Spread the Word

Among the finds from the Coupar Burn was this little jar probably dated somewhere between 1920 and 1950. It brought to mind memories of salmon spread sandwiches on white bread made for lunch by my maternal Grandma sometime in the 1960’s.  The whiffy smell came racing back along with the vivid recollection of my 8 year old self standing in my Grandmothers kitchen eating my sandwich.  During this particular memory I recalled ‘Topper’ Mrs Hepburn’s cat from next door eating a bowl of stuff which smelt distinctly similar at the back door of Grandmas house.

Shippams

Objects have a way of conveying messages; messages about people and about different moments in time.  They speak of events and interactions; tell stories of experience and unleash a flow of memories bringing the past to the present moment.  I was not alone in my remembrance of the meat paste days.  In Coupar Angus Square when the wee glass bottle appeared from the bottom of a bucket of items retrieved from the burn an interested group of on-lookers handled the jar and offered other alternatives to my suggestion of salmon spread.  Bloater paste shouted one spectator with a half smile. Others indicated recognition at the suggestion of sardine and tomato.  While chicken and ham paste sent us all off on a splurge of forgotten tinned meat products; corned beef, spam, fray bentos steak and kidney pie.

According to Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall   ‘Pâté just means paste in French.’  If this is so was my Grandma and her post war generation ahead of the game? Excuse the pun.  The thing I do remember with affection was the little spring clips these jars had around them and how I enjoyed opening them for my Grandma. On researching the history of Shippams I was surprised to find that these metal lids were first launched in 1905.

The Shippam Company was founded in Chichester in 1786.  The Shippam family were originally grocers and later became butchers in the town. The business expanded in 1892 and the butcher’s shop became a factory manufacturing canned products and the famous potted fish and meat.

On reading the words of other bloggers also interested in Shippams I came across an interesting story about the ‘older Mr Shippam’. The article didn’t give a Christian name or a suggestion of when exactly the ‘older Mr Shippam’  was around but he was described as strictly teetotal.  The story goes that he objected to his workers drinking and if he suspected one of his workmen of guzzling a lunchtime alcoholic beverage he would drag the person in front of him and make him say, ‘Shippam’s Chichester Sausages’.  Failure to exact the phrase would result in big trouble!

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Although the Shippams factory is no longer in the centre of Chichester, the factory’s facade with clock and famous wishbone remain in the town as a significant reminder of the company’s success. Members of the public were invited to visit the factory and to take a wishbone as a souvenir of their visit. You can still purchase Shippams meat paste if you so wish 230 years after its inception, I myself will resist the urge and will enjoy instead  the memory of Grandmas sandwiches in the back kitchen with the fluffy ginger moggy while polishing up my recitation of ‘Shippam’s Chichester Sausages.

Art and Archaeology in the Coupar Burn – a community based art project

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In many ways the Coupar Burn running through the centre of Coupar Angus could be considered a museum in its own right. Carrying meaning and memory within its waters, the Coupar Burn has its own history, intrinsically linked to the town.

The Coupar Burn embodies a collection of material which has found its way into its waters over the years, either by the town’s inhabitants disposing of matter; or losing items to the flow; or by acts of nature. In whichever way the treasure has found its way to the bed of the Burn the material remnants of the past provide a mirror which reflects a particular chronological, cultural and social history of the town.

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On a sunny weekend in May 2016 a ‘field tent’ stood in the Town Square by the Burn as an invitation to the local community of Coupar Angus to come and explore the remnants from their past. A ladder dropping from a back garden into the burn enticed a group of young girl photographers from CAYAG (Coupar Angus Youth Activities Group). Stepping with trepidation down the rungs, bucket in one hand and a litter picker in the other the girls quietly plunged waist deep into the cloudless water, encumbered by their waders. The embarrassment of adorning these antiquated outfits was surpassed by the clear water and the darting fish. They had come with photographer Ashleigh Mustard to record the events of the day and reluctantly gave over their cameras in exchange for a Perspex bottomed bucket and the playful promise of finding hidden treasure.
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I had been in the Burn the month before with local resident Joe Richards. We made a preliminary examination of the bed of the Burn during an unexpected thunderous hail storm. Within 20 minutes we had amassed a mishmash of intriguing finds, enough to convince us that the project would hang together. I discovered that Joe was an antique collector and had years of experience in identifying and classifying. His help and enthusiasm proved invaluable throughout the project.

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In addition a team of volunteers from the Strathmore Arts Group (stART) arrived on the day ready to support in whatever capacity they could. stART had generously supplied the ‘field tent’ in the form of a gazebo, some tables, buckets and litter pickers as well as their enthusiasm and expertise.

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Coupar Angus is a small town situated in Eastern Perthshire with a population of around 2,500. As well as the indigenous population, Coupar Angus supports a number of migrant workers and their families many coming from Central and Eastern Europe, some of whom are employed in the large chicken factory or in the local farms. The environs of the town are rich in history. Bronze Age sites, stone circles, the ruins of Iron Age forts, and Pictish cup marked stones and burials are spread around the region.
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Offering new perspectives to people within a community, and actively promoting and informing what is individual and particular can bring alternative ways of seeing the world. The aim of the project was to challenge assumptions and provide new and different forms of experience. This kind of interaction brings art to the everyday awareness of the observer, highlighting numerous interpretations of place. The intention of the Burn Project was to show some of the cultural and historical layers existing within the community providing links for people to connect to each other and their place through their stories, experience and memories. Operating in this way, the location was as fundamental to the work’s meaning as the work is itself. Without this correlation the work would be defined by what it is, as opposed to what it does.

The idea was not to produce a piece of art that was meaningful in itself but to support the role that art can play in bridging the division between art and life.

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Reaching back through time our creative insights enable us to engage with history in imaginative, poetic and artistic ways. Found objects convey messages telling stories about people and different moments in time. They speak of events and interactions; they tell stories of human experience and how we have shaped the world in which we live. Considering objects can inform us of who we are and awaken within us new ways of seeing our lives and our community by promoting inquisitive and enquiring minds.

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Artists of the Renaissance and Gothic periods created hidden symbolic meaning in their work by the use of everyday household objects; a knife, a loaf of bread, a candle, an hourglass. Through the language of Art objects can be interpreted not only visually but with deeper significance. Beneath the water of the Coupar Burn a plethora of random objects was unearthed. Among the finds were Victorian spoons, knives and clay pipes, plastic toys, glass bottles, mobile phones, bolts and fixings from railway sleepers, tins and jewellery from a hundred years ago to the fairly recent past. Once cleaned and on display these objects captured the imagination of members of the local community unveiling something forgotten, a memory, a link to the past, a trigger stirring an emotion from another place, another time.

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Local people came to observe, fascinated by what was emerging from their Burn. Discussions developed amongst individuals and groups about what some of the more obscure items might be and suppositions were made of how they might have ended up in the Burn. The conversations were captivating and often hilarious. A kitchen knife became a murder weapon, a string of beads tossed into the burn after a lovers tiff.

It was interesting to observe what some of the items meant to people and to see how memory and identity are often inextricably linked. In every object there was a story, a collage of history, with different meanings for different people at different times, but there was also a commonality, one which spoke of the same preoccupations which characterise and define who we are.

 “It was great to go into the burn and to see what has been thrown in over the years. It was a good experience and I am glad I took part”

  “The pottery reminds me of digging in my gran’s garden and searching middens for glass bottles, a throwback to another time”


granny pipe

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In June 2016 I returned to Coupar Angus with a Pop-up Museum and displayed the objects collected from the burn in an exhibition entitled the “Anthropocene Museum.” People were invited to interact with and browse two tables of items found in the burn which were laid out with no labelling, chronology or text. This allowed those viewing to interpret and consider what they saw without being influenced in any way. The purpose of my work as an artist is to build interest, connections and cooperation within my local community. The notion of Art as Science has provided a vehicle in which to cultivate new dialogues around art, ecology, and environmental issues. The display of the artefacts raised many questions about comparisons between the scientific classification of objects and their authenticity, value and purpose. The interest generated throughout the project demonstrated the value of creative, expressive and educational art projects and how they can have a fundamental impact on individual members of the community.

 

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The Anthropecene Age and the Coupar Angus burn

Last month I read an article published in the Guardian by academic and writer Robert Macfarlane. The article entitled “What have we done?” conveys the message of the frightening and serious  impact that humans have on the planet and how this legacy will remain for millennia.  The Anthropocene Age is emerging as the name for this new period of geological time where human activity has influenced the climate, the environment and the ecology of the planet. Dutch, nobel prize winning, atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen   created the word in 1999. Within the next few months a report by  stratigraphers (those whose specialism lies in dividing deep time into aeons, eras, periods,epochs and stages) will disclose their recommendation on whether the Antropocene should be formalised as an epoch. In 2000 Crutzer and scientist Eugene Stoermer  in The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) (a research programme that studies the phenomenon of global change)  Newsletter 41  wrote:

” To assign a more specific date to the onset of the “anthropocene” seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the 18th century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several “greenhouse gases”, in particular CO2 and CH4. Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt’s invention of the steam engine in 1784.”

It also coincides with the production and dispensing of metal, concrete and plastic. Among the archaeology of the future plastic will survive as a souvenir of the Anthropocene.

 

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Yesterday I found plastic a plenty in the Coupar burn in Coupar Angus, Perth & Kinross.  I am organising an ‘archaeological investigation’ into the burn for the final part of my Masters study in Art, Society and Publics at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee University. This artist led community engagement project will be supported by Strathmore Arts Festival (START) and aims to capture the distinctiveness and identity of the town and its people.   Working with a group of young volunteers, we will be collecting, cleaning and identifying the extraordinary variety of wreckage and remains beneath the water of the Coupar burn.   As you can see I have had a quick probe in the burn to see what’s there and without going very far and skimming only the surface of the silt at the bottom, I  found, children’s toys, bottles from various eras, spoons, bowls, cups and a mobile phone.  The collection resembles a strange cabinet of curiosities!


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The first part of the investigation will take place on the weekend of 21st/22nd May where members of the public can come along and see what has been unearthed in our ‘field tent’ which will be erected in the square at Coupar Angus from 10am until 3pm on both the Saturday and Sunday.

The ‘artefacts’ will go on display at the end of July in a temporary pop up museum in the town.  They will also form part of my final year exhibition at the University.  I am hoping that these Museums of the ‘Anthropocene Age’ will give people an insight into the history and character of Coupar Angus and the relationship between local people and the burn. Follow my blog for more information and updates.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever

 

 

 

 

 

‘Deep’/’Narrative’ Forms of Wild Mapping – Dr Iain Briggs RWA

Yesterday I attended a lecture at Dundee University given by Dr Iain Briggs RWA on deep mapping, an emerging practical method of exploring and explaining our sense of knowledge of place.    A deep map reaches beyond the understandable and straightforward landscape to embrace and embody that which is unseen; folklore, stories, weather, astrology, science.  It studies the relationships between archaeology and waste,  landownership and agriculture, community services and resources, bees, humans, non humans and the complexities of lived experiences.

Shoes for Deep Mapping
My Shoes for Deep Mapping

Dr Iain Briggs, currently a visiting research fellow at UWE, Bristol,  trained as a painter/printmaker/teacher.  His practice now encompasses a web of methods including writing, drawing, site-specific performance and time-based work.

“Like my research interests, all this is largely oriented to exploring the relationship between people and ecologies of place, community, memory, and identity.”

www.iainbriggs.co.uk

Dr Briggs talked about the writings of William Least Heat Moon and in particular PrairyErth , a deep map  account of the history and people of Chase County, Kansas. This monumental account of land and time and people, broaches on almost all elements of the topography of County Chase: the community, the people, the geography, the history, the vegetation, the infrastructure, and a map detailing the watershed of the area.

priaryert

 

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“When you’re travelling, you are what you are, right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
– William Least Heat Moon

Dr  Briggs presented a screed of artists, writers and ecologists (some I have listed below) who are sharing their ideas and insights and helping to shape the coming age of ecology.  Nurturing the importance of the whole, deep mapping challenges our comfortable but unsustainable world-view and fosters a fundamental change of heart. It provides a platform  for holistic thinking and for the bringing together of soil, soul and society.

www.thestonyrisesproject.com

www.marlenecreates.ca

www.soundstrata.co.uk

www.lucigorellbarnes.co.uk

www.lewisdesoto.net

www.commonground.org.uk

 

 

Coupar Angus Snowdrop Festival

Within the next few months I will be working in the town of Coupar Angus in Perth & Kinross as a ‘self- appointed’ artist in residence.

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I visited the town last month during their annual Snowdrop Festival. I took lots of photographs, met and spoke to many people gaining a positive insight into the spirit and goodwill of the people of this community.

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Observing from the sidelines I was bowled over by the energy and enthusiasm of the families of the town and outlying areas.  Beating the drums with Chief Suleman Chebe after a bountiful community lunch, the passion to make community was highly evident.

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From the Heritage Centre to the Potting Shed Studio, the Abbey Church and the Showcase Shop, I discovered many new things; nalbinding (the art of knot knitting from Scandinavia), apothecary gardens and the black bees belonging to the monks at the abbey, how to make a Cambodian stew and the art of printing using hand set letterpress.

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The sun stayed out all weekend, another plus for this fantastic community event.

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