Week 47: 5th – 11th August
Given my interest in all things museal at the moment, I decided to investigate the local museums and archives, to supplement my knowledge in the field. Unfortunately, despite my researcher status, it can still be fairly difficult to access these kinds of objects, and even more so to handle them. Thankfully, here in Leeds, we have an organisation called Artemis, formerly known as the Schools Museum and Art Loan service.
Artemis provides a wide range of artefacts and original art for classroom teaching, and their collections consist of around 10,000 objects from areas including natural history, ethnography, geology, sculpture and textiles. This kind of handling collection allows audiences and learners to experience the objects as they would have originally been used, rather than through purely visual means. Developing fully accessible and haptic museum collections allows audiences to engage more fully with historical objects and their narratives, and Artemis even provides a handbook for potential teaching plans and guides to working with the artefacts.
Obviously, my purposes were somewhat different to the designated use for these objects, so I arranged to visit the collections to see if there was anything of interest to my project. Actually, the first time I heard about Artemis was back in 2011, when a group of artists produced a group show for Project Space Leeds using the collections.
The resulting exhibition Hunter Gatherer was a good indication of the kind of work I wanted to make, and reflected my own previous gallery interpretation practice as part of Visual Dialogues. The collection of works as a gallery exhibition produced in response to artefactual objects also reflected archiving and organisational processes: ‘The title of the show ‘Hunter Gatherer’ refers to a term used by anthropologists to describe the way in which human beings collected food before the advent of agriculture. Here it references the artists and the processes they have employed to sift through the vast Artemis collection. The resulting works include sculpture, installation, film, prints and drawing which form part static exhibition and part on-going project within the space.’
My preference was for the works that functioned as both interpretation and artwork, as in they aimed to make connections between the objects and deduce meaning from them, whilst also producing installations of new work. In particular, Amelia Crouch’s ‘visual manifestation of her thought processes using drawings, diagrams, objects and photographs’ created in response to John Wesley’s 1780 edition of ‘Primitive Physic and Receipt’ used objects from the Artemis collection as visual representations of early medical treatments. This kind of intervention appealed to me both aesthetically and conceptually, as it reinforced the idea of a collection as a kind of knowledge and the ways in which that knowledge can be interpreted.
Visiting the collections
On entering the room I was faced with rows and rows of shelves, piled high with objects and artefacts dating from the 13th Century to the present day. I started to feel slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material but began methodically working from one side of the room to the other. I quickly decided to focus on my main areas of interest, concentrating my efforts on textual objects from the Medieval and Early Modern periods, which helped me to narrow my search. My first finds in this section were original and replica versions of the Book of Hours, a Christian devotional text popular in the 13th to the 16th centuries.
I’d recently seen an exhibition of Books of Hours at the Stanley Burton Gallery and was interested to find out more about them in future. However my most interesting find turned out to be a collection of horn books, a kind of instructional text from the 1400s. Often used by school children as a way of learning phonics and the alphabet, the page was usually pasted to a wooden paddle and covered with a softened horn in order to protect it and help it to last. With a strong link to the history of learning, knowledge and print, it seemed like the perfect object to work with, so I resolved to create an object in response to it.