The next project – the importance of glass

I’ve been feeling the pressure from college recently: ‘What are you going to do next? Quick, decide, time is marching!’

I really wanted a break from thinking for a while but sadly, such a break is impossible. So I’ve been forced to think (at the same time as applying for university top-ups to turn my foundation degree into a full degree). It has taken a couple of weeks but I think t hat I might have an idea lurking in there somewhere now.

I was approached by a friend of a friend recently who was looking for someone to make an animation for an educational project they are running about the First World War. I met this friend of a friend last Friday, by a nice cosy fire in a pub in rural Shropshire, and we discussed her project in detail. After this meeting, I came away feeling that her project might contain the seeds of my next college assessment. However, I couldn’t yet see those seeds.

The basis of her project is about the relationship between memories, oral history and objects. She is working with secondary school students who are interviewing local people about objects they own from the First World War. The result is going to be a website, a travelling exhibition and an archive resource. Of course, with my interest in material culture and objects, this project appeals to me. I am quite excited about the prospect of working on this project, in whatever capacity.

However, I still need to put my own stamp on the ‘First World War objects’ theme and look at it through my own slightly warped glasses. So today I paid a visit to the Shropshire Regimental Museum and Castle to get some inspiration. While I was there, I approached them tentatively about working with them. They seem keen. I came home, still largely idea-less, but optimistic.

Shrewsbury Regimental Museum

Shropshire Regimental Museum

The idea of looking into the relationship we have with objects, with a focus on the First World War, is starting to really grow on me.

One thing that struck me on my visit today, was that despite the fact that the museum has many fascinating objects from the First World War, I struggled to feel an emotional response to them. It took me a while to figure out why. First of all I thought it was because I couldn’t touch them. But I think it is more than that, I think now that it is because they were all in display cases. If they had been on display without glass, I am sure I would have felt a closer connection. Why should the glass make a difference? This had me thinking about the objects at Powis Castle. Not once was I able to touch the objects I studied there. However, I felt a very strong connection to them and a sense of their narratives. Is this because they weren’t behind glass? Does the glass in some way render the objects ‘virtual’ to me? I believe that we are unable to feel a strong emotional response to objects we see on the internet (we can’t feel the ‘trace’ on them). And I don’t think we can feel a strong connection to objects displayed behind glass either.

I love the chocolate bar here

Some very ordinary objects from 1914-18

This idea interests me. Why should the presence of glass make a difference? I think my idea for this next project is going to relate to the fact that we need to have some sort of sensual relationship with objects to ‘feel’ their importance and their narratives. To get the ‘trace’ left behind on them, we need to sense that trace.

The most obvious way to feel this ‘trace’ is through touch. But of course that isn’t always possible as my experience with the Roman Cat at Powis Castle proved. Can that sense be felt through other paths to the senses? In other words, sound, closeness, movement, smell?

My friend the Roman Cat

My friend the Roman Cat

I fondly remember touching and smelling the objects my Grandma had from the First World War era, holding them in my hands, feeling their texture and believing that this gave me a connection with the people who had owned them and the emotions of the times.

Looking at the objects in the museum, I didn’t get this feeling. They were amazing objects there, such as a bar of chocolate, a belt made by a prisoner of war, a periscope and a leather satchel, yet just looking at them behind glass didn’t move me enough. I wanted to be moved more.

A periscope - I wanted to touch it

A periscope – I wanted to touch it

So, the gem of my idea is: can I do something to highlight the value of these objects and recreate the feeling of picking up on the ‘trace’ on these objects? Can I use art (whether it be video or drawing / painting / digital art) to translate that ‘trace’ to people?

I don’t know yet. But I’d like to try.

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