With the Centre of Gravity exhibition set against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, hygiene and cleanliness have gone from a private act warranting minimal consideration to a public health concern with increasing influence over our lives. The act of handwashing has become a shared ritual, a simple act with new gravity and significance. The spheres of domesticity, cleaning and caregiving in which soap is central also became visible during the pandemic, with the moniker ‘key worker’ newly given to generally low paid workers on the front lines.
There have been moments during the course of 2020 when people have experienced a renewed sense of community, with the weekly clap for carers an expression of solidarity with others. However, a toxic combination of genuine fear and confusion over government issued guidelines has also resulted in campaigns of shaming and judgement through social media, encouragement to report wrongdoing neighbours to the police, and law enforcement publicising images of those not following the rules.
Puritanical Botanicals draws on the local history of Old Market, which was the site of the last ever Pie Powder (dusty feet) court in the UK, only officially abolished in 1971. Pie Powder Courts were common across the UK throughout the Middle Ages. The Old Market Pie Powder was held under an oak tree on the site where the Stag and Hounds pub now stands, doling out punishments to pickpockets and thieves in a pop up, makeshift court.