Marshall Mateer

SLEEPWALKERS is an artwork by Pete Ellis

Robert Desnos was a poet and a member of the Surrealist group. He died in Terezin concentration camp in 1945. “I have dreamed of you so much” was written in 1926

Image: Robert Desnos 1922, photo Man Ray.

I was in the Ukraine, the town of Lugansk, and visited the museum there. In a vitrine (glass case) I saw this small piece of cloth; rough, worn – just a scrap – with the single word OST printed it. OST means East. …and there in that scrap of cloth was revealed the extent to which a people had been de-humanised…reduced to a cipher. How the Nazi ideology viewed the nations to their Eastern borders…not as humans or people but as industrial units – no name, nationality, culture or identity – just a something from out there, the East, beyond civilisation; beyond care. All this seemed held in this single, worn-out piece of cloth and the one word OST.

“I work with impoverished materials…what Georges Bataille called ‘base materials’ – like the fragment of cloth with OST on it which had such a powerful effect on me. Bataille considered base materials to have a greater reality than the values given to the materials of high culture such as bronze and oil-paint.

“I saw an exhibition in Budapest by Picasso…etchings. In some of prints Picasso had taken the poems of Robert Desnos and made etchings from them. I read Desnos’s poems…captivated.

“When I found my fathers pyjamas neatly folded in a drawer, somewhere along the line these other experiences came up through my memory and into my mind and involved themselves in what became
‘Sleepwalkers’ … The poems of Desnos; his death in Terezin; the material fragment with OST; writing on cloth; my relationship with my father; my knowledge of Holocaust; themes of loss, memory, dream, life and death… I took all of these into the embroidering of the pyjamas and how they were displayed.

Pete Ellis is an artist, sculptor and teacher. He was born in Prestbury, Cheshire. He trained at Manchester, Wolverhampton and at Chelsea School of Art where he was taught by the renowned sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Ellis has completed fellowships and residencies in the UK and abroad. He has taught extensively and has a long track record of exhibitions and awards. He is …..

Taking commonplace objects and elevating them to high art, Ellis aims to unlock “the potential anarchy that an object might have”. His work can be humorous but always emotive, challenging our expectations of both the gallery environment and our own everyday surroundings.