It’s been a week to stay indoors, even if that indoors has mostly been as cold as outdoors. I have had a day and a half in the studio sorting through my collected finds. I realise now, fail to organise early and things get lost, confused and stuff is in danger of falling into chaos. I have been putting off dealing with them for a good reason; repulsion, but having decided that they need to be ‘dealt with’ I reluctantly started the cleaning process. Watching a video recently about PhD student Rachel Kiddey‘s Contemporary Homelessness study spurred me on to get the soapy buckets out and actually properly confront the things I’m collecting by first cleaning them up. So it’s been scrubbing brushes and scouring pads galore this week. And I was really surprised that once underway it actually became quite a satisfying task. As I scrubbed away the grim and the dirt and the bugs, the cans and plastic bags and cigarette lighters and other more curious objects, began to feel slightly different to me. Beyond the initial disgust lay a stronger sense of intrigue and fascination. The cleaning process is changing them from any old rubbish to my own collection.
As well as this, I also went over to Letchworth Museum for a meeting with Sian Woodward, Museum Curator. It was a fascinating half hour that turned into two hours! and gave me a fantastic insight into the issues and considerations that go into the organisation, creation and display of its collections. The timing of my research period is very lucky indeed, coinciding with a moment of big change and reevaluation at this local museum. Merging with Hitchin museum, the two will relocate to a new sight at Hitchin Town Hall and will be redeveloped under the name of North Hertfordshire Museum. Sian was therefore able to talk in much detail about how this process is being managed and what opportunity this development offers for telling a story of the history of North Hertfordshire, through its objects. There was much discussion about the relevance of the objects to the museum’s aims and how to deal with objects that either do not fit with this or have no information attached to them. She explained how objects that have become detached from their story and original context tell us very little. We also talked about how they are organising the objects into themes to help to create a series of narratives so visitors have an opportunity to understand them in a wider context, as well as relate in a more personal way.
We talked about political agendas and community expectations as well as the responsibility of the museum as trusted carers of the objects for the community. There is a huge amount to consider and I sense it is a minefield as they attempt to tell a story that whilst trying to remain sensitive to the society it is created for, is ultimately aiming to maintain an objective approach. It seems the museum’s past practice is a big enough challenge in itself, from past curators’ personal agendas, to the gaps left in the narrative where certain members of society have been bypassed when it came to collecting and preserving their history.
Bringing this conversation back with me into the studio has really helped me to consider further some of these issues I am dealing with in this project. The importance of the context of each object and who and what it represents, whose story it tells. Much of the conclusions I have come to so far are that it mostly reflects a personal relationship to these spaces. My interpretation of these objects, the ones I choose to focus on, the areas I mark out and the sites as a whole are a personal choice of course. I could conclude that my focus on these places of the margins are to expose the stories of the marginalised and give voice to those who hide or who pursue their activities out of view, but somehow I don’t think this is quite accurate. This is part of the intrigue and part of the draw but it is, I suspect a wider fascination with my own feelings of repulsion and attraction. A feeling that through these edge spaces, who and what I am is somehow challenged and in a way threatened. I am both a part of this outsider’s place as well as an intruder within it.