Heritage As Process: Examining The Construction Of Personhood In Museum Collections

Rachel Emily Taylor photographed alongside her work, a sculpted facial reconstruction model, made during a workshop at the Royal College of Art led by Richard Neave, 2013.

Rachel Emily Taylor
photographed alongside her work, a sculpted facial reconstruction model, made during a workshop at the Royal College of Art led by Richard Neave,

My practice-based research will examine the artist’s role within the museum. The first line of inquiry will explore how heritage practices activate and construct the lives embedded in artefacts, often through the interpretation of material objects. Art making, informed by performance theory, will examine this process and use experimental strategies to offer new relationships between artefact and ‘person’.

The second inquiry examines how art practice can illuminate or challenge heritage as a ‘process’ (Harvey 2010). Through independent making and group workshops, a body of work will be produced and tested, through presentation in museum contexts.

For the duration of the PhD I will focus on 18th century artefacts within the Horniman Museum and the Foundling Museum.

Exploring how Fine Art Practice can Create and Critique the Processes of Heritage

Heritage is a connection to the past and it refers to the inheritance of memories, materiality and landscapes. Heritage has never been inert; ‘people engage with it, re-work it, appropriate it and contest it. It is part of the way identities are created’ (Bender 1993). Turnbridge and Ashworth suggest that heritage is produced entirely in the present when we select ‘inheritance from an imagined past for current use’ (1995). My proposed method of working as an artist with museum collections explores this view of the heritage process: I will be working in the present to re-establish a link to past.

The project has the potential to contribute to the heritage sector by opening new ways that artists and curators work together in the display and interpretation of narratives of personhood within collections.


Rachel Emily Taylor is an artist, a PhD researcher at Sheffield Hallam University and an Associate Lecturer at University of the Arts London.

The daughter of a porcelain doll-maker, Rachel was born in Australia before moving with her family to Ghana and then to North Yorkshire.

After completing a BA degree at the London School of Printing she went on to study for a Masters degree at the Royal College of Art, during which she was awarded the Peter Gordon Pickard Award to travel to Rome. Upon obtaining her MA and working as an artist and lecturer, she began her PhD studentship with the Heritage Consortium.

Rachel has exhibited across the UK: at the Rag Factory in London, The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham, the Archipelago Works in Sheffield and the Egg Suite in Manchester, amongst others. She has exhibited internationally and was funded by the British Council to represent the British narrative artists at the Strip Turnhout Festival in Belgium.

Alongside exhibiting Rachel has fostered a close relationship with Museums. She has facilitated workshops and performed as a live artist at the Wellcome Collection, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Design Museum.

In her art, Rachel works across mediums, using a range of materials such as plaster, pencil and metal. As well as sculpture and drawings, she makes artist books that contain her short stories, fragments and scripts. Her practice explores historical narratives and identities, the blend of fact and fiction, and the ‘heritage process’.

The project is based at Sheffield Hallam University within the Art and Design Research Centre. My Director of Studies is Dr Becky Shaw and my First Supervisor is Dr Deborah Middleton at the University of Huddersfield.

For more information see www.rachelemilytaylor.co.uk

Twitter – @Rachel_E_Taylor