Author: tamarmaclellan

SPF: Presentation, Discussion & Conversation

Recovered / Recorded was presented on the Caseroom Press table at Small Publishers Fair, Conway Hall on 9-10 November. This afforded opportunities for P and I to discuss the project face to face alongside conversations with fellow exhibitors and visitors in response to questions around objects discovered in gardens.

P and I exchanged stories of making processes including challenges, successes and technical skills developing. We began to consider the potential of this project, and some consideration was given to C9 which was the one fragment P and I had both selected to be represented. We discussed the idea of making larger prints which combined imagery from these first books and extended each fragment to reveal the imagined whole object it may have been originally part of. These could be linked to more objects and perhaps the original/imagined owners of the china.

As visitors and fellow exhibitors stopped to view books on the table, conversations were entered into with those interested in Recovered/Recorded. Stories of objects being found in gardens were invited to be recounted, shared and documented in response to a pre-prepared series of 10 questions substantiating our areas of interest. Approximately 8 questionnaires were given out on day one in response to stories revealing:

  • the burying of barbie doll heads as a child
  • the finding of a stone head in a garden which is ‘a bit strange’ and now ‘lives on a shelf in the house’
  • the finding of lots of pottery and ‘even whole glass bottles’
  • the finding of a grenade
  • the storing of found objects within a cabinet of curiosities

Following on from the initial success of  sales and conversations at SPF, P and I will now send the questionnaire to friends and family before Christmas in the hope of gathering further stories to make use of within the development of this project in the New Year.

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Recovered Progress Report

In consideration of the 8 pieces of china selected, I began by arranging these sequentially in response to grid numbers attributed by P within first cataloguing. Interestingly this resulted in each of our 4 fragments being presented alternatively. As I explored the arrangement of these within each page of the book,I began to play with composition rotating each fragment to create a sense of rhythm through the resulting positive and negative shapes discovered.

Two tracings were made of the final page layout, and having sent one to P, I made use of the second to trial linear mark making in order to imply the earth around each fragment of china when it was discovered. I decided to use the process of drypoint etching and began by working on top of the outline of each fragment taking note of the first trial to keep a sense of movement to the mark making. Within the printing process, I explored alternative approaches to inking the plate which resulted in different depths of tone surrounding the fragments. As I made the work, I began to prefer the darker tones which provided a greater contrast to the white shapes.

The prints produced were left to dry over the weekend and I returned on Monday to mark the cutting lines in order to send to P for trimming and folding. At this point I realised the process of drypoint printing had reversed the original composition and these prints would not be the same as the Recorded prints P had already produce! As there was no time to re-make the plate and re-print, I selected my favourite drypoint and used the copier machine to reverse the image onto a medium weight recycled cartridge paper. Unfortunately this lost the quality of the individual print and the thickness of the fabriano paper which I could return to later in the project. Some alterations were required with depth of tone and the placement of the print to avoid a white border around the image, although as this is a process I have used before this was reasonably straightforward and the prints were posted to P in time.

C9 & Moving Forward

Having agreed to the content of a new project, a series of 9 email exchanges alongside 34 text messages over 16 days has enabled us to take some steps forward.

Decision making began with the organisation of all found fragments as a labelled photograph which was shared by P via email. This enabled the individual selection of 4 pieces of china each to be represented in the book. Whilst we both later admitted to making this selection without using any pre-determined system or pattern, interestingly one choice overlapped and C9 was chosen by both of us.

The exchange of written conversations has enabled a different form of decision making to take place, and the thinking through of ideas has been undertaken as questions inviting comments. This open ended approach has resulted in the shared clarification of design decisions and technical details. The use of photographs within emails from P has very much supported this process and mock ups of the final books were presented alongside written ideas. This aided decision making around choice of scale and presentation of the final 2 books. The final email decision centred around choices connected to the positioning of each fragment within the book. In response to this a tracing will be made to document the arrangement of fragments so that both of us work to the same format.

A series of book titles were also proposed by P –  a joint decision was made to call book 1 – Recovered and book 2 – Recorded, titles that reflect the individual nature of each editionAs we hope to use Small Publishers Fair as a platform to gather information for part two of this project, a set of initial questions was also received, using these as a starting point, we will formulate a final list which we can use both at the Fair, and as a questionnaire to friends and family.

P has sent me the selected 8 fragments so that I can explore the positioning of each piece to document their discovery within the ground and make tracings which we both can use. I am keen to develop my own printmaking practice and will take on board compositional formats seen in A Slice through the World, the recent exhibition at Modern Art Oxford (https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/event/a-slice-through-the-world/) In particular I will draw upon the ‘floating’ compositions seen in the work of Lucy Skaer and ‘overlapping’ compositions seen in the work of Kate Davies within the construction of a drypoint background for the fragments.

Thrift & The Button Box

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With first research around the theme of housekeeping completed individually, a pre-arranged Face Time conversation enabled the joint consideration of these. Emerging areas of interest were identified, and further detail exchanged through free-flowing conversation and recalled anecdotes. As research sources were discussed, we spent some time reflecting upon how content gathered to inform this new project may enable challenge to our working methodologies and individual practice alongside the avoidance of repeating earlier projects located within similar themes of social history and domesticity.

Drawn to the notion of specific moments in time, we reflected upon the marriage bar, changing roles within the household and the identification of specific tasks assigned to these for our parents, grandparents and self. The routine and rotation of household tasks through the fortnightly turn-out were discussed and linked to some extent to our own experiences. Some consideration was given to taking this theme forward through the collection of data from friends and their families.

Continuing to explore notions of thrift, we discussed the teaching of domestic skills and the saving of buttons from old clothes within the button box. The button as an evocative object was considered through the research and writings of Lynn Knight, and the potential for collecting our own real and imagined stories considered.

With some consideration of potential timings and deadlines for this project, we agreed to spend August undertaking further individual research around The Button Box through reading and the collection of real and imagined stories. This will form the content of the project and enable September and October to be allocated to design and production.

Keeping House: The Way Things Were

First research around the notion of keeping house, revealed a series of linked words defining a range of domestic materials, account books to catalogue household expenditure, and money given or granted on a regular basis to finance the running of the household. I read about differences across generations, expectations for raising children, keeping house and the marriage bar.

The marriage bar restricted employment of married women, and (as in the case of my maternal Grandmother), required the termination of a woman’s employment when she married. Seemingly, this practice was justified as a social policy to find jobs for men and single women and allegedly created a disincentive for women to marry. In 1946, The Spectator, published an article which presented reasons for the implementation of marriage bars. These included thoughts around married women not needing jobs as they were financially supported by their husbands. Schools prepared girls for this life of domesticity providing tuition in cookery, household management, darning, sewing and how to iron a shirt properly. Girls were taught to look after their house and husband, and once married their husbands were considered the head of the household. Clothes were often homemade, either sewn or knitted. Knitted items were re-cycled by being unraveled and re-knitted into something else. Allegedly, when collars on shirts became frayed, they were unpicked, turned inside out and sewed back on! And buttons from old clothes were saved for the button box.

I discovered a Housewife’s Button Box within the contents of a discarded sewing box for sale in a local bric-a-brac shop earlier this year. Of the original 72 plastic two-hole and four-hole buttons, 29 are remaining and 25 other buttons have been added to the box. Of these 25, 10 have 4 holes, 13 have 2 holes and 2 are shank buttons with a loop at the back for fastening. In reading about button types, I discovered correct and incorrect sewing conventions linked to button and fabric type. Whilst investigating stories surrounding button boxes, I happened upon the historian Lynn Knight who explores the narrative of haberdashery through lives of ordinary women. For Knight, buttons are tokens to recall the clothes they were made to fasten and embellish, the housewives and mothers who made and wore those clothes, and the lives they contained. Within her book, The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives, Knight writes about stories passed on from the women in her family, their changing prospects over generations and of clothes as self-expression, defiance and entertainment.

An article in The Guardian, written in February 2000, questions whatever happened to the housewife? It begins by presenting the view of a journalist some 40 years ago who wrote about suburbia as a good place to bring up children but a dull place to live! The original article apparently connected with readers and ultimately led to the formation of the National Housewives’ Register which aimed to unite housebound wives with liberal interests and a desire to remain individuals. Re-named as the National Women’s Register in 1987 it continues today, with groups meeting regularly to discuss everything except the domestic. The article notes that early members of the register admitted to fiddling the housekeeping to pay for the membership fee! A present NWR member, who is just 10 years older than I am, recalls having to give up her secretarial job when she got married because the company did not employ married women stating “it was the way things were”.

Alongside information about the roles of women within the house, I also found a WW2 sewing kit, called The Housewife, designed to contain all the materials a soldier would require to carry out any repairs to his clothing, including a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool for socks, 50 yards of linen thread wound around card, needles, brass dish buttons for battledress and plastic buttons for shirts.

References
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/housekeeping
https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-1950s-Housewife/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/women_employment_01.shtml
https://history.blog.gov.uk/2015/05/26/a-perfect-nuisance-the-history-of-women-in-the-civil-service/
https://www.civilservant.org.uk/women-history.html
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/feb/28/gender.uk
https://nwr.org.uk/component/k2/item/14?Itemid=263
https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30016350
https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/lynn-knight/1073993/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/the-button-box-lifting-the-lid-on-womens-lives-lynn-knight-review

To Bordeaux and Back

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A pre-arranged visit with friends presented the opportunity for a face to face meeting to make sense of first ideas in response to our new project. The time afforded enabled free flowing conversations, in which we questioned content and context with a particular focus on overlaps with previous projects and our interest in continuing to challenge working methodologies and individual practice. Object led memories were discussed as we exchanged stories around childhood, parents and grandparents, and similarities were noted with ideas beginning to be formed linked to keepsakes, evocative objects and the house and home. Interests in family photographs, clothing and shoes emerged as we spent some time sharing details around favourite items and specific moments in time. Keen to establish our next step, we considered potential timings for research,decision making and realisation and began to construct a series of first points of enquiry focussed around the selection of evocative objects connected to our grandparents. As we discussed these in more detail, common themes around keeping house emerged and we became interested in the notion of housekeeping, ‘housekeeping money’, and routines and rituals linked to these roles across generations. In response to this, we agreed to each undertake first research around the theme of housekeeping in order to clarify our question of enquiry prior to gathering stories and memories.

Cataloguing colours within my Blue Book revealed 127 individual references to just 10 colours with black and white being the two colours used most frequently. In the majority of instances each colours is used as a metaphor, with references to age and emotional states being the most common. I have become interested in this symbolic approach to using colour linked to a specific parlance through time and place. Perhaps this is an approach to making with meaning which could be applied to stories and subject matter concerned with domesticity and the everyday?

In order to combine page 99 of both Blue Books, I began by alternating sentences. Whilst not altogether successful, this did get me started, and I began to see the body of text as individual pieces similar to that of a jigsaw. By cutting out words, and smaller phrases I started to group similar words and look for potential stories within the text. Small sentences began to emerge, almost as extracts from some bigger story. Whilst these are a combination of words from both books, I struggled to make one sequential piece of text and instead made 10 short stories taking inspiration from the reference to chapter 10 within P’s book.

Within the Difference

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P and T: Following a visit to Windham, we took the opportunity to determine our next project. A face to face meeting enabled us to exchange books and view first hand commonalities. We questioned if there were any? and if we wanted to alter, combine or produce by-products of these volumes. A leading issue was the discovery that ‘Twenty Years A’Growing’ is considered a seminal work documenting the Irish language which presents some challenges in making responses which haven’t previously been considered. This, together with some initial reservations around the author of ‘Venture to the Interior’, resulted in the decision not to focus on the main characters in the book but to search out something new.

We started to talk about cataloguing, and how we had both really enjoyed the inventory aspect of the Windham instructions. We were reminded of the Vera project, and spent some time talking through how we had catalogued the seemingly random collection of broken jewellery and the subsequent value this had given to 5 miscellaneous pieces. This seemed to give us a way forward. We questioned – why we can’t catalogue these books in the same way that we catalogued Vera? This could be a new way of looking at the books – a visual examination of the whole rather than the narrative or the leading character. From this point, we began to generate a list of categories to catalogue. These became: colour, transport, animals, clothing, food, drink, occupation, climate, building, equipment (domestic or otherwise).

We agreed on a system and will plan a FaceTime conversation on 15 March to review emerging ideas.

Visiting Windham

P and T: A pre-arranged face to face meeting enabled the opportunity to visit Windham in the Bucks County Museum, as part of an exhibition called Ex Libris: Altered Books (http://www.buckscountymuseum.org/museum/events/498/ex-libris-altered-books/).

As our first venture into the genre of altered books, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences within the rationales and books presented. Windham Volume 1 and 2 was shown alongside 2 other books that utilised similar approaches to either the production or research methodology. A large proportion of the books appeared to place greater value on decorative elements, whilst on reflection we concluded that the process we had put in place to re-work Windham had greater importance to the development of our practice and it is this that will inform our next collaborative Blue Book project.

Blue Books: First Observations

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T. A pre-arranged FaceTime conversation provided the opportunity to share and exchange initial observations made individually in response to first readings of our new blue books. Selected independently, it was interesting to note a number of actual and potential similarities as we talked through our findings.

In consideration of this new project, we both agreed that we remain interested in continuing to question our established collaborative practice, and that whilst we had enjoyed our first altered book project, we do not want to repeat Windham, but use what we learnt in the process to move our practice forward. With this in mind, P introduced the notion of the production of a series of by-products at a continuum of the process of altering our new blue books. These may provide the opportunity to further explore scale, text and image in alternative formats.

Beginning to exchange the stories and characters contained within our books, we noted the emergence of content similarities. Both books contain maps and document journeys and both tell stories with male leads and references to other languages. Time and place may be significant alongside characters met along the journey. As a starting point we both agreed to begin to list the characters and geography contained within our books in preparation for our next planned face to face meeting in two weeks time.

P. Considering the random selection of two ‘blue books’, it is interesting how many perceived similarities there are between the two editions, are these coincidences a matter of chance? or could we have found similarities within whatever books we had chosen?
As well as reading the novel, I did some primary research into the author Laurens van der Post – sadly he does not have the same charm as Windham; a friend of Prince Charles, and godfather to Prince William,  the story of his seduction of a 14 year old girl entrusted to his care during a sea journey, which resulted in her becoming pregnant, does little to endear him to me; however I should not let this colour my opinion of the book or the potential development of the project.