Hills de Zarate, Margaret & Hunter, Heather

The Secret Life of Objects


Margaret Hills de Zarate & Heather Hunter


In considering the unknown this workshop considers the unexamined in our relationship to objects, the narratives they embody and those they evoke in the telling of the stories associated with them or imagined about them. Participants are requested to bring an object that interests them, which they are curious about or which has meaning or personal significance for them, that they wish to explore.

The choosing of the object is the initial step of the first stage of what in heuristic research is called ‘initial engagement’, in which an engagement with a particular entity, for example an object, leads us into an expanding web of relationships and more extensive reflections. (Thomas 2006: 48). However, Patton (2002) differentiates phenomenological inquiry from heuristic research by the foundational question of phenomenology, which should address ‘the meaning, structure, and essence of the lived experience of this phenomenon for this person or group of people’. The foundational question of heuristic inquiry, on the other hand, should ask, ‘What is my experience of this phenomenon and the essential experience of others who also experience this phenomenon intensely?’ (Patton 2002: 104-107) thus placing the researcher/participant firmly in the picture.

Participation in the workshop will focus on the shifting meanings attached to objects but also employ narrative devices such as metaphor, personification, imagery to explore their personal history with the object or interrogate the object’s biography (Kopytoff 1986), its uses, performances and material qualities (Ingold 2009).

The orientation of the workshop will be dynamic and practical. Participants should bring an object, which may be a anything from a photograph, image or artifact of any sort, be prepared to participate in the experience of artistic exploration, drawing and writing, and willing to share and exchange their experiences with others.


Dr Margaret Hills de Zarate is a Senior Lecturer and Co-Leader of the MSc Art Psychotherapy Programme at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Margaret trained at Goldsmith’s, Edinburgh University, and the University of Havana, Cuba. She has worked and taught in various countries including Taiwan, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Kenya, and latterly in Ukraine where she was curator of the Art Psychotherapy training programme affiliated to the Ukrainian Psychotherapy Association from 2010-14. Her current research, in collaboration with St Andrews, Bristol and Warwick Universities, is part of a three-year international project ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures’ funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Her current research focuses on material culture and our relationship with objects, from the photograph to the memento, and the practices associated with them as a vehicle of cultural translation and personal discovery.


Heather Hunter is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. She trained in Analytic Group Work, Infant Observation and Therapeutic Skills with Children and Young People at the Scottish Institute of Human Relations. She is currently completing her doctoral studies (PhD) using participatory action research (PAR) with people with lived experience of mental illness to explore the ways in which voluntary work may impact on people’s lives. She holds a public appointment with the Scottish Government as a judicial general member of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and is involved in making decisions about the formal detention of individuals under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.


Recent Publications

Margaret Hills de Zarate

2017: (September) Masterclass: Co-facilitator with PhD student Heather Hunter, ECArTE Conference, Krakow, Poland.

2017: (February) Masterclass, St Andrews University, Department of Italian Studies.

Hills de Zarate, M. (2017) Things: material culture and the construction of identity (an ethnographic perspective). In:  Mostauskis, S. and Brazauskaitė, A. (eds.) Menas Terapija Sveikata, Vilnius Academy of Arts.

Hills de Zarate, M. (2016) Voice of the Object. In: Dokter, D. and Hills de Zarate, M. (eds) Inter-Cultural Research in the Arts Therapies, Routledge.

Hills de Zarate, M. (2015) Die Madeleine, die Erinnerung und das zufällige Denkmal. Artistic Research in the Applied Arts, Hamburg, Potsdam Berlin University Press.

Heather Hunter

Hunter, H. & Volkert, A. (2016). Issues and challenges of

role-emerging placements, World Federation of Occupational Therapists Bulletin, DOI:



2013: June Nicholls, L. and Hunter, H. Infant Observation: learning about research differently College of Occupational Therapists Conference COT, Glasgow (Seminar)

2013: April HUNTER, H. Object-relating and Relating to Objects Master Class: Infant Observation – links between activity and second skin, Brunel University, London (Paper)

Maclean, F., Carin-Levy, G., Hunter, H., Malcolmson, l., Locke, E. (2012).

The usefulness of the Person-Environment-Occupation Model in an acute physical healthcare setting. British Journal of Occupational Therapy 75(12), 555-562. Impact Factor: 0.897

Hunter, H. M. & Blair, S.E.E. (2003). The magic mess and muddles of becoming a mother – an occupational perspective. The Best of Occupation 90-98.