Sea – Jodie Carey, Foundling Museum, May 2018

Fitting in two press previews in one day can be a little overwhelming but after dashing from ‘Roman Dead’ at the Museum of London to the Foundling Museum, I am pleasantly surprised and refreshed from seeing Jodie Carey’s work in a new exhibition called ‘Sea’.

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‘Sea’ Jodie Carey

Carey has three installations across the museum and I begin with a large scale work in the museum’s exhibition gallery. On first glance the work looks like wallpaper shavings from when you are decorating and stripping walls or perhaps a large bag of tortilla chips that has burst open, it’s contents strewn across the floor. It is only when I read and look closer that I see they are actually hundreds of swatches of fabric that have been dipped in liquid clay and fired, creating white ceramic fragments.

If you look closer you can see the patterns and filigree of lace, the impressions left are just a trace of the fabric as it burns away during the firing process. Carey has been inspired by the fragile textile tokens in the museum’s collections that were left behind by desperate mothers as a last link to the children they gave up. The fabric swatches are the final hope of future reconciliation. Carey wants the viewer to recognise the detail of each unique cast and to see each as a small memorial and act of remembrance. 

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Cord, Jodie Carey

On the first floor another installation ‘Cord’ is a delicate bronze sculpture that reaches up to the ceiling. Cast from cord buried in the earth, the work from a distance looks fragile but on closer inspection you can see its material strength. Here Carey is referencing the bond between mother and child and the nature of the bond between foundling and the institution. Suddenly what we initially see as the ties of love become the ties of duty, respect and control that binds us.

Finally in a small side room Carey’s work ‘Found’ features 18 life-size sculptures that crowd the small space. I feel like I’ve wandered into some sort of Dr Who episode, if I blink the strange sculptures will move and jostle towards me, there is a strange menace to their display.

‘Found’ shows sculptures cast in the void left by rolls of fabric buried in the soil. The poured plaster bears traces of the land, look closer you see soil, twigs and grass. For Carey the earth bound process resonates with the elemental nature of the Foundling Hospital’s narrative of love, loss, hope and survival. It is strange in a way, I keep thinking of how they make the casts of the fallen in Pompeii, how they fill the void of life with cold hard plaster.

Carey’s use of fabric references the role that cloth played in the Hospital’s story, as emblems of hope for mothers, methods of identification for the institution and routes of employment for the children.

It brings to mind a passage in a book on London I picked up in a charity shop this week, written in the early 20th century, it mentions the foundlings dress as a means of identification.

…foundlings in class, and foundlings at play, the infant school being packed with stolid and solid children all exactly alike in their brown clothes and white pinafores and all profoundly grateful for a visitor to stare at. “A Wanderer in London” E.V. Lucas, 1913

I really love the way the Foundling Museum works with contemporary artists, not just as a space to exhibit but a way for artists to look with fresh eyes on the Foundling’s collection, spaces and story.

Rachel Kneebone’s work displayed in 2017/8 and Antony Gormley’s work displayed as part of an exhibition curated by Cornelia Parker in 2016.

The work can often be challenging to ‘get’ or understand. It is perhaps not what you might expect to see in a museum about foundlings. It is precisely that reason why I continue to return and enjoy the Foundling Museum exhibitions. Never quite sure what will be round a corner or what I will contemplate in a quiet moment. Always thought provoking, the work of artists like Carey allow me to make fresh connections to the museum, space and collections. In a museum so packed full of emotion it is the contemporary art that can often act as a filter to understand messages of love, loss and sadness in new ways.

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Sea – Jodie Carey is on at the Foundling Museum from 25 May – 2 September 2018. https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/jodie-carey-sea/

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the price of museum entry for more information on opening times and admission cost please see the website https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/

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