> The Movement of an Object / 2007 – ongoing

Marysa Dowling / The Movement of an Object / 2007 – ongoing



The Movement of an Object is an ongoing body of work linking a group of strangers to each other through their relation to a single, banal object – a blue plastic bag. The project shows the movement of the bag as it traverses London, Los Angeles, Havana, Beirut, Cape Town and several areas in Mexico. Over the last 8 years it has landed in the hands of over 320 individuals aged two to seventy-seven.

Beginning the process with an anonymous man in his 60s in London the project was then propelled by the participants’ ideas and imagination, as well as their choice for the next partaker.

I invite my subjects to choose where they would like the photograph to be taken, how they will pose and what they will do with the blue plastic bag. For some they are instinctive in their choices, others give it a lot of thought. Some have clear ideas and others want to be guided, to discuss and try several options. Each encounter is a conversation: Why here? What’s the relevance of this place for you? What will you do with the bag and why? Who will you ask to be involved next?

My aim when starting this body of work was to discover and unpick something of the way we feel and experience life in the areas we inhabit or frequent, as well as how we communicate and interact with others. Now the experience of meeting people, this interaction is as addictive as making the portraits. It’s exciting to see how people respond; will their story be political, humorous, intimate, of the everyday, culturally relevant, quiet or dramatic. Often the choices people make reinforces to me that there are issues, thoughts and concerns that connect us all.

Each city responds differently. In Havana and Beirut the project moved swiftly, with people often walking or driving me to the person they had or hoped to involve. It may be their work colleague, friend or butcher. London and Los Angeles were much slower, times and dates arranged in advance, the locations scattered widely.

Before I started The Movement of an Object I discussed the possibilities of what might or might not happen during the process. A prediction was that people would run out of ideas of what to do with the bag after 10 or 15 participants that the responses would become very ‘samey’. I’ve chosen to show 36 of the 300+ portraits to give a feel for the variety of responses. Of course not all of the portraits work, the aesthetic is vital and sometimes you just miss that thing that makes its all come together in a portrait. But maybe they don’t all need to work. The conversation, the action and process have become as important to the progression of the project as the final image.

Currently I’m in the editing process to make a book, but I’m not ready to stop making the portraits yet either. Perhaps, as Christiane Monarchi suggested, this will be Volume One.

The Photographers’ Gallery commissioned the first stage of The Movement of an Object in 2007



Marysa Dowling was born and lives in London. She studied BA Photography and MA Design by Independent Project at the University of Brighton.

Dowling’s practice is participatory and rooted within portraiture. She is interested in human behaviour, using photography to explore and observing how people communicate and relate to each other and the places they live. Her work is not necessarily specific to one time or place. Projects become multi-layered, often happening in several countries over long periods of time, during which she builds connections across communities and cultures. Dowling works closely with her subjects exploring the role that photography plays in daily life as a means of expression and representation.

Journeys, our connection to place, to home, within relationships and communities are reoccurring themes. Recent works seek to understand more about human interaction and communication. Currently she is compiling a book of The Movement of an Object but also looking for the next city to work with.

After graduating in 1998 Dowling exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the John Kobal Portraiture Award. She has worked on commissions, projects and residencies in the UK, Ireland, Los Angeles, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, India and Lebanon. Group and solo exhibitions include Journeys | Recoriddos with LACMA in Los Angeles and The Movement of an Object at The Photographers’ Gallery. How We Learn at Belfast Exposed & Tate Modern and Reach out at Tate Modern & MARCO, Mexico. She has been commissioned to produce work for research, learning, publication and exhibition by Belfast Exposed, The Whitechapel Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate, Chisenhale Gallery, The Foundling Museum, and Barnardo’s.

For further viewing: www.marysadowling.co.uk

All images reproduced here © Marysa Dowling, 2015