Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Another visit to the museum

I visitedt the Museum to see if things were progressing with the permit that would allow me to draw objects in the collection.
I was pleased to learn that I would be able to photograph some of the pieces which I was interested in, but it had to happen there and then. It would be quicker for the museum if I took photos.... otherwise someone would need to be with me and keep a record of what I drew.
We set off around the Museum, I was limited to objects within agreed departments and needed to be escorted by 4 staff who collectively noted the accession numbers of the pieces I photographed.
I think it was difficult for the museum staff to understand the connections I saw between the pieces and why I wanted to record them. The culture of using museum collections as a resource for all, to educate, inform and inspire is very different here in Bangladesh compared to the UK. The practice of artists and designers sourcing inspiration, finding solutions to design problems, observing different approaches to material manipulation and learning from historic collections didnt appear to be common practice. I think there may also be concerns about cultural appropriation and preservation. Bangladesh feels very much a 'new' nation, defining its modern cultural identity in the world and at the same time, understandably, being very protective and proud of the rich history and traditions of the people and the region. Relatively recent history had seen, what some might view as, an attempt to try to eradicate and destroy a large part of that cultural knowledge.

Some of the curators I met talked about the books they had written and the research they had undertaken about their specialist subject and the museums collections.
I wondered what it would be like to see a Big Draw project take place here and what the museum and the public might make of it, to explore different ways for the public to engage in their heritage through drawing. I wondered what the curators might think if they saw and took part in a Big Draw project in a museum in the UK. I wondered what they might think of the education programes that take place in UK museums and some of the projects I have been involved in with both museums and heritage sites.

Some 30 or so minutes later and with all the forms and numbers completed, I had a record of some of the objects I had seen and which I thought were wonderful, either for their craftsmanship, their forms and surfaces, the inventiveness, resourcefulness, the way they were made, the way in which the material had been worked or the mysteries and stories they prompted in my mind.
For me one of the most stunning objects was a fan, woven like the bamboo ones I had seen and brought in the village and markets, instead this one was made from silver. (approximately 40 cm tall).
I havent seen anything like this before and was intrigued by the application of a technique normally used for another material being translated into metal. I wondered why this object had been made; it was possibly a high status object, because of the material and the craftsmanship, yet it had retained so much of its everyday design; including the overall format, the scale, the weave, the supporting wires across the middle, the fringe around the disc.
There were other metal objects that caught my attention for their forms and the processesss used to construct them but also because they occupied a similar cultural ground.
Woven brass baskets: Again using weaving techniques normally associated with bamboo, these baskets are identical in shapes to ones normally made from the cheaper, local, bamboo. They are designed and used to wash fish, the open weave at the bottom allowing water to move freely. Why make them in brass? show ?status? durability? To have obtained the brass, cast, stretched, rolled it to make the lengths and then to weave it, would have taken considerable time and effort. why?
The shift in form from square to round, the change in the weave, the tension in the surface, the pulling in of the sides on the lower one, the bulk and rhythm of the strips swirling together to form the rim, the finer wire holding it all in place, were all beautiful details.

There were lots of other baskets in the collection, humble utilitarian objects made from cheap local materials, stunningly and inventively crafted, designed to do a job and now resting in a cabinet in a museum.
Tight flowing winnowing baskets for sifting rice with their fluid lines and busy surfaces, different scales of line and material for different parts of the object.
Fishing scoops, again using different gauges of material to produce stunningly clear forms so complex you could look at them for ages trying to understand the form, the flow of the lines, the structure and how they were made. I try to imagine the story of how and where they might have been used.
Other bulky forms made up from fine lines of reed and grass, The designs demonstrating an understanding and observation of the prey and how it moves and operates.Bamboo again split and spread out to create fluid eel trap scoops.
I'm concious that there is a metal and construction bias to my photos, stunning anklets from different parts of Bangladesh associated with different tribal groups. Made from repeated cast components the look like fruits, the mass forming an overal surface.
A beautiful boat, actually commissioned by museum and built within the gallery, made using metal staples like the ones we saw in the models at the boat museum earlier in the month.I liked the colours and the painting as well as the way the planks tapered and fitted together.
The fluid and tapering form was beautiful too.
What a visual feast!, although I miss the woven ivory mat and the stunning forms of the stone and wood carving!