The Foundling Museum - An Assemblage Collective workshop
On Sunday 27th of March, I headed down to the Foundling Museum. On this bright, crisp day I was off to do some art with the Assemblage Collective.
The collective's founder, Tascha, had invited me along to the session.
I was v excited, it felt like it'd been years since I did something creative - in reality only months, but to me anytime without creating something seems to be longer than its relative time span.
I hadn't been to the Foundling Museum before. I was surprised to find it tucked to the side of a park I visited lots as a child, always one of my favorite ones - Coram's Fields. Coram's Fields - even hearing the name of it brings back the sensations: a rush of cold air against flushed cheeks, legs straining to run up the ramp dragging the swing in arm, and then jumped onto it so it could zip wire me across the field. The soft feel of goats, who would like and nibble my hand and I would shy away only to place my hand back in between the gates again. Splashing and getting soaked through in the fountains, while my family ate strawberries and mini sausages on the grass. How vast it had felt, but looking into it now, it was so much smaller.
Unknowingly, the emotional journey had only just begun.
When I arrived, Tascha and the assembled assemblage members greeted me.
She explained what we would be doing and gave us a presentation on the Foundling museums' history.
The Museum opened in 2004. I had been playing on the fields between 1995-2002.
Before being a museum, it had been the Foundling Hospital and had taken its last child in the 50's. The hospital had been established by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1739 to care for babies at risk of abandonment. Coram, a philanthropist, campaigned for seventeen years before he received a Royal Charter from King George II to found it. A statue of him stands outside, and the fields are still named for him.
The instructions for attending had been simple - bring a piece that you have an emotional sentimental connection to.
We sat and introduced our pieces and then headed through the galleries. I kept my heart open while we walked through, I knew the emotional response I would have would be the thing to inspire the art I would produce back in the workroom.
When I found out about the tokens, I felt an obsession take hold.
In the first few decades of the hospital, the parents who left children were instructed to bring a token with them to deposit with the child, to act as an identifier. Each child was written into a register, given a number and then a new name - usually after someone famous or inspirational, think Julius Ceaser, Shakespeare, Cicero etc. The token was placed alongside the book or was written in the form. If parents wanted to claim the child back, or more likely needed to prove they hadn't murdered the child, they could return citing the token as a steadfast identification of the child's heritage.
The children rarely, if ever, saw these tokens. They remained sealed unless a claim was made.
Weeks later, writing this, I still get an uneasy chasm, the sense of a rupture inside. This was what I used for inspiration.
The sentimental objects I had brought with me - my first filled sketchbook from 2012, a wolf inlaid zippo lighter I had left on a rock in the middle of the sea in St. Ives (and managed to retrieve!), and a necklace inherited from my grandmother - they were all personal to me. Sentimental because of their meaning to me, and if I passed them on, it would still be the connection to me that made them so poignant.
Others had made art around the tokens too, such as David Shrigley. See below.
Back in the room, I found the things I needed to bring the visualisation of the feeling I was having to life. Some paper, glue, pens etc. which had been provided for us.
We scanned our objects - I used the gold teddy necklace from my nan - and printed them out. I worked onto the paper creating this:
A freeform automatic writing on the front, and a flowing design on the back with added phrases and words. I then created an overlay, so the sentimental reminiscent memories and exploration in the automatic writing were only caught in glimpses. I wasn't sure if I was the object talking, or the memories. I quiet like the ambiguity of it. The line between objects we bring life to with our memories, and our memories giving us life.
The layer on top hides some of the words, so only some phrases can be seen.
To me, that represented the chasm between the parent and the child, between the reality of each of their lives. How the child must have wondered about the life they would have had if they were in the flow of time still, not ruptured, renamed and rehomed. How the tokens would have meant a different sentimentality. About how the object and the child must have felt out of time and place. There was a lot of complexity in my feeling, and I hope I expressed some of it, but it was/is difficult to get into words.
The piece reads
'A chasm. Washed gold. Dark, deepness, subdued, abated. Memory, history, what if it had been another life, another time? What if I'd never known it come to me? What if she had given it but it had not been received? Sentimentality in the chasm, liminal and stranded, straddled and inaccessible. What if I had not been me? A shell - captured and refilled, excavated of who I should have been. A chasm. Rippled. Ripped. Disrupted. Disrupted. A rippled timeline. Julius Ceaser in the 20th Century. Shakespeare in the 17th. Who are you? Are you - Am I - in the gold chains, those tokens of love, in the moment coveted treasures and chained to me? Are you in my objects - real and psyche? Am I disrupted? I am taking you with me. And we are going nowhere. Looking up to you. looking down at me. Golden sunbeams and an unconscious stream of warmth and love passed down through time. love through a chasm - untouched. It does not touch me I am nameless and overnamed, over imbued with promise because I am you. These are memories. I am my nan. I am my mum, my great grandmother, my friends my enemy my father other father, I'm family.'
I want to turn this into a poem and lift some of the main lines I like out. I may return to it later!
I loved making it. I took it with me to the pub after, and when Chelsea scored someone knocked a pint over it (luckily I wrote in archival ink!), and it makes me like the piece more. Its imbued with its own life and memories now, a living thing out in the world. I hope to go and make more pieces like it. I think that the Assemblage Collective is making more around identity and sentimentality, and I would be eager to see what they do and if I can take part more.
For more information on the collective head to - https://assemblagecollective.wordpress.com/
or check out Tascha here: https://www.instagram.com/taschtastic/
For more on the foundling: https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/
and for more of me: https://www.instagram.com/tara_thecurator/