We leave our mark, officially.

At a recent university workshop, ‘Whose Business is Heritage?’, the word “authenticity” reared its ugly head. I say this because of the reactions it drew from the panel of speakers – exasperation and weariness. It is one of those terms that has been batted back and forth between academics of late and is now thrown into conversations like a comfortable elephant in the room, or at least one whose presence is grudgingly accepted.

I’ll take a simplified view, that the desire for “authenticity” is made up by a myriad of motives (be it quality, monetary value, or nostalgia), and of course depends of each person. That aside, I’d like to bring forth the wonderful case of the Wedgwood pottery backstamp.

A grafter and firm believer in experiments (a good white glaze!), the first Josiah Wedgwood was dismayed to hear that his nephew had once confused a rival’s work for a piece of his own company’s pottery. To avoid such mistakes, and ever the astute business man, Jos devised the system of stamping the backs of products with his mark. A modern man, I wonder what he would have made of the collectors, centuries later, relying on these marks, a safe and sure sign of “authenticity”.

Courtesy of https://i1.wp.com/www.emmabiggsmosaic.net/00_images/03_work/00_made_in_england/02_made_in_england_detail.jpg

How this is crashed and muddled by the Made in England mosaic project for the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (pictured above). The project received pottery donations from members of the public, the backstamps of these were then used to create a mosaic to decorate the museum’s entrance. Minton with Burleigh with Aynsley with Spode. From the mud to the stars. Watch a short interview with creator Emma Biggs here.

Anon.

During a university trip to the Grade II* listed post-war brutalist style Park Hill Estate (I won’t go into it here, but a very interesting redevelopment study including many participants – Urban Splash! (the developers), English Heritage, Sheffield Council, long-term residents…) my attention was drawn to the now infamous piece of graffiti pictured above. Its touch of rebellion and blatancy mixed with an age-old message has seen it enter into popular culture. Its symbolism has even been used by Urban Splash as a part of the redesign, as pictured below.

Yet this documentary into its origins uncovered a story to crush the most ardent of love enthusiasts. Not the expected vibrant tale of romance but full of instability, confusion and sadness.

Could my initial appreciation of the haphazard declaration of love be dented by this fresh knowledge? Truly it was. Yet, I believe that my perception of the graffiti was tarnished as soon as precise individuals were attached to it, regardless of the details. Whilst the two ‘lovers’ remained a mystery the message contained infinite possibilities.

From the power of anonymity for the observer, to the author. The Archaeologists Anonymous project invites persons within the field to respond to the question ‘What are your hopes and fears for the future of archaeology?’ by altering and modifying postcards to suit their answers. A few examples can be found in this article by Katrina Foxton. Interestingly, the idea of anonymity does not sit comfortably with everyone and some cards have been signed to emphasis the importance of taking ownership of opinions.

This made me wonder, is anonymity freeing, as it initially seems? Or does more satisfaction lie in providing individual expression? After-all, this is not a universal liberty, and should, then, be cherished.

The statue that almost was.

It still haunts me now, the trip to colour a year’s worth of work, that led only to countless ruined sites, museums, churches, and then the dorms, bars and pavements stamped SPQR. Whilst some translated Latin, took modern sense from ancient lives, my efforts were barred by the immovable (and immutable?) form of the Swiss Guard.

Braccio Nuovo, Vatican Museum

A (half)faltering exchange in italian. The Braccio Nuovo closed today; the Pope has a …party? (God hates me. It’s ok, God doesn’t exist.) A raised arm in alcove glimpsed through plumes, silk, glass and exasperation. What can I tell about imperial intent, craftmanship and contrapposto, cuirass symbology and hairstyle (never to be underestimated) from here?

Augustus of Prima Porta, nearly.

Augustus of Prima Porta, nearly.

So I made do with a replica. Does authenticity matter that much? Should I go back and see or look to see something else?

We leave our mark.

Today I carried out some Characterisation fieldwork around the Mount and Blossom Street/Nunnery Lane areas of York, the aim being to view them holistically, recognizing patterns in, for example, street sign, lamp posts, or fenestration. Here are some of my favourite observations:

Be bold or go…home…

Author's own.

Stable paviours nibbled by tarmac.

Author's own.

Nice knockers.

Author's own.

‘open the old iron gate and walk through the network of pathways, past the steaming compost heaps and pockmarked braziers, the shanty town of sheds, the latticework of beanpoles and canes’ – Edgelands – Farley and Symmons Roberts.

Author's own.

We’re not twins.

Author's own.Traditional, modern, nineteenth century, twentieth century.

Author's own.

Oh the freedom to design your own shop front!

Author's own.

What did he see?

Author's own.

Railings, walls, pot plants, hedges, brick, stone, balconies.

Author's own.

Finally, put it out, it’s your choice how.

If Destroyed, Still True?

I really enjoyed looking at representations of time depth in one of the National Archives’ flickr galleries today, Documents all around us. The gallery explores the longevity of messages using images as the medium. It considers their: purpose; intent; mode of delivery; the quality of materials used; and preservation.

Courtesy of Jack Tasker

I.D.S.T.

Why memorialize? A Grave Report

A few weeks ago we discussed the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in class. Considering if, why and how such recent history is commemorated and represented proved an emotive subject and a source of much debate. The potent reactions of my classmates interested me. Were they due to: the short amount of time since the event? the severity of 9/11 as a stand-alone event?the global impact and subsequent fallout (we’re an international group and each have contemporary memories to attach to the subject)?

I also wondered about the nature of memorials to the dead. Often phraseology places possession with the deceased, ‘Nelson’s Column’ for example. Yet I feel that in reality memorial’s are for the benefit of the living; a cathartic outlet, a tangible reference point. To explore this further I wrote down my feelings towards my dad’s grave and asked Jack to do the same for his mother’s. Having entirely different experiences (I was an oblivious 5-year-old, Jack a fiery teenager) it was intriguing to see where our attitudes overlapped and diverged.

Sarah: I visit alone, about two or three times a year. I wash and clear the gravestone, and I arrange flowers. I enjoy it; it must be a new form of catharsis for me. Nearly two decades after his death I hardly ever become upset, but accept it as a part of my life. I do feel a slight guilt when I sit back, inspect my work, compare it to its neighbours, many of which are clearly lovingly maintained on a regular basis.

My dad’s grave is a physical memorial of his life that will stand the test of time, and I’m glad of its existence, but I do not become too attached to it because I know that I am a living physical memorial to him. The best way that I can honour him is to live my life fully and to be happy.

Jack: I have mixed feelings about the grave and its use. I don’t like the idea of everyone having their focus point that they go to when they want to think of her. I wish they’d do it when they’re going about their daily lives. I do like her grave, its location and message, but I don’t want to be too attached to an object. I don’t even take flowers, I just never have the urge. Weirdly, after all this talk about it not being a focal point, I only talk out-loud to her when I’m there.

St Mary's churchyard, WhitbyHaving claimed that gravestones stand the test of time I am now going to consider the condition and use of St. Mary’s churchyard in Whitby. High on a cliff above the North Sea, the stones suffer from severe weathering and much has been made of a landslip in 2012. The often intricate decoration of the stones is gradually eroding, their documentation of Whitby’s past individuals along with it. What real effect does this loss of information have? I spoke to a groundsman in the churchyard and we discussed its’ status today. Interments ceased in the mid-nineteenth century and the gravestones capture a particular era in the town’s history as a burgeoning port, forging connections across the globe. The groundsman detailed the international mix of modern visitors to the site in search of past relatives, from Australia to Japan. But crossing the globe is no longer a necessary requirement when carrying out such tasks when one can search an online catalogue instead. I can’t help but wonder, what would Captain Cook have thought of the internet, a pioneering venture in its own right.

What a corker! a.k.a. Currents

Jack and I are in the process of arranging a project with the RNLI Museum in Whitby. During a late December day trip we entered the museum on a whim and were struck by the stories displayed of extraordinary rescues carried out over two hundred years by Whitby’s residents. We particularly liked the personal elements involved, such as an early life-jack made from cork, a handwritten account of the Rohilla accident, and individual photographs of crew members dating back to the latter half of the nineteenth century.

With thoughts of a poem about paternal relationships and generational differences fresh in his mind at the request of a friend, Jack was inspired to relate what we had seen in Whitby to the task.

During the 1861 lifeboat disaster twelve of the crew lost their lives, Henry Freeman kept his thanks to his cork life-jacket. He was the only crew member to wear one.

During the 1861 lifeboat disaster twelve of the crew lost their lives, Henry Freeman kept his thanks to his cork life-jacket. He was the only crew member to wear one.

Currents – Jack Tasker

Grandfather was a fisherman,

pulled scuttling crabs from the floor of the sea.

When he wasn’t working

he’d take his boat out into the water

and wait, wrapped in the blue, grey tide.

Time came for him,

to cast off into the mirk, on Christmas eve.

Hands hooked round the oars,

shivering in his cork vest.

All the unseen paths of the ocean,

lit by winter stars and an oil lamp.

Cracked clay pipe held between his lips.

Ahead, all wood and screams,

the harsh beat of the sink against the boat.

No warmth, but for his boiling blood.

Wind and rain and cries.

The clay pipe slipped from his lips

and sunk into the unwanted wash of history.

Somewhere, somewhen,

someone’s going to find it, and think little of it.

Father never touched a pipe,

but always smelt of tobacco –

Marlboro reds, packet crushed from pocket.

He’d take one out and say,

These bloody things will kill you,

just like everything else.

Father got sea sick.

No moonlit currents pulled him to sea,

but he found a way, through coral and countless

nights awake in a dark-room

dipping pictures and praying. Some got sold,

others propped up postcards in the shop.

He always grinned, framed me in his fingers and said,

Smile.

I kept smiling, across the tides and crashes,

wrecked on the rocks at nineteen,

with a hole impossible to fill,

even with all the water of the North Sea.

Grandfather called me, driftwood

and I guess he was right.

You’re here now, bones still milky,

eyes alight like Orion exploding.

You’re here, and ready.

I frame you in my fingers

and submit.

In memory of Henry Freeman (1835 – 1904)

The Beauty of Bootham

A certain red toaster, clearly visible in a spotless residential kitchen along Bootham, has gained infamy amongst my housemates. It is now looked for on our separate walks into town, an habitual twist of the head acknowledging its presence. Over Christmas the situation escalated somewhat. An (admittedly drunken) walk home resulted in an impromptu doorstep message inscribed in freshly fallen snow – ‘your toaster is the best we’ve ever seen!’. Of late, locking eyes with and nodding to the perplexed toaster owner whilst paying our daily respects.

How odd that our own association with the red toaster engendered within us an easy attitude towards the owners. Odder still is the thought that perhaps there are other devotees. Does six degrees of separation work with electrical appliances too?