Thursday, December 10, 2009


One of the projects I'm working on next year will finish in an exhibition at The Tunbridge Wells Museum. It's a collaboration between a group of four artists and four writers, and all of us have been spending time in the storage rooms of the museum choosing one object that isn't normally seen by the public. We will then create something individually - either through words or visually, and then here comes the interesting part. For the second stage, each artist will pick a piece created by one writer, and vice versa, to create a further piece - something inspired not by the original object but by the artist or writer's interpretation of it. And so on for three rounds. It's a form of creative consequences, and the exhibition is as much about the creative process as the objects themselves. Remember the game, Chinese Whispers? I imagine the results will be something like that!

But how to pick just one thing?

I have been looking and looking at an old typewriter carefully stored away. I love how it makes writing so sensory - from the feeling of each key under your finger, the sound and the solidness of it. And just look at those almost cinematic reels of print. It really is it's own mini opera house.

I was almost convinced, but then something kept drawing me back to an old box of dolls dress patterns I spotted right at the top of one shelf. And this is what I've finally picked.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. I've been playing with envelopes of patterns on how to make a life, to make peace, to make a world. Or origami clothes made out of poems and stories. Or a short story on who would have dedicated themselves to making something so small and yet so complicated. Look ...

Even more poignant in my view is that some of the pattern pieces are cut out of pages from the Honolulu Independent of 1899. Here's a scrap of news that I desciphered:

… her character, and he wrote a letter to her ordering her to leave the house of his relatives, or if she did not await his return when he would kick her out bodily. The letter was produced in court and described by Judge Wilcox as being couched in the most filthy, dirty, obscene and scurrilious language that it ever had been his misfortune to see. the learned magistrate discharged the case and advised the woman never to go back to a husband who could act as the brute before him had done. The judge regretted that the defendant did not have a big brother or a father who would thrash the plaintiff within an inch of his life. It was one of the instances where the whipping post was sadly needed.

I can't help wondering if whoever it was who so carefully cut out a sleeve pattern from this read it, and perhaps got a thrill from the story? Maybe she needed a beer after? This is one of the adverts:

For That Tired Feeling
That steals over you as the days work is over, there’s nothing else so good as a refreshing glass of RAINIER BEER. It is the tonic you need, beats all the medicine you can take, brings on around refreshing and healthy sleep and makes one feel like a new person. On tap or in bottles at the Criterion Saloon.

There's something about it that reminds me of one of the most beautiful artists books I saw in an exhibition in Washington this year. The artist, Yani Pecanins, had made the 'book' out of one of her childhood dresses:

In a note by the dress, she explains that she was inspired by the diary of Anne Frank, and when her mother gave her the old baby dress, ... 'it brought me closer to Anne Frank's words of feeling fragile and strong at the same time, knowing that you are growing but have so far to grow, that you are someone but you know not who, that you are just beginning to discover yourself.'


queenie said...

Fascinating! Bittersweet in your hands. I hope you will write on this again. . . . I really want to see how it turns out - wish I could be there for the exhibit.

kevbosnafu said...

Rainier Beer reference brought you up on my google search for beer can references. Enjoyed visiting your blog (my day job is at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston).

The Beer Can Museum

Deborah Rey said...

That old typewriter is just too beautiful for words, Sarah. I have an old Remington and love to write on it every once in a while ... just for the sounds.
Those patterns are fascinating. I still have patterns like that from my great-grandmother who worked for an -at the time- famous fashion house (Hirsch) in Amsterdam. Looking at them, it's almost like reading her love letters. Lovely post!

Ida said...

what a fantastic idea for a group exhibition. Keep writing about it please.

Sarah Salway said...

Thanks all, and welcome to those who stumbled onto here. Come back some other time! Feel so lucky to be doing this project, and yes, I will keep you informed.

jem said...

Lovely post. I can't wait to hear where this piece goes. I once did a writing course with a girl who worked part time as a security guard in a museum. She said whenever it was quiet her collegue would give her a random exhibit number and she would go off, find it and write about it. I always think this sounded like such fun.

laura said...

There is a compelling tale in that scrap of paper.......maybe even a complete novel.