I’ve recently started a new project that responds to the collection at Haslemere Educational Museum. This is a traditional museum – dare I say, rather old-fashioned. It was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson as a centre for learning. All the artefacts were at that time on open display as Hutchinson ‘believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes’.
I am of course a great believer in understanding things using all the senses and not just the eyes, so this idea appeals to me. Unfortunately the artefacts in the three permanent Geology, Natural History and Human History galleries are now all behind glass. However, the work I am making for the exhibition responds to the idea of open display and will be highly textured and tactile – it will encourage exploration with more than just the visual sense.
You will not be surprised to hear that I was drawn to the Natural History galleries and the collections of insects, bones, marine life and shells. Most of the artefacts were collected by naturalists and collectors at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. These collections show an obsession for exploring, learning and understanding new and mysterious things. Many of the collections are neatly labelled with the artefact’s scientific name, date of collection and locality.
I am a collector. I can’t help myself. It is as Rachel Whiteread says, a type of ‘absent-minded browsing, like doodling in a sketchbook’. I wander along the beach, eyes down, mind whirring as I bend down and pocket stuff. I take it all home and put it in containers – often the bottom of milk cartons (which now I look at them are interesting in themselves as they are dated and the supermarket they come from gives me a clue to where the ‘stuff’ was collected). This, up to now, has been the limit of my rather crude form of documentation.
The plan for this project is not to use my collection but to take inspiration from it. In the spirit of the Victorian collector I will gather and place together mysterious objects to be wondered at. I will make a collection of imaginary marine debris that will consist of things that could have been found and collected along the beach strand-line – objects that could have floated ashore on the waves and deposited as the tide retreats.
So far I have made one set of objects. I will make more sets over the next few weeks and I intend to make drawings as well …. I’ll keep you posted.