Heritage Consortium PhD student Rachel Emily Taylor reports on a project supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
In May 2015, I was granted an Individual Arts Council Award to curate and project manage the group exhibition, SOROR. I invited ten female artists, including myself, to make art work in response to the domestic space, ‘Safehouse 1’, and the exhibition opened in September.
Historically, safe houses were used as a sanctuary to hide people from persecution. Often, to protect those hidden within, the significance of the safe house was kept a secret; but the term safe house can also be used as a metaphor. In dreams, the house represents the unconscious (Jung 1963). It is a symbol of the inner world of the dreamer. Different levels suggest times past, rooms act as dividers, doors open and close, and so on and so forth. In the exhibition, the site ‘Safehouse 1’ represents the artists’ unconscious and the hidden secrets within it. Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török explored psychoanalytic notions of the secret, calling it the crypt; this is an embodied secret that produces ghost-like secrets in the family, sometimes incorporated materially into household objects. The exhibited artwork hides a secret that can be deciphered by visitors. There are hidden messages and silent voices that are revealed by decoding design riddles, unravelling drawn metaphors and listening to solitary audio walks.
Although, a requirement of the Arts Council funding is that the project cannot relate to my academic research, the work I created for the show does fit within my Fine Art practice. Whilst working through the archives and census records, I uncovered the previous tenants; 27-year old blouse maker Nellie Claggart, and her husband Edward, who lived in the property in 1910. In my art work, I concealed the women’s voices in audio recordings and the men’s voices were visible in typewritten form. I appropriated text from old letters, publications and poems, and juxtaposed them against the sculptures and photographs that communicated the atmosphere and history of the house and the biographies within. The project enabled me to begin to test Tom Selwyn’s ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ authenticity: dialogues within heritage practice, and the artist as a ‘critical figure in the heritage process’ (Howard 1998: 61).
Rachel Emily Taylor is an AHRC-funded Heritage Consortium PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University, co-supervised at the University of Huddersfield
Photos and text by Rachel Emily Taylor