Archives for category: Heritage Collection

I’ve been sweating over the issue of labelling as you know. It’s not just how to spell it. There are issues relating to context. The exhibition is visual arts based. There are expected ways of labelling a visual arts exhibition but the venue is a museum. Labelling in a museum is more thorough and didactic. The visual arts curator’s voice says ‘allow the audience to bring meaning to the work, do not prescribe how it should be seen and understood’. The museum curator’s voice says ‘our audience expects to be given more information on what and why’. The exhibition install is next week. I won’t know what the work ‘needs’ before I see it assembled in one place and in context. I cannot currently envisage it complete and in context. (The 2D work was taken up to Liverpool a month ago.)

Still I can’t sit around so I’ve made a series of ‘missing pages’. They might not be the answer to the problem but they are the answer this week. Here’s one. They might appear in the cabinets among the museum specimens and 3D stuff. Or might be missing page 47tossed into a convenient bin:

I’ve been trying to finish this piece for well over a year  she knows it.

Often the first ideas I have are pretty bad and I have to know when to put a piece in the drawer to allow for ‘percolation’. (Is that a word? You know when something comes through slowly?)

This piece was born out of a mild irritation that there wasn’t more of a connect between the Heritage and Decorative Art Collections at the VG&M. Physically they are displayed on different floors, stored in different buildings and curated by different women. Because I experience the world so visually I saw visual connections: this plate is round with a frilly edge, that invertebrate is round with a frilly edge. I made a short series of objects as a result of my irritation and to connect the two. The first was a staircase: each rise and tread a microscope slide screen printed with an imagined specimen. The stairs intended to connect the two floors in the gallery and museum floors metaphorically.

Then I screen printed a series of china objects that had been in my grandparents’ house with my Gran’s garden plan – mostly the Latin names in her beautiful and wobbly pencil script. (I used an onglaze.)

sugar bowl

The objects refer to her garden, a collection of plants and herself as a gardener curating the collection. They are also highly decorative reminders of their home and a life lived that I want to reach for still.

Seeing images of two pots ‘back to back’ the (negative) space between struck me as filled with content neither overt or public – how like my grandparents’ marriage I thought.

Having made a photopolymer plate I toyed with speech bubbles, use of letterpress – all too literal – I put the print away for over a year. Then I played with it masking areas off until, looking at the ‘playback’ below, I saw very clearly the idea of a book, so I printed a version through a stencil on the Rochat press at Bath Artist Printmakers.

IMG_2422IMG_2423 teapot marriage

Look and you will see the stencil slipped in the bottom left hand corner to create a flag. Not sure whether to print again or no – the mistake is often the best bit. Anyways, what do you expect to find in a book? A story. So now this is a version of that marriage, other versions are available…

I don’t know why I call it that.  This image has a photopolymer plate as its starting point. (Exposed at Spike Island last year.) I had already made a print from the plate that took off in the direction of things that menace and slither. This one I thought was going to say something about labels and categories. The garden tags are plastic screen printed with my Gran’s garden plan in her writing. I wasn’t sure about how to incorporate them and the yellow really dominated. First I made a flower explosion shape but it was too much so I cut them through which created a pile of tags. flower explosion rejected

The pile made me think of garden bonfires and pyres so I glued them down and screen printed a drawn pile over the top to push the yellow backwards.

possible daisy top rhs

possible daisy top rhs

Drawing directly on it would have been risky because of plastic substrate. The daisy shape might reappear in the top right hand corner, I’m not sure yet.

My Gran and so many others in the family are very big into their gardens and plants. They use the Latin names.

showing the positive laid over the print

showing the positive laid over the print

owl and burn for wordpress blog
since I last blogged. Picture this: I was working in the underground bunker which houses the University’s collections of organic matter (wet and dry rooms) when my father was admitted to hospital. He was given only a short time to live. We rallied round for a couple of months and then he died, at home. A short while later there was an event celebrating his life, a life filled with art and architecture, music and natural history.

His death came less than a year after my grandmother’s, a wood engraver, designer and gardener.

I haven’t been back to the underground stores. I haven’t been able to face all the dead matter. Now when I consider those collections I think of things people haven’t managed to let go of. The University has its reasons, obviously, for hanging onto them. Multiple reasons probably.

I’m trying to process what’s happened to my dad (and my gran) and my family as a whole.  I drew him as he lay ill in bed. (He agreed to it but that was so unlike him that I now feel I stole something he wouldn’t have wanted to give had he been more ‘himself’.) I seized his shirts when they were offered. The shirts, the drawing, the writing, keeping the notes I made of meetings with the local nurses, touching and re-touching his stuff: it’s all my way of holding on to something that’s gone. I’m not going to pickle it – an idea – but I have been trying to re-create with it, a bit like in the Liverpool World Museum where the stuffed lion and zebra are poised mid-chase by the watering hole. That is a re-arranging of one reality (stuffed dead animals) to create a new one. The new one is false but looks like life. We can relate more easily to it as a result.

The work I’m making now is varied. With Lol at John Moores University, I’ve burned the drawings of my father into heavy papers, combining them with a drawing of a baby owl he would have loved. (Thank you Jay at The Owl Sanctuary, Shropshire.) I cannot bring myself to frame these even, although they would be safer framed. I find them too painful to look at.

Concurrently I’ve been re-making using one grandmother’s buttons and china left by the other. These things will take on new life recorded in photo-intaglio etchings. They will look like archive material because etching has that aesthetic somehow. Since the beginning of this project I have ‘felt’ the gap between the decorative and the ‘other’ collections at the Victoria. In my life as in the lives of my father and grandmother the decorative and the natural world have always been closely linked. I’m hoping these etchings will resonate in the overlap between the two areas of study.

Without finishing either the jacket piece or the garden labels piece (see last entry) I’m back making watercolours of the specimens in jars in the wet zoological store at the University. One thing stood out: necessary to have a moment of panic and a degree of wrestling with the image if it’s going to ‘bear fruit’ . 

 Here are a couple of takes on the ‘no label’ specimen of a couple of entries back. The one on the left is drawn with a glue gun. I’m doing more of these.

Also looked at the wonderful sailor’s knot of an octopus below – only 15cm high. Jacket and garden label pieces will just have to ferment until the way forward becomes clear.

This week: ask Leonie Robinson to identify this specimen; do glue drawings over vein type screen prints; wax and plaster models of ‘no label’.  If I put it down here then it has to happen doesn’t it?

Had a visit from Professor Terry Russell just before Christmas. We talked about the lack of colour in the stores, also children, teaching and science, dissection, drawing, vacuums, liquids, printmaking, research questions and how to write them up, sealed micro ecosystems. Prof Russell heads up the Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology based at the University. We met at the print studios at the Bluecoat. I’m hoping his input will continue.

I’ve been thinking about labelling. My gran produced a beautiful garden plan. I have screen printed it onto both sides of these plastic plant tags. As a flat sheet, they remind me of postcards. Separated they make me think of germinating seeds. Will continue to fiddle until something happens.

Also playing with red and blue veins / tributaries / fractures / root systems. Have printed a number of these to be backgrounds for drawings (on paper). Also screen printed this onto the lining of a beautiful white jacket: reverse side. Have partly detached from the jacket and turned inside out. It reminds me of a flayed arm in the Heritage Collection and an engraving by William Cowper I saw in an exhibition (The Quick and the Dead) at the Hayward in the 1990’s.

Just back from the stores and still trying to warm through.

Another thought-provoking visit. Spent most of it in the ‘wet’ room (11º c) amongst the specimen jars. Drew, placing the drawings in glass as I went. Another small intervention, a distraction really. The real organisms and animals ‘in vitro’ split into two visually: either they look to be ‘in utero’ (the vertebrates) or they look marine i.e. somehow natural in liquid.

Still struggling to direct my thinking. Here are drawings of an unlabelled marine creature, which took me off towards classification, notation, the need to organise, to stucture, to draw order out of chaos. Also drew cynthia papillosa, which led me to the World Register of Marine Species online. It turns out that this can be almost tangerine coloured when alive. Lack of colour in both wet and dry stores is significant.

The ‘wet’ collection doesn’t get out much. Without strict temperature control evaporation is a threat, changing the strength of the formalin-water mix. Formaldehyde is believed to be carcinogenic and an alternative liquid used in these containers – alcohol – is a fire risk. Thus re-location is hazardous. Am thinking ‘what would happen to the ink drawing if immersed in formalin mix… could I make replicas of this specimen in wax?’ etc..