‘Art is a two-way mirror that links past and present. It lives for us, and it can make the past it embodies live just as vividly’
Jonathan Jones, 2013.
Since being named as a bursary artist on the living memory project I have been working with the Community History and Archives Service based within the heart of Smethwick.
My work is concerned with the paradox of care that surrounds artefacts remaining from a post-industrial West Midlands, and increasingly engages with notions of excavation of the archive – domestic and institutional alike. I am interested in examining the way that a medium of an area or industry; steel, chain making, glass, or iron become enmeshed within everyday lives and the continuing expressions of community identity. I aim to excavate this enmeshment in a way that engages with the past, in contemplation of the present, and what lies in the wake of a post-industrial Smethwick. My gaze is particularly toward glass’ muted existence within the area.
Different factors are imbued within the industries I draw from, including, the often-invisible role of women and working-class labour. As two enduring interests of mine, I began this project by taking a broader look at the glass industry that was booming in Smethwick up until the 80’s – when industry dwindled under Thatcher’s Britain. Chances glass stood out as, at least at one point, an internationally renowned firm that employed 3,500 people. Considering its impact as a paternalistic employer on Smethwick’s industrial workers is therefore pivotal when engaging glass histories.
Ideas of ‘excavation’ and an archaeological interpretation of the past are methods of working that I hope to extend as a sculptural response. These notions were furthered with a visit to the Chance glass heritage site – a now decaying but ever-present landmark within Smethwick. As this site is revived, I am now considering how my own work can revive the local histories of glassmakers through the exploration of their own photographic archives and that of CHAS in Smethwick.
Moving forward, I would love to find any individuals who were connected to the Chance site, obtain anecdotes around the industry and ultimately personal photo collections that may document glass and its place in their lives.
I am staging a sharing event at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery in November titled Capturing Chances. This plans to become a studio-style photography day centred around recording memories and a chance for visitors to have their own studio style portrait with their glass and related ephemera. The call-out is open to anyone but it would be particularly exciting If I could hear from past chance workers and regional glass enthusiasts!
For more information on the Capturing Chances event at WMAG, you can contact me via the living memory project or through my email – firstname.lastname@example.org