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.


Finally I managed to catch up a bit last week where I had fallen behind. I carried out two excavations at the quarry which will probably be my last for now and made a start at Norton Common. The final few days at the quarry were fascinating. I have frequented this place so much now that it is becoming like my own personal playground. The usual anxiety about someone lurking within these hidden spaces has pretty much fallen away here and I notice that I am becoming more complacent in my alertness to the surroundings. Parts of this jungle is even starting to feel familiar to me. I have excavated numerous small sections throughout the quarry and as I walked around on my final day I notice that it is my own traces that are evident now. Trampled areas, cleaned and flattened, my preferred routes made more prominent. I wonder about people coming upon it post-excavation and whether the interference would be noticeable. I have had no sense that anyone has been to the quarry since I have been working here. It maybe the time of year but I wonder if this place is becoming more and more buried as time passes, concealed and forgotten as the undergrowth slowly yet steadily advances. I imagine every season claims another old pathway as the vegetation thickens and tangles a little more. I have heard that it use to be open and clear and children would come here to play and slide down its steep sides – they would have a job now. When I first dared to venture down into its belly, I felt a sense of impending doom about what I would find, who would be waiting there and how on earth I could escape. Its shadows are dark and its depths are rather deep, it is mostly impenetrable and quite unknowable but in it you can feel quite alone indeed. A treasured feeling when what you are expecting to feel is stalked.

So in sharp contrast to my comfy isolation at the quarry I am suddenly thrown into the busiest nature reserve in the centre of town. The result is quite unnerving. All the private contemplation, my eyes focused intently to the ground, is being replaced with the uneasy situation of being on public display. I can try to hide in the bushes as much as possible but two steps to the left and I’m waving to a lady out walking her two Cocker Spaniels. Maybe so much time in these edge places leaves me ill-equipped for working in a very public nature reserve. However, I know from evidence so far that this has provided a haven for someone who has found themselves on the edge, so I’ll have to persist.

This week I’ve also got a meeting at Letchworth Museum with Sian Woodward, the Museum Curator. I’m very much looking forward to this. They are currently in the process of relocating to a new museum and discussions are underway about what and how it will be organised and displayed. It is a great time to get an insight into this process and gain some understanding of the decisions that are being made with regard to how the finds and archaeological data are transferred and constructed into a meaningful narrative. With up to a million objects, this must be a task indeed! Keith has mentioned how as an archaeologist he is keen for as many objects to actually been seen as possible but with such an endless possibility of stuff and a comparatively minute amount of space and time to do it in, the majority will have to continue on their lives in boxes. Editor or storyteller is essentially how I understand it but it will be interesting to see where the conversation leads tomorrow and what light Sian can shed on the process.