Remastered: taking a fresh look at items in the Crafts Study Centre collection

Ever wondered how you might respond creatively to an archive or museum collection? MA students in the School of Craft and Design at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham have been doing just that. ReMastered is the sixth in a series of collaborative exhibitions between them and the Crafts Study Centre, but this is the first time that they've focused on using the collections as a source of inspiration for contemporary art practice. 

Students were invited to visit the stores to select an object or set of objects which captured their attention – whether it was the material, the technique, the colour, the texture or the maker. They then worked either individually or in collaboration with others to create responses to those objects and to curate their work in an exhibition at the Centre and online. Greta Bertram, the curator at the Crafts Study Centre, remarked that it had been 'fascinating' to see which parts of the collection appealed to the students and why. If you're interested in working with archive collections, why not take a look at their website? 

 Bowl by Lucie Rie, Crafts Centre Collection, P74.52.

Bowl by Lucie Rie, Crafts Centre Collection, P74.52.

 Helen Twigg-Molecey,  Moonlight , 2018.

Helen Twigg-Molecey, Moonlight, 2018.

I particularly liked Helen's response to a Lucie Rie pot, perhaps we've got two here in our own collections. 

 

Drawing on the cast

Have you ever wondered why there are a number of plaster casts abandoned in the corridors and basement of Birmingham School of Art? If so, you may be interested in a display we've just installed in the showcase at the bottom of the main stairs at Parkside.

 Panel V of the West Parthenon Frieze (detail)

Panel V of the West Parthenon Frieze (detail)

In the mid-nineteenth century, it was widely believed that students could develop their artistic skills most effectively by studying and copying from the `best` ancient and classical examples. In response, Birmingham School of Art assembled its own collection of plaster casts of classical statues, busts and friezes for their students to draw, paint and model. They also obtained the ten-volume set of Description of the Ancient Marbles at the British Museum for the library at the School. First published in the early nineteenth century, it contained detailed engravings of ancient Greek sculptures. Alongside one of the open volumes, we're showing three drawings from the cast made by a student in the early 1870s and two late Victorian photographs of other students making such drawings in the first floor studios. The emphasis is clearly on accurate observation and the achievement of high levels of technical skill. 

 Tom Brotheridge,  Standing Discobolus, Innit , 2018

Tom Brotheridge, Standing Discobolus, Innit, 2018

But how are we using them today? Do they still have a role within contemporary practice? Staff at Glasgow School of Art clearly think so. Back in May, their Head of Fashion Tom Brotheridge collaborated with GSA graduate Ruth Switalski in putting together his show Material Objects for the Glasgow International Festival. On seeing some of the casts recovered from the Mackintosh Building after the fire in 2014, he opted to clothe some of them in a way that invited new interpretations of these very traditional pieces. One compelling example is his Standing Discobulus, Innit (2018), in which the classical figure of Discobulus is re-cast as a contemporary youth in a hoodie slouched over an imaginary mobile phone by draping swathes of white fabric around it. 

More recently, international students attending a pre-sessional English course at GSA earlier this month were invited to respond creatively to an item from the Archives and Special Collections that especially appealed to them. One chose to focus on a cast taken from the ear of a copy of Michelangelo's David, producing two posters that showed a very innovative use of space. One of these was a design for a swimming pool!

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How might you respond to the casts at Margaret Street?

Life on the Outskirts

How can archival collections inspire your own creative practice?  There are some helpful ideas on a website created by a team of people from Leeds and Manchester Metropolitan universities and the the Helen Storey Foundation. They collaborated on an AHRC-funded project that looked at ways in which fresh ideas could be developed by revisiting past practice. Perhaps it'll encourage you to consider visiting the ADM archives at Parkside...

 David Betteridge, photograph of Helen Storey's  Dress for Our Time , 2015

David Betteridge, photograph of Helen Storey's Dress for Our Time, 2015

Over more than 30 years as a fashion designer, Helen Storey has produced beguiling creative responses to innumerable briefs as a means of communicating her ideas about some of the world’s most complex issues. These include climate change, resource scarcity and the mass displacement of people. Eleven emerging creative practitioners from both universities attended workshops around the archive in Manchester and Leeds. The themes found in Helen Storey’s digital archive are echoed in their own work, which is to be shown in an exhibition opening next week at the Project Space Gallery at the University of Leeds.

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Why not go and visit it? The designers' responses will be displayed alongside images from the Helen Storey Foundation Archive and a film by David Betteridge exploring it from the perspectives of its creators. Alternatively, take a look at the website.

 

Contemporary artists celebrate the achievements of a feminist pioneer

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Has your practice ever included responding to a historic house and its former inhabitants? The artist collective CommonAs has been doing just that at a National Trust property in Lincolnshire. They've researched the life of Emily Massingberd, women's rights campaigner and nineteenth-century heiress of Gunby Hall. A keen advocate of women's suffrage, she preferred to dress as a man and became known for her tireless work in support of temperance and the well being of women. Her many achievements included founding the Pioneer Club, one of the first and most influential female members’ clubs, and being one of the first women to run for public office.

CommonAs are creating a contemporary art installation from a series of artist-made objects that reflect Emily’s interests, passions and opinions. They hope that, by bringing these objects together, visitors will be encouraged to consider her unconventionality, energy and motivations. The art installation will incorporate references to the Pioneer Club, Emily’s capacity for subversion and her time at Gunby, and will be created from an intriguing mix of neon, mirror, photography and handcrafted seating. It will also include recipe ideas for temperance inspired mocktails created by Gunby volunteers. If you'd like to catch the exhibition, it'll be on in the Orchard Gallery at the Hall throughout August. 

Perhaps you might consider responding artistically to the life of one of the former residents of a well-known historic house in Birmingham? Or maybe someone linked with the School of Art itself? Just a thought...

GSA exhibition of work inspired by early 20th-century costume designs

There's a new exhibition opening next month in the Reid Gallery at Glasgow School of Art in which  three women artists are showing work inspired by items among the Fashion & Textile holdings in the GSA's Archives & Collections. One of them is researching the work of Dorothy Carleton Smyth, who seems to have been a very lively and talented student. Her fascination with exotic clothes, combined with a love of the theatre, drew her into becoming involved with costume designs for many of the plays and masques that were produced within the School.  

 Dorothy Carleton Smyth and Alex Milne in fancy dress, GSAA.P.1136

Dorothy Carleton Smyth and Alex Milne in fancy dress, GSAA.P.1136

After leaving Glasgow School of Art in 1904, she worked as a costume designer for the Shakespearean producer F. R. Benson. For the next ten years, she continued to work as a theatre and costume designer for several companies in Glasgow, London and Europe including the Paris Opera. In 1914, she returned to Glasgow School of Art as head of Commercial Art, teaching miniature painting and the history of costume and armour. Her abilities in this role must have made a particularly strong impression on the then Director, Francis Newbery. In 1917, he described her as:

"the life and light of anything we may do here as regards the art of the drama. Her instincts are unerring, her taste pure and refined and her feelings shrink from every form of ill considered art”. 

She would have become the first female head of the Glasgow School of Art (and possibly of any art institution in the UK) in 1933 if she had not tragically died of a brain haemorrhage before the appointment could be made public. She was only 52. 

Hanneline Visnes has chosen to respond to several of her costume designs for Shakespeare's Macbeth and Wilde's Salome in a series of gouache drawings. She will show her own cast of characters in paintings alongside Dorothy's costume studies of theatrical casts. If you'd like to catch the exhibition, it's on from 23 June to 16 August 2018. 

 

UCL to screen film inspired by archive of French Surrealist Claude Cahun

Next Tuesday, UCL Art Museum will be screening Confessions to the Mirror, a film that gives cinematic life to the photograph and written archive of the French Surrealist Claude Cahun. It will be followed by a Q & A session with its creator, Sarah Pucill

 Still from  Confessions to the Mirror  by Sarah Pucill, 2016

Still from Confessions to the Mirror by Sarah Pucill, 2016

Sarah's film takes its title from Claude Cahun’s incomplete memoir (Confidences au miroir, 1945-1954). Following Cahun's text, the film includes her early as well as later life and work, which included the making of anti-fascist propaganda and  her imprisonment in Jersey alongside her partner Suzanne Malherbe during the Nazi occupation of the island.  Amidst a visual extravaganza of costumes and hand-made sets,  Sarah explores the multiple identities Cahun expressed in both her startling black and white self-portrait photographs and her book. In the film, she dresses and makes her face up in many different ways, swapping identities between different genders and  ages. The narration of the text is likewise split between different voices that overlap at certain times, and at others are in conversation.

 Still from  Confessions to the Mirror  by Sarah Pucill, 2016

Still from Confessions to the Mirror by Sarah Pucill, 2016

Cahun and Sarah Pucill both share an interest in the exploration of their own identities, and of relationships between women. Perhaps you can think of ways in which your own practice could create a dialogue between yourself and a 19th or early 20th century artist who shares some of the same interests and concerns? One that springs to mind is the current interest in the sustainability of the natural world and the emphasis on drawing from nature at the School of Art in the late 1800s. If you're interested, why not visit the Archives to see our artworks and other records? 

 

Archives student collaborates with artist in residence

 Jonathon Beaver, Work in progress for  Dream of the Dead, Hear from the Living , 2018.

Jonathon Beaver, Work in progress for Dream of the Dead, Hear from the Living, 2018.

There's a new show opening at the Domino Gallery in Liverpool next Wednesday.  It's of work by local artist Jonathon Beaver on the theme Dream of the Dead, Hear from the Living. Back in March, he became the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies's first ever artist in residence. 

Jonathon started his residency on the anniversary of the death of his grandmother and has been exploring themes of family and local history. The title of the exhibition is taken from one of her superstitions. As he explained:

I want this work to explore the family tree and the phrases, habits and memories that disappear from history so easily”.

He's been assisted by University of Liverpool student Beth Grant, who carried out genealogical and local history research in archives across Merseyside as part of her training as an archivist.  However, he's also spent time in the Centre for Archives Studies himself, using them to explore records on microfilm and enjoying stitching his work in the search room. 

Perhaps you too can get inspiration from archives - why not come and visit us at Parkside, Room P.037? 

 

Artists at the National Trust

Did you know that three BCU graduates have been awarded artists' residencies at National Trust properties in the Midlands over the summer?

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Each will last for just five days. Larissa Shaw will be heading to Elgar's birthplace at The Firs,  Worcestershire; Ailleen Doherty to Attingham Park, and Grace Williams to Mr Straw's House,  Nottinghamshire. As Kate Stoddart from the National Trust explains:

 “The short residency format is designed to encourage experimentation and foster innovation. These residences offer new ways of working, allowing artists to engage with a place and develop site-specific responses to the stories, collections and landscapes of the National Trust.”

The Trust have worked with more than two hundred artists since the creation of their New Art programme in 2009.

 Interior view of Mr Straw's House, Nottingham

Interior view of Mr Straw's House, Nottingham

Have you ever considered making art in response to a particular site? If so, archives can shed new light on its history. Our own contain plans, written records and photographs relating to the history of the School of Art in Margaret Street if you're interested in making work inspired by the building in which you're working or studying. Why not come and take a look at what we've got?

 

Cardiff University archives inspire new knitwear designs

Have you ever considered archives as a source of inspiration for new designs for knitwear or even bedding? I was just searching the internet for new ideas about ways to engage staff and students with our archives here at BCU when I came across this blog by Sian Collins from the University of Cardiff's archives. Her references to the use of their collections to inspire the creation of a giant knitted cardigan and a patchwork quilt caught my attention, and I decided to find out more.  

 Lisa Hellier, Installation shot of the  Aberteifi Cardigan , 2010.

Lisa Hellier, Installation shot of the Aberteifi Cardigan, 2010.

More than 300 people contributed to the creation of the 5m wide Aberteifi Cardigan over nine months in 2010. It was designed by textile artist Lisa Hellier, who has a particular interest in old maps and is often looking for ways in which to combine this with collaborative projects involving members of the community. Contributors listened to talks on the history  of the town during their weekly meetings to knit individual pieces that were later sewn together to make the finished cardigan. They had complete freedom to design their own patterns and shapes, but cable stitch was encouraged as it recalled the ropes of Cardigan's shipping heritage. 

Could this idea be adapted for regular size knitwear, perhaps using some of the patterns or images we've got in the archives?

Challenging dominant narratives

Have you ever considered that archival documents may only tell part of the story? Or only tell a story from the perspective of those in positions of power? There's a project beginning in Newcastle this month that will challenge the views of mental health and well-being voiced by those in the medical and counselling professions, both now and in the past.

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Heads & Tales is a two-year project to create a new heritage archive for the North East that will explore the experiences of adults experiencing mental health conditions, thereby ensuring that their voices are heard. Two artists, Lalya Gaye and Nelli Stavropoulou, will be running workshops in which they will encourage participants to respond creatively to archives in the North East that relate to the history of provision for those affected by mental distress from the 1800s onwards. Those invited to join will include patients, volunteers and staff. The sessions will be shaped by the participants' own ideas,  and may include sculpture, collage, installations, drawings, digital art, song or poetry. As well as this reflective work, they also aim to create new material for the archives that encompasses a greater diversity of perspectives. This will focus on the memories and experiences of an underrepresented group, namely those suffering from mental illness. 

Have you considered what other voices might be missing from official records? Here in the Archives we're aware that the student voice is often missing - though we do have some recordings of interviews of people studying at the School of Art in the mid-twentieth century. 

Women artists: book illustrators in the 1890s

Did you know that Birmingham School of Art was regarded was as a centre of excellence for book illustration and production in the Arts and Crafts style in the 1890s?

 Georgie Cave France, illustration for 'Little Tom Tucker',  Nursery Rhymes and Songs , 1895

Georgie Cave France, illustration for 'Little Tom Tucker', Nursery Rhymes and Songs, 1895

Growing literacy rates in the nineteenth century had led to a rapid increase in the demand for illustrated books. By the 1860s, wood engravings could be reproduced mechanically using photographic techniques, enabling the production of cheaper, mass-produced books – but at the expense of quality. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a revival in the manufacturing of fine quality, hand-printed illustrated books using traditional techniques and materials by Arts and Crafts practitioners such as William Morris. 

With its strong Arts and Crafts ethos, Birmingham was quick to respond to the demand for these from wealthier customers. Among the books produced at the School were A Book of Pictured Carols (1893) and Nursery Songs and Rhymes (1895). In each case, a number of the illustrators were female students. They included Kate Bunce; Georgie Gaskin (under her maiden name of Cave France); Violet Holden; Celia Levetus; Agnes Manley; Mary Newill; Florence Rudland; Mildred Peacock and Winifred Smith.

 Mary Newill, frontispiece to  Nursery Rhymes and Songs  with border by Georgie Cave France, 1895

Mary Newill, frontispiece to Nursery Rhymes and Songs with border by Georgie Cave France, 1895

Some of these women gained a national reputation for their book illustrations. Georgie Gaskin developed a reputation as an illustrator of children’s books while still a student, producing the illustrations for ABC: An Alphabet (1895); Divine and Moral Songs for Children (1896) and Hornbook Jingles (1896). In 1895, The Studio devoted an entire feature to Mary Newill, stating that her black and white drawings were ‘quite remarkable for their vigour of line and complete mastery of a convention which by its apparent simplicity tempts many to disaster.’ Meanwhile, Walter Crane described Celia Levetus as ‘one of the leading artists of the Birmingham School’ in his influential book The Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New (1896). Among her later works were illustrations for two volumes of William Blake’s poetry, Songs of Innocence (1899) and Songs of Experience (1902).

How do these illustrations compare with the type of work being done today? Do they inspire you to try using more traditional techniques?

Opening the Cabinet of Curiosities

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What might museums and archives reveal about the history of collecting? At the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dr Hannah Young has been investigating some of the links between British slave ownership and the development of the museum.  Absentee slave-owners used their wealth to invest in collections in the metropolis, and many of the objects once collected by them and their descendants can now be found at the museum. They've just appointed Victoria Adukwei Bulley as artist-in-residence to explore how this history has been 'hidden in plain sight' within the museum and how its legacy continues to shape the way in which we see the world today. Over a period of three months, she'll seek to challenge the way in which visitors think about the collections. 

Victoria is a British-born Ghanaian poet, writer and filmmaker based in London. In her own words, she aims:

to respectfully unearth the names, lives and experiences of individuals whose enslavement is ineffably tied to items housed within the V&A's collection.

She'll be drawing closely on Dr Hannah Young's research and the extensive Legacies of British Slave Ownership compensation database, using text, film and photography to provide a human face to this history in ways that archives are incapable of doing. This programme of exploration will be linked with a selection of public-facing events under the title A Series of Unfortunate Inheritances. Why not go along to one of these if you're in London?

Suffragette City

 Surveillance photographs of suffragettes imprisoned in Holloway, National Archives.

Surveillance photographs of suffragettes imprisoned in Holloway, National Archives.

How much do you know about women's struggle to get the vote more than a century ago? There's an opportunity to find out more at the London Pavilion this month. Once a pivotal site for the suffrage movement, it's to host an immersive exhibition that will focus on the hard choices the women involved faced. Organised in partnership with the National Trust and the National Archives, Suffragette City will give visitors the opportunity to walk round historical recreations of the headquarters of the Women's Social and Political Union (WPSU), a tea room and the cold, lifeless interior of a police cell. 

The exhibition draws on original photographs, police reports and witness statements held by the National Archives that  highlight the lives of well-known suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, As Rowena Hillel, Education and Outreach Officer for The National Archives says

 “It’s ultimately about challenging people’s perceptions. I think our records really challenge the idea that there were these isolated acts by hysterical women, with evidence that it was actually an incredibly skilled and planned out campaign.”
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However, the exhibition focuses on the lesser-known story of Lillian Ball, a dressmaker and mother of three from Tooting, South London. She was arrested for getting involved in a window-smashing campaign in March 1912 that involved around 150 women in London’s West End. She received a very harsh sentence including two months of hard labour in prison, where she was blackmailed and coerced by police officers to give evidence against some of the key leaders of the movement. The National Archives have an amazing statement where she describes the organisation of the WPSU in real detail and outlines what happened to her throughout the campaign. It stresses how an ordinary woman like her had to make really difficult decisions in extraordinary circumstances.

Why not go and see it if you're in London between 8th and 25th March?

Our Red Aunt: rekindling memories of suffragette Helen Crawfurd

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Have you noticed the number of events that are being organised to commemorate the centenary of women first getting the vote in Britain? Among them is an exhibition at Glasgow Women's Library by New Zealand artist Fiona Jack, who's been researching the life of her great great aunt Mary Crawfurd. Mary was by nature a rebel: as well as being a prominent suffragette, she vehemently opposed World War I, organising rent strikes against landlords who hoped to profit from it and becoming secretary of the Women's Peace Crusade in Glasgow.

The exhibition is one that Fiona felt personally compelled to make:

“there’s no way I could not make a project about her as she seemed to connect so many research threads I was already deeply engaged with – advocacy and community work, activism, Marxism, feminism, public protest and civil disobedience."

In 2016 she made a productive research trip to Glasgow that uncovered rare records that illuminated Helen’s political and personal life from family connections, and she started to think of the creative ways in which she could mark her enormous political impact. Her works for the exhibition include banners on which she worked with a small group of library users;  handmade ceramics created through dialogues with contemporary artists and historians who are champions of Mary’s legacy today and a powerful piece created from a ton of stones each etched with the words 'in the hands of the proletariat'. The idea is that visitors will each take one away with them until none remain. These stones evoke an episode vividly described in Mary's autobiography where she talks about her move towards militancy as a suffragette and describes the time she broke the windows of the Ministry for Education:

“I took the two stones given me, got a taxi early in the morning to Piccadilly and quietly made my way to Harvard Street. The two stones had messages attached, with a demand for the enfranchisement of women, etc. I felt rather proud of the fact that I broke both windows and that my aim was good.” 

The Women's Library is located just a few minutes’ walk from Glasgow Green where Mary led public demonstrations for equality and justice. If you're up in Glasgow before it closes on 17th March, why not go and see the exhibition for yourself?

 

Archives in 3D

How can we use technology to create interactive and immersive experiences that will encourage more people to use archives? That was a key emerging trend at a conference last November on engaging communities with collections. 

 Hannah Rice,  Beverley Gate (Hull) , 3D work in progress, 2017

Hannah Rice, Beverley Gate (Hull), 3D work in progress, 2017

The one that piqued my interest was given by Hannah Rice, who ran a series of 3-D modelling workshops at East Riding Archives as part of Hull's City of Culture programme for last year. These provided an opportunity for participants to recreate Hull and the East Riding's built heritage whilst learning how to use collections to inspire their own historical reconstructions. You can find out more about what she learned from running the workshops here

One response to her talk was a proposal to create a 3-D visualisation of the former castle in Cambridge as part of a project to persuade the  county council to rebuild it as part of an expanded Museum of Cambridge. Those working in the museum sector have been invited to develop this to include other lost buildings in the city. In Glasgow, the School of Art has just been awarded £75,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to develop the prototype for an immersive virtual exhibit that will give visitors a deeper understanding of the restoration of the Mackintosh Building. There are also possibilities for using 3-D recreations of historical buildings in developing the settings for video games. 

What might we do with the old photographs and architectural plans in our own collections here at BCU? I'd welcome your thoughts on this. 

Contemporary designer donates four LT posters to the Archives

We're pleased to announce that we've just acquired four posters designed for the London Underground by Kate Farley, who's the Course Director for BA Textile Design here at BCU. Based around the theme of 'Parks and Gardens', they were up on the Underground last autumn.

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You can learn more about how Kate approached the task of designing the four posters from her blog.  They'll make a very welcome addition to our current LT poster collection, which dates largely from the 1920s and 1930s. Among them are designs by Edward McKnight Kauffer and Abram Games, both of whom have inspired Kate in her quest to explore visual communication through print and pattern. Now you'll be able to explore the links between them by looking at the posters side by side here in the Archives. Perhaps that'll give you some ideas about how earlier practitioners can inspire your own creative work. 

 

Unravelling Nottingham's Lace Archive

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Would you like to know more about the ways in which contemporary artists have responded to Nottingham's Lace Archive? If so, there's a symposium coming up on 26 January that might be of interest to you. It's to be held at the Backlit Gallery, where'll be an opportunity for a special preview of the exhibition and a chance to talk to the artists over food and drink. 

Andrew Bracey, Danica Maier and Lucy Renton have been rummaging through the archive, uncovering parts of it not normally seen by the public and making new works that will be displayed alongside the original material. This is just one of several projects by Bummock: Artists in Archives: they've also worked with the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln, the George Bool collection at University College Cork and the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts in London. 

If you're inspired by their work, why not come down and see the textile designs we have in our own archives at BCU?

Happy Christmas

Season's Greetings from both of us at BCU Art & Design Archives. Here are just three examples of the Christmas-themed items we have in the School of Art collections.

 Walter E. Spradbery, London Transport poster created from lino cut, 1923

Walter E. Spradbery, London Transport poster created from lino cut, 1923

Our collection includes designs for Christmas cards, illustrated books of carols, travel posters, wintry landscapes, advertisements, designs for book covers and menus for staff Christmas parties. These date from the 1890s up until the mid-1950s. 

 Opening passage from Washington Irving's  Christmas , Birmingham School of Printing, 1936

Opening passage from Washington Irving's Christmas, Birmingham School of Printing, 1936

We hope to see you in the Archives in the New Year! In the meantime, enjoy the holiday. 

 Fougasse (aka Cyril Kenneth Bird), poster for London Transport, 1937

Fougasse (aka Cyril Kenneth Bird), poster for London Transport, 1937

Artist 'meandered' through the archives at Heritage Quay

How would you approach the process of researching archive collections with the aim of creating new artworks inspired by them? When multi-media artist Poulomi Desai was awarded an 80-day residency at Heritage Quay, she chose to adopt a meandering approach to the corridors and rooms of the archives, one that she compares to travelling along the unfrequented roads of the Yorkshire Dales in her video piece Unmuted. Rather than tying herself to a particular theme, she immersed herself in the boxes, shelves and objects that she found there. She also engaged with visitors attending events at Heritage Quay, researchers following their own interests, and the staff and volunteers who worked with the collections. Among the pieces she produced were two silk sari artworks, one of which (on the right) was inspired by a series of cassette tape recordings that form part of the British Music Collection. 

 Poulomi Desai with her saris at STEAM European Researchers Night at Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield, 2017. Photo credit: Maddie Farris.

Poulomi Desai with her saris at STEAM European Researchers Night at Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield, 2017. Photo credit: Maddie Farris.

Poulomi describes her time at Heritage Quay as providing 'unexpected and surprising opportunities artistically'. It gave her the opportunity to reflect on the ownership and control of remembering as she developed an understanding of the social and political context in which these particular collections developed. She was also attentive to the processes and paraphernalia  of archiving, alluding to both in the series of artworks she created in response to her encounters with the people and collections. You can find more details about them on the Usurp Art website.  

Other artists may adopt a more systematic approach, focusing on a particular theme. Which would you choose?

 

Artists' creative response to Bluecoat's past

How would you respond creatively to the history of a building in which you work or study? To conclude the commemorations for Bluecoat's 300th anniversary, the Liverpool-based gallery are putting on an exhibition that displays archival material together with new commissions, historic and contemporary artworks in order to consider how the past impacts on the future. Titled In the Peaceful Dome, it takes the idea of a continually evolving building— from charity school in the early eighteenth century to the UK’s first arts centre in 1907 — to look afresh at some of the art the gallery has presented since then, reinvigorating it by juxtaposing it with contemporary pieces. Among the themes explored are the building, its architecture and the passing of time; global trade and the legacies of Empire; gender and military conflict; and the gallery as a site for critical engagement.  

 Installation shot of Jacob Epstein's  Genesis  with works by Jo Stockham, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, 2017. 

Installation shot of Jacob Epstein's Genesis with works by Jo Stockham, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, 2017. 

One of the highlights is Jacob Epstein's Genesis, a sculpture of a pregnant female nude that caused considerable controversy when it was first seen at the Bluecoat in May 1931. Loaned by the Whitworth, it's shown alongside documentary material relating to its showing there 86 years ago. Displayed in close proximity to Genesis, Jo Stockham’s work creates a dialogue with the sculpted figure, contrasting the creation of new life with violent death in military conflict. Empire Made (1989) takes the shape of an axe, with its head resembling Britain; Canon, model 3 (1989-2017) consists of a cannon wrapped in soft fabric, in what can be seen as a critique of the sanitisation of war in Remembrance Day parades and the recent commemorations of World War I. 

Also showing are film works by Uriel Orlow and Grace Ndiritu that recall how Bluecoat's foundation as a charity school was funded from maritime trade that included Transatlantic slavery; William C. Penn's portraits of black men painted in Liverpool in the 1920s and 1930s; and contemporary artist Paul Clarkson's portrait of the first black Lord Mayor of London in 1913, the Pan-Africanist John Archer. All in all, it's a show designed to provoke thinking about exhibition-making and its relationship to time, place and history. 

There seem to be interesting parallels here with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's current exhibition The Past is Now. What do you think?