Thursday, 21 July 2011

Richard Box - Field

‘Field’ 2004 Richard Box. from EcoArt Project on Vimeo.

‘Field’, was inspired by childhood stories from a friend who played underneath overhead power-lines, in his back garden. These stories came to mind as I was reading research into human radiation effects by Bristol University physics department, where I was Artist in Residence for 2003, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

The installation ‘Field’ was created by planting 1,301, reclaimed, 58-watt fluorescent light tubes, 100mm into the earth, equidistant from their neighbours, covering an area of 3,600 m2 underneath a 440KV overhead power-line, at Tormarton, South Gloucestershire, UK. Becoming visible at dusk the electromagnetic field emanating from the power-lines above, on its way to earth, lit the tubes.

‘Field’ used an everyday glass object to create a highly interactive artwork that was successful on many different levels. The piece drew attention to the presence of the electromagnetic field in a dramatic way, making the invisible, visible.

The grid layout of the tubes plotted the electromagnetic pollution emanating from the overhead power cables. Being placed at the same height and equidistant from their neighbours meant they all had an equal chance of lighting. People’s proximity to the tubes affected the way that they lit. By standing next to and taller than a planted tube your head effectively stole its electromagnetic energy, putting the light out. The different experiments that visitors devised and reported back to me are too numerous to list here. Over 4000 people visited the three week installation, all left with a heightened awareness of the electromagnetic pollution present in our environment.

More information here, here and here.

The Museum of British Folklore

"In Britain in the 21st century, there exists a rich, living of annual folk festivals and traditional rituals, many of which have existed for hundreds of years while others are relatively new. It is therefore a surprising fact that there exists no properly funded centre in Britain to research and celebrate our native traditions and vernacular arts. It is my aim, that over the next few years, such an institution will exist, which will address this situation"

As a child, I devoured the information in my parents copy of 'Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain', published by the Readers Digest in the mid-sixties.

Inside its black, embossed covers, was a rich and magical world of Green Men, Stone Circles, Witches, Giants, Haunted Houses and Seasonal Customs. Single-handedly, it engendered my life-long interest in the folklore traditions of these Islands.

Many of our family holidays were spent in the British Isles, and particularly in Devon, where my mother was evacuated during the war. When I was seven, we visited St. Ives in Cornwall, and I wandered around a tiny museum filled with Victorian toys and penny slot machines. Dotted among the exhibits were fine examples of the British Vernacular arts: Corn Dollies, Staffordshire figurines, Nailsea glass canes and horse-brasses.

Sadly, the museum no longer exists. However, the memory of my visit to it has remained. I have only to smell Patchouli oil to conjure the memory of the museum’s owner; her mane of black hair, and her dark, smoky eye make-up. She was a veritable siren from a silent movie as she showed me, wide-eyed, around her magic kingdom, painstakingly explaining the exhibits to a child filled with wonder at the sight of them.

Over the past fifteen years, I have been involved in researching the many folk traditions of the United Kingdom, as well as actively participating in a great number of the events including 15 years at the Jack in the Green festival at Hastings, which has expanded every year with 23,000 attendees in 2008.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of ongoing debate in both the media and in the public arena as to the changing perception of an indigenous British Folk Culture. What is perceived as contemporary 'popular' culture has been examined so that answers may be sought to the ongoing place of ancient customs in our so-called modern society.

Often, our perceived notion is little more than an understanding of how we as an island nation have, over the last half century in particular, embraced-and actively imported- popular cultures from other places-particularly the United States. Our own Folkloric traditions are often overlooked, despite their being a vital means of preserving and perpetuating our homegrown myths, rituals, community and countrywide histories. Thus, the 21st century study of Folklore, far from being merely historical, also provides a crucial means of understanding and interpreting a culture from the inside out.

It is with this aim in mind, that I intend to establish a permanent collection and national exhibition centre that celebrates and promotes the Folk Culture of the British Isles. In 2008, I actively met curators, small museum directors and archivists responsible for existing folk collections throughout the country. My research also bought me into contact with the Charity Commission, several fundraising consultants and individual practitioners, writers and musicians, so as to gain a fuller understanding of what might be involved in the programming and day-to-day operation of a small museum. I have drawn up a number of diverse policies and agendas, which would affect the operation of such an institution, ranging from Health and Safety issues to Child Protection, Equal Opportunities to Financial Management Control in addition to the crucial Mission Statement for the museum.

In 2009 the museum undertook a UK wide tour. A 1976 Castleton Caravan was bought and over 15 different folk festivals were visited. Members of the public got the chance to learn more about the museum project and could also make donations and meet the museum director. The tour was a valuable source of evaluation into discovering whether or not there was a need and an interest in a new national venue of this kind.

The response was overwhelming and the museum has now moved onto a two year exhibition programme, starting with an exhibition hosted by Compton Verney in Warwickshire, which looks at the history of fireworks in Britain.

For more information about the project, visit The Museum of British Folklore and join the mailing list for monthly updates about this exciting new venture.

Simon Costin.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sir Benjamin Stone & The National Photographic Record Association

"Benjamin Stone is a national institution. Photography has been with him, as has been well said, not a hobby but a passion..." The Strand Magazine, 1910.

In 1897, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, Sir Benjamin Stone (1838–1914) announced the formation of the National Photographic Record Association (NPRA).

Its aim was to record the ancient buildings, folk customs and other 'survivals' of historical interest for the future. The result would be a national memory bank that would foster 'a national pride in the historical associations of the country, or neighbourhood, [or] in family traditions'. Stone was a Birmingham industrialist, a Member of Parliament, an amateur photographer and a passionate collector of photographs. With his belief in 'straight' record photography, he set the agenda for the NPRA not only administratively but also intellectually and aesthetically. Of the 5883 photographs that the NPRA deposited at the British Museum between 1897 and 1910, 1532 were by Stone. Six years ago all these were transferred to the V&A, and a small selection could be seen in this display. The NPRA was part of a much wider photographic survey movement at the end of the 19th century, covering British archaeology, geology and ethnography.

The idea of photographic surveys survives to this day, operating at many levels, from local camera clubs and community projects to the National Monuments Record. While there are strong elements of nostalgia in the NPRA, it was also dynamic as our Victorian ancestors, like us, used photography to project what they valued about their past into the future.

Further information here, here & here.