Earlier this year, students from the Media Department of Walsall College created short films responding to the Unknown Archive. The students were told that the archive, while complete, was of unknown origin and it was their job to investigate the material and crack the mystery.
What the students did not know at the time was that the archive was fake. It was put together by staff at The New Art Gallery and Walsall College and contained some items from a house clearance along with other pieces hoovered, borrowed and siphoned from our own lives. This created a slightly confusing stramash of material that had many dead ends and red herrings contained within it. An experiment of sorts, we waited to see what, if anything, the students produced. Along with the physical material, the students used footage from the amazing Prelinger Archive to add visual representations to their findings.
We were amazed, if not slightly annoyed, when all of the groups disregarded our red herrings and homed in on the few pieces of truth within the fake archive. Each group concentrated on the story of the family that emerges from the material taken from the house clearance – the protagonists of which are genuinely unknown to us. The students produced funny, thoughtful and insightful films that are presented here. We hope that you enjoy them.
The students may have foiled our plan this time, but the Unknown Archive will be back…
In Birth We Reach Our Death: Sam Dunn, Jordan Murray, Aiden Johannes and Nathaniel Sharpe
Past My Hands: Sam Woodhall, Isabelle Ball, Emma Steventon and Ben Swash
Letter of Inconsideration: Matt Woolley, Sam Archer, Mitch Stanyer, Zafraan Iqbal and Tom Hadley
Hello all, the Archive Gallery is opening on the 15th of September and Bob has been really busy painting the walls of the space. See below for the films of weeks 2 & 3 of his residency. What’s next is that the cases will be installed in the next few weeks and we can begin to put the archive material alongside Bob’s fantastic wall pieces. I hope that you can make it along on the 15th, 6-8pm, free and all welcome.
Week 2 – Bob’s History of Art
Week 3 – Epstein’s Travels
Bob has been up at the gallery this week to start his work painting the Archive Gallery on Floor 1 of the Garman Ryan Collection. Inspired by the Festival of Britain, the room is very colourful and has a distinct 1950s feel, which sits well with the time period of the Epstein Archive. See the below film for an explanation of the project from the man himself…
The danger after the success of The Life of the Mind exhibition was always that the Epstein Archive would quietly slip back into obscurity in the basement of the gallery. Not so. We are now at the start of the next exciting installment of the gallery’s relationship with Bob and Roberta Smith. We were always aware of the need for a legacy for the New Ways of Curating project and the Archive Gallery on Floor 1 of the gallery is the best place to cement the outcomes of the project into the fabric of the building.
So, what next? Bob and Roberta Smith’s Epstein Archive Gallery is now closed for the summer and will open again in mid-September, completely transformed. The new archive gallery will be the antithesis of the White Cube, extremely colourful and rammed to the gills with material from the archive, art, film and interactives. The room itself will be transformed into an artwork as Bob will be painting directly onto the walls. The gallery’s technicians are making new display cases for the space and Bob has chosen a colour scheme inspired by the 1951 Festival of Britain. The FoB was a huge exhibition, much like a World’s Fair, designed to celebrate everything good about Britain and also raise the nation’s morale as wartime restrictions, such as rationing, continued into a new decade. An anniversary exhibition of FoB is currently on at the Southbank Centre – I’d really recommend it if you’re in London.
This week saw the gutting of the old room, removing all of Bob’s works – though a large chunk of it will be included in the new room. All of the paint has had to be specially mixed as 1950s colours are obviously not the public’s first choice for their living rooms – their loss. The room will be painted next week ready for Bob to paint directly onto the walls.
While the gallery is closed, you can still look into it, so have a look next time you’re there – you never know, there may be an artist at work! I will be updating the blog at each stage of the process, so check back to see how we’re getting on.
Do not miss!
Saturday 26 February 2011
Free – all welcome
The grand finale of Sean Burn’s yearlong residency will take place on Saturday 26 February 2011.
Sean will be opening the door to the Artists’ Studio (located on Floor 1 of The New Art Gallery Walsall) and inviting everyone in to see his new work.
The Open Studio event will take place from 12 – 2pm and visitors are welcome to pop in at anytime for an informal chat, a cup of tea and an
insight into the ‘life of the mind’ of an artist.
The Open Studio event will be followed by a new, live performance by Sean Burn at 3.30pm. Thedurational performance titled Cracking Up, continues Sean’s explorations into language, visual puns and his own of experiences of living with mental illness.
Newcastle-based artist Sean Burn has been working with the gallery over the last year to develop his interest in reclaiming the ‘languages of lunacy’. During this time, he has also produced various interventions in and around the building. Last autumn, for example, visitors were invited to ‘lose their marbles’ in a game with the artist.
The residency is part of Outside IN; a region-wide programme designed to increase the number of Disabled and Deaf artists working in partnership with mainstream galleries. Outside IN has been designed and is coordinated by DASH who are working in partnership with Oriel Davies Gallery in Mid-Wales, The New Art Gallery Walsall and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
Sean Burn’s work is also featured in the gallery’s current exhibition The Life of the Mind: Love, Sorrow and Obsession, curated by Bob and Roberta Smith (until 20 March 2011). The ‘Smith’s’ describe Sean’s work as follows: Sean Burn is interested in writing and how the written word can become an iconic image that reflects forceful emotion.
Work by artist Bobby Baker also features in The Life of the Mind. Sean Burn and Bobby Baker hosted an ‘In Conversation’ event last year to celebrate the launch of Outside IN. Together they discussed art, life and the footwear choices of mental health professionals whilst baking a cake!
On Saturday 26 February Bobby Baker will also return to The New Art Gallery Walsall to lead a tour of the exhibition with Bob and Roberta Smith. This event will also take place at 2pm and will complement Sean’s Open Studio event and live performance.
The day promises to be thought provoking, sociable and fun – and a fantastic way to celebrate the success of Sean’s residency and all he has brought to the gallery.
The book collection in the Epstein Archive have been sitting on a few shelves in the basement of the gallery for a number of years. A few researchers have studied these books, but it is only now that I have come to catalogue them and some real discoveries have come to light. The books themselves were taken out of the house that Kathleen Garman lived in until her death in 1979. The collection covers 4 generations of the Garman and Garman-Epstein families, dating back to Kathleen’s parents in Wednesbury, books belonging to Theodore Garman and to those given to Kathleen by her grandchildren, Anne and Annabel Freud.
Amongst the collection we have a large selection of Shakespeare, a 1st edition of Bleak House by Charles Dickens and one or two James Bond books for a bit of balance. The books themselves are fascinating as they reveal the reading habits of the family. However, what is really interesting are the inscriptions in many of the books – these little fragments of writing give a unique insight into the world of the family. I would like to share just a few examples of the discoveries that I’ve made today – things are appearing all the time, far too many to write about here, but 2 inscriptions that were found this morning are particularly interesting – not in any great revelatory way, just in their insight into normal life that they give us.
From Esther Garman to her mother Kathleen, inscribed in Dante’s La Divina Comedia.
This book was particularly unusual as it contains some pressed flowers, which are very fragile. We have no may of knowing if the flowers were part of the gift from Esther to her mother, or if they were added later, but this was a really nice find and the flowers are certainly very old indeed. It is always slightly special when we find something new relating to Esther, as Bob and Roberta Smith have taken such an interest in her and her story when creating works of art inspired by the archive. The exciting thing is that there is more information on her in this archive, waiting to be discovered.
From Ralph Gustafson and ‘Ian’ to Sally Ryan, inscribed in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
This is a particuarly great inscription as you can decipher a surprising amount of information from it. Sally Ryan was a friend of Kathleen Garman and she helped create the Garman Ryan Collection that the gallery houses. A few of the books in the archive were Sally’s that may have found their way into Kathleen’s bookshelves through Sally’s will. The above inscription reads:
“To Tammy Ryan
a rummy prize winner, from the defeated
October 22, 1938
Ralph is Ralph Gustafson, a poet and friend of Sally Ryan, Ian is unknown and Tammy was Sally’s nickname. Also included in the picture is a feather that was inside the book. What we can gather from this is that the book was a prize given to Sally after she had beaten Ralph and Ian at rummy, a card game. The time on the inscription suggests that it was written after an evening’s cards had ended, with Sally emerging victorious with her copy of Dostoyevsky as her prize. This book has made the remarkable trip from Silvermine, Connecticut, to Walsall and all because Sally Ryan was a good at cards.
Hello all – there’s been frantic activity in the Epstein Archive over the past few months. I haven’t posted anything in a little while, so we have a lot of ground to cover…
Firstly, some good news. We were delighted to hear that we’ve received funding to extend the project for another 6 months, taking us to September 2011. A huge thank you to the Museums Association and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. This will give us the opportunity to create a lasting legacy for this unique project.
Eppy Daddy Battle Bot
The colossal Eppy Daddy Battle Bot was the product of Bob’s residency at the gallery in September. Bob began constructing Eppy Daddy in his studio in Ramsgate and worked on the painting of it in Walsall. A reimagining of Jacob Epstein as a large robot, Eppy Daddy will be displayed in the foyer of the gallery as part of The Life of the Mind exhibition, which opens on the 21st of January (more info below). Bob states that “Jacob Epstein invented the robot” – a nod to Epstein’s famous sculpture Rock Drill. Eppy Daddy tells the story of Epstein’s career and specifically the trials that he faced particularly with some of his earlier work.
I travelled down to Ramsgate to collect Bob and the sculpture and we made a little road movie. Enjoy.
The Life of the Mind
The opening of The Life of the Mind exhibition fast approaches – 21st of January 2011. For those that don’t know anything about the exhibition, which is being curated by Bob and Roberta Smith, I’ve included a little descriptive blurb below:
Inspired by Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of his then 15 year old daughter Esther in which she seems to be resisting the artist’s gaze, The Life of the Mind seeks to expose the myth of the great male artist who has special insight into the minds of his more frail female subjects. This exhibition will look at predominantly female artists who give form to the interior world. Each artist resists easy interpretation and in Bob’s words, “sticks a sharp pair of scissors into the soft underbelly of male hegemony.”
We have some really amazing artists confirmed already for the show, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Sarah Lucas to name but a few.
From the ideas surrounding Esther Garman that Bob has been developing for much of the residency, Esther’s Law has been born. Esther’s Law is Bob’s vision of truly proportional system of government, where every part of society is fairly represented in parliament, what Bob has referred to as ‘real proportional representation.’ There is much more to follow on this one, so get behind Esther’s Law!
A big few weeks for the Epstein Archive as we have been installing framed items from the archive in amongst the Garman Ryan Collcetion. We’ve done this to give the collection a bit more context and to embed the archive further into the gallery as a whole. In total, we have 10 items from the archive displayed alongside relevant works of art from the collection. What sparked this off was a fantastic little note in the archive from Sally Ryan to Kathleen Garman. Sally had just bought a Bonnard oil painting, La Seine a Vernon (The Seine at Vernon), and gave it to Kathleen as a gift, along with the hand delivered note that we still hold today. It was with this in mind that Jo Digger and myself sought out 9 more items from the archive that could complement the Garman Ryan Collection and we are really happy with the results.
So, from today – you’ll notice some cupboards on the walls on floors 1 and 2 of the gallery. The archive items are behind cupboard doors to give visitors a bit of the same feeling of discovery that I’ve had over the past 12 months. From a conservation point of view, the cupboards are great for protecting the material from light damage when they aren’t being viewed.
We also have a new introductory leaflet to the Garman Ryan Collection that reflects the inclusion of the Epstein Archive and shows the locations of all of the cupboards.
So, come along and let us know what you think…
It’s been a while since my last Epstein Archive entry, so I thought it best to give you a little update. As you may have seen, I had a ‘moment’ the other week (which can be viewed here) but I’m ok now. Fully calmed down. That whole thing started quite a few months ago when Bob and I were going through a load of miscellaneous items in the archive and some of it was, frankly, absolute rubbish. I know the archivist is supposed to remain impartial about the subjective value of any item, but if anyone requests a research visit to view Beth Lipkin’s hoover warranty, I will eat my shoes.
Anyway, I was having a bit of a moan to Bob about it all and one particular item, an advert for Russian binoculars, was, I thought, a totally pointless thing to keep. From then on, ‘the Russian binoculars’ became a bit of a buzz word for anything rubbish, or anything that irritated me – not that I’m a particularly irritable person or anything. And, eventually, the film was born.
But now, after some time has passed, the advert for Russian binoculars has taken on a whole new meaning – I wouldn’t dream of speaking ill of this little newspaper clipping now. It has relevance because we gave it relevance. I think that’s one of the most interesting things about having an artist involved in a collection – really unexpected connections and items can come to the fore.
So, to Bob’s residency. I spoke to Bob a few days ago and his latest creation, Eppy Daddy Battle Bot, is being built as we speak in Bob’s new studio is Ramsgate. Eppy Daddy Battle Bot is a reimagining of Jacob Epstein as a 5 metre high 1950s style robot. We’ll collect him just before the residency and then you will see the final stages of Eppy Daddy’s creation in the Arists Studio during the last two weeks of September.
If Eppy Daddy were to speak – what would he say? Answers on a postcard.