Conversations

After I wrote my last blog post, I shared it on Facebook and Twitter. As this work looks very different to my previous projects I wasn’t sure how it would be received, so I was pleasantly surprised when lots of people started to engage by writing comments and sharing their thoughts.

Through the process of writing my PhD and conversations with ethnographers, I’ve started to think about these interactions as data that can contribute to the work. In particular, I’ve been inspired by one of my colleagues J who often uses elements of conversations, texts, emails, alongside more scholarly excerpts in her writing.

Due to this, I decided to capture some of the information that people were sharing. To begin with, M said that the Bradford souvenir made her think of canopic jars, which in turn reminded her of a photograph that she’d taken of the Egyptian-style monument at Undercliffe Cemetery.

Thinking about architecture and monuments which had been inspired by Egypt also reminded me of the Temple Works building in Leeds, which had been built as a replica of an Egyptian temple. These architectural anomalies were the result of the Victorian fascination with Egyptology, which was linked with Western Imperialism.

J said she liked the bright colours and that “visually, they connect with figureheads, sculpted figures on old fairground rides, and the kinds of busts seen on buildings.” This made me happy, as I’d been thinking about the work in relation to folk art in some way, after visiting the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain in 2014. She also told me about the carved village signs from Norfolk, which depicted stories from the history of the village.

Over on Twitter, the people at the Seaside Heritage Network, a new subject specialist network, noticed the work and were interested to know how many there would be in total. Whereas E wondered if I could make more hyper local versions of the souvenirs with participants.

These conversations have made me think a lot more about how I want to proceed with the sculptures and how they fit with my existing ideas. For example, I was keen to stress that I didn’t want the souvenir to be too literal a representation of a place, like a landmark, but I enjoyed the connections that people made with them.

I am also interested in exploring how the things we think of as ‘English’ are the result of trade, migration, and colonialism. Due to the nature of the souvenirs there isn’t much scope to explore the range of influences in each area. However, I think it would be good to focus on a smaller geographical area, such as Leeds, in future.

 

Adding colour to the souvenirs

I’m continuing my work producing souvenir sculptures for each city in England. I’ve started adding colour and they seem a lot brighter than my usual work. This feels a bit unnerving, but I’m taking that as a sign that I’m doing something outside of my comfort zone and that it will lead to a more creative result.

I began this process by researching each city, elements of its history, mythology, and heraldry. I then began sketching each object to determine how I might create it in paper. My intention was to do more sketchbook work around the imagery that would be painted on the objects, but I decided to take a more organic approach by working directly onto the sculptures, using a process of appropriation and intuition. Through working in this way, new possibilities arise for this, and future work.

For example, the objects of Bath and Brighton are represented using human figures. I began by painting them bright colours in a similar way to the others. However, I wanted to pull out their features a bit more, so I repainted their faces white. Although I will do more work on these sculptures, I like the effect of the white against the colour so I’m documenting the process to return to later.

One of the finished souvenirs, representing Bradford, takes the story of a wild boar from the Middle Ages, the motif of which is featured on the city’s coat of arms. Using the boar as the object, I then took the image of the brick well and highlighted the shape of the bricks as a reference to the building material of the Industrial North. The design running across the top of the boar’s head reflects the water motif also taken from the city’s coat of arms.

As I am working on each of the sculptures, I have started to see similarities in some of the motifs, therefore they have come to represent both distinct and general aspects of the histories of English cities, to highlight the separate elements of a homogenised country, united through language and government.