Starting to Construct
Spent an enjoyable morning constructing digital trial compositions. The proposal for the final artwork will need to be approved by the project board but experimenting with formats and software ensures as far as possible I have all the material I need when it comes to the final edit. I’m using simple software programmes to put images together with audio which has resulted in a very productive mornings work.
To aid the process of the layout of the piece I have asked the group to add information to a long piece of paper, the diagram is taking shape and I have taken the opportunity to map out some of the facts in separate documents. Something happens to text when it is moved from the paragraph to the diagram, it definitely helps the visual process.
My diagram text is typed, most of the documents we are looking at are hand written and at times hard to decipher (there are some printed exceptions). Last night on Start the Week on Radio 4, there was a conversation about ‘the dying art of handwriting’ – you can listen again via BBC website. It includes discussions about tweets, blogs and podcasts so the digital finds its way into the conversation also.
Context is half the work
The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group (APG) 1966 – 1979 at Raven Row, is a must see exhibition for anyone who is interested in context, dialogue and placements. APG sought to place artists within industrial situations, government departments and offices. By negotiating an open brief, removing the need for tangible outcomes, the artists were offered freedom to explore, discuss, debate and negotiate with those from a non arts background. My long standing interest in APG has taken me to the Tate Archive and to plan an in conversation event with Barbara Steveni at firstsite in 2011. Barbara undertook much of the correspondence relating to funding this new art practice model and negotiating the placements. With my interest in industrial contexts and processes out conversation focused on how success is measured within this way of working.
I have just received Pablo Helguera’s book Education for Socially Engaged Practice. I’m starting to dip into it and opened the book on the page detailing Community, page 15 details four definitions of participation, the third is pertinent to this project:
“Number 3. Creative participation. The visitor provides content for a component of the work within a structure established by the artist.
I would say this project sits within this 3rd definition (the others are 1. Nominal Participation, 2. Directed participation and 4. Collaborative Participation). The added dimension is that this project is a commission so the terms have been set by the commissioner such as the historical focus and that the outcome should be digital. The History Detectives and I are engaging in a very interesting dialogue and we explore the materials together with help from archive staff. We will work together to select content to include in the final artwork.
As a process led artist, and one who works repeatedly on residencies I need to immerse myself as fully as possible within the site or subject. I enjoy working with ‘non artists’, people from different professional backgrounds and with different interests. This allows the process to be based on discovery, exploring terminology and documenting different visuals and processes. What I am having to do in this project is work without historical photographs which presents specific challenges, but it’s good to have challenges to my existing process.
There is an outcome required for this commission, I’m starting to think about what this might look and sound like and will be asking the group to talk when we next meet on Thursday about a favourite document which relates to our focus.
Around and about
In historical and archive circles there is an accepted convention that researchers must place themselves within the era and context of the document being explored. This probably helps to mitigate against feelings of shock and horror about how things were (for example living and working conditions). In the group on Thursday, Wendy spent time reading about the major occurrences in Norwich, and beyond during, 1821 and some years either side. George IV’s coronation was in this year (most famous perhaps in creative and architectural circles as the person who commissioned the extension and decoration of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton).
At this time there was a proliferation of literature with Shelley, Keats, Scott and Byron all active with Constable producing the Hay Wain depicting a rural idyll. However in contrast 1821 was a time of agricultural difficulty. In the Norfolk Annals covering this year, there are records of petitions to Parliament being discussed about the harsh agricultural situation. Practically, there were moves to introduce gas lighting to Norwich and further afield the Manchester Guardian and the Sunday Times were founded in 1821 and 1822 respectively.
How such information finds its way into the artwork I will produce is unknown to me at this point. This is how it should be, as the process of working with the group, uncovering information and mapping it all is essential before the editing and construction processes of the artwork begins.
While some of the group were exploring The Friars Society, one of the history detectives, Patricia and Laura from the Parliamentary archive explored a series of documents related to Michael Bland. Bland has been described in some notes compiled by the Parliamentary Archive as being ‘a Quaker, a brewer and businessman. He was at the cutting edge of business, showing an interest in the newly emerging South American opportunities of the 1820’s’.
The current Quaker meeting house in Norwich was built in 1826 and may form part of our walking tour of Norwich that we will undertake later in October.
The Friends are described on the Norfolk Quakers website as having ‘absolute standards of probity and fairness in business brought many of them wealth and influence and their identity with scientific and medical research was matched by their concern for social reform and education’ which links them with the activities of the Society of United Friars but it seems that Herring wasn’t a member, but I’ll probably need to check this.
There were some comments from the group that Bland is not the most exciting of characters but there are indications that he wasn’t that active in Norwich at the time we are exploring so perhaps there may be further information in the parliamentary archive which we will visit at the end of the month.
We gathered again last Thursday at the Norfolk Record Office to further explore documents from the strong room. Each document is related to the Land Act Tax and the five selected commissioners who were selected to be explored in further depth. The five commissioners we are exploring are Michael Bland, Elisha De Hague, John Harrison Yallop, Phillip Meadows Martineau and William Herring. Some of these names are very familiar around Norwich.
All the commissioners were involved in civic duties as elected Aldermen, Sheriffs and some as Mayors. Two of the group De Hague and Herring also belonged to the Society of United Friars. Elaine, one of the History Detectives spent the day exploring this quasi monastic group which met for the promotion of intellectual culture and social fellowship. Taking visual and procedural processes from monastic orders each member of the group would adopt the dress from a specific order. Initially formed in 1785, it later expanded its focus to include large scale charitable relief in the form of soup kitchens. The ‘books of transactions’, records of committee and conclave meetings regularly feature De Hague’s name and later Herring also.
The notes are fascinating and the group were interested in both local and national developments in the arts and literature but also in progressive social reform. There is an entry which details information about the Robert Owens developments at New Lanark. His advanced systems of factory management and balancing of profitable business practices with workforce care, providing opportunities for education and development were innovative to say the least. These types of developments must have been of interest to the group in Norwich given the variety of factories within the city at the time. http://www.newlanark.org/robertowen.shtml