The project is drawing to a close now (or maybe just a pause?) I continue to find the history of the Hospital fascinating and think the infants who were admitted to the Foundling Hospital were probably the lucky ones in many ways. They were fed, clothed, educated and taught the skills with which support themselves in adulthood but the experience of being stripped of everything they owned, including their name, had a profound effect on many of them.
The project was originally inspired by the words of one of the ‘Foundling Voices’ at the museum who speaks of ‘the functional but loveless care received, and the longing to be hugged or comforted’. I was struck by the way the children were washed and baptised on admission as both a physical and spiritual cleansing and imagined that bathing, for the children, may have been their only physical contact and the nearest thing to a comforting hug.
Soap conjured up many associations for me; The way it is worn by touch like the erosion of the children’s identities and individuality, and how for the mothers the ‘slate was wiped clean’ (so often not by choice) enabling them to resume their lives - soap has even been used as a crude method of abortion. The film came about because the soaps felt like before and after the events and I wanted to think about what happened in between..
When I collected the soaps that I'd left at the Foundling I discovered only one had been used.. I felt a slight pang of disappointment but was reminded that not all the babies were admitted to the Foundling Hospital either. Just as the foundlings' identities were lost through the process of cleansing so my one ‘soap baby’ was irrevocably changed by its time at the Foundling Museum.
The Soaps and film are now on exhibition at City Lit for the next two weeks.
I played with the Hospital's emblem of the lamb creating stamps for the tissue paper but decided that neither box nor tissue work particularly well as they look a bit 'gift shop'. Back to the drawing board.
I started back at City Lit's 'developing practise' course last autumn. Students choose an object or museum collection with which we would like to work so, almost inevitably, I chose The Foundling Museum in London. The museum is close to the site of the old Foundling Hospital which was founded in the 18th century and continued to take in children for almost 300 years. The museum gives a glimpse of what life was like for children whose mothers could not care for them and you can't help but be moved by the stories told. I go there a lot.
Research mapping…. it's a slow ( but enjoyable) process pulling threads from so many sources and I tend to do the majority of it before I start the practical stuff. Then (my favourite part) I just disengage the brain and let the hands take over..
I have been on the Developing practice for makers through museum collections course at City Lit. London for the past year. It has been really great and I've enjoyed gaining a new perspective on my own way of working.
The first few months were difficult as we had to choose a collection or museum we might imagine our work being displayed in. Paralysed by the variety of choice I floundered a bit but heard about "Inspired by" -a competition organised by Morley Gallery in conjunction with The V&A. The brief was to make something in response to an item in the collection of either the V&A or the Museum of Childhood. Narrowing the focus was key for me. There was still an immense number of exhibits to choose from so
after a few visits I took to looking at the online catalogue. This was really helpful and I probably looked at the objects much closer and for longer than I would have in the museum where the volume of objects is overwhelming.
Eventually I settled a small layette pincushion from the C18th.
I was fascinated to learn that straight pins would have been used to fasten clothing of even the smallest baby because safety pins were not invented until 1860. The gift of a pincushion would be given after the birth as it was believed that to receive it before would mean more pain in labour. I found that pins they were also thought to be protective and were hidden in a child’s clothing to ward off evil. This protective aspect of the pin made me think of the fears we have for our children not only when they are infants but into adulthood. I chose to use a found item of clothing and placed more than 5000 pins in the lining as little amulets of protection. The tiny jacket becomes a coat of armour but also suggests the dangers and damage caused by over protection.
I find the history of the humble pin fascinating and there is much more to explore ..
I'm following my bliss.