Another stack of museum boxes that takes my interest are the swimming costumes. The location of Worthing by the sea would logically suggest the reason why Worthing Museum has so many in its collection. The earliest costumes appear more like outfits covering most of the body:
‘Sun and Fashion’ – page from a museum leaflet about swimming costume styles.
Suzanne Joinson discovered this great collection of ‘bathers’ in old photographs. The only one with any writing on the back says ‘Bathers in Boulogne’. I think they are mostly unrelated, but beautiful images:
Jackie and some others remember Heene Baths in Worthing that originally opened as a Victorian washhouse, later becoming a swimming baths, and now demolished. Some others remember the feeling of wearing a sagging woolen swimming costume. Or the postwar roushed styles that filled and ballooned with water. I came across two swimming costumes that match these memories:
Firstly in a Peckham charity shop. It dates from the 1940s. The elastic is wearing out, but otherwise in good condition.
Suzanne Joinson also came across this swimming costume in her in laws attic. It is made of wool and was worn by Auntie Betty.
I can’t bring myself to cast these swimming costumes, instead I rummage through drawers at home and ask friends and family to donate:
I decided to stitch together these swimming costumes into various shapes. Then fill them with liquid jesmonite or plaster, till the weight of the material started to split the seams.
Then peeled the fabric off. And decided to place them upturned on mirror. I like the idea of viewers peering down into the mirror, and the reflections of the skylight above that will appear once in place in the gallery. The weight of the casts and weightlessness of the reflection bring to mind the immersive feeling of swimming and the boundary of the surface or water level, above and below.
‘Bathers I, II, III, IV’, 2019, jesmonite, plaster, steel, perspex, mdf, 168 x 122 x 72 cm, and detail in the studio.