July Visit to Bristol Museum Part 2
I gave my first workshop the next morning at the Museum, to The People’s Panel, a group who represent non-traditional museum audiences and have worked with the museum on interpreting work before, notable the Love exhibition that toured to the National Gallery.
I began by asking them to describe a gift they had been given in the last year and it was interesting to hear how many gifts received were unwanted, but were kept – someone said she felt that she was often given things that the giver liked rather than that corresponded to who she really was. Another spoke about how she hides a gift she really dislikes behind other ornaments in her cabinet , but gets it out when the giver comes round…I wanted us to conjure images of objects in our minds as a group, as this is what the public will be doing as they browse the wrapped gifts and maybe seek to match them with descriptions in the Register Book and also on texts around the space.
I showed them some of my work –from a gift /exchange/ participation angle- in the context of my own life experiences of love, loss and attachment and they seem to be quickly able to access the emotional context of the project. We spent some time handling Kate’s Japanese gifts and I spoke about Furoshiki and also the use of wrapping in Pacific island divinity culture –ie to preserve the power of objects and protect the keepers .
I then unveiled my wrapped Gifts and asked them to guess what they might be, giving them the narrative of each object – this was a moving moment as I spoke about my mother. Finally, almost everyone had brought at least one object to donate –among them a door handle that had once been part of a sculpture, then spent 30 years on a shed door, and now is returning to art – and they filled in the donation form. I realised from this session that there is great value in working directly with more groups not only to contextualise the gifting of the objects, but also to engage in the wrapping process itself as a collective, creative act
July Visit to Bristol Museum part 1
So, the visit to the Museum this time round was a very different experience – ‘Banksy vs Bristol Museum’ is on at the moment (witty, irreverent, playful, I like it..) and it is a phenomenon. There were people outside queuing for up to 4 hours, and a total cross section of society. I was envious… it was like seeing people queue up to go clubbing..very refreshing!
So, to even get into the place I had to enter through a Secret Door, which of course I enjoyed immensely, through passages and intercoms, via the reception which is currently Banksy-ed up as a vandalised Ice Cream Van…and into the office of Kate Newnham who , together with the Textiles Conservationist Jane Taylor – Bouvier, showed me some truly beautiful Indian and Iranian textiles work, to inspire.
I showed them my wrapped objects and Jane talked about how we will have to freeze all the objects for a week as soon as they enter the museum (this applies to all acquired items) and I find this weirdly exciting.
Kate gave me a great selection of Japanese gifts she had been given , wrapped using Furoshikis, (square materials used for wrapping gifts, often very beautiful in themselves) to use in my workshop the next day..
I had a good chat with my brother –in-law Mark about my idea of hanging the objects in the shape of a Persian carpet. I had started to abandon this idea in favour of a floor piece as it seemed complex and unmanageable, but we looked at examples of hanging installation and I realise that the work needs to FLY and be IMMERSIVE in some sense. We discussed ideas with Julia and Simon the 3D designer and they are looking into the logistics of hanging 999 objects so will know soon if I can go with this idea and start making models etc.
This project is gathering momentum.
We had a Shape.. meeting with everyone in London the other week to discuss PR/audience development. It was at Oxford House in Betnnal green, just by Weavers Field , appropriately enough…Just being with everyone, talking ourselves into the future of our respective projects acted like a catalyst for me, it made it very real and I have begun to really enjoy the process of wrapping and also thinking about the space and the audience who will be experiencing the work. I wrapped 5 of my mothers objects – a set of keys, her wallet, her cheque book, her camera and a Persian cookery book that she and then I used so much that the pages went transparent with cooking oil.
I used green fabric, my new favourite colour, a socio-political act given what is currently unfolding in Iran, her country, right now. I then bound them in fuschia pink yarn and the finality of this act was somehow thrilling and devastating at the same time..there is now a boundary of cloth between myself and what these objects came to mean – they were key items of hers that I felt I could not throw way but I didn’t want the responsibility of keeping anymore. So now they are part of a collective legacy in cloth and I think she would have enjoyed their poetic relocation into an artwork of mine!
I then added two objects of my own – my wedding shoes,.They had broken straps but carried such strong memories of the slowest, most delicious walk down the grassy aisle towards the river where we said our vows. Since I wore red and it was a blue moon I bound them in strips of my red silk dressing gown and blue kilim wool.
I remember telling myself to go slowly and take in everyone’s face as I passed, to take snapshots so that in the moments before I die, I can replay them and experience a sense of communal joy and love that that day resonated with (is this weird??). This week it will be five years since we married, my daughter was born and my mum passed away – in that order.
THE ARDABIL CARPET – RETURNING HOME
I was at the V+A yesterday, and visited the Islamic Middle East section now housed in the Jameel Gallery. I was looking for inspiration for the layout The Gifts within the gallery and a link with Rosa’s work, which, as I understand it, will be predominantly wall work. I was looking for a personal and conceptual link, a bridge.
I spent some time sketching large ottoman rug on the wall and remembered an idea I had many years ago when I first starting thinking about wrapping objects and what the ultimate gift between nations was in ancient cultures –The Magic Carpet. The memory came of my and my brothers feet running around the outer border of one of our red, cream and violet Persian silk rugs (I can see it from my desk here, it seems so small now and so big then). We used to pretend we were flying across the globe on all kinds of adventures, for hours on end. Later on in my teens I dreamed of flying on a needle through glass palaces…
Anyhow, back to the Jameel Gallery. I saw a group of women in Islamic dress who were being toured around the gallery by a guide who was talking of ‘4914 knots in every 10cms…one of the worlds oldest, finest and largest carpets in the world..’ . they drew aside and then a light change occurred and I saw it – an enormous rug lying in the centre of the space, within glass walls and under a mirrored canopy. I sat on one of the sofas at one end and gazed down the length of it, taking in its delicate and yet monumental beauty – quite a moment.
The idea of using this as a starting point for a floor design in Bristol, where objects would be hung or placed to create the impression of a huge carpet design came back into focus. The floral borders and a concept and structure inspired by nature took me to Rosa’s work and how this could be a connection ?
I then went to the far end of the case to get some more information on the origin of the carpet, though something in me felt it even as I approached the text : ‘The Ardabil Carpet’. Ardabil was the town closest to my mother’s village, Namin, in North-West Iran where she was born. It is said to have very possibly been made for the Sufi shrine turned Mosque in Ardabil, during the Safavid Period. Visiting that place was one of the most resonant moments of my first trip to Iran in 1992. I feel a part of me has come home in this project and anticipating where it will lead me next, like a love affair woven in silk.