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.


About the artist

Gemma Flack illustrationA few weeks ago I noticed a opportunity to be involved in a project by an artist and illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. She’s called Gemma Flack and is currently engaged in the process of making a series of zines featuring stories by artists and other creative folk about why they do what they do. The stories are presented in full colour and illustrated by Gemma. They are also available to buy and if you want to share your creative story, you can find out more here. The following text is the story I contributed:

“As far back as I can remember I wanted to work in the ‘creative industries’, veering between childhood day dreams of becoming an actress, musician or artist. Unfortunately, as our house was fairly uncultured, gallery visits were rare, and what passed for art on the walls were reproductions of little girls crying.*All this contributed to the fact that I didn’t even recognise the possibility of my dreams becoming a reality until one particular day in primary school, when the teacher announced to the class that my work had been selected for an exhibition in a local high school.

At aged 8, my infantile brain wasn’t able to comprehend the full implications of this discovery or what it would mean to me, but I finally had something I could hold on to – I was good at art. Of course, this kind of realisation doesn’t really hold much truck with the academic rigour of a good Catholic education, so no more mention was made about it and off I went on my merry way towards a further education in maths and the sciences.

Some years later, as it became time to make those crucial decisions about career choices, each pupil in my year lined up for their appointment with the careers advisor. Despite my previous intentions to pursue ‘academic’ aims, the moment she asked me what I wanted to be, the only answer that came to mind was artist.

Obviously I had no idea how one would go about pursuing this, and presumably neither did she, but it was to be understood that ‘artist’ was not a ‘career choice’, which was pretty much the extent of the advice* available that day. Following this unfortunate meeting, I was roundly mocked in class by my form tutor who had been given a list of the proposed careers of his students. However, by this point I’d mostly given up on the idea of education, and would for a few years to come, until I returned to art school at age 20.

Thankfully, since then, I’ve enjoyed an interesting and varied career as an artist, producing my own work, staging exhibitions for others and teaching people in the community. I’m also currently enrolled on a PhD in Fine Art, proving that it’s not only possible to have a career as an artist, but also that it doesn’t necessarily have to be to the exclusion of academia.

So, in essence, if I was to offer any advice* at all, it would be this: Education is not a conveyor belt that you have to stay on or get left behind, and if you want to do something badly enough, you will do it anyway, whether or not it makes sense.”

* Incidentally these are now all the rage, so maybe there is something inspirational about them after all
* Obviously I’m using the term ‘advice’ loosely here
* See previous footnote

Mask making: From Animism to the Internet of Things

mask collage

My first real artistic exploration of masks came about as part of the Identity Cards project back in 2009. I’d created some fabric masks based on bird skulls as part of the textile work I was making at the time, and the collaboration with photographer Zeev Parush helped me to begin to consider the ways in which I could use this work in different ways.  However, I was still having some trouble understanding what my practice was and how this work fitted into it.

My original interest in creating textile sculpture was for its tactile qualities. The way in which it encouraged people to play was both facinating and humbling. I know this is not a view shared by some other textile sculptors, who equate this tactility with ‘craft’, presumably a degoratory label. Nevertheless, I think it is this fasciation with how people relate to art and objects in general that has led me to my current interests in haptic and relational art.

My current investigations, although far from tactile, explore the narcissistic tendency to anthropomorphise objects, and how this plays out in ritual and religious experience. This also relates to Animism, a term originally coined by Sir Edward Taylor in 1875 to mean ‘the attribution of life and sensibility to inanimate things.’


Contemporary artists such as Sarah Lucas have managed to captureSarah Lucas Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab this preoccupation perfectly, and in humorous fashion, through works like Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (1992) and Au Naturel (1994). These sentiments are mirrored, if not heightened, in the work of contemporary African artist, Romuald Hazoumè. Originally from Porto-Novo, in the Republic of Benin, Hazoumè’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ masks both ‘belie their historic and cultural pretensions as traditional ritual objects whilst roundly mocking Western perceptions of African art.’ Hazoumè’s work also recently featured in the 2012 exhibition We Face Forward, a survey show of contemporary African art, by Manchester Museums and Galleries.

Although the concept of animism is an old one, believed to be the founding principle of religion, and perhaps a defining attribute of culture in general, it is interesting to make parallels with contemporary applications of arduino and the Internet of Things. Organisations like Makey Makey are currently selling ‘Invention Kits’, which allow users to play bananas like a piano, among other things. Similarly, the Internet of Things, in its simplest form, allows objects to be identified virtually, collapsing barriers between online and offline and changing the way we interact with everyday items.

Top image: Louise Atkinson, Commodity Mask (Blue Headphones), Collage, 2013
Bottom image: Sarah Lucas, Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab, Installation, 1992

Update 27th Setember 2014

I was recently able to have a go at using Makey Makey at Gallery Camp 14 at Quad in Derby. Coincidentally this is the same week that this video also appeared on my Facebook newsfeed: