Author: philippawood13

Unearthing a New Idea

p china

Our main focus in recent months has been the forthcoming SPF and the opportunity this offers us to exhibit new work. Whilst we were both keen to pursue the button box idea, the project had been progressing slowly and failing to gather momentum, it was during this interim period that some chance findings led to a potential new project.

Whilst digging a large proportion of garden in a recently purchased property, fragments of china started to be unearthed on a relatively regular basis – the natural reaction to these findings was to remove them and save each piece. When researching further it seemed that these garden discoveries were not uncommon:

http://daughterofthesoil.blogspot.com/2008/01/things-we-dig-up-in-garden.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jan/26/leadersandreply.mainsection2

As the collection began to grow, it seemed that these fragments could form the basis for a new book.

The idea was proposed to T, who was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, and had unknowingly found similar relics within her own garden; it seemed that this was the break-through we needed in developing our next collaborative project, and a FaceTime meeting was arranged.

t china

T started the discussion by putting the time schedule (until SPF) into perspective, this was followed by a proposal that addressed both the desire to produce new work for the London, alongside our previous aim to produce a book which enabled us time to develop and experiment with visual style and structure.

The proposal – which was readily agreed – was to produce two books.

Book one will be a simple concertina fold, with both structure and medium being inspired by a recent visit to an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. As the discussion developed, it was decided that a pair of simple books would enable us to both work individually on an edition that when seen together would work as a whole. The books will be informed by some aspects of previous practice, cataloguing for instance, and we are interested to explore how archeological finds are recorded and displayed.

For book two we will use a different method of research gathering– namely the Small Publishers Fair event. T recognized that such events always provoke conversation and discussion around specific book themes. Therefore the aim is to engage with friends, fellow exhibitors and the public to seek their reaction, response and comment to book one. It is hoped that these findings will inform the content for book two. In preparation for SPF we will explore a range of possible questions.

 

 

 

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327 Buttons. 7 Categories.

sorting buttopns

I chose to categorise my button box by materiality; this was an immediate and intuitive response to the task – and only when I began to sort through the buttons did I consider the various other options available.

I was able to divide the button box into 7 categories: wood, metal, seashell, cloth-covered, leather, clear and plastic, the latter was the largest category – and therefore it has a sub-category of colour. In addition there were a few oddments that could be considered miscellaneous. It became evident that each grouping could be broken down further, for example of the 24 metal buttons 9 were gold and 15 silver; or 14 were engraved with a pattern, 10 were plain etc.

Here are the findings.
Clear = 13 / Cloth-covered = 15 / Leather = 12 / Metal = 24 / Seashell = 33 / Wood = 11
Plastic = 219 and within this category there were 63 black, 60 white, 28 brown, 13 blue, 13 green, 11 orange, 10 grey, 7 purple, 6 red, 6 yellow and 2 striped buttons.

The orange plastic buttons were the only group made up of identical buttons.
The reverse of the cloth-covered buttons also reveals two names – Astor and Trims. Astor appears to be a German company, whilst Trims has been difficult to identify.


As my button box is inherited, many of the contents reflect buttons of a specific time – the metal buttons look particularly dated, as are some of the fabrics of the cloth-covered buttons; others are timeless.

stripey buttons

My favourite buttons are the pair of black and whited striped conical-shaped ones… what were they part of…?

And finally (in the spirit of the Vera project) the miscellaneous section:misc

Reading, Researching and Reminiscing

bb1
Our joint task for August had been to read Lynn Knight’s book ‘The Button Box – lifting the lid on women’s lives’ – having read about two thirds of the book it is clear that whilst some of the buttons have a particular memory attached to them, the contents offer an opportunity to explore and discuss the social history of women in a far wider context.

The Foundling Hospital – and subsequent Foundling Museum resonated strongly, with stories of tokens, such as decorated fabric pieces being left with children by mothers (mostly unmarried) who were unable to care for the child, but would leave the token not only a token of their love, but as proof of whom the child belonged to, if the mother was able to return at a later date and claim the child back.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/oct/09/foundling-hospital-museum-threads-feeling

I found buttons and button boxes to be rather limited in terms of primary research, although more enlightening were discussions with family members; Ruby my paternal grandmother had entered a tailoring apprenticeship somewhere in Hampton Court when she was 14 – this was considered a good position and later she worked as a cutter for a company in Staines.
https://cvhf.org.uk/history-hub/rationed-fashion-victory-rolls-womens-fashion-in-the-1940s/

Granny would also make clothes for her four children – including stage clothes for my father and his sisters’ – their claim to fame being that when very young they played in a band with guitarist Julian Bream (and his sister Janice) and performed to the Italian prisoners of war. ‘The girls wore red velvet dresses made from old curtains, with hand-crocheted, by her, collars and cuffs. Tony’s band trousers were made from blackout fabric, with red stripes down the sides’. She also made my Dad a bomber jacket out of an old blanket of which he was very proud. Whether or not she was involved in any war-time activities such as sewing circles (Sew for Victory) or the W.I. is unknown (further research required!)

Similarly sewing was part of my maternal great grandmother’s life who, when widowed during the Great War, and with three young children to support, sewed shirts for a living – common practice during those times. These would be sewn at home by candlelight.
the war widows’ pension […] was devised to confine the woman to the domestic role of idealised mother whilst refusing to pay her sufficient money to keep her within the home.  At around half the “minimum wage” of £1 a week, the payment was more of a token gesture. http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/history/the-world-wars/

Finally I started to consider the receptacle in which we keep buttons – mine include an inherited cigar box of Granny’s, and a wooden (lead-lined) tea caddy where I keep spare buttons that are attached to garments in plastic bags. Growing up in the 60s/70s, my mother’s buttons were kept in a small blue and red tartan silk draw-string bag; however this theme appears limited.

It was at this point that a Facetime meeting was arranged. We started by discussing our individual opinions of the The Button Box book, and whilst we both identified themes that had interested us, we were aware that we were gravitating towards sewing themes rather than the button/button box. This was an issue as it was a theme already covered in our previous edition Sewing Secrets. Another discussion centered around whether or not the content should be personal – and relate to our family members, or whether we draw content from a wider source – although the issue remained of what the content could be!

With a time limit to our discussion, we decided to go back to an earlier idea – in the first instance we will both categorise our individual button boxes. How we choose to do this (at this stage) is up to the individual, and we will share our findings on the blog within five days, this will be followed by another FaceTime meeting.

Cleanliness, Thrift and Routine


For several years I have collected books that relate to traditional aspects of domesticity, therefore these editions became my initial point of reference. The books cover the periods from approximately the 1930s-60s, so are written for a different time, with the natural assumption that keeping house was the sole responsibility of the female of the household. The main theme of all the books across the 30 year spectrum appears to be thrift – recipes, shopping, cleaning hints, laundry, mending and how to budget the household finances efficiently.

“A housewife, to be really successful, must not only be a good cook, and house-keeper, but a good shopper so that she gets the best value for her housekeeping allowance’ The Modern Housewife’s Book

 KEEPING HOUSE: There appears to be an extraordinary amount of importance placed on ‘keeping a house spick and span and free from dust’ with several of the books offering suggested house-work routines which refer to the ‘fortnightly turn-out’ where tasks are rotated, through to entire chapters on spring cleaning and the military precision required to juggle housework with other duties such as cooking and looking after children.
HOUSE KEEPING: The same amount of order and precision is given to managing the household budget as to the cleaning routine, with all the books assuming that the housewife will keep weekly accounts of her expenditure, pointing out that “this not pointless drudgery, but the necessary routine of a well-managed household…” The Book of Hints and Wrinkles

There are suggestions of how to break down the household income and plenty of advice on budgeting, with hints on cheap shopping, menu planning and cutting down on household bills (avoiding unnecessary phone call and turning off the lights!).

As stated at the beginning of this post, these books refer to a different era, and it is easy to make light of the pedantic nature of the writings, however if you strip away the out-moded references, what is left are themes that we can still relate to; different pressures undoubtedly mean that we still, to various extents, rely on routine to manage our daily lives (which includes shopping, cleaning and cooking). Similarly there is probably more pressure to maintain our homes – DIY make-over programmes of the 1990s, the plethora of home magazines and social media platforms such as Pintrest encourage us to update our interiors on a far more regular basis than say my grandparents (who had the same furniture for their entire marriage).

New beginnings

In the past two months work commitments have impacted on any opportunity to discuss our collaborative pratice; however a pre-arranged FaceTime meeting offered us the chance to
reflect on what is important to us individually and to bring these thoughts and ideas ‘to the
table’.

The discussion started with what could be deemed as the ‘failure’ of our most recent collaboration, The Blue Book, however it was clear that we could take some valuable lessons from the project; it re-iterated the fact that the ‘altered book’ is not our favoured genre and starting a project with no particular purpose, or emotional (or personal) attachment to it, hindered our commitment to the process. Therefore our first decision was not to explore this type of project again!

T expressed concerns around returning to known practice, and producing books that, although may have commercial appeal, may limit our making to repetitive/expected outcomes. We both agreed that it was important to continue to challenge our working methodologies.

We articulated the need to address a particular aspect of our individual practice – whilst T had enjoyed the research and process element of previous projects, she felt the development of imagery had not always been as successful, therefore it was important for her to address this. P recognised that recent projects had led to an emphasis on book content rather than book structure, and therefore it was important to explore and develop this further. We recognized that this could be the starting point of the project and started to discuss a range of themes which included: the ‘Hear her’ radio series, keepsakes, hidden messages within garments (inspired by the Phantom Thread film), cataloguing aspects of our meeting in the middle project, inheritance, domesticity and MA practice.

It became clear that with our new individual aims, we could still explore our joint areas of interest without compromising the integrity of our practice; therefore we will look to develop a body of work based around the idea of evocative objects and the memories we attach to either the object or the original owner of the object (namely grandparents).

Closing the blue books

the end 2

The aim of today’s pre-arranged FaceTime conversation was to share and exchange ideas emerging from the two pre-set tasks set four weeks ago, namely the cataloguing of colours within our respective books and the generation of new text matter based on the combination of page 99 from each novel.

Whilst we have both completed the tasks,it was evident, from the individual blog posts produced in response to these, that we are finding it difficult to apply appropriate levels of meaning and context to this project. As we began to discuss issues face to face, we quickly came to the conclusion that whilst the project has enabled us to develop new working methodology, both the process and book content hold no real appeal or significance, and subsequently this lack of engagement is hindering the momentum needed for us to collaboratively drive the project forward. Therefore, at this point, 5 months into the project, we made the joint decision not to pursue this project any further. Since beginning to working collaboratively, 13 years ago, this is the first time that we have abandoned a project.

Once the decision was made, we exchanged ideas around new directions.We both highlighted areas for potential exploration, these included, Vera / evocative objects / women of the walk / celebrating a moment from time / notice boards / the typewriter owner – all themes which have the potential to link back to past projects, or concepts, that have arisen whilst working on other books. Size, scale, processes and working methodology also formed part of our discussion, and some initial decisions were noted.

Our aim now is to locate a new project. The starting point for this is to undertake both a review of previous work and individual research with each of us uploading a blog post to record our progress after two weeks of research, prior to a next scheduled FaceTime meeting in mid-May.

Counting and Cutting

As I undertake the two set tasks, I am still finding it difficult to connect with this project. There is no set outcome at the moment – but this isn’t the problem, it’s more that the project seems to lack depth and I wonder if we are trying too hard to find a solution to something that just isn’t there; should we have considered our book choice more clearly and selected a topic around domesticity? Would this have given us a clearer sense of direction? However, there is the realisation that if we DO manage to produce a body of work from this project, then this method of working could enhance our current collaborative practice and become a foundation for developing further work.

Despite the negative comments above, I am enjoying the process of discussion, and the subsequent setting of mini-tasks to advance the project. In terms of the current tasks – listing the colours, although a little tedious, is easy, my final tally is approximately 380; however working with the texts from our respective page 99s is proving to a lot harder than I expected. I have tried various methods of combining the texts and at one point even resorted to an online story generator, which also failed! I am aware that this could be an abstract narrative and so I looked at the work of Raoul Hausmann and Dada poetry – including the Tristan Tzara method of ‘How to make a Dadaist Poem’ – and although this uses a very basic system to produce a narrative, I didn’t like the methodology or outcomes that it generated.

dada sound poem

However, I was interested in the idea of applying a system, which is something that began recurring in our work during the Windham Papers. I began by looking and analysing the texts, noting similarities, highlighting pronouns, and isolating specific aspects of the narrative until I developed a system that enabled me to produce a new text. The finished piece doesn’t use all the words as the task required, but I could keep going through the text and apply different systems until they are all used up!

 

The Blue In-between

We have had a month to catalogue our respective blue books using the categories we developed through discussion and debate. A FaceTime ‘meeting’ enabled us to report our progress, along with our findings and reservations. We have both found the process of cataloguing rather tedious and repetitive, and have started to question the purpose of the exercise; this meeting came at an opportune time and enabled us to voice these concerns, and subsequently talk through the issues that the process has highlighted.

P: I felt it was important to start by questioning what we wanted to achieve with this project. Was it to further challenge our collaborative practice and working process, or merely an opportunity to produce an edition of ‘sale-able’ artists’ books? Also did the book have to have a purpose? As we started to talk through these topics it became evident that we were both struggling to find a point to what we were doing. T suggested that this could be because we had no personal connection with our particular books, which had been purchased at random, and subsequently we were struggling to relate to the subject matter. Was there then a way forward that would enable us to find an area of common interest?

We discussed and rejected various methodologies, including producing a haiku version of each book; of the 10 categories that we had mapped, we had both gravitated towards ‘colour’ – therefore it was decided to take a more abstract approach, and to start listing each colour with its corresponding page number and any relevant descriptor attached to the colour. In conjunction with this we discussed a project that I have recently completed called Page 99 – there is a theory by English writer Ford Madox Ford, that if you open a novel at page 99 then ‘the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.’ Using this premise we will both use the final sentence on page 99 as the title of our respective books. To enable us to consider a narrative, T suggested that we send each other a copy of page 99, and both attempt to combine the text of these pages to form a new ‘story’. This is not dissimilar to the work of Graham Rawle who wrote an entire novel using words from vintage women’s magazines.

http://www.grahamrawle.com/womans-world-book.html

These decisions will now enable us to take the project to the next level, and hopefully by undertaking this set of instructions we will start to gain a greater sense of what the book may become. Without knowingly setting out to develop our practice using a new methodology, by default the nature of this project – and our disconnect with either the text or author – appears to be leading us in a new direction.

The Blue Book Project

The Small Publishers Fair in November 2017 concluded the Windham Papers, and enabled us to view both books together for the first time, before delivering them to the exhibition. We also had the opportunity to talk face to face and reflect together on the project; we concluded that whilst we had initially resisted the idea of an altered book project, writing and responding to the instructions through research and making had given us an opportunity to expand individual practice within the confines of a set brief, and the end result was something that we would not have produced within our established practice. Having noted this change, it was decided to further explore this process through the undertaking of a second project based on an existing book.


Using the reasoning behind the Tom Phillips book project The Humament as inspiration, two decisions were made immediately, the first was that the book should be blue (as a gesture to the Windham Papers) and secondly that the purchase would be made from an Oxfam shop (a previous project had resulted in coincidental purchases from Oxfam), so it seemed pertinent. Following these decisions, a series of text messages attempted to formulate the book theme and book price, however before we had the opportunity to complete these tasks, a chance conversation revealed that we had both already purchased an autobiography, so the decision was made to use these books as the starting point.

P: At this stage I had purchased two books – the autobiography for £1.99 – a purchase based purely on the title and name of the author – Venture to the Interior by Laurens van der Post. The other book The Comanche Scalp by William Colt MacDonald costing 99p was a novel and a nicer blue, however it was the title and book jacket design that were driving force behind the purchase. I suspect that if I had the choice I would opt to use the The Comanche Scalp as my chosen book – however, as with the Windham Papers, I like the fact that the decision has been made through theoretical reasoning rather than through personal selection. It is also intriguing that with this project the book size, structure and content is unlikely to align in the same way that the Windham Papers did, therefore there is an even greater sense of the unknown!

T: Around the same time, I purchased two blue books – the autobiography also for £1.99 – contains a map on the end papers, reference to being rendered ‘from the original Irish’ and an intriguing title: Twenty Years A-Growing. The other book – A Constable guide to the birds of the coast costing £3.99 contains photographs, diagrams, maps and factual data. With no idea about the subject matter of the books P was purchasing, I enjoyed the limitation of searching out a blue book – I could have bought loads!

The Windham Papers Close

 

Although our initial aim for the Windham Papers was to achieve a total of 10 instructions, the exhibition deadline arrived sooner than anticipated, and the final books feature responses to 8 instructions.

Meeting with T at the Small Publishers Fair in London in November was the first opportunity for the books to be reunited since the project began – and the subsequent photographs* show how the altered state of each edition contrasts and complements its opposite number. There are some similarities between our working practices, which is perhaps to be expected considering the range of projects that we have undertaken on a collaborative basis; but it could also be that the nature of the altered book and working within the confines of a large volume – this meant that we both drew upon similar processes and media, such as stickers, rubber stamps and collage to develop the project.

The books will form part of the Ex Libris exhibition at Bucks County Museum from 9 December until 24 February 2018

*book photography by Donald MacLellan