• New Ways of Curating conference workshop

    • (0) Comments by julian 28 January 2011

    Yesterday’s New Ways of Curating conference at the New Art Gallery Walsall provided an opportunity to run a workshop I have been wanting to do for some time, involving damage.  What happens when you ask museum professionals to take the ultimate step away from their professional ethos – to deliberately break a museum object?  This I asked them to do, and then to mend the broken object, using a selection of unsuitable materials; and then to make a display with another broken and mended object and a lump of dangerous-looking material (very rusty iron), and to add a text that would say something about the display.

    After they had overcome the difficulty of breaking their objects, the displays they produced were much more interesting than the ‘inert’ objects on their own – they were intriguing, narrative and informative, inventive, funny, clever, startling, deliberately false perhaps, but reflecting desire and experience.

    During the course of this project there will be situations where we ask professional conservators – can we do this?  What can we do? – and they will probably answer – what do you want to do?  There will be negotiations, safety clauses, compromises, provisos, “yes but”s, and “what if”s.  All along I think it is important to keep pushing at the boundaries of what can be done.  The results can be surprising.

  • Next sessions with Julian Walker

    • (0) Comments by julian 24 January 2011

    I have a couple of sessions coming up -  These are opportunities for you to come and try out ways of curating documents and objects, to think about ideas for the artworks to be made for the Sandwell Arts Festival in July, and to see some of the less often viewed items in the archives.

    I will be at the Valuation Day on Wednesday 2nd February 2011 at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery, Holyhead Road, Wednesbury,WS10 7DS from 10am – 3pm

    and  at Smethwick Library, High Street, Smethwick,  B66 1AA, in the  Community History and Archives Room on Tuesday 15th February 2011 from 1.30pm to 4pm

  • Workshop at Smethwick Library

    • (0) Comments by julian 24 January 2011

    But, after the first workshop, it may be that the foghorn will indeed come to realisation.

    On 19th January four of us met up at Smethwick Library to look at some archive material, try out some ways of combining objects and documents, and to generally knock some ideas back and forth and think what might be done and what questions need to be asked.

    The most important question seems to be how the projected artwork or artworks might combine museum and non-museum material. How can these be shown in a way that does not compromise the materials themselves? Using replicas may, as one of us suggested, entice people to want to see the originals; but I feel that using copies rather than originals might look as though we wanted to use originals but weren’t allowed. (I have done work with replicas, but specifically using them as replicas.) It may be that some of the artworks exclusively use the originals, while others use replicas or duplicates. It’s all open to negotiation.

    Two other ideas that we will be working further with: the idea of using locally-made items to make geometric or pictorial displays, and making a digital map of the places around the world where you can find products made in Sandwell (mostly large static engines and bridges and railway stock). The first idea has a precedent in the Patent Shaft books, particularly a picture of wheels.

    From Patent Shaft photograph book, courtesy of Sandwell Community History and Archives

    It reminds me of the Victorian pictures of cricket or football teams, lounging casually on front of the photographer, some standing, some leaning, some lying on the ground. These photographs are about desire, delight and wealth. There’s a framed display of screws and bolts at the Smethwick Heritage Centre. The digital map needs looking into; it sounds good, and should be an opportunity to employ skills in new technology that I don’t have.

    And there was an enthusiastic suggestion that we should remake the foghorn in papier maché; though probably not in papier maché made from archive materials.

  • Julian Walker at the Archives

    • (0) Comments by chloe 17 January 2011

    The first images that caught hold of my imagination when looking through material at the Sandwell archives were the foghorns manufactured by Chance Bros.  One particularly, the foghorn whose mouth is taller than the man standing next to it.  It’s a simple, wonderful, and slightly surreal piece of manufacturing, surreal because it is ‘over real’ – it is a horn, just a huge horn, attached to a small noise-creating apparatus, but on a scale of ‘small becoming large’ that caught me by surprise.

    What a wonderful image to work with, I thought, an image that encapsulates the idea of sending a message across space and time, the past shouting out its demand not to be ignored.  Could we perhaps recreate this horn, and use it to bring the words of the past into the present.

    And yet, perhaps not.  Checkov’s advice to aspiring writers was to get rid of their favourite ideas, because as the favourites, they would be likely to have their shortcomings overlooked.  The chief shortcoming of the horn I think is its singularity, its immediate appeal; maybe it’s just too good.  On reflection, the main problem is that for any messages to be understood, they would have to be sent one at a time, while the reality, I think, is that behind and beneath us the past is full of billions of voices, faces, events, statements, lives, all waiting to be brought to our notice.  When I’ve been making large installations out of many hundreds or thousands of small objects I’ve always felt that I’m working not with one ‘grand narrative’, but a narrative made up of hundreds of smaller narratives, each pulling and pushing in its own direction.

    I have returned to the images of the bridges, not just because they are bridges, but because despite the way they look so big and monolithic, they are just parts of a bigger more complicated story.  Yes, they work as metaphors for contact between one place and another, one time and another, but more than this, they allowed to happen all those interlocking stories of the movements of stuff.  Making the bridges was magnificent and arduous enough, but when made they had to be loaded onto railways and ships, transported across land, sea and river, put into place, and maintained, a job of work as great as the undertaking of fabrication.  And all this so that railways could bring trucks from one place to another, carrying goods, people and raw materials, including the material to make more bridges.  Only by means of these bridges could the rubber, the coal, the fertiliser, the ore be brought from the mines, the plantations and the fields back to the manufacturing and processing centres, to create more railways, more trucks, more bridges, more work, more goods.  Beautiful and extraordinary as they are, the bridges are a key part of the creation of the wealth of the world over the past two hundred years.

    Photos by permission of Sandwell Community History & Archives Service

  • Julian Walker’s research visit to Sandwell Archives

    • 2 Comments by chloe 17 January 2011

    On my first visit to the Sandwell Archives at Smethwick we were given a tour of the basement archive stores, a warren of store-rooms holding apparently endless boxes, books, portfolios, stacks, shelves and cases, all full of material relating to the rich past of the area.  It put me in mind of Lewis Carroll’s story of the king who ordered a one-to-one map of his country, which the cartographers set about making, but which eventually covered the land, so that nobody could do anything.  Except that in this case, the past underlays the present, making an archaeology of knowledge.

    One of the items that especially caught my eye was an album of photographs of girder bridges made by Patent Shaft at Wednesbury, beautifully printed in sepia.  The scenes are mostly shot in the interiors of workshops – the light from open doors dazzles; some are outdoor shots, the contrast fainter.  Usually there is a placard leaning against the metalwork, indicating where the bridge is destined to go.  These images of bridges a hundred years ago immediately made me wonder how many of them are still there, in situ, and what links may be made, because bridges are about linking.  Might we find people living locally who know people who live where the bridges are?  It seemed possible, probable even, as these bridges went all over the world, Japan, China, India, South America, the Caribbean, South Africa.

    Matt, the researcher at Smethwick, did some research before my second visit, and the best-case scenario appears to be happening.  More photos of bridges being made, some photographs of the bridges in position a hundred years ago, and some that I know are still there.  Blackfriars Bridge, for example, and a viaduct at Treforest that I thought I recognised from childhood visits to my grandparents (sadly, it turns out I was thinking about another, very similar bridge).

    Best of all is a photograph of a bridge to go over the Ganges at Benares, with another view of it in place (picture above) .  It’s not been difficult to find this on the internet – it’s still there, with what looks like an additional layer. 

    The ideal now would be to find someone in the Sandwell area who knows someone who lives near there, who could photograph it as it is now.  That will complete at least one link through time and space.

    Photos by permission of Sandwell Community History & Archives Service

  • New Ways of Curating…a trip to the Midlands

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 4 January 2011

    Following the London trip Jim and Susan arranged a visit to the Manor House in West Brom on 15th December. This was a chance for Julian and I to share our ideas about the projects we will be doing as part of Forging Links and also to talk about what we have already achieved. This was an interesting opportunity to speak to the people who work at the museums we will hopefully be working with through the project and find out a bit more about the history of New Ways of Curating.

  • New Ways of Curating…a trip to London

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 4 January 2011

    Forging Links is part of a wider project called New Ways of Curating (NWOC).

    On 13th December the organisers of NWOC hosted a day out to London for all the people involved. This included a trip to the Tate Modern and the British Library. I was lucky enough to already be down south, but unfortunately those who travelled down on the coach were delayed considerably. For a lucky few (3 of us actually) this worked out quite well. We were firstly able to have a mini tour of the Tate with Paul Ryan, Paul decided to give us a tour which actually involved only one item: ‘Modulation of Space’ by Eduardo Chillida.

    We were taken directly to the object in the Materials Gallery and took part in an activity that involved examining the object through semiotics. We were asked questions such as…

    What material is it?

    What is it?

    Who are we in relation to it?

    What is your emotional response? (to which my response was envy-inspiredness, I like a good made up word!)

    I found this process quite interesting, though it did remind me of exercises we used to do in my Art and Design foundation course. It is a great way of helping people to look at art. What was most interesting was the suggestion that you could apply the same process to a town or area.

    After this tour and when everyone else had arrived we were able to take part in the Bob and Roberta Smith tour. This tour focussed on the reasons why Bob has chosen certain artists for an exhibition he is curating at the New Art Gallery Walsall. The exhibition is inspired by Epstein’s sculpture of his daughter and includes references to feminism. This was somewhat of a whistle-stop tour compared to Paul’s in-depth discussion of one piece.

    A short coach journey took us to the British Library, where I was a little disappointed to find that the library in my memory no longer exists. I was picturing a large column of books inside an even larger space, but apparently that was in the British Museum and no longer exists in quite the same way.

    Nevertheless Julian Walker gave an interesting tour of the library, items included a million pound wrong print stamp, the first collection of Shakespeare and the Magna Charta to name a few. Unfortunately I had to leave early to get the train home so I missed the rest of the tour.

    Over all the day was very interesting, it is not everyday that you get such specialised and varied tours of these places. Although I’m sure we could find equally interesting venues outside of the capital city.