaris, and always managed to avoid the rain. She even created an artwork to celebrate her strolls with an Italian friend, which she describes in her Creativity Cluster blog.

Beaumaris was well beyond my 5km, as well as my 10km, limit during several stages of lockdown. Instead, I had to use materials I’d gathered previously. I had found the crate on Bondi Beach pre-COVID and had left it at my daughter’s house in Sydney. A year later she was able to deliver it on a fleeting visit to Melbourne between lockdowns. I’d brought the sandstone pebbles, rusted bottle caps, driftwood and pieces of metal home in my luggage from Darwin in 2018. Used together, they suggested ‘beach’ and ‘sea’ to me.

Individual Indulgences

And then there were those who took the opportunity to chill – enjoying the opportunity not to have to be constantly busy.

I Got to Sleep In (In the Drawer 17)
Found object assemblage

Adam soon realised that working from home had advantages – and in particular, no commuting, which added an hour at both ends of the day. He could have used the time to exercise, but decided he enjoyed sleeping in even more.

I chose a drawer lined with flowered paper, because it reminded me of ‘bedroom’ – though admittedly, my grandmother’s. To suggest sleep, I used the colour black, and in particular, black plastic. By volume, not weight, I probably pick up more black plastic than anything else from the street. My favourites in this work are the two pieces that I’ve linked by a piece of hose: The first says ‘here’, the second, ‘release’.

Escape to the Country (In the Drawer 18)
Found object assemblage

Since Fiona was working from home anyway, she decided to move to the country and enjoy the mountains, the forests and the fresh air.

This work is probably more representational than others, as I found a nice ‘house-shaped’ piece of tile – and topped it with a smoking chimney. I picked up some bent metal ‘mountains’ and some bent nail ‘trees’ to complete an idyllic tree-change locale.

I Grew a Beard (In the Drawer 19)
Found object assemblage

Andrew was quite proud that he managed to produce a substantial beard during Melbourne’s second lockdown, but was more than antsy to get his hair cut.

I love the bit of wood I’ve used as a backdrop, which may have been a wood surface used by carpenters for cutting and nailing. The eyes, nose and ears were easy to source, but I debated. Did the scouring pad work better as hair or beard? In the end, the bent and rusted nails, which I picked up in an empty block on Courtney Street in North Melbourne, worked better than the scouring pad as a COVID-lockdown hairstyle.

Mandala (In the Drawer 20)
Found object assemblage

The Artistic Gypsy kept posting lovely hand-drawn mandalas on Instagram during lockdown. I’m not sure who she (or he?) is, but they seem to be Melbourne-based and sell their works through a shop in Western Australia.

I was inspired to give a mandala a go when I found the small round grill – though mine cheats a bit. It doesn’t include axes from the centre in all directions, but rather parallel lines of washers and similar-sized round bits and bobs.

Meditation (In the Drawer 21)
Found object assemblage

Minh meditated for at least half an hour after waking up each morning. It helped him become more appreciative of what he had, and accepting of what he couldn’t control.

I found a bunch of large tiles that had obviously been used outside – the tops were quite stained. The backs, however, were wonderful, with interesting designs created by water stains and adhesive. I think the gracefully rounded piece of metal with a green patina may once have been a plant hanger, but I’m not sure. However, its rolling lines, paralleling the silver-coloured circular and ¾-moon shapes, seemed particularly meditative.

To enquire about purchasing works from the exhibition, please get in touch via the contact page. Arrangements can be made for either shipping or pick up in North Melbourne.