Artists from across the UK and overseas have produced 25 ‘books’ after a call out from Wendy Williams (Alternator Studios, Wirral) to submit artworks that reference the ‘book’ without ‘necessarily resembling a book’. The works submitted were then subsequently ‘hidden’ for visitors to find in The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum.
The Williamson has a formidable permanent exhibition of paintings, an impressive collection of Della Robbia pottery and fine porcelain, marine vessels mixed with antique seafare, regional watercolours and fine prints.
The maritime connection is impressive as is the ‘Parade Amour’ a 19c re-production of a much earlier coat of arms. How fitting that a further re-interpretation is placed cleverly on this breast plate – small sheets of print enclosed referring to another 20c knight Philip Marlowe, with extracts from The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler enclosed, by Pamela Sullivan.
The walnut wood and exotic decorative images particularly on the huge fireplace in the far room offers a spectacle rich with the oriental. Look carefully and you can see a further book in the form of laboratory test tubes & rack by Emma Dolphin. To the side, an embroidered mobile by Swedish artist Anna Granberg – ‘A poem in silk, words and no words’.
The display of ships, house the largest amount of hidden books. Three are found quite openly in the large display cabinet at the back of the room (a space themed pop-up book by Keiron Finnetty, a wooden bobbin attached with flags made from a book on maritime shipping, by Sharon Hall Shipp and a cable lead into which two tiny books have been inserted into the transformer box and plug, by Wendy Williams)
Ship models are the perfect setting to include a sewing box that a Lilliput could own. German artist Monika Kiszegi has created a sewing box which contain three mini books -a button book, a pin book and a string book.
Moving around the room, between the ships, we find contact lens casings by Swedish artist Susanne Torsstenson, a pack of playing cards, each card displaying a poem by Bosnian artist Enes Kurtović, A delicate, what appears to be at first a feather duster, by Alice Bradshaw ‘ Mass-produced, anonymous objects are often rendered dysfunctional caricatures of themselves’.
So, how can more miniatures be found amongst this rich historical collection?
The clue is in the way we are made to look for the hidden works – the connections between eye and the true historical object (the model ships) and in this case the miniature. They are not all easy to find, particularly ‘The Egg’ found on a walk in Northumberland by Sally Madge measuring 5cm x 3cm! The plaster cast was modelled leaving traces of sketches taken from her studio and placed on a decorative ceramic plate at its side a canvas house with brick letters deconstructing ‘The Three Little Pigs’ by Sara Wicks.
Your eyes have to scan the cabinets so intense that the ‘curiosities in the cabinets’ are almost like a forensic task for the visitor.
Ceramics placed along ceramics are surprising hard to find. The series of nests by Caroline Scott Huby, or the Spinning top by American artist Grant Beniot blend in beautifully. Even its bold American flag didn’t seem at all out of place sitting snuggly among the museum collection.
Catherine Harrison’s ‘ Box of Nails’ is also difficult to spot, the trinket box was found in a charity shop corroded and rusted with the natural chemicals contained taking over the life of the box. The words inscribed on the nails contain symbols taken from Alchemy texts holding a further key to life matched perfectly by the marine artefact it accompanied. Works are stacked close, the ‘new’ reinvigorating the ‘old’.
The artefact galleries have a ‘Wonder Room’ aspect to it objects collected and displayed are mostly from a colonial past. 18c scientists would use the ‘natural world’ to display interesting or unusual items unearthed or found, today the Williamson has a strong local identity and connecting interests which favour’s rather than hinders its appeal such as in ‘The London Factory of Lime House’ room and its strong connection with Liverpool porcelain decorators.
The ‘Porcelain Room’, was Jacqueline Kerr’s resting place her submission placed delicately in the lid of a berry jar; a ‘Book of Clocks’ all perfectly re- printed formed her sensibility as being part of a wider project .
The exhibition runs through to the 1st November
Written by Deborah Laing, edited by Wendy Williams
Images by Catherine Harrison