Friday, 12 March 2010

Mythogeography: museums, animals and Nina Saunders' installation at Tracey Neuls

No sooner had I read about Phil Smith’s book, Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways. than I found myself on my own “ambulatory adventure”.

"If you want a simple definition of the term Mythogeography, you won’t get one. It’s more about ways of doing things than a theory. It’s about experiments rather than text books. It shares some genetic material with psychogeography, just as Psilocybe semilanceata has something in common with the Tesco closed cup. Compared to psychogeography it is probably more site-specific and more to do with some sense of life as a performance. (If this sounds elusive, that’s because most things worth catching are." Phil Smith

I had got up at the crack of dawn to get an early train to London specially to attend a conference. I arrived, observed that the signage was noticeably discreet, handed my coat in and wondered where all the other delegates were. All this before I realised that I had come a whole MONTH early!
But every cloud has a silver lining and the adventures that I had on that day I feel far outweigh the conference that I had planned to attend.
I had my own mythogeographic adventure which had elements of meditation, celebration and revelation.

After a restorative piece of chocolate cake I planned my day. Alone in London with only one appointment to meet
Olivier Ruellet at the end of the day….oh the potential for an adventure!

I started gently as I ambled, paused, and went back and forth between exhibits in the
Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain. (This was a warm up for my planned visit to Hoglands later this year.)

I was positively excited as I strode up the hill towards the Horniman museum. I wrote my degree dissertation on collectors; how collections impact on the respective collector’s life and also the peculiarities & Britishness of some collectors. I didn’t plan to spend the whole day here (but I could easily have) so here are just a few visual snapshots.

I love the old fashioned displays......How big is that walrus?
I felt so like a child as I simply stood beside him. Full of wonder and quite overwhelmed by his size.

Beaks: why bother to show the rest of the birds’ bodies when all we are looking at are the beaks? It seems so wasteful; the arrogance of man. But this says so much about the era of Frederick John Horniman in the late 19th century. This is a history lesson as well as a biology one.

How exciting to see the inside of a tortoise! The underside of things has always fascinated me. That’s why I pay so much attention to the underside of my beings. See Hyacinth’s plastic grass underside and Penny’s plastic eye encrusted underbelly.

A Hermit crab; a wonderful ambiguous form…. and here’s the underside.
And now a hedgehog but displayed as you've never seen one before.
I walked on to The Dulwich Picture gallery. It was a drizzly wet day and I was avoiding the puddles as my (expensive!) boots were developing a leak. So watching out for puddles I started to notice the cracks.
I thought of Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth that I saw back in 2008.
The mental map of my day was developing nicely; these cracks having as much importance as the art galleries and museums that I was visiting.

I had written a chapter on Sir John Soane (in my opinion, the grandfather of collectors) a few years ago but this was my first visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The Dulwich picture gallery was the first gallery to be built specifically as a gallery open to the public. Soane's design for the building includes skylights which maximized the daylight but which also ensured that no direct sunlight hit the valuable oil paintings. It has been said that Soane’s skylight designs, “ have been the primary influence on art gallery design ever since”.

Giuseppe, one of the gallery attendants, noticed that I was more interested in the building than the pictures (nice frames though!). He showed me into the mausoleum of Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois the benefactor of this collection. Giuseppe told me how Sir John Soane was on site starting work on the gallery design the very day after Sir Peter’s funeral.
I love stories and stories about people in particular. I also love how small the world is.
As I looked up to Soane’s trademark yellow skylights I would never have guessed that just two weeks later (yesterday) I would be in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter having a private tour of Pugin, Hardiman & Powell Ltd. world famous stained glass specialists. One of the many prestigious jobs that they are working on currently is restoration of glass in Sir John Soane’s Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.
Sir John Soane’s museum is a place I will visit again and again and I hope to visit Pugin, Hardiman & Powell Ltd. again as it is very definitely a most wonderful hidden treasure.
It is believed that Giles Gilbert Scott took inspiration from the mausoleum roof (see photo above) when designing the domed roof of the classic K2 red telephone boxes. Giles Gilbert Scott became Chairman of the Trustees of The Soane Museum in 1925 and designed K2 in 1924-26.
(This red phone box strategically placed in the grounds of the Dulwich Picture Gallery makes comparison of forms even easier.)

While walking you notice so much more. These window boxes filled with synthetic flowers. Nice and bright on a drizzly February day but surely lowering the tone in the very affluent borough of Kensington & Chelsea?

I marvelled at this sliver of house. I suppose it was bombed during WW2 but it is still used. Such fun .....a building as pointed as a spear. I looked in the window to see the narrowest kitchen ever.

At 6pm I positively jogged up to Tracey Neuls’ shoe emporium on Marleybone Lane to check out Nina Saunders' installation.

I entered the wonderland….The theatrical setting…..Shoes in a forest of silver birch tree trunks. And in the centre a chair which has broken free from the confines of our normal expectations of such furniture.
I have followed Nina Saunders for many years now. I grew up with Sanderson fabrics and homemade curtains. As a teenager I even made myself a dressing gown from my mum & dad’s old bedroom curtains . (I really loved the fabric).
So shoes and a mutated chair all upholstered in a reissued Sanderson classic design all seem perfectly natural to me. But the wonderful, magical and at the same time sinister artwork that Nina has created was even better than I had expected.
There was a customer trying on shoes but I was in another world. I hope that my own art takes people to the “place” that I call Frillip Moolog. I wonder if Nina Saunders has a name for the “place” that she hopes her art will transport us to?

Writing this now I realise what an interesting role that animals had played in my day of adventures.
They had been presented in such unnatural ways: Beaks in cases, a walrus on a fibreglass iceberg, tortoise shells opened like treasure chests, hermit crabs’ privacy being invaded and finally Nina Saunders’ installation presenting a jade budgie and fluffy red squirrel laid to rest in handmade shoes. This was far from cute.

I had an unforgettable “Artist Date”. I looked at things from other viewpoints, made connections, walked avoiding the puddles encountered art and exhibitions which played with my emotions and ignited my imagination.
I am on a journey of discovery; interested in Mythogeography and even more convinced in the power of art to transport us to a very special "place".
Getting the date wrong I got much more than I bargained for.