Tag Archives: artistic practice

The Wildgoose Memorial Library

On Saturday Jane Wildgoose will be speaking about the role of hair jewellery in the ‘language’ of Victorian mourning. Here the artist, writer, broadcaster and consultant takes a moment to talk about her fascinating personal collection.

The Wildgoose Memorial Library © Jane Wildgoose

The Wildgoose Memorial Library is “a place where the heart remembers; where tender connections are made with forgotten feelings; and where the emotive power of the lost rituals of death is explored and interpreted by Jane’s sensitivity and unerring eye for the compelling.”

Roger Bowdler, World of Interiors (Nov. 2006)

The Wildgoose Memorial Library (WML) is an ongoing collection of reference material that informs Jane Wildgoose’s practice as an artist and writer. A constantly evolving work in progress, and a place for meditation and consultation on universal themes of life and death, the WML began as an informal collection of objects and books relating to Wildgoose’s  enduring fascination with the interest of the dead to the living, and a research resource for her work as a designer for theatre and film.

Setting the scene for 'On One Lost Hair' for BBC Radio 4 at The Wildgoose Memorial Library © Jane Wildgoose

In 2003 the collection took on a more formal aspect when it became the consultation basis for the BBC Radio 4 documentary On One Lost Hair – a meditation on a wisp of hair from the head of Horatio Nelson, bought on eBay, co-devised with producers Gregory Whitehead and Neil McCarthy. Encouraged by critical  acclaim for the programme, and a NESTA Dream Time Fellowship to develop her role as Keeper of the WML, Wildgoose has gone on to establish a multi-faceted approach to collecting that offers perspectives on a broad range of associated values – ranging from the historical, aesthetic and sociological, to the emotional and instinctive – while embracing an acquisitions policy that places emphasis on the capacity of an object to resonate with the viewer’s imagination through its appeal to the senses.

The Wildgoose Memorial Library (WML) has a digital home at www.janewildgoose.co.uk devised and designed in collaboration with Harry Willis Fleming. Elsewhere, the WML makes regular appearances ‘on location’ as Wildgoose presents her collection to the public in a variety of settings, which have included: the 1930s marble and wood-panelled municipal splendour of Hornsey Town Hall in North London; the white space of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, Portland, USA, and – on a foggy midwinter night – the candlelit, vaulted cellars of Copped Hall, a magnificent derelict eighteenth-century mansion in Epping Forest. Back at home in the WML, Wildgoose hosts consultations by appointment with interested members of the public; she also uses the unique setting she has created as a forum and reference resource for collaborative work and for debate, as well as the backdrop for digital photographs informed by her research into Victorian studio portraiture and seventeenth-century vanitas paintings. She is currently investigating the potential for a permanent and more public-facing home for the WML – part artist’s studio, part reliquary, part research centre – which she envisages being built from reclaimed materials, overlooking the sea.

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‘The Solace of Objects’

 Central to The Materials of Mourning conference are the material traces of Victorian mourning practice. In exploring artist Felicity Powell’s ‘Charmed Life: The Solace of Objects’, currently exhibited at the Wellcome Collection, Claire reflects upon the comfort of things.

‘Charmed Life’ emerges from Felicity Powell’s engagement with the collection of Edwardian amateur folklorist, Edward Lovett. The result is a beautifully eclectic display, featuring a small selection of the 1400 amulets gathered by Lovett from working-class Londoners, alongside Powell’s intricate works in wax, modelled in low relief on mirror backs. Among the many things kept as ‘lucky charms’ are small shoes, fragile glass seahorses, keys and pressed metal votives. Other amulets are more macabre, such as an animal vertebra carved with a human face (pictured), a mole wrapped in fabric kept to ward off danger, and the tip of a rabbit’s tongue against poverty. The exhibition also includes two films, ‘Sleight of Hand’ and ‘Scanning’, in which the artist explores connections between these objects and her own mortality.

These are objects of solace rather than grief. However, like hair-jewellery, post-mortem photography, and other forms in which the dead were commemorated in the Victorian period, they retain the power to fascinate and repel. Similarly, many of the amulets rely upon a complex intermingling of religious, secular, folkloric and superstitious beliefs for their potency. This exhibition led me to question the attachments that we form with objects, particularly in an accompanying video about ‘Charmed Life in Contemporary London’. Are our attachments to keepsakes any weirder than that of the unknown person that carried around a fabric-wrapped mole? Part of understanding the complexity and strangeness of Victorian mourning culture might lie in exploring our own present-day material responses to death.

‘Charmed Life’ is part of the free ‘Miracles and Charms’ exhibition hosted at the Wellcome Collection, London, between 6 October and 26 February.

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