8th to 29th November 2014, Maidstone Museum
MAKING ART WORK’s annual show was inspired by Maidstone Museum, its collections, the fabric of the building, and its function as guardian of objects and artefacts. The artists replied with intervention, commentary, celebration and re-interpretation in the form of new contemporary artworks.
Some common themes ran through the works, including ways of looking, what constitutes a museum specimen, preservation, lost and fragmented narratives, surfaces and textures.
The predecessor of the museums we know today was the Wunderkammer, a collection of curious things – the ordinary and extraordinary – shown together in the pursuit of knowledge and wonder. This exhibition aims to inspire a similar sense of wonderment and inquiry in its audience.
Fleur Alston, Sue Batt, Elizabeth Burnham Smith, Chris F Clark, Karen Crosby, Brendan Cullen, Alexander Edwards, Jenny Fairweather, Ali Farmer, Shirley-Ann Galbraith, Julia Groves, Claire Manning, Steve McGinn, Ruth Payne, Cathy Rogers, Asli Shehi, Catherine Sibley, Linda Simon, Angela Carol Stocker, Camilla Swire, Siobhan Timoney, Veronica Tonge, Angela Wooi
Fleur Alston, Kit and Caboodle – Bugs and butterflies from Maidstone Museum’s collection and Things Found in my Vacuum Cleaner Bag
In response to: The bug and butterflies collection
Kit and Caboodle is about organisation, order, life, death and the passing of time. The work progresses from obvious typology to the more over looked and less regarded forms of collection.
The images question a 21st century Western attitude to consumerism by forcing us to examine closely objects of the past as well as the dead, dying and discarded. Consumption outweighs our ability to regard what we already have; we build and discard with quick irreverence.
Sue Batt, Nooks and Crannies
Plaster, drypoint and mono print
In response to: the decorative interior of building
My work is based on the architectural and sculptural elements found in and around the building rather than on the artefacts housed in it. The building contains a rich source of decorative carved details on ceilings, fire surrounds and doorways. Each of my pieces is presented as a printed or cast fragment placed in nine white square frames and shown rather like the more important objects displayed in cabinets within the museum.
Elizabeth Burman Smith, Laundered and Baked
In response to: To the iconoclastic deconstruction of a beloved object – books.
Books for the majority of us hold a sacred value and often people are offended by the destruction of them. I want to reinvent these hardbacks and give them a sculptural life, along with a symbolic message of the possible death of their future. The process has involved taking obsolete books from local libraries while considering their aesthetic beauty by prematurely ageing them through the use of heat and water. While working strictly within the restraints of the rectangle, I find the dead flesh-like quality they now resemble offers an ironic nod towards the increasingly popular form of reading through electronic tablets.
Chris F Clark, Build (The Collector)
Digital collage, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
In response to: preserved birds, donated to the museum in 1946 by ornithologist and collector Guy Mannering
Chris has responded to the impressive array of preserved birds donated to Maidstone Museum in 1946 by ornithologist and collector Guy Mannering with a large scale work that uses clever metaphors, appropriated text and sweeping brush strokes to explore the idea of life, role reversal, strength and victory. She has re-interpreted the human form of the collector, replacing the presence of Mannering with The Magpie, a species that is an avid collector itself procuring and building its collection of shiny treasures.
Karen Crosby, Image Fossils
Photographic image and crystals on found objects
In response to: the Geology fossils and minerals display
Fossils condense within themselves a trace of an object that once existed that has now become stone. The photographic process of light reflected by the object is revealed as traces on the witnessing material or film. Both cases transform the materiality of the surface as a witness to the life of the object. Image Fossils reveals found objects embalmed with photographic images of its found site and minerals or crystals that transmute relics of our own time into fossilized forms of the future.
Brendan Cullen, Bivalve Form
In response to: A tiny fragment of a shell (Rastellum Colubrinum), Bivalve B7 in the fossils room
Bivalve Form reflects and reimagines the forms of a fossilized shell. The stillness of the concreted fossilized form suggests movement in its function and shape, and these elements of geometry and form are the basis for the piece. The form slides two versions of the original fragment together so that it almost rotates around itself. The sculpture has been carved from Purbeck Marble, a colourful fossilized Jurassic stone sourced from the Dorset coast.
Alexander Edwards, Evidence 1
In response to: Maidstone Museum itself
When first exploring the museum to search out ideas for Response I became fascinated by how little people actual observed in the museum; how often they ignored, walked past or missed beautiful details and elements in the galleries. It is this that fascinated me and this element that I have responded to with Evidence 1. The work highlights small elements in the museum that we might miss and asks us to re-examine those places searching for the beauty that is all around us.
Jenny Fairweather, Reflections on cases, Maidstone Museum and The Beaker, Maidstone Museum
In response to: the Withdrawing room
I wanted to show the atmospheric Elizabethan interior of the museum, particularly the Withdrawing room with its dramatic lighting through diamond-paned windows. My photographs distort reality using reflections but also show the objects through the glass of their protective cases. Astounded by the variety of often extremely ancient and rare artefacts collected and lovingly curated, I hope my photographs cause viewers to look anew at the treasures within the museum.
The Beaker: late 6th-7th century from cemetery at Faversham, Germanic origins, saved 1996.
Ali Farmer, @kunstkammer_
Personal collections of curiosities, Instagram catalogue
In Response to: the Julius Brenchley collection
The remit of curating has expanded into a discursive practice that reaches many areas of our lives, from architecture and design to theatre and social media. Social media has given the masses the opportunity to become curators on a much more accessible platform, ordering their personal and professional lives to impress, teach and entertain their peers. This approach is very similar to that of the historic cabinet of curiosities where personal collections of objects, artefacts and relics were assembled and preserved commonly by the wealthy to represent their status.
This conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction. @kunstkammer_ is realised with a physical display of objects donated from personal collections and an online Instagram catalogue of photographs and descriptions in a bid to explore man’s fascination with classification – our inner urge to arrange the chaotic world around us. It plays homage to the historical and the contemporary process and engagement of curatorial practice.
Shirley-Ann Galbraith, Unfolding
Mixed media installation in Perspex vitrine
In response to: the Museum as a story
This site-specific installation piece represents a creative response to the museum viewed as a story, exploring the narrative through explanatory text. Presented within a Perspex vitrine which echoes the curation of the museum collection, this mixed-media installation focuses on the emotive power of words. The cylindrical vessels, reminiscent of museum specimen jars, have been placed within the geometric Perspex vitrine and invite the viewer to interpret the narrative tableau presented.
Julia Groves, Streams
Graphite pencil and coloured pencil on paper
In response to: the Anglo–Saxon collection
Water, blood, consciousness, light, thoughts, flood, time…
This work is informed by my links with the Lyminge Archaeological Project and is inspired by the beautiful Anglo–Saxon glass and metalwork in the museum, particularly the distinctive glass trail decoration. Each trail in the drawing represents one generation so taking the viewer back through time to the 5th century A.D. I have referenced the course of the Nailbourne – the intermittent chalk stream that begins at Lyminge – as a metaphor for the lost narratives of the Anglo-Saxons.
Claire Manning, Vanitas n.02
Somerset paper, Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks, acrylic paint, inks, aluminium
In response to: Vanitas, Still Life with a Globe by Petrus Schotanus
This collage re-imagines what a modern day Vanitas painting might look like. Its images are appropriated from contemporary fashion magazines chosen for their allusions to perfection, possessions, power, death and eternal life. What results is a fantastical assemblage that shifts state from tangible hand cut material to the somewhat mutant surrealism of the digitally montaged picture. Any notions of idealism are revealed as false, destroyed by a lack of intactness and disarray to offer a more truthful reality of decay, impermanence and uncertainty.
Steve McGinn, Outside in
Paint on steel
In response to: time
By replicating the golden shingles on the outside of the recently updated museum, the intention of the artwork is to stimulate questions of choice, decision, perception and time. In other words, what we choose to put into museums, the decision processes behind these choices, our perception of objects in a museum environment, and the sense of time around those objects and within the museum itself.
Ruth Payne, The Look-See
Salvaged chest of drawers, mirrors, drawings, found objects, LED lighting
In response to: Museums in generals – displays of artefacts and partial views of the past
The Look-See invites you to play, look and see. When we go into a museum, we peer at bright moments of the past. The rest of our occluded vision we surmise as best we can. Handle with care, but please handle.
Cathy Rogers, Traces of Now and Then
Digital image, TFT LCD screen
In response to: the Glass Plate Negative Collection
Looking straight at you, she then turns and glances back before disappearing into the background. The glass plate negatives of an unknown woman photographed at the turn of the last century, looking forward and then looking back, could almost be a metaphor for history and time itself. Through viewing the negatives, digitally scanned and superimposed on an LCD screen, amalgamated they turn into a positive image of the unknown woman.
Asli Shehi, His, Hers, Yours and Mine
Photograph, Inkjet print on foam board
In response to: the headless
mannequins in the (Costume) dressing rooms
This body of work explores the observer’s perceptions of the abstracted parts of the body. The body itself was photographed in segments. Each image was then sectioned and framed to create a disconnection to the one before whilst allowing it to be recognised as the same subject.
When a representation of the body is viewed as a whole, depending on its scale it can create a distance from the observer and expose many social meanings such as gender, identity, youth, beauty and age. Moreover, it can promote the idea of otherness and differentiation.
However, when fragmented images of the body are viewed they become abstract and ambiguous. The viewer’s perception then changes; cropping the part from the whole has taken away the subject’s social coding and perceived differences and has made the object more neutral and familiar to the viewer.
Catherine Sibley, Artefact
Found objects, MDF, plywood, paper, acetate, magnifying sheets, clear acrylic cubes, LED light-box, mirror glass
In response to: the notion of museum within the geographical context of Maidstone
This piece investigates aspects of display and perspective, reflection and illumination, curation and inspection. It encourages the viewer to visually engage with and physically navigate the work.
Linda Simon, The Physical Impossibility of Life in the Mind of Something Knitted
Yarn, polyester fibre
In response to: Carcharias Hopei (Sheppey Shark)
In 1991 Damian Hirst exhibited his iconic formaldehyde shark in a vitrine, a piece designed to shock and bring us face to face with death. Commonly referred to as the shark in a box, it is an image embedded in popular culture, attracting audiences more for curiosity than artistic value and becoming a symbol of the capitalist fine art market. Soft, cosy, using common materials and techniques of low worth, and defying conventional display methods, this large knitted shark stuffed in a box is both anarchic and absurd.
Angela Carol Stocker, Previous Book Lost
Calico, granddad’s army service book and various found items
In response to: the 3D model depicting the Battle of the Tennis Courts in the Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment Museum room
My grandfather is believed to have been a survivor of this battle although he never spoke of his experiences, refused his medals, and his original service book was lost.
This illuminated artwork questions the dynamic relationship between the past, present, and future. Glowing, yet fading, ghostlike memories that smoulder expectantly in hope of reigniting and bursting forth into renewed life.
Horsehair barristers wig, human hair extensions, donkey skin, Rootstein model
In response to: a wig in the ethnographic collection and the Lady Godiva plaster sculpture by John Thomas, 1861
The ethnographic wig, like a granny’s bonnet, is made of human hair.
In a society where hair denoted rank, the greatest sacrifice by a man was to shave off hair in mourning.
Use of the wig reaffirmed chiefdom.
Lady Godiva had nought but hair to protect her naked self-humiliatiatory ride to persuade her husband to reduce taxation.
Using the donkey skin fairy tale to explore contemporary interpretations of the two exhibits, this work plays with the use of hair in relation to expressions of mortality, sexuality, status and disguise.
Siobhán Timoney, Do you really want to hurt me
Textiles and plastic
In response to: stuffed animals
This work is a direct response to the birds on display in the museum. It links the way that collectors thought they could take what they wanted for their displays. This practice is still going on today. The framed cushion plays with the idea of the luxury of the time available to the classes that explored. This cushion however is not filled with feathers, but instead with plastics. This is a direct reference to the way birds are being killed now by the high levels of plastic waste that is piling into the oceans. Birds and general wildlife are feeding on this detritus and dying. This is a result of all our waste…
Veronica Tonge, Ambiguous Belief
Found objects and mixed media
In response to: the doll’s house
Two doll’s houses – one 1950s the other 1970s – donated by the same family and owned from new. The museum believes they are authentic “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine. Made or done in the traditional or original way, faithfully resembling an original.” In reality they have a hidden history; furniture and fittings lost, serious deterioration, made over or restored by several owners, and missing major parts replicated. Finally, as “found objects” they have been further amended and designated as artworks. Authenticity has many disguises…
Angela Wooi, And they all lived happily ever after
Mixed media textiles and taxidermy
In response to: the mummy in the sarcophagus and the taxidermy collection
The museum offers a varied array of contrasting artefacts in a relatively small space, and I have made a multi-layered response to my favourite pieces. Looking at funeral practice and ritual, the Egyptian mummy is a somewhat macabre spectacle in Maidstone.
Museum, her lifeless body forever preserved. The taxidermy, native mammals and birds immortal in imagined scenarios. I’m interested in the museums function; feeding our imagination. We can’t help but peer inside the coffins, our morbid curiosity getting the better of us.