The lightmonger sets out his wares. On navy blue velvet they rest: glittering phials and flasks, stoppered with cork. Each containing the spark of something: an idea, a match, the light of a distant star. Every day he has something new, something surprisingly vital to your needs: an hour of extra sunshine, a quiet glow of the fire. He has forged a lifetime’s work on gathering, collecting, hunting down those elusive strains of electrons, those slivers of energy. Tomorrow, he thinks, tomorrow I start anew. I have sought out all the light that I can, from the sun, from lamps, from candles. A new adventure in light awaits: the lightness of touch, the lightness of being, a light sponge cake.
A note on building sites:
They are hives of activity, and I love to watch people work. It is a site of simultaneous creation and destruction, both of which fascinate. There are holes in the ground, controlled glimpses into what is buried underneath. Usually it is just the tarmac topping and the crumbly rubbly filling beneath, a kind of millionaires shortbread, but often there are wires or pipes. Scaffolding and hoardings, accompanying structures with their own short-lived beauty. These are not designed structures, no plans or cad models exist for these; they respond entirely to what is within, and adapt to the changes that take place. I like the sense that these poles and planks have been unpacked and constructed over and over, how many places, how many more? This building site uses yellow for its kit, but I have seen soft peaches, or reds, vivid greens and lilac smudges.
If I were to try to contextualise it, I suppose the building site has much in common with the archaeological dig. Plans are made, trenches are dug, stuff is uncovered, stuff is put back into the holes. But whereas a dig uncovers and then tries to return the ground as if it were never there, the building site creates the new, the archaeological remains of the future. These foundations may exist forever.
A walk from Holborn tube to Lincoln Inn’s Fields (not direct)
A gift to me, this city.
And here is where I will build my home,
down lanes I can’t quite see, in spaces where the sun is fleeting.
A tree, you see.
Near a smudge of blue,
warm bricks surrounding, inviting.
I run my hands everywhere.
Dust on my hands, my worn out hands,
from touching this place.
So I rest, remembering,
hotel carpets and clean sheets,
saloon bars and lost letters.
Visit me, if you can.
You’ll find me if you look for the signs,
of picture framers (not actual size).
In a half moon court,
past the liquorice church,
let the quiet draw you nearer.
This poem was written as part of Sense of the City: London – a collaboration with Contemporary Design curator Sobin Lim, investigating the Smithfield area of London. The project aimed to open up a discourse about the urban landscape using multi-sensory experiences. The experiences of the public provided the starting point for writers to re-interpret the urban environment and offer a new narrative for people to use when exploring the location.
Visit the project’s website here: http://cargocollective.com/senseofthecitylondon
Aimee Bollu is a collector, a gatherer, an arranger of the things people have discarded and forgotten. She seeks out objects that have fallen out of use, out of society, and brings them back to life. Through the creation of hybrid objects, incorporating these found elements and newly made vessel forms, the disregarded items become meaningful once more, and possess a new value.
Bollu has an instinctive approach to design; she scours the streets, engrossed in the process of walking, searching, responding to the detritus of urban life. The found objects, once full of purpose but now detached from their original meaning, take place within her collection and wait. Then comes the act of making: repetitive processes of drawing, mould-making, slip casting, turning, finishing. Simple vessel forms, in a variety of hues and materials, form the support, the framework for the display of the found objects. The found and the made are combined to become a ‘new thing’ with echoes of a past life, and the possibilities of a new one.
These new pieces are intriguing and curious. Unexpected materials, and the ordinary, adorn the almost-bare forms. Rusted and twisted metal emerges from candy-pop porcelain suggesting a handle. Neon twine encircles draped leather, forming a drum-like surface over a curved vessel. An oven knob nestles into the aperture of a turned wooden pot. There is nothing extraneous in the combinations; these items have been seemingly destined to be collaged into their new form.
The emergent collection enables us to see that the stuff of everyday life, once rejected, still has a beauty and a value. Bollu choreographs the viewer’s first encounter with the collection exceptionally. The influence of the wunderkammer on her display is evident, but whereas those early cabinets of curiosity exposed completely novel and unusual things, this display offers a glimpse of something familiar, something already known, with tantalising, uncanny undertones.
Photographer: Camilla Greenwell
I picked up the book and knew immediately that a friend would like it. That an exploration of the possibilities from one tree would appeal to her. I knew that it would hold descriptions of the connection between material and process, material and object, material and craftsperson, that would make sense to her maker’s sensibility. I was excited to read it, so that I could send it on, with glowing praises and hopes that she hadn’t yet discovered it. I read the back cover, and smiled to see how Grant Gibson was ‘smitten’ by it. The promise of becoming completely absorbed in the prose. Of falling in love with a tree and the objects that it would produce.
And although I knew, from reading the back, that the author didn’t actually make the objects himself, and that it would be unreasonable for me to expect that he would, I still felt a little disappointed to find that he didn’t. I felt the title ‘the man who made things out of trees’ was a little false. The truth was different: he enlisted the expertise of craftspeople, their skills honed through years of experience, and that was wonderful. Their attention to detail, their sympathy with the material, their knowledge evident in each interaction he had with them. I learnt a lot. But I didn’t feel moved. I didn’t learn what it felt like to hold the wood, to consider it and to change it. To uncover the form in the formless branch or plank. There is a very close relationship between maker and object, and I wanted to hear what that was like. I wanted to understand what it is like to make things out of trees. Instead I understood that many of these skills are in danger of being lost, that ash as a material survives only when it is the best option for the finished object, and there are fewer examples of that as the twenty-first century progresses. I am saddened by these things. But I am also saddened that the author didn’t take the opportunity to learn to make something of his own from his tree, and to become part of the narrative himself.
On the foreshore walk we were told that the random bits of pottery, metal and other things casually thrown into the Thames, have not moved up and down the river, over time. Instead they stay where they entered, sinking down into the mud and are revealed, returned to the surface by the tide “like a washing machine”. I was completely surprised to see just how much material was lying there, ready to be picked over and investigated, things almost a thousand years old next to last night’s shattered pint glass. This is not how things are in archaeology. The oldest stuff is at the bottom. Unless it’s been disturbed or dug up before, and things may have been dragged up, dredged up, scattering time through later layers, confusing things somewhat. I have often thought of the archaeology analogy as apposite for the the way the mind works, how our experiences form us. That we build on previous events, places, conversations, and they provide the foundation and underpinning for how we respond and react to the world right now. But perhaps this analogy is flawed. [That’s not to say that the history of our lives doesn’t build up, layer by layer, providing a unique strata fingerprint, but I’m not sure that we go digging for memories, or that we have to peel back all the layers above to get at that moment beneath.] I am beginning to believe in the washing machine model. Everything is there, in one place, but the tides churn it up, bringing some things to the shore, while others hide in the mud. It explains why my mind returns again and again to certain things, to specific remembrances, without revisiting all that occurred before or since. A chance encounter, a muddled state during a migraine, a trip back to my childhood home – these things prompt some memories more than others. To the point that I can almost predict what I will recall. What does this mean for the infinite moments that we have experienced that never leave the mud? They are there, an amalgamation of everything, part of everything, but anonymous and forgotten. For some reason not important to my mind, now. Remove them and I would be changed, but imperceptibly to my subconscious mind. Who is deciding what is important for me to remember? Why are some things always there, why are others long gone?
It was all just lying there. All I had to do was choose which piece to pick up and place in my thick plastic bag. No digging allowed, not legally anyway. But who needs to dig when it’s all just there. On some digs you can cut through hundreds of years in a few centimetres. On others I’ve been down a very large hole. Geology plays its part, and weather, bringing material from higher ground, washing some things away. Humans use the land in different ways, and ancient fields, unchanged from century to century, may yield their past easily, and directly, whereas urban spaces can be one giant midden, muddled, changes happening so quickly. What is the ex-archaeologist to do, when freed of context? When there is no way to know where the objects originally entered the water, with what, when. You have to learn to let go, to embrace the chaos, to accept that these things are not for recording or preserving. They are not necessarily going to go into a box, on a shelf, as part of the history of that place. They are going into your bag and home with you. You get to keep this stuff. And that feels odd.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be on a dig now, with fifteen years of pick’n’mix experience under my belt. How would I see things, how would I understand them? Would my improved drawing mean that I am less conscientious drawing plans and finds? I needed it to be so accurate, then, but always worried my line drawings weren’t good enough. Perhaps that anxiety kept me focused, kept my eyes on every detail. Would my experience handling objects and using them with people mean that I ask better questions, needing to answer more than just ‘what is it?’. Would my writing creep in, blurring the edges between science and art, imbuing the record with a personal reading of the events and finds? Distance is one thing, but to allow the possibility of connections and wanderings is exciting and enriches the process of contemplation. Would it be allowed, or would I have to keep that to myself? Whereas some experiences might actually get in the way of the established methods of working, one thing I am sure I would benefit from, is my experience making objects. The skills I’ve learnt, the awareness of materials I’ve gained, have changed the way I look at objects, how I approach them.
I am a traveller of sorts. My journey has no end but transforms and develops, picking up new trails, circling around old ones. I will rest here, contemplate the path behind, the path before, and move on. I will probably return.
Tuesday 27th October 2015
starting point: Westminster
end point: The Garden Museum, Lambeth
A tourist walk, beginning with a national landmark and ending with a museum devoted to a typically-English activity.
I think it might be impossible to have a personal experience here. As soon as I exit the tube a small crowd has formed, reacting to the view of Parliament so immediate. I can’t do anything other than loiter here, only able to move forward with the movement of others. At the lights I remain one of many, my autonomy compromised by people pushing to cross the road, despite there being no green man, the presence of a car near my leg snaps me back into the reality of the road.
I stop on the bridge to try to see the Houses of Parliament for myself, actually look at it, but moments after I stop I am jostled by another tourist walking backwards to get Big Ben into shot. I pull out my sketchbook, to start recording. I look up. “Excuse me, can you take my picture with Big Ben…?” a man in a suit pulling a small wheelie bag asks. The light is wrong and it’s either him or the tower in darkness, I opt for the tower. As he thanks me I pull my pen out of my pocket and notice a plank of wood in the water, moving with great speed under the bridge. My impulse is to play pooh sticks and chase the plank across the bridge and downriver. But there is no way to safely navigate this traffic.
I start to walk down some steps, joining the snake of the southbank but suddenly I don’t want to be here, on “the sunny side”. So I return to the bridge and walk past the hospital. Within 25 metres there are no tourists, this is a workaday street. The perimeter of the hospital is marked by cigarette smoke and the clinical waste bins tessellate pleasingly down below.
I take off my coat. I do not hurry, but remind myself to feel the sunshine, to hold it if I can. I know that soon all this will be grey and damp, glorious browns and yellows no-more. The road has transformed, bounded on both sides by tall brick walls. Doorways appear but are bricked up, their doorbells long gone, no one to call, where do they go? Lambeth Palace is ahead. I am sure I should know something about its history, but I can’t think what. Is it wrong that I enjoy the architectural collage of its building materials, and feel no need to find out more?
I smell toast. I’ve heard it can be a symptom of having a stroke. This doesn’t seem like a bad place or time to have one, if I’m honest: a hospital down the road, on a pleasant October afternoon. But it’s too quiet here, away from foot traffic. Who will find me? The tour bus drivers? Would they stop? I rejoin the river path and the other tourists.
St Mary’s, Lambeth holds its collection lightly, these wooden walkways and walls could be whipped down leaving barely a trace that this church has had a second life as a museum. I get invited to draw, and I cannot in good conscience say no, when I have been this person entreating casual visitors to get involved. Now I have to look at the temporary collection display, I’m expected to produce recognisable sketches of its contents. No just absorbing the atmosphere or getting distracted by how they’ve constructed the display cabinets.
In selecting my objects I discover that the founding of the museum can be traced back to a woman in the 1970s searching for the graves of the Tradescant family in this church’s cemetery. I worked at another museum that can credit its existence to that family and instantly this place becomes comfortable and familiar, like an old jumper found at the back of the wardrobe. A small connection and this place is now included in ‘my’ places. I am not a tourist anymore.
A sketchbook recording the process of making, looking and finding.
ordinary stuff is a project where the unremarkable, ordinary stuff seen in European cities, once observed became beautiful.