Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies

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Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies

Jeni McConnell


Jeni McConnell people | place | ARTIST | object | archive 07867 831806 @jenimcconnell ------------------------------------------

Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies

Receiving Event : 30th August Announcing Performance : 13th September Display : 13th September - 19th October | 2013 | ---------------------------------------------------------A unique and playful disruption of museum practice reflecting the history of the Harris Museum & Art

Gallery and formally engaging with the grand temporary

architectural intervention of the Harris Flights to create a display of Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies


Artist: Jeni McConnell Photography: Niki Carlin, Black Glass Studios

Instrument or Object? The 1893 display in the Harris Museum was described as having thirty instruments loaned by gentlemen. It was these few words that first set the title for this project; Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies. Yet using the word ‘instrument’ has caused some confusion and so ‘object’, ‘item’, or even ‘thing’ have been substituted in discussion with others to help to clarify the idea. Yet now, upon reflection, as these physical objects and the personal stories come closer together, each enriching the other, it is clear that these are indeed ‘instruments’ or ‘tools’ which their owners use as triggers to recall significant memories, and so, for this reason, the title remains.

INTRODUCTION There are four key elements to this project which were a critical part of my desire to engage with the Harris Flights Programme; to reflect on and draw out the history of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, to be playful with museum methods of loan and display, to engage with the Harris Flights and the sense of grandeur that they provoke, and to engage the public in the process. When the Harris Museum & Art Gallery opened in 1893 it was reported that one of the most interesting and popular displays was in rooms set aside for a show of microscopic and other apparatus, this included thirty instruments which had been loaned by gentlemen. I was hooked, triggered by a desire to redress the balance, I would look for thirty instruments which could be loaned by ladies for display in the museum. The Harris Flights, a set of grand stairs connecting the market square to the first floor of the Harris Museum provide the inspiration for making a grand gesture of these loaned objects, by publicly announcing each one, creating a special performance for their arrival and arrangement for display. During the performance each object is carried slowly across the market square to ascend the grand stairs, where possible by their owners. As the journey is marked the object is publicly announced, as if a guest arriving at a formal dinner. The description and a part of the personal story of each possession is announced to the audience. At the top of the stairs the object is received by a gloved museum attendant who in turn places it into a waiting display case. The objects and some of their stories are given on the following pages, interleaved with text from people engaged with the project. Jeni McConnell

1893/07 My Pen -----------Bought as a present for the owner by her husband about one year ago, this pen has a black and white flower pattern printed onto a stone coloured background and has been used by the owner to write a lot of academic and artistic works, which include a lot of poems and some of her thesis.

1893/25 Bamboo Pen -------------This thin piece of bamboo is fashioned into a writing nib which the owner says “creates a lovely variation of lines that a mechanical nib doesn't allow, and the hand made nature of the pen means that ink can flow unpredictably, creating happy accidents.�

1893/13 Ink Bottle with Metal Lid --------------------------------------------“This belonged to my aunt who collected all sorts of intriguing and random things which I inherited after she died. She worked at the Home Office so I presume she acquired it when it became redundant. I have also found other stray and useful items from the Stationery Office in her old drawers and boxes at home.�

1893/29 Knitting Row Counter

1893/14 Terry the Turtle

Designed to help you keep a track of your ‘Knitting and Crochet’, the information label on the back says it will help when you are called away ‘suddenly’ from your work.

A sentimental object described as being green and purple, palm size and turtle shaped. It is a desk ornament with the function of ‘being a turtle’.

The owner was left it by a friend who knitted all her life, until she passed away 2 years ago, aged 86.

It was knitted for the owner by a friend at her knitting group and reminds her of the importance of knitting as a calming device.

The friend had worked as Secretary to the Preston Town Clerk before her retirement.

It was a Christmas present and has been owned for just over four and a half years.

1893/28 My Dad, Aged 3 This old photograph taken around 1923 shows the owner’s Father as a three year old child sat posed with toys in the photographer’s studio. It now sparks conversation as family and visitors often think it is a recently taken ‘old style’ photograph of what would have been this gentleman’s greatgrandson, such is the family likeness.

1893/19 Small Repaired Doll When the owner found this doll it must have looked very different to how it is today; then a painted clown face, a multi-coloured shiny outfit and fur hair, which have all been removed. New fabric was added to hide damaged parts and a new red hood was crocheted. The owner likes to find abandoned objects and restore them, often with a twist.

1893/17 My String Ben ‘Ben’ is a small object made of string, approx 3.5 inches high. He lives on the owner’s work desk where he has been since he was purchased on a trip to America in 2012. The owner loves museums and her husband loves science. She says, they have very little in common between them. They went to the Benjamin Franklin museum which they both loved - it brought both of their worlds together.

1893/11 Yellow Key Ring This keyring was bought about 12 months ago. It is bright yellow, made from a rubberised substance with an inset oval button that bears the owner’s name ‘Louise’ in alternate light and dark pink lettering. When this is pressed it switches on a small torchlight. For Louise she has two things in one, all her important keys together connected to a torch which will help to guide her in the dark.

1893/12 Key This small ornamental key, just a few centimetres long, is one of two older style keys that the owner has on her keyring. This, the more striking design of the two is smaller and is used to open an inlaid wooden musical chess table which the owner still uses today. The table was given for her 21st birthday, and has been owned for 45 years. It was made in Italy.

1893/08 Four-Leaf Clover The owner describes this collection of four four-leaf clovers as being priceless. The leaves are all attached by clear tape which is now slightly yellowed. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when we hear that the owner has had these for 33 years after finding them on Ashton Park. She still picks clover regularly and often manages to find a lucky four-leaf one. She once found one with five leaves.

1893/15 Button Ring (broken)

1893/22 Jeweller’s Blow Pipe

The metal ring back has detached itself from the button on this object, but it is kept by the owner for sentimental purposes having been given to her as a present six months ago for helping out in a friends shop.

Although this may have been used as a jeweller’s blow pipe at some point in the past, the owner’s father, who had it in his toolbox, worked as an electrician and made radios at home in his spare time.

It brings back memories of working in the shop and also of crafting items to sell.

It used to have a short rubber pipe attached, but this perished and was thrown away.

The button is bright blue with a flowery pattern in vibrant pink, turquoise and greens.

No doubt this was once a useful tool, it now sits on display in the family home as a curiosity.

1893/30 Sovereign Scales These scales were passed down from the owner’s mother in law. There is no evidence of how, when these might have been used by her relative as, “she wasn’t a collector of objects and there wasn’t anyone in the family involved in the trade associated with it.“ These scales are small, made of brass, and fold neatly into their mahogany box when not in use. They were manufactured in Prescot.

1893/02 Trolley Coin Used by the owner to show her support for RAFA, the Royal Air Force Association. Bought from a RAFA member two years ago who, sadly, has since died. This object is used instead of a £1 coin when getting a supermarket trolley. The owner was a local service WRAF, stationed at Air Traffic Control Centre at Barton Hall, where she worked for 3 years and recalls, “Happy Days”.

COLLECTING DILEMMAS At the heart of a museum is its collection – the objects, artefacts, things, that are its essence. New objects entering a museum refresh the collection. Like a newcomer to a party, they shuffle the dynamics. New relationships are created, stories told, debates prompted, secrets revealed. One of the most joyous moments in a curator’s life is when a desirable object is donated. And one of the worst elements of the job is turning down offers that aren’t needed or wanted, that ‘sadly don’t fit with our collecting policy’. People offer things that they value, that hold precious memories, but no longer have a place in their own lives. A museum is the way to dispose of the item, while continuing to honour that value and those memories. Loans offer a temporary resolution to collecting dilemmas – for both museum and owner. The museum expects to return the item and the owner wants it back. But sometimes the arrangement falls apart. The lender fails to return and the museum is left with an orphan object – all the responsibility without the ownership. And the responsibility is palpable. The museum has a duty of care which may mean a far greater treasuring of the object than it ever had before. When not on display, it is carefully wrapped in tissue, placed in a box, protected from light, damp and pests and locked in a store. Paperwork is vital. Even for the shortest loan there are forms to fill in, signatures to obtain, tick-box options covering every eventuality. For museums it is routine, carried out in back offices and stores that lack the grandeur of the public spaces. White gloves are just the tools of the job. There is no ceremonial procession or handover. But underlying these everyday activities is respect – for the object, its donor or lender, the stories it tells, and for the visitor who we hope to inspire. Sue Latimer Programmes Manager Harris Museum & Art Gallery

PUSHING BOUNDARIES As a socially engaged artist I seek to work directly with people to explore the inextricable links between us, and our connections to place. Through my research and creative practice it has become evident to me that objects and images are tightly entwined in this connection. Layers build around personal possessions, material memories become wrapped like the layers of an onion, tightly bound together with the object. We use them as triggers for personal recall, and as social tools to engage, as ‘instruments’ with which to communicate with others. These thirty ‘instruments’ begin to explain part of the rich and complex relationship that we all have with objects; remembering special birthdays, gifts on first meetings, relatives and friends that have passed away. It feels a privilege to hear these told. Could we imagine personal stories being given about the thirty gentlemen who loaned their objects when the Harris Museum & Art Gallery first opened? It must have been a very different place then. As an artist, engaging with people in public places and in public buildings does provide challenges; the push and pull of risk, process and normal practice can feel restrictive. Exploring these boundaries and pushing against them, I hope, provides something unique and different, something that engages with new audiences and builds a stronger connection between those outside and what is inside. The Harris Flights have been an enabler for this process, one amongst the many projects that have entertained, questioned and provoked those who have experienced these grand stairs. Perhaps as you read you might consider that in creating this booklet another object appears, something that we can connect to, an ‘instrument’ that we can use as a social tool to talk with others about an experience we have had. Jeni McConnell Artist

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF OBJECTS: AN ANCHOR FOR ATTACHMENT AND MEMORY A question that people sometimes discuss is: “If your house were on fire and you only had time to take one or two objects, what would you take?” Replies to that question can be very revealing of personal values as it forces people to focus on what is most meaningful to them. Many times, people have wanted to preserve their photos. In the “Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies” exhibit, we have the opportunity both to view actual objects as well as beautiful photographic renditions of them, which will allow the exhibit to continue beyond the display period. Memories will be preserved simultaneously by the person who loaned the object, those who came to see the objects, and those who view the booklet. Thus in one exhibit, the personal becomes part of the communal consciousness and is preserved historically. The objects were chosen by the thirty ladies and therefore had personal significance, which was described in a narrative preserved here in the booklet. To use Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, it would be safe to say that the women’s choice of the particular objects revealed their ‘cathexis’ or emotional attachment to them. Freud emphasized the significance of the transition from the first six months of age when the baby’s world is ‘objectless’ as the entire world seems part of themselves (‘primary narcissism’) to when babies develop a conception of themselves as separate and recognize the existence of other people (Crain, 2005). Object-relations theory describes interactions with other people as ‘object relations’ but cathexis also exists in relation to tangible objects. In this exhibit, women have chosen to honour particular items by sharing them with the community at large and have been willing to express the story that explains their attachment to them. Social psychologists have studied the development of personal identity, and the objects in this exhibit reveal aspects of the women’s personalities through their choice of what they have judged as not only being valuable to them, but also worthy of the gaze of others. The concept of ‘place identity’ has been identified to emphasise the

importance of place in determining people’s sense of themselves (Taylor, 2010). The objects may have come from very divergent places but they have now been chosen by the ladies to be part of Preston’s history. Objects represent memories, and as memories fade, they become an important anchor to bring back the vividness of the memories, enhancing their value over time My grandmother’s opera glasses, my choice for the exhibit, are no longer just an item placed in my dining room display cabinet without explanation. I am honoured to have shared my attachment to them with the photographer who has transformed the image beautifully, to the magnificent Harris Museum, and the city of Preston. Crain, W. 2005. Theories of development. London: Pearson. Taylor, S. 2010. Narratives of identity and place. London: Routledge. Linda Dubrow-Marshall PhD, MBACP (Accred), Counselling and Clinical Psychologist, HCPC Registered, FHEA

1893/04 Wilhelmina Mint This commemorative mint was first created in 1898, showing the head of Queen Wilhelmina, who reigned the Netherlands for fifty years. This particular one was given in a new packet to the owner as her flight was delayed at Schiphol airport, a treat to appease a weary traveller. The owner has kept the half empty packet in her bag for three months now, although she is unsure why.

1893/18 Compact Mirror The owner bought this round compact pair of mirrors for herself from a local shop over 12 months ago. It is an easy size to carry around, the owner keeps it in her handbag. It is decorated with enamelled cream swirls, making it look rather old fashioned, which is why the owner likes it. The two dark holes are where a small cat decoration was attached, now kept separately.

1893/05 Hairclip Kept as a memory of the owner’s world travels, particularly backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. This hairclip was bought in 2004. It is described as ‘pretty’ and the owner has received lots of compliments when it has been worn to hold her long hair back from her face. It has sadly been dropped and trodden on a few times so doesn’t work so well now, but it is still kept for the happy memories connected to it.

1893/20 Small Clay Head This small clay head is made from air dried clay that has been left unpainted, it was made by the owner’s friend and former colleague as they were both practising for a sculpture based activity. The friend has now left the workplace and the object still remains on the shelf above where she sat. It is kept as a reminder of the friend and their shared activity three years ago.

1893/27 Spanish Bull The owner’s last holiday coins paid for this furry Spanish bull bought in 1989 after a youth camp in Banyoles near Barcelona. It acts as a reminder of one of the last holidays the owner spent with young people from the Boys & Girls Brigade in Colne & Barnoldswick and was where the owner actually managed to windsurf! The bull sat on her computer until she got a laptop, it now lives on her car shelf.

1893/26 Pottery Cow Jug As a big Jaws fan, when this lady won airline tickets in the 1990s, she flew to New York and Cape Cod. “I met Ron and his wife Cathy when I got off the Greyhound bus, they heard my English accent and we started talking. Then they took us for lunch to meet the Mayor! Before I returned home Cathy & Ron, a Chief of Police, insisted I stayed for the few days I had left. Ron’s friend gave me this as a reminder of my visit.”

1893/16 Two Tea Bags Two English Breakfast teabags; one used and one not. They contain organic tea wrapped in unbleached teabag paper, 5x9cm in size. The loose organic tea inside is slightly visible through the unused paper package. They were purchased from the 8th Day Coop and have been owned for a about 3 weeks. The owner keeps them on her desk, “it provides tea for two; conversation and digestion.”

1893/23 Ice Cream Gears Soft swirly ice cream has been produced using these gears, which are part of the pump in a Carpigiani Soft Ice Cream Machine. These are worn down now and are not working to their maximum capacity so they are kept as spares. The owner has worked in the ice cream business for thirty years, which her husband’s grandfather started in 1926.

1893/03 Textile Pick Counter Used in Brierfield Mill, this pick counter was given by a mill manager to the owner. Although the owner is not from the textile industry, she likes it for its connection with the past and the curiosity which it creates. A pick is a weft thread, the one that weaves in and out of the long warp threads. The magnifying glass helps the user to count the threads per unit of measure.

1893/10 Opera Glasses This lady was brought up with her mother, father, sister and maternal grandparents. “My Maternal Grandmother, Ninka, emigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary to escape religious persecution. She was very dear to me and took good care of me, teaching me many things, including Hebrew. I was allowed to have these glasses as a reminder of her. She died when I was eleven.�

1893/24 German Playing Cards “These belonged to my Dad, who worked at Thos W. Ward shipbreakers on Preston Dock, from about 1950. They came across all sorts of items from many ships, I can only think that they came off one of the German ships that came in for breakage, as my dad was never in the forces. He had so many stories of the ships and the docks, he used to tell us these when we were young.”

1893/06 Czech Grammar Book “My original language was Czech - after nearly 75 years in England I make mistakes in my written Czech so this was given to me by a wellmeaning friend”. The owner also says she says she was a naughty girl at school; she recounts that in one of her exercise books the teacher wrote: ‘composition excellent, grammar appalling!’ It is a sentimental keepsake.

1893/01 Blue Heart Pendant -----------------“A heart pendant necklace, with a blue heart and sparkling diamantes around it, given as a gift on my first date with my boyfriend.”

1893/21 Festival Medal ---------------------------A commemorative keepsake from the Caribbean Carnival, as part of the Preston Guild 2012. This holds a special place in the owner’s heart as a significant event in Preston’s calendar each year.

1893/09 Red Ballet Shoes ---------------------------------------------Child size two shoes kept for sentimental reasons, the owner’s daughter still dances.

PHOTOGRAPHING THIRTY INSTRUMENTS ‘Wet plate collodion’ is a photographic technique that was pioneered in the 1850s whereby photographs are made directly onto glass or metal plates. The photographer takes a piece of glass or japanned metal and coats the surface with a sticky substance called collodion. It is then placed in a silver nitrate bath, salts in the collodion react with the silver nitrate and the plate becomes sensitive to light. Under safe light conditions the plate is carefully loaded into a special holder, taken to the camera and the exposure made. Collodion is far less sensitive to light than modern media and exposure times are long, sometimes lasting several minutes (that’s why the Victorians always looked so serious on photographs). Back in the darkroom the plate is removed from the holder and subjected to several more chemical processes to develop and fix the image. The whole process must be completed whilst the chemicals are still wet on the plate, around 15 minutes depending on temperature conditions. The finished photograph is then varnished to protect it from the elements; some examples from the early days of photography have survived to the present day with little ill effect from the ravages of time. Such images, having long outlived the people they depict and all who knew them, secure the subject a place in history. Photographs made with the collodion process tend to be evocative and have a nostalgic ambience, they are also truly unique. The hand crafted nature and variability of the process transforms the mirror image of the subject into a solid, tactile object, a reflection of one moment in time held captive on the glass. The unrepeatable photograph becomes an object in its own right, it seems only fitting that this process should complete the transformation of these personal possessions into artefacts fit for a museum. When I was invited to document the items that would be ‘loaned by ladies’ I was eager to rise to the challenge, I was enticed by the playful twist on the order of museum life and eagerly anticipated the arrival of these objects.

A small leather suitcase was delivered to me; the kind you might find in your grandparent’s attic, a rich golden brown and worn at the edges but still shiny, owned by somebody concerned with the longevity of its functional life. After negotiating the inevitably tricky latches the lid was open, revealing a mass of small white packages inside. Each item had been carefully wrapped in white tissue paper and like a child on Christmas morning I was giddy about the task that lay before me, which one……which one do I open first! It didn’t take me long to release them all from their crisp white jackets and I found myself confronted with a wide variety of miscellaneous ephemera. Some items were sentimental keepsakes, some were obviously family heirlooms or tools of a trade, others were seemingly banal and everyday things. But these objects are not just ‘things’ each one connects me to these women’s lives, offers me a window to their memories and experiences, their pasts, presents and futures. Reading the snippets of stories that accompanied these treasures I realised that it is objects like these that keep us grounded, offering a sense of belonging in the present and a connection to the past. They remind me of the importance of our little daily rituals and that the comfort offered by such possessions is what keeps us sane, the gravity that keeps our feet on the ground. Niki Carlin Black Glass Studios

AND SO .... From a seemingly small initial idea, this project has grown, sparked by the vision of Charles Quick and Charlie McKeith who proposed and designed the Harris Flights, temporarily shifting the architecture and transit lines of this public place on such a grand scale. Here, ‘Thirty Instruments’ connects the four key elements of museum methods of display, the building history, the ‘Flights’ and the public, which, I believe, provide the strength of this project and I eagerly anticipate the final Announcing Performance and display of objects which this booklet will accompany. In this disconnection of objects from their ‘normal’ place of existence, the owners have provided a small part of their rich stories and distinct memories about the items they have loaned. I wonder if by the distance they now experience with their objects, that the memory is strengthened, becoming more deeply embedded. As a group, we have also created a new collective memory which will diminish as the objects disperse. Engaging people in museums in creative ways with collections is enticing, but finding people who may not normally come into the museum is even better.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We, together ... It is almost impossible to work on projects such as this without relying on extended networks of people and ‘virtual teams’, putting your faith in others to help deliver your idea and vision. We, together, have made this happen. Thank you all. With special thanks to: - The ‘Ladies’ who so generously loaned their possessions - Niki & Casey Carlin, Black Glass Studios - Yvonne Battersby, Sue Latimer, Emma Heslewood & Steve Walker, Harris Museum & Art Gallery - Samantha Blackburn, Preston City Council Jeni McConnell

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