Pitt Rivers: Oxford (scanned image from catalogue) -because its so dark in there!Hooray, after eight years and two failed attempts (long story) I finally made it to Pitt Rivers in Oxford! That's to say that my interest in everyday bits and pieces, household stuff, tools etc. etc. has been with me ever since GCSE Art when I started drawing socks and slippers. Car engines, bicycles, umbrellas, cupboards, a few spanners (to say the least) later and at last I find myself outside the Oxford Museum of Natural History.
It certainly wasn't disappointing, rows and rows of glass museum cases full of weird and amazing oddities, artifacts and curiosities (well, unless you are 127 years old and from the People's Republic of Congo then some things may seem pretty everyday and mundane to you -but you get the point I am trying to make, anyway)to my eyes an endless amount of stuff to process. I can just imagine having a similar museum of the artifacts of tomorrow, putting together all the bits of our social history/material culture done in a similar way to Pitt Rivers. To some extent many artists have done this; Peter Blake and Hirst being two that immediately spring to mind. Anyway, what made exploring the collection even more enjoyable was the way it was ordered (by function as to location/period in history) so as a result you have a whole case full of drums, or surgical tools, scissors, combs or keys, or currency or clothes fastenings. Except sometimes you're not really sure what some of the things are for, certain objects might be in a case marked 'tools' but a lot of them are tools of the likes you have never seen before, its all very different. Sure, you can see that some tools are serrated so they must be used for cutting or others have large flat heads so they might be used for digging, but even so its not always quite that obvious as to what the things actually are. Exploring the collection in the darkly lit room also added to the feeling of wonder and mystery surrounding the objects, it wasn't clinical or stuffy, but (those of you who've also been will know what I mean) invited you to look and peer all around and above the objects.
I spent a great deal of time here of what could have easily been a whole day had I not had to catch the train back to Taunton and it is the sort of place that you could look at again and again and still find something new. This visit has definitely reinforced and re-acknowledged my confidence in the importance of tools, not just in our society, but to humans as a whole. It has also opened up new ideas in thinking more about; unusual tools/shapes/definitions where it is not always necessarily clear what purpose they have. Visually I will take away the aesthetic of collections (in example, how they are arranged), which I have always enjoyed doing in my work, but perhaps now I am thinking I could use that idea more. The labels on all the artifacts were completely beautiful, interesting and are still something I would like to explore using in my own work although I sort of feel that labels might be too obvious and done/used by artists a million times before so I'm thinking about that one.
If some of you are wondering what all of this very splendidness might actually have to do with SAW then the answer is that the research in both this trip as well as the trip I made to MERL (Museum of English Rural Life, Reading) the week before came out of the Professional Development Bursary that myself and four other artists received from SAW to develop a body of work for art weeks this year. We've met up as a group on several occasions (those of you who are no stranger to this blog will know). So given the fact that my project has been rooted in the storage facility of The Somerset Heritage Centre looking at their agricultural tools, a trip to Pitt Rivers seemed to be an important place to visit in connection with that. I'm really pleased that I finally managed to see it and hope to use the notes I made/pictures etc. to make some new work as a result of this visit.