The new exhibition at the Foundling Museum is not quite ready. Cornelia Parker, Royal Academician has been up late rearranging and repositioning. An artist’s eye on a museum exhibition has allowed the exhibits to flow and infiltrate every part of the museum. The labels are not ready, but in a way it allows the exhibits to be viewed in perhaps the way many first came into being, as ‘found’ objects.
Parker has invited over sixty artists to submit and lend as well as create especially for this exhibition. The theme of ‘found’ permeates through, whether it be a found object or an artistic response to the Foundling’s collection. There are sounds and sculpture, paint and photography, natural wood and bright neon lights. Parker has aimed for a ‘riveting collective cacophony’ that befits a museum that throughout its history has always been supported by the artists of the day. Hogarth and Handel in particular were corner stones of a philanthropic and creative relationship with childrens welfare at its heart.
There is so much to connect with here, I spend my days re-finding museum objects that have sat in boxes untouched for many years. This week I walked the Thames foreshore and picked up the lost and intentionally thrown away. I have been thinking a lot on what it is to be found. If you don’t understand the purpose or use of an object, if you don’t know a history of the owner or the reason for its loss is it ever truly found again? Or is it reborn?
Objects I have found on the Thames foreshore at Rotherhithe
My archaeological connections are pricked by Rachael Whiteread’s shoe, discovered when she was creating a piece ‘Cabin’ on Governors Island in Upper New York Bay. I also love the ‘Tube worm bottle’ found by Dorothy Cross whilst diving in Killary Fjord in the west of Ireland. It is a weird mix of organic and man made and it draws me in. It is an alien object quite at home under a giant seascape from 1745 by Charles Brooking.
I am completely in love with Jeff McMillan’s ‘Cavaliers’, two copies of Frans Hals The Laughing Cavalier found in two different flea markets. This picture hangs in the Wallace Collection and was the first picture I committed to memory title and artist. My Dad used to take us there and the ‘found’ memory makes me smile.
I wish my daughter was here to see Antony Gormley’s ‘Iron Baby’, we have seen a copy of this in the Science Museum. I wonder how many Iron Babies there are out there. This one is owned by Gormley’s daughter Paloma and has been lent for the show, it sits in a room all on its own. Vulnerable, and yet safe. My daughter loves the one in the Science Museum – we came across it at their ‘Who am I?’ gallery on an autism early opening. It reminds me so much of her.
The biggest found moment is meeting Jimi Hendrix’s staircase, saved by Corneila Parker after the refit and restoration at Handel and Hendrix House. I have just visited and written a blog on Hendrix’s London flat in Brook Street. I puzzled on the remains of a few stairs that disappear to nowhere and to find the rest here is a joy. It typifies the lost and found, saved and rescued nature of the exhibition.
But you can’t have the theme of found in this place and not have an emotional connection. The powerful story here of children lost and found, given up and given away is continually brought to mind. In the Court Room Gavin Turk’s ‘Nomad’ brings into sharp relief the huge gap between rich and poor in the splendour of the Rococo interior. Parker speaks on her tour of the current refugee crisis, many children orphaned and desperate, the foundling story is not one that ended in the 19th century.
In the hallway Laura Ford’s ‘Glove Boy’ a small child wrapped against the elements pulling a sledge echoes the great arctic adventures. But with worldly goods wrapped up I can’t help but think of refugees who take all that they have with them and risk it all for a better life. It is made all the more affecting as from an open window you can see and hear children playing in the sunshine.
I find Cornelia Parker’s faceless picture of two girls particularly powerful. When children came to the Foundling, all that connected them to their former lives were tokens, a coin or a ribbon, a small keepsake left by their mother. But during the mid 19th century many tokens were separated from the records in order to put them on display. A child’s link to the past erased, and who knows what future they had. Memories are what make us, if they are wiped do we ever truly find who we are and does that impact on who we are in the future.
Ultimately I find many pieces accessible which is not always the case with art. Many labels explain connections and stories, John Smith’s ‘Dad’s stick’ in particular feels so personal. Graeme Miller’s ‘Picked Hand’ playing cards and Christian Marclay’s ‘Bottle Caps’ video reminds us that we can all be collectors, found objects can spark a connection in all of us.
But here the artistic thought process is often opened up to us, what begins as a single photo of a white square, or a bottle top or a single playing card pocketed is transformed. It allows us not only to connect with the term ‘found’ and the museums collections but with our everyday lives and our long forgotten memories. Most of all I love the way ‘Found’ permeates through every part of the Foundling Museum and I love the way it has moved every part of me too.
‘Found’ at the Foundling Museum opens 27th May – 4 September 2016 for more details please see the website – http://foundlingmuseum.org.uk
Ticket prices –
£4.25* National Trust members
FREE Children (U16), Foundling Friends & Art Fund members
Permanent collection + exhibition
£6.25* National Trust members
£2 Art Fund members
FREE Children (U16), Foundling Friends
*Ticket prices include a voluntary Gift Aid donation