Rediscovering Messages Lost in Time

January 25 2017

Forgotten meaning, Misinterpreted Words.

The written word often has meaning that connects with our humanity, beyond the time it was written. An example of this might be the work of William Shakespeare. The deeper meaning of these texts remains clear but often some words can get lost in translation or undergo perjuration, as  langauge evolves or other cultures try to translate them. 

Whilst making my spring series of paintings, I found myself drawn to some words and then wanted clarification on their original meaning. For one of my paintings I wanted to include some of the Beatitudes from the Bible. In Matthew 5:5 are the words, 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth'. Why are the 'meek' blessed? Today, 'meek' might imply a weak, tame, submissive or compliant person.

The ancient Near Eastern Kings would often refered to themselves as meek - so what is this word referring too? When a person is unable to control or influence circumstances they might feel frustration, bitterness or anger. Meekness refers to a person who actively and deliberately endures undesirable circumstances. A meek person is a strong person who when placed in a position of weakness, perseveres without giving up. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong.


A Secret Language Embroidered onto Fans - Alessandro Cardinale

After thinking about how words change in meaning, I discovered the artwork of Alessandro Cardinale whilst visiting the London Art fair. His amazing sculptures are made from long strips of fabric of wood which are carefully cut or carved and mounted together in a box. On standing at a distance, or from a certain angle, a ghostly but realistic portrait appears.

Alessandro's work refers to an almost lost secret, language used by women, who were not permitted to read or write. These women in the Hunan in China, created there own original writing system with over 1500 characters.  They used certain embroidered fabrics and fans on which they confided to their friends their most intimate thoughts and pains.

This series of work, beautifully suggests nature of a fan and the idea of a concealed message. When viewing these installations, it feels like you are receiving a private notification across a room, that was only visible for a split moment.
Nu Shu - Alessandro Cardinale

Chun Kwang Young  - Aggregation

As an artist I am really inspired by new ways that artists use words and paper to make new artworks. Whilst  at the London art fair, the intricate wrapped sculptures made by Chun Kwang Young  of Korea where fascinating to me for both the quality of craft  in them as well as the originality.

The artworks are made from thousands of triangular blocks wrapped in printed mulberry paper that form large abstract pieces. The surfaces suggest the surface of rocky landscapes or planets, but because of the shapes and blocks also reminded me of a crowded, dense city.

Kwang Young's work refers to the 'damaging of truth' by governments all over the world as well as the destruction of historical facts. The artist has taken the paper and text from books which have lost their value and given them new life by adhering them to the canvas. Some blocks which are both black and have no words on them represent death and nonexistence.

To me it seems that the traditional Korean mulberry paper and its printed content is being preserved within the artwork. It is bound up and locked away within a beautifully crafted sculpture that comments on the time in which it was made - a kind of time capsule. A message to the future.

Find out more about Chun Kwang Young  here.

Walking Through One Hundred Years at a School.

A Message to the Future.

Recently, I was commissioned to make an artwork that would celebrate the one hundredth year of Northampton School for Girls. I used printed names to collage a painting that shows two images - one from 1915 and the other from 2015, in a lenticular format.. The girls in the painting look similar, but the names are very different as the students today are from many different countries and cultures. 

Words or names are used here to mark the change in our culture as well as preserve it within an artwork. 

To read more about the Northampton School for Girls centenary painting Click here.

Talking Back to Books

December 17 2016

Marginalia is how we talk back to books.

As a student at art college, I first remember coming across books that had little notes, highlighted paragraphs and even small drawings in them. Other people had made their mark by recording the connections to their own thoughts and ideas in the margins, and between the lines of the authors printed words. 

It was shocking to me that a book could be treated in this way, but it made me realise that these pages were adding extra layers of meaning, connected to the original book. These individual books had there own stories to tell beyond the original intention of the author.
Marginalia | Cobina Gillitt, Ph.D

Reading Between the Lines

Tucked into the white space between and beside lines of text, Marginalia embellishes the pages of books with annotations, corrections, connections, additions, interactions, decorations, illustrations and often questions. 

“In getting my books,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1844, “I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling in suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.” 

Medieval scribes added them to illuminated manuscripts with intricate and symbolic pictures and patterns. Often, the scribes had fun by adding humorous and rude illustrations which were surprising given the subject of the books.

The Parchment is hairy, the ink is thin, thank God it will soon be dark!

Notes in Manuscripts and colophons made by medieval scribes and copyists
At different points throughout the history of paper, the medium has been so costly that publication was a great accomplishment and therefore other authors would sometimes write whole stories in the margins of a colleague's book just to be published in some way. The physical book tells us another story about its existence and the people that read, or used it - it has a life of its own. 
Humument by Tom Phillips.

Tom Phillips - Marginalia as an Artwork.

Artist, Tom Phillips set himself a challenge  to alter every page of a second hand book which he bought for threepence in 1966. This developed into his life's work, and he has created fascinating artworks from each page that he has made using collage, painting and cut-up techniques. The book has a second life and a new story to tell.

A Human Document by W.H. Mallock, was originally published in 1892 and was transformed into what Phillips calls, The Humument.  As with marginalia, the work embellishes both the original printed words and often the margins of each page. The old book remains ever present whilst the artists story and ideas are woven in, over and around Mallock's words.

Illustrating Music - People Too.

The Russian artist duo known as 'People Too' are well known for their paper craft online. In one of their projects they use old sheet music to draw illustrations on, creating a different kind of marginalia. These delightful illustrations show a variety of everyday activities including dinner and dancing, work and play which are full of life and energy.

Marginalia on Musical Notes by People Too

Make your Mark, Have your Say. Be Heard.

Marginalia has been a very physical activity in that marks are made directly on an object -  a book. But on the internet, people nearly always have the opportunity to make remarks, post images or share ideas within a post, article or blog. We can all contribute to the life of anything which is published on line. 

The only difference is that we don't write or draw directly over a page, between lines or, in the margins. Also, this kind of 'marginalia' is not as aesthetic or visually expressive. But, it is about making those connections between author and reader, asking questions and solving problems.
A page from a Bible Journal By Valerie Sjodin

Drawings help people to work out intricate relationships between parts. 

(Christopher Alexander)
Drawing and using a pen or pencil to make a mark seems to have a very direct connection to the way we can express ourselves as humans. Handling a brush with wet ink, applying pressure when shading with a pencil, crossing things out energetically, or the sound of a pen on paper. These have a profound connection to our body, senses and feelings.  That is why notebooks, journals and a good pen are still really desirable tools to use today.

Whilst researching this blog post I came across Bible Journals. In these books you are given the opportunity to draw, write and make art in the margins and on the words of a specially designed Bible. 

So, we go from medieval monks making humorous drawings in illuminated manuscripts to being encouraged today to using the act of making art to connect and reflect on the word of God.  Sounds like fun!

More Interesting articles and information about marginalia:

BBC Radio programme about marginalia, here.

Article from the NewYorker, here.

20 Bizarre examples of Medieval marginalia here 

7 Pieces Of Fascinating Marginalia From a forgery of William Shakespeare’s signature to a queen’s love note asking not to be beheaded. here


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