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.


Souvenir sculptures

I’m currently working on my exhibition for the PhD which consists of a series of self-designed souvenir sculptures to represent each of the 44 cities of England. I’d originally considered producing souvenirs for the whole of the British Isles, but then decided it would be better to make it a bit more specific and self-reflexive.

The idea behind the work relates to the study of images of culture and how such images are produced as a dialogue between producers and consumers of a culture. Based on England’s long history, I decided to use a range of influences, including heraldic imagery, landmarks, mythology, and historical and contemporary figures from the region.

Each of the figures is made from paper, reflecting my previous practice using the medium, as well as the role of the material in the colonial history which tourism studies draws on. The lightweight, ephemeral material also echoes the throw-away and transitory nature of souvenirs, despite their often artisanal qualities.

Taking influence from the bright colours of tourist souvenirs and artefacts I have drawn previously, I decided to decorate these sculptures with acrylic paint, applying a vibrant background colour before painting additional imagery from the region on their surface. The work also borrows from kitsch and pop art in producing ‘mass-produced’ objects as part of a fine art tradition.

The object as representative of a location or region shows it as being part of a larger network of tradition and imagery. However, it also obstructs the agencies and decision-making processes that contribute to the production of images of culture. In this way, these sculptures are an ironic comment on whose agency is represented through souvenirs and tourist art.


Safe to Touch?

Hub National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford
23rd May – 2nd August 2009
Curated by Susanne Skeplek

‘Safe To Touch?’ comprises of eight contemporary artists, makers and thinkers, all actively involved in the sphere of what we can loosely label the tactile’: turning the traditional ‘do not touch’ gallery rule upside down and inviting the visitor to touch, participate, explore and reconsider their conditioned behaviour and boundaries.

The subject is introduced by a beautifully ephemeral video piece by RCA researcher, animator and touch-artist Tereza Stehlíková. The visitor enters a dark viewing space where one encounters several tactile screens, seemingly suspended in the air with Tereza’s 45 minute long film ‘Fingertips’ (2005) projected onto and through the screens, surrounded by an eerily fitting musical score by Philip Jeck.

Back in the gallery, the visitor is invited to follow the trajectory of ‘remembered’ and ‘trusting’ touch in the work of American touch artist Rosalyn Driscoll and Finnish art therapist and maker Laura Kokko. Their abstract, organically shaped structures, ask for journeys of tactile exploration into texture, shape and temperature, as much as into the exploration of the nature of one’s own skin. Carolyn Alexander’s series of small objects hidden under a latex layer will only come into existence through the visitor’s repeated touch.

Kevin Hunt’s soft toy chair ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ (2004) brings out the playful and strange element of the tactile. The visitor will gain a ‘whole body experience’ of being surrounded by strangely sounding and feeling soft toys, slightly pushing the sitter out of their comfort zone.

The abject nature of Louise Atkinson’s ‘Part Objects’ (2004) goes even further in producing an in-between feeling of a simultaneous desire to touch and repulsion. Danish artist Tine Bech plays with the ambiguity of uncanny objects, directly involving, even obliging the visitors to confront their initial feeling of repulsion.

Finally, before leaving the gallery, the visitor will be invited to participate in an intellectual and tactile eqnquiry into touch by Tom Ainsworth, both asking questions about object/hand relations, and how little vision alone can be trusted. The exhibition will be launched with a private view on 22nd May between 6-8pm.

I finished setting up the Hub exhibition on Thursday. It’s been a long haul but I finally got there. The private view was yesterday and I really liked the work that had been selected. It was great to see people interacting with the art, especially as one of the technicians had brought his 4 and 6-year-old kids along. They had great fun running in and out of the eyeballs and kissing and hugging them.

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Top image: Tine Bech, Tumbleweed, 2009

More Things in Heaven and Earth

Durham Cathedral
2nd Aug – 4th Sep 2008
Organised by Yorkshire Sculptors Group

A specially composed piece of music by Scott Senogles was played on the
cathedral organ during the opening. The exhibition was officially opened
by the Dean of the Chapter of Durham and Benedict Reid of the University
of Leeds – and included work by several Leeds artists: Louise Atkinson,
Paula Chambers, George Hainsworth, Lucy Hainsworth, Terry Hammill,
Victoria Lucas, Scott Senogles and Rebecca Strain.

Tactual Explorations

North Light Gallery, Huddersfield

30th September – 7th October 2006
Curated by Isil Onol

Tactual Explorations is a not-for-profit public event which includes a ‘tactile exhibition’ based on a selected museum object – the bust of Sophocles held at the British Museum – which is interpreted by 10 artists through physical and virtual tactile artworks.

There will be opportunities to engage with the work through artist talks, workshops and lectures, which are free and open to all, Visitors are encouraged to consider the general concept of tactile exhibitions and to explore the tangilble information behind a visual exhibit.

This was one of the first times I’d considered my work in the context of its tactile and haptic qualities. It was also a good introduction to gallery interpretation and Practice-led PhDs. To see more info about the exhibition and events, click on the Issuu publication below.